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Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (PS1/DS/PC/Switch): A Little Sad, but Sweet Just the Same (Detailed Review)

Now, this is a game I’ve been meaning to review for quite some time. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is a game that is very close to my heart, and it feels weird that the sequels have just gotten an official localization. Who would have thought Rhapsody 2 and 3 would get theirs before MOTHER 3? And yeah, I wanted to get this review out much sooner, but being a victim of doxxing and having my family targeted tends to get in the way of shit like that.

I’ve alluded to this game a few times, mainly talking about how this game meant a lot to me as a then closeted trans girl, and how it’s stuck with me since then. Having got the chance to replay this game, I fully see why. The story characters, setting world, visuals, and music have blown me away just as much now as when I played it a decade ago. And it’s even better since I wasn’t playing the crappy DS version this time.

Oh yeah, now that Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure has been ported to Steam and to the Switch, there’s no reason to play the DS version anymore. For those who need additional reasons not to play the DS versions, there’s quite a few. To start with, the musical numbers only contained the Japanese versions and there were a ton of bugs. The battle system was changed to make the game so easy that it makes Final Fantasy Mystic Quest look like The 7th Saga, which is kinda fucked since the normal version is already pretty damn easy.

But the most egregious part of this came from the removal of optional content based off of Cornet’s chapter in the then Japan Only Rhapsody 3, NISA adverts not only saying that this content would be included, but that it was the reason they choose not to license the English musical numbers. This disaster of a remake naturally bombed, and was most likely a major reason that series didn’t catch on in the west until just recently.

Anyway, the Steam and Switch ports are thankfully based on the PS1 version, which makes it weird to see in-game adverts for PS1 JRPGs such as Thousand Arms and Tail Concerto. It briefly made me hopeful that those two games may get similar ports, but then I remembered that NIS doesn’t even own those properties since Atlus did the localization of the PS1 games. Still though, would be nice to see Atlus capitalize on the free advertising, and I do have interest in both of those titles myself by the way.

One will notice right away that Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure’s biggest strength is its presentation. The moment one sees the opening musical number “Someday,” they will become hooked into the enchanting world of the Marl Kingdom and its characters. Both the musical number itself and the animation for it are dripping with the type of charm and personality that games these days rarely possess. It also perfectly sets up the story to come.

Our game’s main character Cornet, like many young girls, has the hots for the Kingdom’s Prince Ferdinand. A plot point based around a teenage girl wanting to marry Prince Charming carries an immense risk of being trite and cliched, yet the execution is so full of life that you feel brought right into it. Rhapsody has often been described as a Disney movie in JRPG form, but I believe it deserves the distinction that it’s a GOOD Disney movie. One that can bring out that sense of childlike wonder in kids and adults alike.

The first few hours of the game chronicle Cornet’s attempts to seduce the Prince, while also ending up in some weird ass shenanigans in the process. When she finally gets to meet Prince Ferdinand firsthand, the moment is beautiful and heart pounding. One can feel not just the sweetness, but also the anxiety in both of these characters, as they anxiously wait for them to embrace. And just as they are about to, the castle is attacked, which results in the Prince being turned to stone and kidnapped. Quite literally a simple “damsel in distress role reversal” trope, but it’s done so well that the moment genuinely hits you. This, in turn, makes Cornet’s decision to look for the Prince on her own feel so much more daring.

One should not assume that Rhapsody is all bright and cheery though, as there are quite a few dark moments. In fact, Rhapsody is ahead of its time in a lot of ways, being quite ahead of the trend of “silly and comedic games with shockingly dark lore and undersides.” Now that I think about it, Rhapsody may be one of the few RPGs of this type that isn’t frequently compared to EarthBound or Undertale, despite it having at least a few similarities. I suspect that this is because Rhapsody’s aesthetic is closer to traditional JRPGs, and most of the similarities are in tone and narrative structure. Despite this, I can definitely recommend Rhapsody to fans of either of those two games, and especially to fans of MOTHER 3.

People often emphasize the humor of Rhapsody, but it can also take your breath away.

Rhapsody may start out a bit too saccharine for most, but that tone starts to shift after the prince is captured. One town starts up with a typical “go slay a dragon” plotline, but hints that said dragon is a guardian that, when slain, will result in the volcano erupting and destroying the town. Now, this may not seem like much on its own, but something similar happens in another town, only you are given a choice whether or not to fight the guardian. However, they don’t make it clear what the player needs to do to avoid fighting the guardian, meaning they’ll likely kill it anyway. This leads to the unsettling sequence where the townsfolk regard you with hatred, while also in despair for their impending doom. If that sounds dark to you, then that isn’t even taking into account that the game also involves child murder and suicide at one point.

