Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 09/25/2008
I’m a huge fan of the original Rhapsody for the PSX. It remains my favorite Nippon Ichi game as it was a wonderful mix of mirth, whimsy, charm and was accessible by all gamers whereas the Disgaea franchise goes more and more niche with each incarnation. The music of Rhapsody has stuck in my head since it first hit stateside in March of 2000. Now eight and a half years later, the game has been remade, remixed and brought over to the Nintendo DS.
In Japan, the Marl’s Kingdom/Puppet Princess series is very popular and although we’ve only ever had the first game come to America, Tenshi no Present – Marl Oukoku Monogatari, was the first game that I ever imported for the PS2. Another interesting fact about the series is that, much like Working Designs translation of Lunar: Silver Star Story, the general consensus amongst Japanese fans of the series is that the English version is superior to the original Japanese, and as such the importation of both games were in huge demand during the heyday of the PSX. I myself ended up shipping nearly half a dozen copies of the Atlus USA published Rhapsody to people in Japan simply because they loved the ENGLISH SOUNDTRACK. That last sentence is a bit of foreshadowing by the way …
I did an interview with the Nippon Ichi about the Rhapsody remake back in August of 2008. Here’s an important snippet I feel needs to be recovered for this review.
DHGF: Currently NIS America is best known for its exceptionally long and complex SRPG’s. Rhapsody however, is one of the shortest RPG’s out there, clocking in at about ten hours. Do you think the ease and briefness of the game will induce a bit of culture shock to NIS fans used to 100 hour games and characters that go over Level 100, or do you think with the DS being so popular with casual gamers, that Rhapsody will act as a “gateway drug” of sorts to not just SRPG’s but Nippon Ichi games in general?
NIS: You have mentioned exactly what we’re trying to aim for with Rhapsody. Since this game is fairly short compared to our SRPG lineups, it gears towards to a more casual audience. We’re hoping that gamers who aren’t as hardcore as our Disgaea fans would pick up Rhapsody and find that we do in fact make non-hardcore games as will. That’s not to say that we won’t be focusing on our SRPG’s, since our main focus will always be towards hardcore titles.
So has NIS America managed to achieve their goal? Is the Rhapsody remake going to be their first real hit with the mainstream audience? Will it remain a sleeper/cult hit for those that pick it up? Or perhaps, it ‘s such a SNAFU that the game has become exactly the opposite of the intentions NIS claimed to have with the DS remake. Let’s find out together.
Rhapsody still remains one of my favorite stories in gaming. It’s utterly charming, quite funny at times, but it’s also filled with a lot of melancholy and realistic character development.
Your main character is Cornet, a down to earth young girl with the ability to talk to and animate puppets. In this world you see, Puppet house souls and they can only go to Heaven when their fondest wish is granted. Cornet’s best friend is a strange puppet named Kururu who unlike other puppets, is constantly animated and can talk to all humans. Together the two live a happy little life in the village of Orange, dreaming about the day she could meet (and smooch) the prince of the Kingdom.
The entire story revolves around love. Love for family, love for friends, love for your soulmate, and love for people in general. You get bits on unrequited love, true love, crossed star love, and most importantly sacrifices made for love. No RPG has ever covered this subject as deeply or beautifully as Rhapsody, all while making the game enjoyable regardless of age, gender, or even gameplay preference. Simply put, the plot of Rhapsody is what most RPG’s should strive for thanks to its ability to juxtapose comic madcap adventures and harsh somewhat depressing life lessons.
The characters in Rhapsody are some of the most fleshed out of any RPG, which is all the more impressive considering the game is only ten hours long – a fraction of the time it takes to complete most games of this genre. Marjoly remains one of my favorite “villains” of all time, if only because she is hilarious in her ineptitude. Cornet and Kururu are highly memorable and their journeys have stuck in my head for nearly a decade while other games have passed through my memory without a second thought.
You’ll laugh at times, you’ll feel sad at times, you’ll grow to love and enjoy all the characters, including the would-be bad guys, and by the time the game is done, you’ll wonder how on earth the sequels never made it stateside. For those of you curious, the dialogue and plot is exactly the same, with only the few spelling and grammatical errors cleaned up from the original (Atlus USA was spotty at best with translation back in the late 1990’s). I don’t know whether to be impressed or saddened that I could quote lines before they actually scrolled across my screen.
To be honest, if one can’t enjoy the charming and sweet story of Cornet and her friends, then I have to wonder what they DO enjoy. It’s simplistic and yet complex with characters that defined Nippon Ichi long before Laharal and Etna were even glints in someone’s eye.
