"I'm all for that old school format where enemies attack you that you can't even see, but Rhapsody takes that to an irritating extreme. Dungeons are fairly straight-forward in their design (with a map in the top screen that lets you keep track of where you are), but there's still a lot of wandering that must be done if you want to gather assorted items and puppets. Every few steps, it seems like you'll face an attack. The result is that you won't want to explore. You'll wish you had a map that pointed the way to the absolute shortest route, just because every dead end you encounter means you fought two or three unnecessary battles."
If most of us were to start talking to puppets, we could be sure that a visit to a qualified individual with a comfy couch would soon follow. Failing that, we might make the unpleasant acquaintance of a few very nice men with white coats and a sterile environment where we could then expect to reside as unwilling guests for weeks, months or perhaps years to come. Whatever it took to rehabilitate us. Fortunately for Cornet, the attractive young lady who stars in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (originally for the PlayStation but now ported to the DS), her world is different and her unique ability is a gift.
As the game opens, the lovely Cornet is waking from a dream wherein she met a handsome young prince. Presumably, they would have ridden off into the sunset if she could have slept longer, only instead she finds herself staring into the face of her darling little puppet--and long-time friend--Kururu. Before long, the pair sets out on a real adventure and not long after that, a dashing young man rescues them from defeat at the hands of a witch and her gang of feisty cats.
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is that kind of game, one where you can almost always expect the story to evolve in the cutest manner possible with suitable glares and protestations from its lively cast. Yet that's not all there is to the game. There are moments where the levity stops and you're watching a tragic romance unfold (and playing your own role in the proceedings) or exploring the evil of apathy or choking back tears as one person or another makes a heroic sacrifice. This curious mixture of the mature and the downright childish works well, despite a script that includes simple gaffes like someone who references a desire to 'sore to the skies' and other unfortunate blunders.
Besides serving as a clever and occasionally surprising tale within the comic-fantasy parameters, though, the game also brings along the twist that its title would suggest: music. In fact, it often feels like one of the classic Disney animated features as a result. Nearly every major revelation is followed by one character or another bursting into song. Thankfully, it's never quite as stupid as similar events in a traditional musical. You won't see knights and monsters bustling around a battlefield and then suddenly joined together in rows of dancing merriment, for example.
Even when the characters aren't singing--which they do in audible form with subtitled Japanese voice tracks--you can still expect excellent music to provide accompaniment as Cornet carries her trumpet and puppets throughout the world. From the battle and victory themes to the selections that play as you explore each dark cave, cheery village or imposing tower, the level of quality lives up to everything you'd expect from a Nippon Ichi game, though it's more subdued than later selections from the Disgaea series and others.
Cornet's world is a beautiful place, even when things are going wrong, both because of that soundtrack and the care that obviously went into rendering each area just right. The PlayStation era of RPGs featured a nice selection of environments that were feasts for the eyes compared to the more tile-based maps we saw so frequently from the 16-bit era. You'll see that here, with snow-covered villages, gorgeous forests and so forth. It all looks just right on the DS screens and falls in line with anything you might expect from a new release on the hardware, proving that the port was anything but a waste of time. Unfortunately, that visual splendor doesn't come without drawbacks.
One issue is that sometimes things look a bit too similar. For example, you'll explore several caverns throughout the game and the main difference between them isn't the gorgeous artwork but instead the color tone. A rock might be gray in one area and an hour or two later, you're looking at it in reddish tones. The same is true of tower visuals, which with only a few exceptions all look nearly identical. Also, you'd do well to embrace the concept of palette swaps. They happen a lot here.
Forgiving such flaws might be easy if Rhapsody presented a massive adventure, but it doesn't; you'll breeze through it in around 10 hours, with too much of that time spent wandering around because you don't know what to do next. For example, late in the game you must gather a selection of items. These are secreted throughout the world, so finding each one is a two-part process of first figuring out the region where you should head next (often visible as an icon on the world map, but only if you've met certain requirements) and then finding and clearing the associated dungeon. There's more to it than just that, though. As I played, I often would find the next zone pretty easily, then talk to everybody and think that I was ready to proceed. I'd go to the next tower, reach its end point and there would be no boss. Why? Because I hadn't talked twice to certain key characters and hadn't triggered the proper event. This is a problem that others will surely encounter, as well.
Another concern is the rate of random enemy encounters. I'm all for that old school format where enemies attack you that you can't even see, but Rhapsody takes that to an irritating extreme. Dungeons are fairly straight-forward in their design (with a map in the top screen that lets you keep track of where you are), but there's still a lot of wandering that must be done if you want to gather assorted items and puppets. Every few steps, it seems like you'll face an attack. The result is that you won't want to explore. You'll wish you had a map that pointed the way to the absolute shortest route, just because every dead end you encounter means you fought two or three unnecessary battles.
In its defense, combat is fast-paced and you can recruit a variety of puppets that make things interesting because of their diverse fighting styles... if you're willing to accept the fact that they're always weak when they first join. Welcoming a dragon to your team is less exciting when you have to fight a bunch just to make him a worthwhile companion, even with battles being easy enough to facilitate such a process. I worked my way through the game with little difficulty and didn't even get a 'Game Over' screen until the final boss battles (probably because I was so buffed up from wandering previous dungeons, though I never actually stopped to level grind). I never even used the most powerful of my special attacks, either. It simply wasn't necessary.
Despite its weaknesses, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is a good game. It's no more the best RPG on the DS nowadays than it was the premier PlayStation offering back in ye olden times, but younger gamers and those who crave a uniquely old-school take on time-honored traditions within the genre will certainly find themselves falling in love with Cornet and her puppets regardless of the shallow nature of her quest. If only the whole affair could have lasted a bit longer...
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 18, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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