The pixel art and backgrounds are all very expressive and effectively convey their intended meanings, and the sound effects make every action feel all the more impactful. That being said, the most important aspect of the presentation is easily the music, an yes, that is to be expected from a game subtitled “A Musical Adventure.” Rhapsody more than delivers on this part. The musical numbers contain such incredible emotion and expression, and I still get goosebumps whenever I listen to “Let’s Go On” or “Our World.” The regular tracks are not only well arranged and atmospheric, but they are also iconic and memorable, enough so that this game would not be the same without them.

That brings us to the subject of the gameplay, which is the odd part out. To just make things quick, the story and characters are the main appeal of Rhapsody. The gameplay is is mediocre at best, unless it’s the DS version where it’s terrible at best. The battle system in Rhapsody is alright. Battles basically play like a very simplified version of Final Fantasy Tactics, but you still explore dungeons and have random encounters and shit.

In terms of balancing, the game is a cakewalk as long as you use the same three puppets throughout the game and ignore every other one. The downside is that this is a game with sixteen party members, including the main character who always has to be in your party. All of this could have been fixed by having new party members scale to your level rather than all starting at level one. Keep in mind, there are some party members you don’t unlock until right before the final dungeon. That being said, I still decided to try and get use out of every character because my last playthrough was the DS version, and I wanted some semblance of challenge, but I was never a fan of self induced challenge runs because I feel awkward trying to “make my own fun” in a product that is supposed to be fun by default.

During my playthrough, I forgot to save before this fight after beating the one before it, then lost. I was not happy.

That being said, I did find the game more fun this way, but it also comes with its own pitfalls. Namely, you can only revive puppets by backtracking to the first town in the game and having them repaired. This becomes a problem during a level where the party is swallowed by an Alaskan bull worm, and the inside of it serves as a dungeon that you can’t leave until you beat the boss. While there are free heal points, that doesn’t change the fact that you have no way of reviving party members that are killed. This level becomes even worse because, before the main boss, you have a mini boss that requires you to kill it exactly on the 6th turn. Unless you literally write it down, you will most likely lose track of turns, and have to redo the fight.

But you don’t even get to hop back into the fight; you instead have to backtrack to the start of the dungeon to watch a cutscene that berates you for not getting it right, then backtrack to the boss again. Meanwhile, any puppets that get killed can’t be revived, meaning that, if the player is too sloppy, they can get stuck with only Cornet, leaving the main chapter boss unbeatable. Now, this can generally be avoided by keeping multiple save files and by being not bad at the game, but keep in mind this game is intended for young girls. I have no doubt this section of the game ended a number of playthroughs.

Pictured: originality.

One other major flaw with Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is its dungeon design. Every dungeon uses the same generic cave or tower design, and the only change in aesthetic is the color. This makes the level design feel uninspired and unengaging, and really takes away from the experience. On top of this, dungeons are incredibly mazey and labyrinthine, meaning that you basically need to look up a map, unless you are playing the DS version that has one in game.

This has the unfortunate effect of hampering both the story and the gameplay experience. It lessens the atmospheric quality of the story because the inside of a living creature being literally the same as every other cave only tinted red tends to break immersion. And it diminishes the quality of the gameplay because seeing the same few recycled environments (and all with the same music) makes the gameplay feel much more repetitive and formulaic. This does not help considering that the battles are nothing special, and that you are dealing with frequent random encounters. Also, good luck trying to find out what you need to do to advance the plot, how to obtain all optional puppets, and fight all the secret bosses without looking at a guide the entire time. Once again, this is a game for young children.

Err, in theory that is.

Between the mediocre gameplay, and the fact that Atlus was an even more niche company in 2000 than they are now, it’s easy to see why Rhapsody didn’t catch on despite the immense amount of charm and passion put into it. And the botched DS remake with its even more botched localization only made things worse for western fans of the series. Thankfully, we have now seen the sequels receive and official localization. While I am immensely excited to play the sequels, and even but the limited edition of Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles, I cannot speak on their quality until I have played them.

That being said, I can fully recommend Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure based on the quality of the story alone. Ever since I first played the DS version ten years ago, this game formed a special connection with me that has never left. I adore this game, in spite of the gameplay that’s just kinda there and nothing especially engaging. The world, characters, setting, music, visuals, and story have left such a profound impact on my that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, and it still holds up quite well to. I can definitely recommend Rhapsody to fans of games like MOTHER 3 and Lunar, and hopefully, the series is successful this time.

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