Story Rating: Unparalleled
The visuals of Rhapsody have been completely redone. From the battle scenes to the character portraits, everything appears to have been rebuilt from the ground up. Characters and monsters still look like the originally did, but the character portraits are noticeably cleaner and more vibrant. The backgrounds are probably the most noticeable improvement on the game, while I do feel the battle graphics themselves are a step down and a bit jaggier than the original.
Compared to the other Nippon Ichi remake, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, you can definitely tell Rhapsody got the short end of the stick graphics-wise.
Characters are very cartoony and the designs are geared to appeal to a younger age group then the usual RPG, but they are still very well done and fun to look at.
There are no cut scenes, FMV, or any dramatic use of graphics. Everything in the game looks and feels the same from beginning to end, including the musical numbers. This may put off some graphic obsessed games, but one has to remember Nippon ichi games have never been about cutting edge pretty graphics.
The visuals are fine for what they are, although they are neither an improvement nor backpedaling from the original. I guess it is a bit of a letdown that nearly a decade has passed and the visuals are still of the same quality, but they fit the mood and theme of the game, and that’s all I ask for.
Graphics Rating: Mediocre
Okay, I’m going to rant here, but this is mainly because NIS America managed to make one of the stupidest moves I have ever seen in gaming with the auditory aspects of this game. If you read my original interview, you’ll remember NIS said that they would not do a dual language track on this game. You’ll also remember that they said the Rhapsody remake was meant for casual and mainstream gamers. With that in mind, what language would you assume the game’s vocal work, especially the music that most people agreed was superior in the English version, would appear in this game?
If you said ENGLISH, you would be wrong. For some amazingly boneheaded shortsighted decision, the game’s vocal work is ONLY IN JAPANESE. What the hell? Seriously Nippon Ichi, I know you guys have painted yourself into a corner by being the “hardcore RPG” company, but are you that blind to the obvious fact that the game being in JAPANESE is going to turn away the casual gamer, the mainstream gamer, the little kid gamer, and the average girl gamer? Most people stateside want their stuff in English. This is why the dubbed anime sells better than subtitled when there is an option between the two (Remember VHS?). Even stupider, the game credits the original PSX voice cast (which means they retained the legal rights to reuse the vocals) and it uses the lyrical translations as subtitles when the Japanese songs are playing. For those of use that speak and read Japanese well enough to get by over there, you will instantly notice the English translation is nowhere close to the Japanese lyrics being sung, so the game becomes a further insult to those that realize they are being played. They really should have used either the English voice work, which would have helped the game sell better and receive a more positive rating from critics (The lack of the English vocals has been a universal complaint about this game, and at times a pretty irate one) or if they wanted to stick to their tiny niche “hardcore” fanbase, NIS America should have done a literal translation of the Japanese lyrics. I was SO pissed off when I realized the game was sported the weaker soundtrack that I knew it was going to be impossible for me to stick with my usual journalistic integrity, but wow seriously, this is easily the stupidest decision NIS America has made since they were incorporated.
So with the rant over, how is the sound aside from the fact it’s got inferior singing and a lack of voice acting beyond that? Well truthfully it’s hard to say. I have all the original Rhapsody songs memorized, so I would hear those in my head instinctively. I feel the backing instrumentals are very well done and there is such a range to them, that you have to be impressed by the musical knowledge of the composers. They’re very catchy and the music adds so much to the game, that if you’ve never picked up the remake, you’ll probably find it enjoyable, but not great. Those that have picked up the original though with have a strange mix of nostalgia with the instrumentals and a great sense of loss at the lack of the higher quality vocal work.
The original soundtrack would have received a perfect score here from me because it was so well done and blended camp and catchiness together perfectly. Here though? It’s bad business decisions mixed with the blatant obviousness that NIS America can’t relate to the average gamer and has thus pigeon holed themselves into a constantly decreasing audience makes me really worried that NIS America is becoming a second rating Working Designs, and we all know what happened to them.
Shame on you guys over at NIS America. Seriously. The most important and beloved aspect of Rhapsody and you managed to blow it in such a way that only a percentage of a percentage of US gamers will actually be able to appreciate and enjoy it.
Sound Rating: Poor
4. Control and Gameplay
Sadly, this is another area where the game has taken a huge downward spiral. In the original game, battles were in a diagonal format with your team on one side and the opponents on the other in a format similar to Ogre Battle with light tactical gaming controls. Now, the game has been turned into a straight up generic turn based RPG, which to me is a bit disheartening, but all the games in the Marl’s Kingdom series post the original PSX version of this game went turn based as well, so it’s not as bad at the sound decisions that were made.
