Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles Preview – the musical RPG remaster you didn’t know you needed

The rise of video game remasters and remakes over the past decade is often about so much more than making a quick buck from a publisher’s back catalogue. The further back in time we go for a game remaster, the more important they are for preserving a game from being lost to the consoles of the 90s and before, but they can also have a huge impact in bringing an older classic to a whole new audience.

Few people would have picked the Rhapsody series for such a treatment, the musical-themed RPG trilogy having released around the end of the PS1 and start of the PS2 era, and with only the first of these games seeing a Western release in North America. Thankfully NIS America is righting this grievous wrong.

Following on from the remaster of the original that arrived last year, Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles brings the second and third games to the West for the first time, and we went hands-on with a development build of this duology. The funny thing is that each of these three games is a thoroughly different take on the RPG genre, pushing new ideas and experimenting in fun and interesting ways, both in terms of gameplay and narrative structure. The main thing that runs through these games is the musical theme, and off-kilter tone.

Rhapsody II: Ballad of the Little Princess tells the story of the young princess Kururu, looking to follow in the footsteps of her mother Cornet, the heroine of the first game, and venture forth to find a prince.

Rhapsody 2 RPG combat

Where the first game was a tactical RPG, this shifts to a more traditional form of JRPG turn-based battling. Now, instead of marshalling a small army of puppets to battle alongside you, they’re summoned as abilities to peform and cast magic. There’s still a musical twist here, as using a puppet adds a note to the musical staff in the top left of the screen, but what really stands out here is the general tone.

You’d think that the cornet-playing Kururu would be a support character, standing in the backfield and buffing her allies with melifluous melodies and rousing calls, but no. When she performs a standard attack, she pulls out her cornet, leaps at an enemy and blasts them right in the ears with a toot! Meanwhile, Crea, her best friend and adventuring buddy, might be dressed up like a stereotypical princess but she is packing heat, whipping out a giant gun and just straight up shooting enemies!

If these attacks weren’t silly enough, the adventure that Kururu and Crea goes on is just as quirky. Sneaking out of the castle to try and get ice cream, they’re surprised to find the city’s main ice cream parlour closed and with the staff missing. Following a trail of clues into the nearby forrest, they happen upon a rival ice cream parlour that’s doing a fine trade that day… but what’s that? Some cats are seemingly kidnapping the other parlour’s workers!

Rhapsody 2 cats meow

Battling through the cavernous cellar, clattering through waves of cats in chef hats, and freeing the other cooks, it all leads to the kitchen and one of the game’s many musical interludes – these are kept with Japanese singing and English text, where the spoken dialogue can be had in either Japanese or English. It is through this quirky number that we discover the true origins of this establishment’s ice cream, a darkly funny twist that calls to mind that coffee bean that’s passed through a civet cat for extra flavour.

The remaster here is about as faithful to the originals as you can possibly get. The late PS1 sprite work of Rhapsody 2 is kept intact, as are Rhapsody 3’s efforts to blend in 3D backgrounds on the PS2, and it’s all preserved with the original 4:3 aspect ratio and what feels like straight up integer scaling. Really the only concession to the ultra-high resolutions of modern TVs and screens is the optional scanlines to get that retro CRT feel.

Rhapsody 3 town square

Speaking of Rhapsody 3: memories of Marl Kingdom, and the series shifts gears once again with parties of characters lining up in rows, each of which has a row leader that marshalls their attacks and combined partner abilities.

There’s also a totally different style of storytelling, expanding on the stories of the first two games with six chapters that each follows a different character and party on new adventures. There’s chapters interleaved with the story of the first game, following the second game, and builds up to a conclusion featuring Cornet’s mother, Cherie.

Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles is the remaster I never knew we needed; its uniquely silly tone something that absolutely deserves to be revived for a new generation of players.

Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles is coming out on 1st September 2023 for Nintendo Switch, PS5 and PC.