Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure review
Pleasant Melody with a Few Missed Notes
'I can talk to puppets'. In the real world this remark would be met with looks of concern, questions about one's well being and possibly calls made to relevant organisations who specialize in helping individuals with troubled minds. In Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure this would instead be taken as a wonderful gift and nobody would think it as strange in the slightest.
Rhapsody is a traditional turn-based RPG that stars the almost ever cheerful Cornet (contender for daftest name of the year) and her puppet companion Kururu. Cornet is a simple commoner with grand dreams of meeting the prince of her dreams, and is also the girl with the aforementioned ability to communicate with puppets. After a few initial events to set the scene we are given the main focus of the story, which is Cornet's journey to save the prince from his rocky prison and the clutches of the witches. It's definitely the kind of tale aimed at the female demographic, with its blossoming romance and somewhat soppy progression, but I found it rather enjoyable.
The reason isn't so much the overall backstory but the way the story plays out. Put simple, it is the cast of characters that brings Rhapsody to life. Friends that pretend to dislike each other with sarcastic comments, quick jokes jabbed around at people, bad girls getting insulted by their own minions and simply watching almost everyone get carried away in their own moments. The game prefers to keep things on a cheery note most of the time and it works well to draw you into the game. The humour carries over to other things, like the occasional breaking of the fourth wall and some funny remarks made when investigating certain objects.
That said, there are moments that will send in some deep messages that drop the humour to present a more melancholic side to things. Cornet gets chances to reflect on events and her actions and it is these scenes that serve to break up the giggles and help the story flow. The combination is truely excellent, to the point that at the end of the game I had been truely moved by it.
The game looks fairly impressive, if with one problem. The 2D sprites and backgrounds certainly look well detailed and clear. The animation is smoothly done too. It's a pleasure to watch characters dashing around, dancing, singing, fighting, eating and all sorts of different actions presented ingame. Likewise there are a fair few locations to visit, such as different types of towns and villages, mountains, rivers, forests, castles etc. All the outdoor areas are beautiful in their colours and layouts too.
The problem? It comes from the dungeons. There are effectively two types of dungeon, consisting of caves and towers. The thing is that all the caves look the same and all the towers look the same. The only real difference is a change in colour (which is also depressingly a single colour tone throughout each respective dungeon). The final dungeon is different but that doesn't make up for the rest looking far too similar to one another. There's only so many times you can pass the same rock, no matter how many different shades they would want to paint it.
In terms of the audio I am very impressed. Although the selection of music backing tracks is a little limiting all of them are pleasant to listen to. As expected considering the overall theme practically every music track is somewhat upbeat and designed to present a happy mood (yes, even when traversing dark underground caves). There is good variance in the music used though so it works nicely to compliment the action.
As suggested by the game's subtitle there are a fair few musical scenes in here where characters will burst into song. Typically these scenes occur during important events so it's not so dull as to be random and the execution of them is wonderful. Despite the limitations of the hardware the songs sound amazing. The lyrics are sung in Japanese with subtitles keeping time with the audio and there is real feeling put into them. Most of the songs follow the overall theme, although one song goes the opposite direction by being what I can only term as 'manly'. It's a song that will invoke laughter in most gamers.
The star of the game and keen to burst into song whenever she can.
When it comes to the gameplay Rhapsody sticks close to the traditional format of the RPG genre. Travelling around the place is split up into three segments. The first one is field exploration, where you move around towns and other open areas. Some of these places have enemies to fight and sometimes other paths but generally the focus of these areas is more to open up the route to the next location, as well as to understand more of the events that are happening. Towns and villages are filled with people that will chat about all sorts of things. As with any video game these people have no issues with you just walking in unannounced and will speak to you as if you're the close friend of the family. The dialogue used tends to be kept to one saying per person for non-important characters but there is a certain charm to be found from them.