Controls are very solid and easy to use, with both D pad and stylus options being fairly straight forward. Newcomers to RPG’s might find the selection of who to attack and all the different spell options a bit overwhelming as characters learn a lot of attacks pretty rapidly, but if you’ve ever played an RPG before, you’ll find the game exceptionally simple.
Battles are random, and at times there are far too many of them, made all the more worse by how easy the enemies are to beat. On the plus side though, your top screen is a map of the dungeon, maze, forest, or castle you are in, allowing younger and newer RPG fans to not get lost and thus have to deal with even MORE random battles. Ick.
Rhapsody now plays like every generic turn based RPG you can think of. The SRPG aspects are totally removed and the game focuses on exploring a town, then a dungeon crawl, then repeating until the game is over. Again, this isn’t too different from the original save for the battle format, and the engine is solid enough that most gamers will enjoy the nature of the game, if not the overall lack of challenge.
There’s nothing really to complain about here with the remake of Rhapsody‘s engine save for an increase in random battles and that the original engine boasted a superior and unique form of battles. The DS version lacks the slowdown and loading times of the original and its more accessible to new RPG gamers as a turn based game, so it breaks even in this regards.
A solid engine and easy to master controls make for a good, albeit it generic experience that most gamers will be able to appreciate, if not enjoy.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Rhapsody clocks in at approximately 10 hours, and that’s if you do all the subquests, explore all the optional dungeons and return each of the puppets to Heaven. With an exceptional story, this makes Rhapsody really easy to replay compared to other RPG’s that have span 60-100 hours like my beloved Persona 2: Eternal Punishment or the never ending Dragon Warrior VII.
As well, you can replay the game each time with a different team of puppets by choosing which ones you will keep and which ones you will help find their heart’s desire. I always want to keep the adorable Ledgem (who was NIS’s mascot long before the prinnies usurped his spot) on my team, but then I feel bad about not letting him get his much deserved rest. Such a cute little lop eared bunny of pure darkness. Awwww.
At the same time though, the short nature of the game and the fact it is nigh impossible to die in Rhapsody might make the game a one off for all but the most ardent fans of the game. It doesn’t really matter who you use on your team, as it’s rare you don’t one hit kill your enemies, or two rounds at the maximum if we are talking a boss.
Rhapsody has the potential for a lot of replay thanks to the optional dungeons and quests, and its brought down only because the game offers no challenge at all to even the most inexperienced of gamers. If enemies had a bit more in terms of HP and damage dealt, the replay value would be a bit higher here as the game’s many puppets and customizing your team would actually matter there. Instead, it’s merely an easily accessible and enjoyable game you’ll play through for the story rather than the actual mechanics of the title
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
The original Rhapsody was pretty easy, save for the occasional optional dungeon if you entered it too early. The remake however? This is honestly the easiest video game I have ever played. There is no difficulty, it is impossible to die (save for one battle which you can not win), the enemies are exceptionally weak and die after just a hit or two, and you level up extraordinarily fast to the point where you hit max level before you even reach the final boss – and that’s WITHOUT grinding. Holy god, words cannot express the sheer level of ease at which you can beat this game.
Even crazier is the auto play mode, where the game plays itself and you can watch your characters steamroll through the computer, thus proving that the remake would work better as a digital novel then an actual game. I was really shocked I could navigate through the dungeon and just pick random commands while reading a book or even running on a treadmill and I was still not taking any damage and slaughtering my opponents.
The game would probably be harder if you didn’t get all your life and spell points back each time you leveled up. Of course, remember all those random battles I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you are constantly leveling up and thus even the largest of dungeons is a cakewalk. Blah.
To sum it up – the Rhapsody remake is the easiest game I have ever played, devoid of any challenge, difficulty, AI, or feeling of reward once you have beaten a boss or even the game. That’s really sad.
Balance Rating: Worthless
The original Rhapsody was highly innovative, sporting a very unique style of gameplay in addition to cramming more story into a ten hour game then most 40-80 hour RPG’s have in their entirety. And of course, there is the whole musical aspect.
