Rhapsody III: Memories of Marl Kingdom Review
Pinch Me, Pinch Me…
Sometimes different can be a good thing, and sometimes it’s a disaster. With the release of Rhapsody II on PlayStation, it felt like the stories of Cornet and Kururu had finally come to a close. Then NIS decided that more stories needed to be told in the form of Rhapsody III: Memories of Marl Kingdom, which along with its predecessor has finally gotten an English release through Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles. Unfortunately, this additional game does little other than to break the charm and joy the series is known for.
The game is broken up into six short stories, each focusing on different characters throughout the Marl Kingdom series. The first story is about Cornet’s early adventures, wherein she helps a young mushroom girl look for her mother. The second story focuses on the Miss Marl Kingdom Competition, where Kururu must prove to her father, King Ferdinand, that her love for Cello is true. By far the silliest story comes third and involves the Marjoly family and their missing Nyankos. The fourth story is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, wherein Pekoyan, who works for the Akurjo family, is in love with Pokoyan, who is a part of the Marjoly family. As star-crossed lovers, they want to find a way to make their relationship work. Perhaps the longest story is the fifth one, which is set a thousand years before the original Rhapsody, and focuses on Cherie (the mother of Cornet), looking at her life from the last days of the Ancient civilization up until her death. The final chapter is a boss rush, where players can use any of the characters from the previous chapters to take on the Terrible Overlord.
A common issue with short story collections is that they can vary in quality, and that is definitely the case with Rhapsody III. The first tale involving Cornet is one of the worst, as it is a useless story that adds absolutely nothing to the original Rhapsody, and it’s plagued by some of the more irritating characters, the mushroom people known as the Elingers. It’s no wonder why this side story wasn’t included in the original game, but curiously was added to the DS version of Rhapsody. The other big stinker comes in the form of the fourth story involving two Nyankos who are in love, but simply involves nothing more than backtracking and boring busywork. The boss rush chapter is an additional chapter for fans who want more content, but is also not rewarding in any way.
The second story involving Kururu is better, as there’s great humour in King Ferdinand in particular, but again it’s just a silly side story that does give Kururu her happy ending but also doesn’t feel totally necessary. The third story involving the Marjoly family is the shortest, chock full of the kind of stupid humour one would expect from these characters, but again doesn’t give us anything new regarding their stories. The fifth chapter, and longest story, is the only one that truly feels like it tells an important story regarding the Marl Kingdom cast, as it focuses on Cherie, Cornet’s mother, from the beginning of her life to the end. Not only is it the best-written story, but it’s one where every moment truly feels like it matters, and we get to know so much more about the supporting characters and their humble beginnings.
The majority of the stories feel very short, have weird pacing, and don’t add anything to the overall Marl Kingdom universe. It’s a shame too because while the stories are not very good, the localization tries its hardest to keep the dialogue engaging and funny. The effort is notable and appreciated, but it can’t fix the game’s actual offerings. The minimal voice acting that is in Rhapsody III is fantastic, with the English cast doing a great job of playing into how over-the-top all the characters are. There also aren’t as many songs in Rhapsody III, which is sad, and the songs that do exist are sung in Japanese with English subtitles. What music that is present, however, is wonderful and whimsy, exactly what one would expect from the zaniness of the Rhapsody series.
Another area where Rhapsody III drops the ball is its combat system. Featuring traditional turn-based combat, with a few twists, players have up to twelve characters divided into four rows. Players only have direct control over the leaders at the front of the line. All other characters are considered partners, who perform their actions automatically, though it’s random as to whether they will attack or use magic. Assigning partners modifies the stats of row leaders and unlocks special abilities. The game also uses a skill point (SP) system, instead of Rhapsody II‘s method of using currency, which is an unremarkable change.
Simply put, it’s not a good battle system. Twelve characters to keep an eye on is too many, and there’s no way to predict what the back-row characters will do. In a lot of cases, the recruitable monsters are too underleveled, requiring grinding to be useful. This is made all the more difficult because the game’s difficulty is terribly unbalanced. Some chapters, such as Marjoly’s one, are way too easy, while others such as the Nyanko have a mixture of bosses being both too easy and too hard. The battle system never quite finds its rhythm, and it’s all the more depressing because the basics of it are so boring to boot. Rhapsody III’s battle system is a boring slog, which could perhaps be overlooked if the game had a consistent difficulty. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Given Rhapsody III came out on PlayStation 2 in 2000 and may have looked nice for its time, but the blend of 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds isn’t exactly appealing looking in 2023. It would have been nice to see the sprites being given an HD treatment, but even that likely wouldn’t fix how janky some of the background areas look. Is it an ugly game? No. But as port given a fresh 2023 release, it’s not exactly pleasant-looking either. It also doesn’t help that players will be visiting a lot of these locations over and over again, making for a very dull dungeon-crawling experience. At least there’s the benefit that it’s hard to forget where to go in areas one has already traversed.
I adored Rhapsody and Rhapsody II, but Rhapsody III feels like an unnecessary addition to this fun series. The game feels like more of a cash grab, offering mediocre stories regarding the series’ wonderful cast of characters, and it’s accompanied by uninspired dungeons and question combat design. Rhapsody III was a rollercoaster I was begging to get off because the constant ups and downs felt like whiplash. Two out of six short stories are not enough for me to recommend Rhapsody III, even for series fans, but one could say its presence for a bundle helped finally give Rhapsody II its welcome western release.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Music and voice acting are solid
Short story structure has no real pay off
Difficultly is unbalanced
Boring dungeon design and battle system