The Adventures of Puppet Princess


   It's an unfortunate fact of life that sometimes the best games, movies, albums, or what-have-you are so terribly misrepresented by their ad campaigns that they never receive the recognition they deserve. (Not convinced? Ask an Iron Giant fan.) In that dubious tradition, Atlus picked up the surprisingly good "Adventure of Puppet Princess," then dug themselves a deep hole by marketing it to ... who, exactly? By heavily hyping up the musical aspect--they released almost more MP3s than they did screenshots--they forgot to promote their enjoyable, irreverent, genre-bending strategy RPG part of their acquisition.

 The only thing Metallica and Cornet have in common.
Master of Puppets

   Rhapsody is, of course, not without flaws. Anyone wanting deep, customizable strategy should go play Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle. The isometric battlefields are too small to execute any real tactics or planning, and there isn't enough variation in movement or attack range to bother arranging your party members in anything resembling a formation--not that the game will allow much in the way of preplanned formations. If, on the other hand, you'd rather not spend hours micromanaging your forces and arranging equipment just so, Rhapsody will undoubtedly appeal. It's one of the fastest-paced, most intuitive strategy RPGs ever made, as easy to learn as it is to enjoy. The random battles go quickly without the need to constantly check the order of attacks or carefully set up a coordinated defense. None of this is to say that Rhapsody's system is necessarily better than a game which emphasizes the careful chipping away at foes until victory is inevitable, but it's a nice change of pace.

   Probably the biggest flaw of Rhapsody's also has to do with its simplicity: none of the dungeons are really that interesting. All are composed of an interlocking series of one-screen rooms, with few floors or basements to provide a challenge. This means first that you'll be spending a lot of time looking at the same tiles and room designs; and second that it's pretty easy to get lost in the rather featureless, identical rooms. Fortunately, the encounter rate is low enough to prevent getting mired in a mass of enemy encounters while trying to figure out where you are, but the dungeons are nonetheless disappointing.

Long on creativity, short on common sense.
Cornet blows it.

   Taken together, the simplistic battle system and basic dungeon designs might be crippling enough flaws to kill the game--that is, if the game didn't have one of the most refreshing stories and casts seen yet in an RPG. There are no ancient threats or evil overlord destroyers here. No chipper young men trying to follow in the footsteps of their idols. Bypassing (most) cliches of the genre, Rhapsody manages to create a heroine more real and identifiable than any ten of your average anime RPG's adventurers. Cornet, along with her sentient puppet friend Kururu, has only two objectives during the game, neither of which involves saving the planet or even a town. All she wants to do is first meet Prince Ferdinand to tell him her name, and then save him from stone imprisonment. Her adversary is not a power-crazed madman intent on world domination, but a trashy sorceress past her prime who wants Prince Ferdinand all to herself.

   The plot also takes liberties not usually seen in this sort of game. After establishing a cheerful, warm tone in the first ten or so hours, Rhapsody blithely introduces notes of dissonance; those familiar with the genre will find themselves raising an eyebrow and muttering, "But that's not how that's supposed to happen." The unconventional narrative is helped immensely but Atlus' quirky translation, which strikes a delicate balance between excellent characterization and lines like "I'm gonna bust out the people's elbow." (Well, perhaps "delicate" is the wrong word.)

 When Marjoly and Zelda 64's Great Fairy were in a beauty contest, it was the judges who lost.
Not evil. Just misguided.

   Complementing the rather nonstandard plot is bright, colorful art. Large sprites moving around well-illustrated backgrounds are what people have come to expect from these games, and Rhapsody does not disappoint. All of the characters are humorously well-animated, particularly Marjoly's queasily amusing "bounce." The character portraits shown in dialogue boxes have, like the Lunar series, multiple expressions to convey just what they're thinking at the moment. The non-dungeon backgrounds are well-done and completely fit the tone of the game.

The story takes a turn for the weird when the party finds its way into Contra.
Cornet vs. Red Falcon.

   On the other hand, the much-touted vocal tracks strewn throughout the game frequently seem out of place, and comprise one of Rhapsody's biggest weaknesses. "Let's Go On," is nice, and the "True Courage" is twistedly funny, but the rest of the vocal themes are rather painful. The background music is pleasant enough, but the included soundtrack disc probably won't stay in CD players for very long.

   There's a lot to recommend in Rhapsody, such as the original story, great translation, colorful art, and idiosyncratic characters. There are even multiple difficulty settings to make the game accessible to players of any age. Keep in mind, though, that the battle system, dungeon designs, and music aren't for everybody. Rhapsody isn't an especially deep game, but it's a lot of fun, which is all a good game really needs--that, and a little bit of well-placed marketing.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure
Developer Nippon Ichi
Publisher Atlus
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date  12.17.98
Atlus' "Mystery RPG" revealed as Rhapsody
129 English screenshots
4 wallpapers
American packaging