The DS remake however gutted the gameplay and replaced it with something simpler and nondescript, which obviously takes a hit in this category. It’s also a remake which hurts it as well. Still, the story remains a standardbearer for the genre, and it’s quite unique to have an RPG this short that manages to be superior to most of its larger plodding contemporaries (Koudelka is the only other RPG I can think of this is both short and well done, if not for everyone). It’s just too bad the remake sacrifices a lot of what made the original version stand out. Why this change was made, I can’t really comprehend, but then there is a lot about the remake I have trouble wrapping my head around.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Even though Rhapsody is very short, it still feels like a full length RPG. Maybe it’s because the long plodding dungeons and lack of any real character development is replaced by a constantly moving forward story without any fluff to pad the time of the game. The characters are great, the dungeons are interesting, the enemies are cute and the main bad guys are charismatic and you can’t help but love them as much as you do the protagonists. It’s quite easy to get sucked into the remake of Rhapsody even if the sheer amount of random battles and the Japanese soundtrack sometimes takes you back out of your immersement.
With such a nice pace, story, and memorable characters, Rhapsody is an absorbing game that not only turns your general conceptions about RPG’s upside down, but also shows those general trappings are misguided and somewhat wrong.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
This is a hard one. I hate to constantly harp that the original was a superior game, but it is in fact so. As well, it was more accessible to the average gamer due to the English vocals and a more enjoyable engine. This Rhapsody remake is an odd duck as it’s already been shown to alienate longtime Marl’s Kingdom supporters, the average reviewer, and even casual gamers due to the choices made with the release of this title. So who DOES the game appeal to.
To be honest, there are three categories. The first are people who have never even heard of the original. It’s true in this case that ignorance is bliss, and without knowledge of the original gameplay or vocals, you can probably have a lot of fun with this game, although the Japanese singing will still vex the majority in this group[. The second group are the Nippon Ichi zealots who will buy and praise anything NIS America puts out. There are fans like that for any gaming company, so don’t think this is unique to this particular publisher. Even there though, there has been an unexpected amount of grumbling. The final group are simply those people who want a quality RPG who aren’t concerned about length or the singing. Those people should find Rhapsody highly entertaining, albeit very easy.
This Rhapsody remake is probably best given to people as their first RPG as they won’t become frustrated by the difficulty, length, or hard battles found in most games of its ilk. It’s probably not for young kids as there is potty humour, adult situations, and some VERY dark moments, but for those tweens and early teens who haven’t leveled up a character before, this game will be a great gateway to the larger and better RPG’s out there.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
EDIT AND A WARNING FROM ALEX: It appears that the bonus content mentioned below is only accessible in the Japanese version of the game. There seems to be either a bug or an outright lack of the data for the US consumer version of the game. Please be aware of this when buying the game. You will notice most reviewers across the net talking about the bonus content. This is because review copies tend to be different from sale copies. Notice I say tend to, as there are always exceptions. Case in point: we’ve had a review of the US version of Puchi Puchi Virus up since April. When was that game released? Oh yeah…it’s wasn’t. So don’t be alarmed if you are seeing a reviewer talk about Angel’s Present. Some might have have actually accessed it. Some might have just played the Japanese verson. Others might just be lying and have not actually played the game at all. The bottom line is that the official website for the US release promises the content to consumers – not just reviewers. The “exclusive features” bit is still up, and if you can’t access it, you have every legal right to demand your money back or for NIS to issue a re-release of the cart similar to what SNK did with the DS Card Fighter’s Clash. I’m trying to get a straight answer out of NIS America. Let’s hope there is a solution that doesn’t alienate the gamers.
There are two new story bits added to the DS version of Rhapsody. The first is a new side quest, which is enjoyable, but not something that truly adds to the game. It was a nice surprise for me however, and it felt like it belonged in the game instead of being tacked on to add to the time it takes to beat the game. The second is a post game adventure where you play as Cherie, which plays as sort of a side story to the main game. This new addition is really good and it adds even more depth to an already deep game. I’m really happy to have this bit and although it doesn’t make up for all the negative changes made to the game, it is a start.
In the end, this remake of one of my favorite RPG’s is ultimately a disappointment due to some bad planning decision and an overall weakening of the title. Still, Rhapsody‘s stateside release gives me hope that the next two chapters of the Marl’s Kingdom series will eventually make it into a much needed English translation as well. Just please don’t screw them up like you did this one.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is not a bad game, but when compared to the original, this remake for the Nintendo DS pales in comparison. Gone is the completely unique battle engine that made the game stand out, and the choice of using the monotone emotionless Japanese vocals instead of the almost universally preferred (even by the Japanese) English dub is bound to alienate the audience NIS America claimed it was gearing this game for – the casual mainstream gamer who doesn’t want to invest 100+ hours into a Disgaea title. As such, the game is far too disjointed to pull in the cult audience that the original had. Save your money and buy the PSX version off Ebay. It’s superior and worth the extra cash.