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Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher:  Atlus
Features:  Analog Control, Vibration Function
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  1 Block
In the last 2 1/2 years, the Playstation has become the platform to buy for RPG lovers. The problem is, the genre seems far too crowded with games that want to be the "next" version of whatever million seller came out the year before, or those that cram too many unfinished ideas into a clunky, boring mess. Atlus' Rhapsody is a breath of super fresh air in a really stale old house- a game that manages to be both extremely well written, and beautiful to look at. It's also extremely cute, almost to the point of annoyance- which will turn off a few gamers, but those who pass this one up are missing out on an entirely different form of RPG. This is one of those excellent games that Nintendo or Enix would have released on the Super Nintendo, if the carts had enough space to cram all the songs into.

As the title says, Rhapsody is "A Musical Adventure", meaning that almost all the major characters in the game will break out into song at some point during the game- It's like playing an animated movie, without Disney, Phil Collins, or Elton John making bazillions off of your ticket money. And the songs are a lot better, too! The story is pretty simple stuff- Cornet, a young girl who plays a horn and can talk to and give life to puppets, dreams of meeting an marrying a handsome prince. She actually meets her dreamboat, Ferdinand, while on an errand for her grandfather in a monster infested forest. Shortly thereafter, she competes in a beauty contest, and ends up in a tie along with her lifelong rival, the beautiful, sarcastic Etoile. Later, at Prince Ferdinand's birthday party, he's accidentally turned to stone after the ageless (thong and bustier wearing!) witch, Marjoly and her crew literally crash the bash, then pinch the Prince. The real adventure begins when Cornet and her small army of puppets, sets out to bring the Prince back to his kingdom, and him into her arms. Under lesser hands, this would be one of those games full of dopey cliches and contrived dialogue, and there are a few lines that will make your eyes roll. But despite all the potential for schmaltz, Rhapsody balances it's corn and sugar quite nicely. Your eyes will roll at times, but you will have a big smile on your face at the same time- call it corn syrup.

The game balances the gorgeous hand-painted background graphics with some villians that look too harmless to beat up on, like the horde of bar-b-que loving kitties that swarm on you at various points during the game. When enemies die, they even float up towards the heavens, like in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. Rhapsody's beautiful backgounds and interiors are presented with no animation or special effects like rolling waves or floating clouds, and some of them are reused, giving the game the appearance of a staged presentation, which I'm sure was the developer's intent. I don't think a great many people will catch this- rather, they'll probably knock the art for being pretty, but a bit too static. Personally, I loved the little touches, like the sign early on that promotes two of Atlus' other (underrated) gems, Thousand Arms, and Tail Concerto. The game also works despite the sometimes telegraphed plot thanks to the little surprises that pop up as events or side quests. You'll often see areas open up on the world map, but unless you talk to the right person or persons, you'll more than likely wander about and earn loads of experience in battles.

Part of the greatness of the game comes from the battles- yes, they're random, and the magic effects are straight from the SNES, but they're not as frequent as in many other RPGs, and they're a step up from the norm, thanks to the cool strategic elements added by the developers. In addition to being able to move and execute a normal attack in one turn, Cornet can play her horn to charge up her puppets' morale. This in turn fills up her "Reward" meter one point for each puppet in her party. After a certain number of turns, she can either unleash a special attack, or a healing spell. The battles aren't really all that hard in the game, and you'll find yourself leveling up quite quickly. If Cornet is the one to KO an enemy, sometimes the monster will ask to join the party! This is a cool feature, as the collected monsters can be sold in one town to a little boy with a big wallet who wants to catch all the rare monsters in the world (a nod to Pokemania?). You can level up the monsters and sell them for some massive amounts of cash, if you want to purchase some of the game's more expensive items (hint, hint...). A few of the puppets you befriend are given to you, while others you'll have to fight against first- they all join you at level 1, but a few battles against some of the more powerful monsters will shoot their stats up quickly. Some of the puppets you meet have some powerful attacks and magics from the start, and at level 35 or so, most of the later fights are over pretty quickly. Some of the boss fights are pretty tough, but with the exception of a few scripted events, I never lost any of my puppets or monsters.

The battle music in the game deserves special mention- it easily meets or tops some of Squaresoft's best tunes, and the songs have the right amount of Broadway-ness to them to make them worth a listen at least once. I didn't think I'd like them at all, but for the most part, they're well sung and translated from the import version of the game. In fact, the game comes with a free soundtrack, and has a music gallery option, so you can listen to the game's songs with the original Japanese lyrics, and compare the two. The interesting thing here is that the game has no spoken dialogue, so the emotions expressed by the songs more than carries the story along. The game also features a massive bonus art gallery, which grows the longer you play, it seems- you can also find pieces of artwork in chests well hidden throughout the game, as well as special musical chests featuring an "Atlus USA" jingle! You'd almost think Working Designs had a hand somewhere in the production- some of the jokes are a bit risque for the games' targeted audience, but I'm sure most parents won't mind.

The only drawback I can see is with the packaging- With all the fantastic artwork included on the disc, Atlus chose to go with a picture of...well, I won't tell, but it's not Cornet! there are at least ten pieces of artwork in the gallery that would have made a more appealing cover, but the final product looks like "Barbie- the RPG". I'm taking a wild, wild guess, but since Cornet isn't considered a knockout by most people in the game (she's even called chunky in one scene!), perhaps the folks in marketing thought she'd be too average-looking to appear on the cover to her own adventure. Alright, so I'm crazy, but Rhapsody is still a great game for anyone into RPGs who longs for a change of pace, and a real treat for those looking for something really different and an incredible amount of fun.

Greg Wilcox

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