Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure Review (PSX)

Rhapsody is not a particularly well-known game, but there is a small story that led to me buying it several years ago. It started with a much better known game by the name of Disgaea 2, which I will also be reviewing eventually. I missed it the first time around when it was on the PS2 because I was more preoccupied with life and Final Fantasy. So when I bought the PSP port and started downloading the additional DLC characters, I was curious where these characters came from and noticed they were mostly from prior games. Thus began my exploration into the back catalog of Nippon Ichi Software, which tangentially also led to Atlus, both of which were involved in the release of this game and went on to become RPG powerhouses.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure PlayStation I wonder why no fantasy temple looks like a synagogue

I know what you’re thinking. Just the title itself sounds silly and childish. And you’re right, the game definitely is both. But I found myself enjoying the plot all the same because it has a certain innocence. Cornet is a singing, magical horn-playing girl pining over the dashing Prince Ferdinand. She has the ability to talk to and control puppets, including her best friend and guardian Kururu. As a result of a series of goofy misadventures, many of which involve rival Etoile, Cornet must go on a mission to save the boy she loves. 

Battles in Rhapsody are TRPG-lite with Cornet and 3 puppets/friendly monsters lined up on one side and all the enemy monsters on the other. When each character’s turn comes up, that character is moved and/or attacks. Each puppet and monster has its own set of abilities and affinities which makes switching them around quite interesting. There’s no requirement to switch them, however; you could simply stick with the same team most of the game.

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As I alluded to, recruiting monsters is also possible, but don’t get it twisted and assume this is going to be like Pokemon–there are a few caveats to monster recruitment. The first is that Cornet has to beat the monster. The second is that recruitment is random with a small chance of actually occurring. The third is that when monsters die in battle, they’re gone for good. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply rely on puppets once you get 3 of them in your party.

While I have no problem with this game being cutesy and lighthearted, I take extreme issue with the fact that the dungeon design in this game is the worst I’ve ever seen. There are 3 or 4 basic graphical types used, and they simply change the colorway for different areas. Each one becomes a maze of what seems like randomly generated (but aren’t) rooms no bigger than the size of the screen. Some of these dungeons can take an hour or more to explore every single passageway with most ending in dead ends and no treasure. It took just a couple of them to convince me that using a guide would help keep me sane. This design reeks of laziness. 

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Speaking of laziness, while each character has its own skillset, most of the same types of spells have the exact same graphic when used. The exception is Cornet’s abilities which are cute and mostly represented by sugary desserts. New enemies will often be palette-swapped representations of old enemies, and most puppets look similar to one or two others. All of this can make battles look visually boring. Add to that the fact that halfway through the game, it gives you vague directions on how to continue the story.

The game’s saving grace is that nothing takes very long. You can usually run through dungeons pretty quickly if you know where you’re going. There is an auto-battle button (square) which the game never discusses but will move and attack for you so random battles aren’t a huge annoyance. Leveling up happens pretty quickly too, so you can usually go from being underpowered to overpowered within a half hour. The whole game takes around 10 hours to complete. There are also some late-game story developments that are kind of cute and unexpected which make the game more worthwhile.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure PlayStation This is the effect of a Holy spell one of your characters can cast. Pretty cheap, if you ask me

I hear the DS version received many alterations such as ditching the TRPG battles, being able to use Kururu in battle, and receiving a special move upon completing quests for similarly-designed puppets. I don’t believe the dungeon designs were changed, but I think there are maps, which helps. Overall, I have to say that the Playstation version of Rhapsody is difficult to recommend. It is cute and fun, but for all the design frustration and short runtime, it’s probably not worth tracking down a copy. However, if you are a devoted collector and want to acquire this game, you will be in for a short but sweet treat. 

Score: 3 out of 5

“Homecoming” Season 1 Review

It is common for popular stories that originate in one medium to be adapted for another. Some of the best movies began as books, and there is almost a synergistic relationship between anime and manga. A recent trend in adaptations is using a podcast as a basis for a television series. Alex, Inc. was a comedy on ABC adapted from StartUp, and Pod Save America had a 4-part special on HBO. However, Amazon has proven to be a better platform for these shows beginning with Lore, which recently began streaming its second season. Homecoming is their second effort at this, and it has already been renewed for its own sophomore season. 

We are introduced to Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) who is conducting an orientation with a soldier, who has just come home from overseas, to a program that is supposed to help people adjust to life off the battlefield. From the start it becomes clear that, similar to The Affair, we are switching off between the present and a future time some years later. The show takes us through many scenes that don’t reveal too much about what’s going on. It’s not until the second or third episode that things really begin to make sense. As the series continues, the implications of what’s happening at this Homecoming facility only get weirder and more reprehensible. By the end of the roughly 5-hour runtime, it will feel like you have been on a roller coaster.

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Though I haven’t listened to many fictional podcasts, I can say that this type of story is pretty typical of the medium–something really “out there” and told in a nonstandard way. The reason podcasts have to be a little inventive with how they tell a story is because it lacks a visual component. Little tricks like degrading both peoples’ voices on a telephone call are almost necessary. On TV, using other visual indicators like switching between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios and shooting long takes go a long way toward conveying a narrative that transcends the 30 minutes we’re given in each episode.

This nonstandard storytelling is a perfect fit for director Sam Esmail, having also created the outstanding Mr. Robot. He treats this as a labor of love and devotes special attention to all the details outside of the story itself, and it pays off tremendously. Julia Roberts, in her first major TV credit that I’m aware of, completely embodies Heidi and doesn’t hold back. It’s amazing how many other familiar faces were involved in making this series, including Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace, Mr. Robot), Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk), Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire, First Man), and Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Bloodline), all of which deftly handle their characters.

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One of the reasons this series is so easy to recommend is that you can watch it in one night (like I did). I think this show excels partially because the length is so short. Instead of droning on for hours wondering what’s going on, everything comes to a head quickly. There are even some deep philosophical questions at play here, but stating those would reveal too much about the plot. Homecoming is an achievement in modern television and everyone should give it a watch. I’m anxious to see where it goes in its second season, for which it has already been renewed.

Score: 5 out of 5