Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy | Review (3DS)
With the exception of Rhythm Thief & the Emporer’s Treasure coming out a couple of weeks later, there weren’t a lot of rhythm games to go around that didn’t involve plastic instruments, microphones, or making yourself look like a complete goof in front of your TV screen, let alone one you can take on the road. It was only a few years ago where I was putting a ton of playtime into Elite Beat Agents, Nintendo’s American answer to Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! Since then, aside from a couple of rhythm based games that didn’t really take off, nothing really came about aside from fan remakes of these games.
For the 25th anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise, Square Enix decided it was time to do something special. Enter Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, a rhythm game based on music spanning the mothership games, from the NES original that kept Squaresoft in business all the way up to the 13th. But does it end up being a masterpiece?
Theatrhythm is, as already put, a rhythm game based on all Final Fantasy music. Each of the mainstream games up to Final Fantasy XIII (excluding X-2) have one song to start for each category: field, event and battle. Songs in each of these categories pretty much play the same way; You’ll tap, swipe, and hold your way through each song trying to get to the end. What makes the three types different are how notes are presented, leaving the challenge not only to your rhythmic ability but also how well you can read each of the three types. Field music stages become pretty straightforward with notes coming at you in a single line, though some hold notes have some up-and-down movement. Battle music stages present notes across four “lanes” that will sometimes switch lanes quickly. Event music stages can sometimes be tricky, as you’re following a marker around a screen, tapping and swiping as it goes over each note, but this marker can suddenly change direction and speed to try to throw you off.
Series mode is where most players will start their Theatrhythm experience. This mode will take you through all three songs in a specific game, along with opening and ending themes that don’t really serve any purpose other than a boring way to gain some extra rhythmia at the beginning and end of each series. (Both the opening and ending can be skipped.) Once a game in series mode is clear, its songs are unlocked in challenge mode, where each song can be played by itself at harder difficulties. (Harder difficulties can also be unlocked in series mode by clearing all three songs for that game in challenge mode at those harder difficulties) Probably the greatest challenge in the game though comes down to chaos shrine mode, which will not only challenge your Theatrhythm skills but also how well you’ve built your party. “Dark notes” that are played in this mode come in two song sets, with the goal of defeating one of the dark note’s three bosses. If you successfully beat one, you can gain shards which will allow you to unlock new characters when you collect enough of one color.
Theatrhythm still doesn’t forget where it came from, and it shows that by having a robust customisation system. Characters in your party gain EXP as you finish stages, which will level them up to increase their stats in a traditional RPG-like fashion. These stats will come into play mainly to try to get items, as well as collectable character cards known as CollectaCards. (What an original name, folks!) You will also have the option of equipping abilities on your characters, which can further raise your party stats, trigger powerful magic spells if you’re doing well, or heal a part of your HP bar if you’re close to failing a stage. Though these stats come into play in various forms throughout the game, your party’s stats and abilities play a major factor in your success in chaos shrine mode, where not only is clearing the song vital, but also having a strong and well-built party that can take down bosses in time within the harder dark notes.
There’s no shortage of collectable items in Theatrhythm. People looking to get every card, character and song will be playing this game for a very long time. Though CollectaCards can be earned easily, filling out your museum’s music player, video player, as well as unlocking new songs, all comes down to earning rhythmia at the end of every stage. Though new songs and options are unlocked every 500 rhythmia, (and you can usually earn anywhere between 50-200 in any given stage) there’s a ton of things that need to be unlocked and it can become very tiring. Probably the most notorious part of this is the method of unlocking characters. Unlocking characters requires 8 of a certain color shard from dark notes, which can be very cumbersome unless you have a very powerful party that can defeat a boss that drops that color shard multiple times in the same playthrough. With around 20 characters to unlock, it just becomes too much work.
Square Enix has a reputation about making their games look amazing, and Theatrhythm again is proof of that. Though not of the art style we’re all used to by now, the cartoony, storybook-like aspects of the game give it character and fit the nature of the game well. Excluding DLC, only one on-card song is not in its original form, and they all sound crisp and clear through headphones.
Square Enix took two of my favorite genres and slapped them into one commemorative game that I will likely be playing for a very, very long time. Aside from unlocking characters being a time sink, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy should be a must-buy for every fan of the series, as well for anyone who enjoys rhythm games like I do.