Let Them Eat Cake!
Atlus has always shown a lot of love to the DS, bringing games such as Trauma Center, Luminous Arc, Etrian Odyssey, and many others to the dual screen. Their latest collaboration with developer Nippon Ichi Software brings us a port of a very niche, musical RPG from the original PlayStation. Rhapsody is part Sound of Music, part “young girl falls in love with the handsome prince” fairytale, and a fest of traditional RPG trappings.
The original Rhapsody released over eight years ago, and with no real update to the story, it’s definitely a throwback to past RPGs. That said, the story is as endearing as it ever was, and the dialogue is sure to give players a good chuckle from time to time. You play as a young girl named Cornet, and she’ll be accompanied throughout her adventure by a flying, talking-angel doll named Kururu. Cornet and every other girl in the kingdom are on a quest to win the heart of a young prince, but when he’s turned to stone and kidnapped, it’s up to Cornet and friends to save her one true love. The story progresses like Alice in Wonderland, and though it’s often senseless and over the top, it’s a tale that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages.
In many ways, Rhapsody comes off as a made-for-young-girls-RPG romp with loads of sugary sweet music and sentiment. However, upon closer inspection, it’s hard to overlook the game’s silver tongue, as it lampoons itself and games like it. The characters are witty and comical, and when you consider some of the risqué dialogue, as well as the fact that one of the characters wears a g-string, it’s a wonder the game garnered an E-rating.
But, it’s all in good fun, and appreciating the characters and dialogue is really where the value of Rhapsody lies. The gameplay is solid but it’s pretty breezy, and we’ve seen all its RPG conventions before. Battles are turn-based, and you’re given the option of attacking, casting magic, or using items during each melee round. Additionally, you can set battles to auto, allowing your characters to do the fighting for you, and though the A.I. will only command your characters to attack, it’s a nice feature when you just want to zip through battles.
It’s the typical, four-member-battle-party set-up, though you’ll have various characters to choose from, which you can switch in and out of your combat party at any time. Enemies vary from toads and jellies, to flames and skeletons. Cornet uses…a cornet (horn) to attack, though she can also cast special spells such as Flan, Cake, and Pancake. Yup, they’re all food attacks. When you cast Flan, a giant, gelatinous dessert comes flopping down upon your enemies to cause massive damage. The game offers no explanation as to why you’re fighting with food, or why you’re even fighting at all in many cases, but the nature of the story really requires no explanation, and it’s easy to just kick back and enjoy this wacky RPG ride as is.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the gameplay, however, is its pacing. Though it’s a completely linear experience, it’s patched together to produce a great little journey, without requiring the player to engage in the same repetitive activities. That is until about the game’s midway point. You’re eventually tasked with finding five elemental orbs, and gathering each one consists of five…repetitive dungeon crawls (plus backtracking). But there are a lot of ultra-cute moments reminiscent of the Three Little Pigs or other such children’s tales, and it’s these elements of the game that really make the journey well worth while.
Battles do require some strategy, but, for the most part, the challenge is lean. However, unless a particular enemy is casting an area spell, most times all enemies attack the same character in your party during a given melee round. So, if you’re unlucky, one of your party members can get knocked out from these absurd gang-ups.
It’s not something likely to ever cause you to see the “game over” screen, but it definitely makes battles less interesting. The game also does a poor job of explaining what each of the “Specials” (Flan, Cake, Pancake, etc.) do or where you need to go next to complete a given objective. Additionally, as is the norm with games of its era, you’ll have to contend with random encounters in the world of Rhapsody. There are no monster icons while traversing areas of the game, and unsolicited battles can be a chore when you’re only interested in making your way to your next destination. But even up against today’s standards, overall, the gameplay in Rhapsody offers an entertaining RPG for folks new to the genre.
In addition to the topnotch dialogue, Rhapsody sports some lovely visuals as well. The hand-drawn backgrounds are simply beautiful, and the 2D sprites are very detailed and animate nicely; you can actually see characters blink and roll their eyes, purse their lips, and you even get the occasional breast jiggle. However, the characters only have four sides to view, and when moving diagonally, you’ll still only see either the front or rear view of your character. It’s an archaic artifact – something players are accustomed to seeing on the GBA, but it looks dated on DS. Additionally, the game recycles many of the dungeon templates over and over with only minor changes to the color tinting for each. On the whole, though, Rhapsody is still a good-looking game that fits nicely on the system.
Since this is a musical RPG adventure, players will likely expect the aural elements to stand out. Rhapsody both succeeds and falls a bit short in this department. The music is very enjoyable, if not dripping with sweetness, and you’ll even be treated to entire musical performances (albeit sung in Japanese) by various characters throughout the game. If you aren’t too manly to enjoy the likes of West Side Story or, more recently, Moulin Rouge, you’ll appreciate how Rhapsody brings some of those sensibilities to a video game. The songs add a lot to the story and overall feel of the rest of what the game has to offer, and it’s a nice break-away change from the average RPG experience. However, the sound effects are severely lacking, and, during battles, you’ll rarely receive any feedback when characters and enemies attack one another. There are no movement sounds, either, when traversing the world of the game, and the lack of subtle effects does leave the experience feeling a bit hollow.
Regardless of Rhapsody’s shortcomings, the game manages to offer an enjoyable and very funny experience; none of it makes much sense, but then, it’s not really meant to. The story is based on children’s-book fantasy, yet it does a wonderful job of poking fun at itself, as well as RPG conventions in general. Younger gamers will likely find its sweet and cheerful mood and easy difficulty an enjoyable, early RPG outing, and older gamers – if they’re not yet too jaded – should appreciate its comical approach to an aged, old-school formula. There’s plenty to do in the game, and after the main adventure concludes, players will be treated to additional gameplay and story. For those folks who’ve already experienced Rhapsody on PlayStation, well, even the new content might be a hard sell, considering all the RPG variety now available on DS. But Rhapsody offers silly fun on the go for newcomers in the mood for something extremely lighthearted with no real rhyme or reason.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
The game’s backgrounds are truly beautiful, but they’re also recycled a bit too often. Additionally, the character sprites, though they animate nicely, only reveal four sides per model. 3.3 Control
3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The songs and music are right on the money. The musical aspect is a clever gimmick that adds a nice element to this lighthearted story. But the sound effects are almost nonexistent, and the ones that are there are dated. 3.5
The game starts out as a clever adventure, but later moves into more of a traditional dungeon crawl with weather-worn RPG conventions. However, the real value of Rhapsody comes from its dialogue and unwillingness to take itself seriously.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.