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Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles Review (Rhapsody 2 & 3)

Initial release date: Aug 29, 2023 Mode: Single-player video game Composer: Tenpei Sato Genres: Japanese role-playing game, Adventure Developers: Engine Software, Nippon Ichi Software Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 Publishers: Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America

"Review Copy Provided By NIS America"

The Rhapsody games are a series of turn-based strategy JRPGs developed by Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). In the first game, you capture monsters to be used as items to boost your character's skills or statistics, while in the second game you equip puppets or monsters to your characters to change that playable character’s skills, whereas in the third game you can use puppets and monsters directly in battle after assigning them to a party leader.

Since these are old games there are no quest markers, but I played this game like an old JRPG. I talked to most of the NPCs that told me where to go and most NPCs gave me hints on where to go to find optional puppets and treasures. The side quests aren’t really separate either, usually you just talk to NPCs and get their treasure or answer their questions. It’s not hard at all since the game is 2D and the world isn’t big and hard to explore, but they’ll always be a missable here and there like older titles. The only time I was really stumped on where to go was in Rhapsody 3 in an episode where I was playing as a villain. I had to interact with a fridge to go into its freezer which was an entire explorable arctic area and I kept running through the castle instead thinking the castle itself was the dungeon.

The second game has its dungeons as series of interconnected square rooms. One big criticism I have is that they sometimes do recycle individual square rooms and use them all over in the dungeons. This, combined with a high encounter rate makes exploring certain dungeons very annoying, especially if you get lost or if you took a break from the game and are returning a while later. The jungle areas in Rhapsody 2 were the most notorious for having the rooms all look the same and being especially long with 5-10 rooms being connected in a line before finding a split in the route. The dungeons are never labyrinthine and most of the time the rooms are placed together in a line, with the occasional splitting routes here and there and most dungeons were under 20 rooms in length, so I never found it hard to find optional puppets or treasures but the encounter rate was quite annoying.

The third game improves the dungeon design greatly, and has 3D maps so you can actually explore areas with better designs such as tunnels rather than mostly symmetrical square rooms. The third game has better dungeon puzzles as well, where you can use springs to jump up and down which introduces elements of verticality rather than just running up sprites of stairs and being put in a recycled room. Sadly even the third game had random encounters even though the map was 3D. I know that it would cost developers a lot of time and effort to put on-screen enemies back then due to the tools and engine limitations back then, but they should’ve had on-screen encounters that such as having generic blobs like in Tales of Symphonia. It was very annoying when you’re high leveled and you’re still having random encounters when you just want to get through an area.

There is also platforming present in Rhapsody 3 that wasn’t handled well. It’s not really platforming because you don’t have a dedicated jump button, but you need to run across moving platforms timed correctly or else you fall to the bottom level of certain dungeons. The only issue is that depth perception can be tricky due to the character sprites being in 2D and random encounters can happen almost anytime, throwing off your timing for running across moving platforms. It’s not as bad as that one notorious platforming dungeon in Xenogears but it did bring back bad memories. Since these games are old, there are definitely many missables. It doesn’t matter too much because you don’t necessarily need all the best equipment or puppets to beat the game, but if you’re a completionist and want all the optional puppets and illustrations you do need to play this like an old game and examine everything or even return to old areas without being told to. One tip I’ll give for Rhapsody 2 is that you should always talk to Randy in the castle near the latter parts of the game so you can play matchmaker.

The musical scenes are phenomenal in this game. They’re never overbearing or out of place. They just happen randomly throughout the game, such as when Kururu adventuring for the first time, when the villain makes an intro, or even watching a cat make ice cream in a very disgusting cutscene I don’t ever want to think about ever again. This game has an English dub for major story cutscenes and for dialog in combat, but the songs were all sung in Japanese with English lyrics on the screen. I’m fluent in Japanese (but not a native speaker), and I thought the songs were really amazing. They’re still amazing songs even if you don’t speak or know Japanese. Rhapsody had songs that genuinely felt like you were watching a theater play and many of them felt very emotional for pivotal story events. Many songs were bangers that were stuck in my head like the Sabbath song.

