Review by Dune Tiger

"A truly entertaining and adorable game."

When you ask almost any RPG fan what is the most important part of the game, the common answer is ''storyline.'' This is because the story is what keeps your butt planted firmly on the couch cushion for hours and draws you into the game. Several recent RPGs have failed in this department, but fortunately, Atlus' Rhapsody delivers the goods.

A word of warning, though, this game's storyline isn't for everybody. There aren't any political conspiracies, religious controversy, evil overlord demons bent on taking over the world, or anything of the sort. Instead, Atlus serves us up a truly unique story in which the endearing main character, Cornet, with the aid of her puppet friends, searches for the love of her charming Prince. ''Hardcore'' gamers need not apply; however, should you decide to get over the stigmata of the kissy-wissy romance theme and plunge into the game, you'll find that underneath what sounds like a childrens' fairy tale lies an incredibly adorable and endearing story.

The key to Rhapsody's capturing of my own heart was its attention to character development and their relationships. The game finds a very good balance between the usual RPG ''questing'' periods and periods of character exposition. The most notable of which is the relationship between Cornet and her puppet, Kururu, who seems to be the only puppet in the world who can communicate with humans without the aid of Cornet's special gift. The banter between the two throughout the game really creates an affinity between the player and the characters, and it doesn't take half-hour cutscenes to establish it.

On that note, Rhapsody has that classic cookie-cutter look of the 16-bit RPGs of old. That is to say, the whole thing is done in 2D, and each main character has their own anime portriat to accompany their dialogue. That's right, there is no CG or any sign of a polygon in this game, and that truly adds even more to the feel and atmosphere of the adventure.

The only immediate problem that you will notice soon after you trudge through a few dungeons is that the dungeons themselves are generic, bland, and otherwise there only to remind you that yes, you are playing an RPG. There are a total of approximately 14 screens used for each type of dungeon (of which there are 2), and the only difference between them is the color palette used. For example, a sandy cave will utilize a brown pallette throughout the dungeon, whereas an icy cave would utilize blues and whites on exactly the same ''tile'' so to speak. However, this does not really detract too much from the gaming experience as it is quite evident that Atlus' main intention was to move the players through the storyline instead of having them spend hours dungeon crawling, which is fine for me.

No, what is most annoying about the dungeons are the ''random'' battles. Sure, they are usually few and far between, presented in a fresh angle using a battle system not unlike FFT or Vandal Hearts, but I found that almost whenever you were close to getting onto the next block of plot, the random battles would appear almost incessantly. For example, running through one room might net you up to three battles when you're close to getting on with the game, whereas 90% of the time, you can run through most of the dungeon before you even see a monster. However, if and when battles do occur, the difficulty in defeating your enemies is so low that you won't even give it a second thought.

That's right, this game is spanking easy, even on the highest difficulty level. While this may be a problem for some gamers, this is excellent for the person who doesn't have 60 hours to kill. You'll be lucky if you see over 20 throughout the whole game, and that includes searching every possible room for items and treasure boxes. This, too, doesn't really seem to detract from the overall experience, but it can get pretty monotonous at times. But, as I said before, the writing is so charmingly cute that you will endure even the most annoying aspects of Rhapsody's dungeons just to see what happens next.

The one thing that Atlus really struck a chord with me on was the fact that even though you recruit new characters at level 1, gaining enough experience will cause anywhere from 2 to 10 level advancements to catch up to the rest of the party. This is something that I have always wanted to see in RPGs and I don't know about you, but in most other RPGs, you could spend up to 20 hours levelling your characters. With this system in place, it's not necessary to go on the hunt. Just stick the new guy in the back ranks and let your strong ones move on up to where the battle is hot. In the end, all experience is shared and soon enough, your new puppet/creature will be a veteran.

Finally, we look at Rhapsody's tagline: A Musical Adventure. While this may sound like a game you get for your niece on her 6th birthday, there is something deep in the music of the game, which features ''live'' singing. Not only are some of the songs deep, some of them are incredibly hilarious, and some just irresistably cute. It is interesting to note that Atlus uses the songs as a plot development tool, and for this, props must be given. However, if you really must switch the English voiceovers back to their Japanese origins, you won't suffer the barrage of some of the corniest lyrics, but you may miss some of the touching moments within the game. But sometimes you just can't resist the song the way it is. The songs themselves are written well, if not performed exceptionally well, and as a bonus, the game comes with a soundtrack cd. The first song you will hear soon after the game starts, ''Let's Go On'', provides an incredibly beautiful theme for the rest of the game... and what that is, you'll have to find out for yourself.

The bottom line here is that Atlus has put together one finely tuned package, which, although on the short side, has a well-written storyline filled with loveable characters that may even cause your eyes to get a little misty from time to time. So if you love RPGs and time is pretty much your mortal enemy, you'll find that Rhapsody won't eat up too much of your time (having finished it in under eight hours myself), nor will it insult your intelligence by treating you like a child. There is plenty of slapstick as well as theatrical humor contained within the game, aimed at both children and adults alike. While Rhapsody isn't any Final Fantasy, it is definitely worth looking at, if only for a few short hours.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/22/00, Updated 10/22/00

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