However, actually unlocking the next location to visit can be pretty hit or miss. Sometimes the task will be as straightforward as asking around town, getting a hint and then using that to open the way forward. You might have to figure out a riddle or solve some kind of a puzzle to progress too. Once such event involves figuring out the order to press switches to lower a set of drawbridges. These are fun to do and although might not prove too difficult to seasoned gamers they do present some element of thinking. On the opposite side of the scale are the events that require you to talk to certain people in a certain order to trigger the necessary chain of events to open the next location, made all the more frustrating by the game not willing to clue you in on who you need to speak to. When the necessary people consist of random maid #2, random customer #3 and random soldier #6 then it leads to a lot of pointless wandering around, speaking to everyone repeatedly until you finally manage to open the next path. There's generally more hits than misses here, but those few misses do negatively affect this aspect of the game.
Towns also offer the chance to do some shopping. This game's item system isn't as extensive as most other titles of the genre but it's enough to officially qualify. You have the usual assortment of healing and restorative items to make use or, as well as various accessories to use. At first making the cash to purchase these items can be a little tough, but so far in I found myself making so much money that buying items was no longer a problem. By the end of the game I was able to purchase a huge amount of healing items and still have about 30,000 left in my pocket. Basically shopping seems to become a little redundant partway in as everything can easily be purchased.
The world map simply consists of a bunch of icons representing the accessible location, where you can select a location to travel there instantly. New icons appear as you unlock them and the new ones are handily (or perhaps pointlessly) listed as 'new'. It's a shame we don't get the option to physical travel to different areas, but this is more convenient anyway.
The final aspect consists of the dungeons. These generally consist of caves or towers, although the forest near the beginning might count as a short and simple dungeon too. The common trend for these locations is to present a labrynth-like layout and task you with getting from the entrance to the boss room. Each area presents numerous alternate paths and dead-ends that increase in number the farther you get into the game. Thankfully to help you navigate the mazes is the map on the top screen. Unlike most other DS titles I've played that offer a map this actual feels necessary in Rhapsody, as trying to figure out where the heck you are and what travelling options are available to you would be extremely difficult without it. The room you're currently in is highlighted and all other rooms on the current floor are displayed. There's no option to check other floors other than the one you're on and you can't tell where stairways are but it's far better than nothing and makes exploring better.
The challenge in these areas comes from finding your way around, as even with the map it can still be quite a challenge to find the proper route to take. Dead-ends are pretty common, although some will result in an item pickup and even sometimes a new puppet to join your team. That said, hitting a dead end is not beneficial enough, as most of them don't have anything to offer, which results in a wasted journey as you then backtrack to the nearest intersection to try another path. Navigating mazes is indeed fun at first, but Rhapdoy's problem is that it doesn't change much from there. The goal of the last dungeon is pretty much the same as the first one, only it adds more detours and dead ends. Surprisingly for a RPG there is a serious lack of interaction with these dungeons. There are no riddles to solve, no block puzzles to solve, not even the most basic of challenges such as flipping switches. As a result what starts as fun ends up fairly tedious, so I found no desire to properly explore the later dungeons as I just wanted to clear it before moving on.
Okay, but whereas the game may stumble on the exploration side of things I am happy to report that the combat has been handled very well. It is probably more accessible (therefore more simple) than most but the system is solid so it works.
Before even entering battle you have to consider the team setup. Aside from Cornet you can bring up to three puppets with you to command. You start with Kuruu and quickly gain Sharte. From there you can recruit extra puppets as you progress, each bringing their own motivations and fighting styles. You can switch the team around at any time outside of battle via a simple order menu, where active party members are on the left and inactive ones sit on the right.
You can also use the equip menu to assign any accessories to your team. Every character can have three accessories equipped at any time. Most of these items boost certain stats, like raising offence or speed, while some bestow special effects like regaining health every turn or cutting MP usage in half.