You know how there are some media that have good songs? This really is a game with well-made songs by professionals. You might scoff at the idea of watching a musical, but many shows in the late 90’s and early 2000’s had shows that had astonishingly good songs such as the earlier seasons of Fairly OddParents (My Shiny Teeth and Me, or School’s Out: The Musical) as well as Family Guy (You’ve Got A Lot to See, I’m Gonna Make You Famous), or even Futurama (The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings, which was nominated for an Emmy Award and an Annie Award). If you liked Final Fantasy 6 and its Opera House scene you’ll really love Rhapsody games. Another strength of this series is that the characters are extremely well developed in these games. The original Rhapsody game focused on Cornet, Rhapsody 2 focused on her daughter Kururu, and Rhapsody 3 follows many supporting characters and protagonists but mostly focuses on Cornet’s mother, Cherie. All three games combined told an extremely complete narrative and connected all the dots regarding the events in all three games. It was extremely satisfying to see the events play out in these games from the perspective of the characters and see how it all ties into the overall lore of the world. I’m not going to spoil the story here, but I will say that the writing is top notch and many characters from all three games are extremely well developed, even though many of them don’t even return for subsequent games.

I’m genuinely impressed that a PS1 game like Rhapsody had the graphics that it had. The animation quality was top notch and it’s extremely colorful and cheerful, as well as unique sprites. The artwork was also beautiful and so were the illustrations. The battles were a bit lacking with only three sprites of each playable character and minimal animations, as well as only one attack animation per weapon, and one spell animation for each spell, but the enemies were very detailed and it still looked good for a game from its time. The backgrounds in the battle sequences were gorgeous as well. I liked the character design from Rhapsody 3 better than 2. I liked that all of the playable characters were unique and had their own special abilities that you could only get by leveling up that specific character. For example, you had to level up Cherie to unlock new healing abilities, or you had to level up Kururu to unlock new magic abilities. It made it worth it to invest in each character and play with them all equally. Rhapsody 3 has its characters learn movesets from equipped weapons and most characters have two distinct movesets for equipping two different weapon types. I can't speak much for Rhapsody 1 since I never got the chance to play it.

Rhapsody 3 also had a trading card system that was quite addictive and fun. The third game had you collecting trading cards for each monster, and these cards could be used to summon these monsters in battle or even to trade with other players. It’s not as deep as a game like Yu-Gi-Oh!, but it was fun to collect all of the cards and use them in battles. The graphics in Rhapsody 3 were amazing as well, with the environments being 3D and having full camera control, and the characters being 2D. This gave the game a very unique and beautiful look, and it was very impressive for a game from its time. There were some graphical glitches and bugs here and there, but they were minor and didn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the game. There were also some random encounters that were just broken and unavoidable, but these were few and far between.

The boss battles in these games are also quite enjoyable. They can be quite challenging, but they are also very rewarding when you finally defeat a tough boss. The bosses are all unique and have their own strategies that you need to figure out to defeat them. They also all have their own special attacks that can deal a lot of damage or inflict status effects, so you need to be prepared and have a well-balanced team to take them on. I especially enjoyed the final boss battles in each game, as they were all very epic and satisfying to complete. Rhapsody 3 has a “Normal” difficulty and a “Hard” difficulty, but I felt that the “Hard” difficulty was still very manageable even without grinding for levels, which I appreciated. It’s a fun challenge, but it’s not impossible.

Overall, I highly recommend the Rhapsody games to any fan of JRPGs or even to anyone who enjoys a good story and well-developed characters. The games have a very unique and enjoyable blend of RPG and musical elements, and the story is top notch and very satisfying to complete. The gameplay is solid and enjoyable, and the graphics are beautiful and very impressive for games from their time. They are all quite old now, but I still think they are worth playing and enjoying today. If you can get past the fact that they are old games with some dated mechanics, I think you will have a great time playing them.

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