Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles is the combination release of Rhapsody II: Ballad of the Little Princess and Rhapsody III: Memories of Marl Kingdom. Originally released in 1999 and 2000 respectively, both games are now available for the first time in the west.
Rhapsody II kicks into action by following the titular Princess Kururu on her quest for adventure and love. It’s explained Kururu is the daughter of Princess Cornet, who was the protagonist in the first Rhapsody game. If you’ve never played the first iteration, there's a really thorough explanation as to what transpired so you can get up to speed.
Cornet and Kururu are from a family which has the ability to speak with puppets, and they'll form part of your party as you go about your adventure. You can bid a puppet to act during your turn in combat, dealing physical or magical damage, or healing. Defeating monsters in battle adds them to your party as a puppet, but not everyone can use a puppet.
The plot of Rhapsody II is really linear, with almost no room for deviation. There’s no mini-map or reminder of the current objective, so if you leave the game for a couple of days, let’s hope your memory serves you better than ours did.
Environment backgrounds are constantly reused, which is not only boring, but also confusing to track whether you have been through an area before. In fact, there's a sequence where you are stuck in a certain place and can’t leave, but we hadn’t realised as we were so accustomed to the background recycling.
Battling doesn’t fare much better; it’s turn-based combat, but there’s absolutely no challenge at all. It becomes so repetitive and stale, we were frustrated by battles interrupting the story.
What Ballad of the Little Princess does really well is its commitment to music. Throughout the game there are musical interludes with the characters singing songs to convey feelings and drive plot. It’s a really cool and unique concept we’ve not seen before, but this can’t save the game as a whole from feeling very pedestrian.
Memories of Marl Kingdom improves on its predecessor's weaknesses. Battles offer up a challenge and need to actually be thought about. The chapters in the game are set before, during, and after the events of the first two Rhapsody games, giving a deeper insight into the stories. Again, injected with musical intermissions, it’s an all-round better experience than Ballad of the Little Princess, albeit a much briefer one.