Battles are traditional turn based. At the beginning of each round you have three options consisting of Fight, Escape and Auto. Fight is the standard option for choosing how your team fights in that round. Each character has a further three options here consisting of Attack, Magic/Skill and Item. Attack is the basic attack that does low damage but costs nothing to perform. Magic/Skill lets you pick a special talent for that character and unleash it. Such skills range from lightning spells, a rain of arrows, a powerful slash, healing or boosting the party. Every skill here costs MP to use, which can only be recovering by items or visiting Goddess statues. Item lets you use an item from your bag in battle. Pretty simple.
As well as inflicting damage or healing there are some skills that cause status effects. Confusion causes a character to attack randomly, poison drains extra health over time and sleep prevents someone from acting until they wake up. The good thing about this aspect is that it actually feels useful for the player. I've played too many RPGs where status ailments simply aren't useful to the player but since bosses here are often joined by a group of regular enemies then it can be handy to aim to put them to sleep or confuse them.
Once all actions have been committed the round starts. Characters take turns in delivering moves based on their speed stats, with some characters acting together sometimes based on speed and who was targeted (note that you won't launch a dual attack on the same target). Once done the cycle repeats until one side is beaten.
As an added bonus there is a musical bar displayed onscreen. Whenever Cornet does something that pleases her puppets this gauge is filled a bit (so this basically means healing and supporting them). The gauge has 5 levels and each level opens a new attack for Cornet to use. This super moves mostly involve attacking all enemies with oversized confectionery (there's something cool about flattening enemies with cake) as well as one last move that fully heals everyone in your team.
Who knew cake was so deadly?
The one irksome aspect here is that you can't recover a fallen partner during battle. With no resurrection spells or items you have to wait for the battle to end to get your ally back, which is a little annoying and can easily put you at a notable disadvantage.
During battles the action is shown on the top screen while the status of all participating characters and the battle options are on the bottom screen. Well, the enemy status is really only useful for generic battles as bosses tend to have their health and magic points hidden behind question marks, but it's good to be easily able to keep track of your own characters without cluttering up the top screen.
The Escape options does exactly that. It lets you escape from battle, although it is not always successful and escape can only be attempted once per battle. Thankfully there is no consequence for escaping. If it fails you just get forced into choosing one of the other two options.
Auto lets you sail through basic battles without doing much. Selecting this will cause your party to attack the enemy by themselves with normal attacks. It's handy for when trekking through old areas, although bear in mind that the computer will not pay any attention to their own health. Auto mode can be stopped anytime during battle by pressing B or tapping the icon.
There are two control options offered in the form of the standard button layout and the touch screen. While exploring you can hold a place on the touch screen to get Cornet to run there, as well as touching objects and people to interact with them. However, I found this to be a little clunky. It's not bad but I felt I had more control working with the button layout. The touch screen is definitely more suited to battles, as selecting commands is faster and easier. However, I found myself sticking with the button layout since I didn't want to keep switching.
In terms of difficulty, Rhapsody is a little inconsistent but will generally be considered pretty easy. The opening might offer a few minor troubles, then the difficulty nosedives to the point you can sail through the game and then hikes up to a reasonable level near the end. Veteran gamers will no doubt seek a more challenging experience, although this does make the game easier to get into than most.
The game is a little short as well for a RPG. I clocked in about 10 hours of playtime, although considering a lot of this is taken up by story events and aimless wandering around trying to open the next location then it is a little disappointing. There's also a surprising lack of sidequests. There is an extra dungeon that can be ignored if you want, but it's basically like any other dungeon except no proper boss. Most of the puppets are optional if you want to try tracking them down and recruiting them. There's also a fun little minigame where you blow into the mic to try and keep the note in the good zone. That's it though.
There are some extras in here, like Encore mode that lets you replay any of the musical scenes in the game and Observation that lets you view any character you have met (friend or foe) and get a description from Kururu about them. These are welcome additions and nice to go through.
Overall I would say Rhapsody was enjoyable but nothing more. The game definitely has some of the right ideas but it needs to change its approach to dungeon design and tweak the difficulty and length. Combine them with the combat system, town exploration and presentation and we would have a winner. As it is Rhapsody is fun but ultimately flawed.
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