One thing that can make or break a game is the music. It can shape the very emotions of a scene; be it jovial and upbeat, heart racing and action-packed within a battle, sombre and heartbreaking when things get dark or even tell a story as you join your playable character in their adventures. There are plenty of popular games that do this. However, there is one particular video game soundtrack I discovered ago in 1998 that to this day I’ve yet to see replicated. This is Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure.
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, developed by Nippon Ichi Software for the Playstation 1 and later ported to the Nintendo DS, appears to be a standard tactical JRPG. I would equate it to baby’s first RPG as the combat, itself, is quite simple. Without going through all the side quests of your individual party members or attempting to channel your inner Pokemon, You can finish Rhapsody in one or two sittings.
This game is unique in its twist on both classical fantasy and fairytale tropes, as well as the music. Rhapsody is a game that would appeal more to younger girls if there were more games like it.
The basic plot is a subversion of the damsel in distress trope. You play as a young trumpet player and puppeteer named Cornet, on a quest to save Ferdinand, the prince of the Kingdom of Marl. where she lives, as he had been stolen away by a witch and her lackeys during a grand celebration. By herself, Cornet is seemingly not that remarkable of a character at the start of the game. She’s brash, immature, is more eager to wait for a prince to come to her rescue and carry her away to a better life, often has to be goaded into taking more responsibility for her actions and her happiness with the aid of her mysterious fairy puppet friend Kururu.
As the story progresses and as she travels further from her home, aiding her companions on their personal quests, you do see her blossom more into her own character. You notice she feels regret for mistakes she’s made or even questions if she’s on this quest for the right reasons. By the end of the game, you’re really rooting for her to achieve her goal and get the guy after all her trials and tribulations.
The real thing this Rhapsody has become known for and likely why it has achieved such a cult following is due to the way it handles the music. Which given the title of the game, you’d expect it to be. This game is in fact a musical. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s in a very literal sense. There are actual musical numbers in the game.
At certain points in the story, the characters will break into songs like that of a Broadway show or Disney film. They can range from conveying a character’s emotions or desires, a villain’s devious plot, or even as a moment of encouragement in a heated conflict. Sometimes the characters are aware of what’s going on, other times it’s to amplify a memory, even points of complete comedy like when surrounded by singing and dancing frogs. And they are all fully voiced, even come on a separate soundtrack along with the Playstation disc.
I spent a lot of time as a kid popping that disc into my CD player and singing along to the songs. Hell, the villain song I used for a singing audition some time ago and I got the part for it. The ending credits always choke me up with the message of thank you, Cornet, sings after her adventure ends and Let’s Go On, the engulfing theme present through the entire game, I have memorized to death to the point of randomly singing it to myself during rough times to help give me the strength to move forward.
Each song has a part to play in the story, even the ones I personally am not fond of. No offence to Mountain Man, but your lyrics are boring and repetitive. You serve a purpose, but you’re still my least favourite track.
There are a few that aren’t in Rhapsody for some reason and are only available on the soundtrack like one related to the pirates we come across in the game. Also for the Playstation version, one of the songs is a little buggy in that it doesn’t play all the way through in the cutscene, but I can easily subvert it into the story since it’s taking place in a very crucial part of the plot. (I am purposely not saying which for spoiler’s sake)
But to this day I’ve yet to see a game go to the levels Rhapsody did where the game is a literal musical with full-blown songs interwoven through the narrative. The only ones I can think of are in fact the sequels of this game that sadly at the time of this article’s publication have been Japan-exclusive with no sign of them being translated and imported nor is there any noted fan translations in the works. This is a damn shame because I have heard really positive things out of the rest of the Marl Kingdom series and would love to hear where the story of Cornet and her family went after the events of Rhapsody.
The game as far as I can tell has a strong cult following, but initially, the game never caught on heavily enough in the west along with a poorly done DS port that left Nippon Ichi to keep the series to being slightly mentioned in other games like La Pucelle Tactics and Disgaea.
I would definitely say if you can, track down this old classic or even watch a “Let’s Play” of it. Rhapsody is a big steeple of my childhood, probably the very first RPG I ever completed, and it holds a lot of value for me and many others. Maybe someday the magical tale of Cornet and her puppet friends will stretch farther beyond their one western release, but for now, I will happily hum from the soundtrack dreaming of the day the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI was more than just a one-off thing and maybe more musical inspired games like this childhood classic of mine.