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I Feel So Dirty...
By: Andrew Long
So anyway, once upon a time, somebody decided that the RPG world needed a musical. It works for movies, after all, and decades' worth of moviegoers were subjected to any number of actors prancing about doing their level best to look dignified in settings generally designed to achieve the precisely opposite effect, which for some reason everyone still approved of. No surprise that this sounds like RPG gold, then. Seriously, what could possibly go wrong? Well, let's see. First off, there's the music, which is resoundly wretched. Then there's the gameplay, which is painful and makes suicide seem rather enticing, on balance. Topping it all off is level design so mundane dull brown would turn green with envy, and a mystifying cheeriness that leaves one feeling vaguely violated by having been subjected to this game. Because beyond a few select titles, there are few games kicking around anywhere that are worse than this one, and it even manages to beat out Beyond the Beyond as the. Worst. RPG. Ever... to appear on the PlayStation.
In the Magical Kingdom of Marl, where the bunny rabbits play with the little pink moonflowers and cuddlelizards, a cloying cloud of cute hangs over everything. Handily, this miasma of adorability has choked war right out of town, sending nogoodnik Karlmadmann on his way back to the land of crazy compound words. On the downside, it also makes for a truly uninspiring setting in which to conduct the business of an RPG, and the unfortunate hero selected to struggle through this fog of sappiness is one Cornet. Which is clever, because she plays a trumpet!
This trumpet has the power to make dreams come true, which was really nice of Touched By An Angel to loan out to Atlus on such short notice. The magical horn of happiness also has the power to make a wide variety of puppets do a wide variety of mostly similar things, which take place in a mostly mediocre halfassed attempt at a grid-based battle system. The grid is generally pointless, except on the occasional annoying battle map where a rock or something gets in the way of the enemies, none of which would survive being stepped on by a very small kitten. Oh, and Cornet can also tootle her horn to make her puppets uberkawaiiviolentastic, which is again generally unnecessary since the enemies all have the constitution of a wheezy old man dying of cancer, and tend to roll over and die at the bat of an eyelash.
In the distinguishing features department, we have Cornet's super special "reward" attacks. These really are rewarding, since they often reduce battles to a single push of a button. Basically, they work on the same principle of limit breaks, with the noteworthy difference of being charged by the wonderhorn. Each of these delightful trips into fanciful food-based damage comes complete with annoying animation, which is doubly infuriating because the flan actually looks pretty tasty. At any rate, there's little else to say about this battle system, other than to mention the encounter rate, which seems to take a perverse delight in fluctuating between no enemies when Cornet's raring to level up a bunch of wimpy puppets, to three encounters in three footsteps when I was desperately trying to finish the game so I could sleep. Funtastic!
Incidentally, it's impossible to die except in the rare circumstance that a boss fight happens along and the boss makes a beeline for Cornet and does its super-powerful-mega-candy-flower-sunshine-bunny-of-flaming-death attack. Fortunately, this only happens once a game. Beyond that, every time a character levels up, which happens once every two fights or so, it is completely restored to full health and mana, so there's never any need to touch the items that accumulate with tedious regularity as the game progresses.
Yes, there are items in flower pots. There are items in stewpots. There are items in barrels and boxes and beds and corners and vases and toilets and of course, treasure chests. There are items in crates. There are crates that are the most powerful boxes in the world, but they don't have stuff in them for some reason, which doesn't make much sense, since one of the founding principles of storage is "put it in something that won't break", and besides there are items everywhere else. Then again, not much makes sense about the kingdom of Marls, so there's not much point in losing sleep over a box. At any rate, searching for items is the only reprieve from the truly terrible dungeon crawling, which is absolutely the worst to appear in any game anywhere. Most developers take the time to make things twist and turn and such a different way in each dungeon, but alas - Marls contains a truly stupendous number of caves that look exactly the same, along with a bunch of temples all designed by the same braindead Ancient architect, who must have been doused with a truly heroic amount of valium to have turned out a series of temples so godforsakenly dull. There really is an utter lack of effort here, and it's almost possible to see the glue leaking from the corners of each cut and paste dungeon, which would actually have been kind of nice, because then maybe there would have been some variety in how much glue was getting all over the place.
Moving about is mercifully simple; once Cornet has entered an area, she can go back in the blink of an eye from virtually anywhere on the map. She doesn't even have to suffer the indignity of connecting the dots like various other RPG heroes of yore, which is probably due to the trumpet (heck, anyone with a magical trumpet would probably wish to teleport from here to there instead of suffering from the nagging suspicion that they're drawing a picture of Mickey Mouse). The menu interface is also fairly adequate, although equipping characters is certainly annoying. Still, it's only possible to spend so much time customizing the pitifully few bits and pieces of armour and weaponry available in the game before having to return to the actual business of playing it, so even this can't save Rhapsody in the end.
Now, why, oh, why, in a game whose existence is predicated upon music, would the music be awful? This is just one of many troubling questions that twelve of the worst gaming hours ever spent provoked, and there's no easy answer, sad to say. There's one, yes, count it - one - dungeon theme used throughout the game, with a solitary town song covering most of the bases in that department. Each of Marls' castles gets its very own theme and a couple of random other places get a half-hearted attempt at background music, but beyond that, there's no variety, and the few songs that there are are pretty lousy. This, lamentably, is not something that can be said for the "musical numbers", which "suck ultimately", possibly because most of them have the same freaking tune. The other ones are just weird and disturbing, such as the Frog Kingdom Rondo and the Strangely Homoerotic Mountain Men Medley. Yet, there's no way to skip through most of them, and leaving the PSX on at startup for a second too long results in Cornet launching into her "I am Cornet. Who is my Brain?" song.
This brings up another issue that Rhapsody suffers from - the game crashes for no reason from time to time, possibly as an ill-fated attempt to add variety to things. Fortunately, the most common such occurence takes place at startup, but occasionally, going from room to room causes unaccountable minute-long delays, and other times things just seize up for the heck of it. The visuals certainly don't add any sense of complexity to the game, and while they are generally nice enough, they're nothing special and another area that reeks of apathy on the part of the developers.
Rhapsody is easy. Rhapsody is painfully easy. Rhapsody is rather pointless because it is so easy, and would be better served as a two-minute webcomic that nobody reads. This applies to both Rhapsody's story, and Rhapsody's gameplay, neither of which should ever have been conceived of. Rhapsody, while original in concept, is the distillation of the most basic of RPG elements, and takes no pains to spice things up any. Rhapsody can be finished in less than a day, though why anyone would want to deal with such a glut of this game is a mystery. In summation, Rhapsody is icky.
Oh, well. At least it did have a few lines that were kind of funny. These, sadly, were mostly limited to descriptions of items, or in self-referencing bits and pieces by the translators, who evidently grew rather bored halfway through the admittedly tepid script. They also grew a bit careless, as there are a few spelling errors here and there, and the number of times characters go "HO HO HO HO HO" or "HA HA HA HA HA" or "HE HE HE HE HE" or "SAFELY ENLARGE YOUR--" is despairingly high. Other translators have had the courtesy to heroically mold a crappy Japanese script, so at least Atlus could have tried. Then again, making the vocal lyrics so hackneyed and horrible must have taken a lot of brainpower by itself, so there probably wasn't much left over for everything else.
Why, then, would anyone go to the trouble of playing through this game? Well, there really is no easy answer for that, and years of therapy will probably be required to bring one to light. Anyone looking to avoid extended bouts of psychiatric intervention should therefore steer clear. In fact, anyone looking to avoid a really terrible game would also be well-advised to look elsewhere for entertainment, cuz there sure ain't any to be had here.
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