Like many young women, Cornet dreams of the day when her Prince Charming will rush in to sweep her off her feet. In the meantime, her ability to talk to puppets, fairy friend Kururu and a horn with special powers are her best weapons in her quest to at least get the Prince’s attention, at least until she is called upon to step things up a notch and save him from the clutches of Marjoly the witch.
Before they came to prominence with their incredibly addictive SRPGs, Nippon Ichi brought us Rhapsody, a game that was to show only the very first hints of the greatness they would one day achieve. For gamers looking to take the first tentative step from regular RPG to SRPG, it might be a good primer, but as more experienced gamers will soon discover, it is far too easy to offer much in the way of longevity.
Unlike most SRPGs, where maps are separated by cut scenes, Rhapsody is more of a free roaming game- almost irritatingly so. You can wander around in towns, forests and dungeons much as you would in a standard RPG, and whilst this aspect is agreeable enough at first, it soon becomes tiresome. The vast majority of dungeons are based on one of two simplistic designs, which quickly become tiresomely repetitive and easy to get lost in- just a little bit more variety would have been most welcome. As if this wasn’t bad enough, you may slog all the way through a dungeon just to find that you cannot continue because you forgot to trigger some cut scene back in town, or that you have no clue where to go because you forgot to talk to absolutely every NPC you can find. It’s a scenario that quickly becomes frustrating, especially when you get to the “find the five elemental stones” stage of the story.
Sadly, the battle system is equally prone to wearing out its welcome, thanks to such an incredibly low difficulty level that there is only one boss battle in the entire game where you are in any danger whatsoever of suffering from game over. Battles take place on a small isometric field, forcing you to move around before attacking- an innovation which may sound like it introduces an extra element of strategy, but actually quickly proves tiresome in adding another step to take before battle is complete. Instead of just destroying the enemy in a single turn with a wide range magic spell as is usually the case, you must move towards them and then cast the spell- and even though battles are unsurprisingly quick, they are also random, a recipe for annoyance even when the encounter rate is as low as it is here.
Unsurprisingly, the ease of battles ensures that most of the system in place is utterly useless- the point of most items, accessories and spells is nullified when you can just defeat the enemy in a single turn without ever touching them. Even healing items have little use when you’re fully healed every time you level up (which is often), and half-healed after a battle in which your character died. You don’t even have to pay to stay at an inn- you can get free healing just by talking to a goddess statue. If this game were any easier, it would just run automatically.
That being said, there are one or two innovations in battle that can be seen as the very early precursors of the systems in later games. As the party lead and only non-puppet that fights, Cornet has some unique abilities of her own that differentiate her from all the other playable characters. By playing her horn, she can power up any puppet in range, adding a note to a musical bar at the top of the screen for each puppet affected. Each time the bar fills with music, a new special attack is available, most of which consist of dropping giant desserts on the enemy. Getting killed by a sword is honourable, but just who wants to explain to the powers-that-be in the afterlife that you died after someone dropped a giant stack of pancakes on you?
All in all, it is such little innovations that make it almost a shame that Rhapsody isn’t better developed, for despite all these flaws, the game is quite enjoyable and even addictive in its early stages. Had it just maintained that throughout the game with even a touch more complexity, it could have been much more enjoyable throughout. It would also make you more inclined to collect all the playable characters (of which there are a healthy number) and complete their respective sidequests- as it is, you simply reach a point where you want to get the game over with as quickly as possible.
Story-wise, Rhapsody is a bit thin on the plot front, starting out as an amusing tale of trying to win the prince’s heart, before turning the usual conventions on their head by have Cornet rescue whatever the male equivalent is of the damsel in distress. Sadly, this chance for further humour on the part of both heroes and villains is wasted when the story turns into a generic search for the five elemental crystals, although a tongue-in-cheek disregard for narrative conventions still crops up here and there.
Visually, Rhapsody takes place in a 2D world, with cute sprites and good looking character designs. Forests and towns are generally good looking, but, as mentioned above, dungeons are simplistic and repetitive to the point of being tiresome. The background music is composed by Tenpei Sato, but unlike his work on later Nippon Ichi games, the themes used here are a little too basic to truly stand out. There is little in the way of voice acting, but a number of vocal themes appear throughout the game, ranging from the amusing to the saccharine.
Although it started off as a bit of simple fun, Rhapsody simply lacks the depth and complexity to be more than of fleeting interest to all but the most easily pleased of gamers. It might be a good recommendation for newcomers to the genre (especially those looking to make the move from RPG to SRPG), but otherwise it’s only for interest to Nippon Ichi fanatics.