Square Enix has achieved quite a feat with its 3DS game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. First off, they've created the ultimate in fan service to the music of this legendary game series. But secondly, they've also developed a surprisingly accessible music game that anyone can jump in and play!
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a rhythm action game where you will tap, slide and swipe in time with various pieces of music from the entire history of the main Final Fantasy series. Everything from Final Fantasy all the way to Final Fantasy XIII. The game is deceptively simple at first, but like all good games, that's how they sucker you in as you begin to realize that there's a whole lot more than first meets the eye.
There are three main modes of play. First is Series Mode, where you select one of the Final Fantasy games and then play through five pieces of music. There's opening and closing titles, where you simply tap in time with the music as little glowing bubbles land on a crystal. Then there's a Battle Music Stage, where you follow four lines of actions as they scroll across the screen, with successful timing will land hits on the enemies you face. Next is an Field Music Stage where a character will walk delightfully from right to left as you follow the string of actions along a moving line with your stylus. Lastly is an Event Music Stage where the line of notes moves geometrically all over the screen as a montage of cutscenes from the game plays in the background.
Series Mode is kind of a breeze, with most songs rather easy to complete. I did find that I did best on the Battle and Field stages, but would get distracted by the Event ones. But if you're after a challenge, you can opt for the aptly-named Challenge Mode, where you can select any of the songs that you've successfully completed in Series Mode and play through it on the increasingly difficult Basic, Expert and Ultimate levels. And if that's still not enough for you, there's the Chaos Shrine, where Dark Notes you collect each contain a Field and Battle stage of randomly generated music with an absolutely insane level of dexterity needed to complete the level. It's a fantastic way of creating all kinds of difficultly levels, something many rhythm games don't really do very well.
Being a Final Fantasy game, of course, there's got to be an RPG element to it, right? Well, here you can create a party of four characters that you equip with items and skills, then level up and acquire new items while completing songs. What's great is that you don't even really need to worry about the RPG aspect if you don't want to. In fact, I played through the entire Series Mode without equipping a single item or changing any abilities. Of course, on the harder difficulties and in the Chaos Shrine levels, you're going to want to be a higher level and have some better weapons and items because that's going to help you finish the songs. Your character's health bar depletes with each note you miss, and you might be grateful for that Hi-Potion when you're about to fail out right at the end of the song!
There's multiplayer, but it's local only and everyone needs a copy of the game to team up and play through the songs together. There is a StreetPass function where you create a ProfiCard which is traded with other Theatrhythm players along with a Dark Note if you choose to attach one to your card. The only online aspect to the game is the store where you can pay to download additional songs in the future.
Graphics are crisp and clean, and the 3D is used to nice effect, with layers of musical notes above the characters and backgrounds. And the super deformed characters are ridiculously adorable. The sound is naturally wonderful, with everything from the chiptunes of the earlier FF games to the orchestral scores of the later ones coming through with crystal clarity. And there's even the option to adjust the volume of the tapping sound effects when you pull off moves if you want to just hear the tunes! And thankfully, for a music rhythm game, the controls are spot on with a super-responsive touchscreen. If you miss a note, it's going to be your fault, not the game's.
As I said, Theatrhythm is major fan service for the Final Fantasy tunes, and as you play through the game, you will unlock songs and videos in the museum as well as CollectaCards of the characters and creatures. But what's great about this game is that it's still a lot of fun even if you aren't a huge FF fanboy. I've played a handful of the titles, and barely knew a fraction of the songs, but I still had a lot of fun playing them. Other music games are difficult to play if you aren't familiar with the song's rhythm, but here, it's just easy enough that you can pull it off. Well, that is until you try the harder settings!
Playing through Story Mode will only unlock a fraction of what's available in this game. Like any RPG, you're going to have to grind if you want to really get anywhere. But so far, replaying the songs isn't as much of a chore as I'd been afraid it would be (since you've got 13 games of songs to choose from!). And that's good, because you're going to need to play a lot to earn enough Rhythmia to unlock all the good stuff. You can trade characters in and out of your party to level them up evenly, and you even get bonuses if you use a character in the game they were in, like playing as Cloud in the FF VII songs.
If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, especially its music, you're probably going to want to check out Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, unless you're violently opposed to music games. And at the same time, if you're a big fan of music games (like I am), you might also want to check it out, because even if you're not a FF fan, it's still a really good music game. There's a lot of content, and varying levels of difficulty to make it accessible for everyone. Who knew Square Enix would be the ones to make one of the best music rhythm games out there?
A copy of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was purchased for the purpose of this review. Series Mode was completed, and the Chaos Shrine was begun...