Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
July 3rd, 2012
Behold, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy! Blending RPG elements with tap based rhythm gameplay, Square Enix and Indieszero brings this unique title to fans just in time for Final Fantasy's 25 anniversary. With characters and songs spanning the series illustrious history, will Theatrhythm be music to the ears, or just bad karaoke?
Our favorite heroes find themselves in yet another alternate world similar to Dissidia. This time, Chaos and Cosmos rule over a land in which the Music Crystal provides balance. As Chaos's power overtakes Cosmos, our heroes must collect the only thing that can restore balance to this world, Rhythmia. Interestingly enough that is all the story you'll get out of Theatrhythm, at least blatantly. Personally I believe there is more to it, as the back of the game's clamshell reads "Play back your awakened memories". A case could be made that this game is actually a sequel to Dissidia and Dissidia 012 for PSP and that our heroes are recovering all the memories they lost due to Shenlong's meddling in the affairs of Cid of the Lufaine, Chaos, and Cosmos in Dissidia. Whether I'm wrong or I'm right any story here will be mostly implied. It seems as if the focus (for once in a Final Fantasy related game) is not on story at all, but on reminding you of the stories of past titles. In this regards it does an excellent job as many a teary eye could be seen as I played.
Players will instantly recognize the MonsterOctopus designs for our beloved Final Fantasy characters. This style was originally envisioned for the Japanese only phone game Kingdom Hearts Mobile, but works wonderfully here. Each character, even the monsters have a super cute, super deformed look to them and they move as if they are children’s toys brought to life. The impressive designs do not end at the characters though, the charm is spread equally throughout the game as re-envisioned areas from Field Music Segments and Battle Music Segments take us to places we remember in a way we've never seen before. The game is also chalked full of videos of original gameplay and cutscenes from the entire Final Fantasy series; which look just as great on the 3DS as they did originally. Even the cutscenes from Final Fantasy XIII, the only current gen Final Fantasy in Theatrhythm, are striking. Everything from the menus to the character designs in Theatrhythm is exponentially more charming with each moment you play!
The 3D graphics displayed by the 3DS's auto stereoscopic top screen are well done and a credit to the system as well. I found the 3D to be particularly useful during Event Music Segments as the game's moves and marks are elevated while the background is sunken in. This allows you to focus more on the moves themselves without being distracted by the events in the background. Thankfully the layers are separated well; with no ghosting as long as you play indoors (sunlight always seems to screw up the 3D effect in any game). It's up to you if you want to keep the slider on though, as missing the background will deny you some of the awesome memories evoked by this game's many wonderful moments.
Theatrhythm is a lovely serenade to Final Fantasy fans everywhere. The sound quality for this game is the most impressive I have ever heard in any 3DS game to date. This is saying a lot because personally I was very disappointed with the 3DS's downgrade in both volume and audio quality from the DSi and DSi XL handhelds. Thankfully, extra attention was paid to ensure that even with the volume slider maxed, the songs still sound very clear, which I am more than thankful for. Headphones are still your best bet, but even those without a decent pair can relive the majesty and delight of 25 years of Master Nobou Uematsu's composing excellence featured in this game.
Song choices are of course every bit as important as quality, and Theatrhythm does well. Sure, there are a few selections that are sorely missed, but overall Final Fantasy fans will be pleased. Inclusions like "One-Winged Angel", "Zanarkand", "The Man with the Machine Gun", and "Theme of Love" are total crowd pleasers. Even the music in the game's menus are like trips down memory lane. The downside to this though is that of the games 77 songs, only 65 are available immediately. The other 12 must be arduously unlocked by enough Rhythmia grinding to give you an arrhythmia (HA!). Theatrhythm does support DLC track additions that are easy to download, without even leaving the game. Tons of songs are planned for DLC, enough to more than double the game's current track list with gems like "Sanctuary of Zi'tah" for starters. Any fan of FF is sure to have plenty to look forward to over the next coming months.
Ah yes, gameplay, the proverbial meat and potatoes of the game. In this sense you would normally assume, being a rhythm game, Theatrhythm would be a fairly light meal. Well prepare to strap on that man-bib 'cause you'd be wrong. Theatrhythm is a surprisingly filling fare with amazing taste. What you sample first is certainly the rhythm elements, which are of course the core of gameplay, but then you get that delightful RPG aftertaste. “Have I gone daft?”, you will be asking, “a rhythm/RPG?” I assure you that you are not crazy and Square Enix combines RPG elements with another unlikely game genre yet again.
Gameplay itself is simple at its core. You will tap (red circles), hold (green bars), and slide (yellow arrows) the stylus to the music as it meets the mark on screen. The best part is the gameplay is totally smooth. The game runs at a constant 60-frames per second which is absolutely essential for a great rhythm game. Each tap feels smooth and responsive each and every time. Then the RPG elements come into play adding depth. As you tap away in the Battle Music Segments (BMS) you will damage your enemies in proportion to your party members' strength stats. You can also trigger abilities your characters have equipped and they will deal damage that is enhanced by their magic stat. Magic also boosts the damage dealt by summons should you succeed in summoning them. In Field Music Segments (FMS) successful tapping will propel you farther along the field, and is enhanced by your character's agility stat. Luck also comes into play here should you succeed in summoning a Chocobo to ride on. In Event Music Segments (EMS) you simply tap to the music as a cutscene plays in the background. Agility, which affects your ability to "dodge" taking damage from missed moves, and the luck stat, which and raises your likelihood for obtaining treasure, affect all segments including EMS.
Like I said, simple right? In addition to savvy playing, the characters you choose, abilities you equip, and items you select can all drastically affect play. As each segment is completed you gain experience based on your score. This will help your party members level up, increasing their stats and teaching them new abilities to use. Each character is a little different, with varying stats and HPs, and separate ability lists. Each character also has a certain amount of CP that will limit the abilities your characters can equip. While in Basic difficulty, character set-ups and abilities don't matter as much, but success in higher difficulties and alternate gameplay modes can be dependent on your choices. While overall it may not be as in depth as full RPGs, it certainly provides any RPG fan with enough fun to make this game far more interesting than a simple rhythm game.
There are three main game modes, Series, Challenge, and the Chaos Shrine. All of these will yield experience for your leveling pleasure, Rhythmia, items, CollectaCards, and Shards (What are they? Check "Lasting Appeal"). At the beginning only Series will be available so we'll start with that. Series lets you play five songs from each Final Fantasy in a row. You'll start off with an opening theme, followed by EMS, FMS and BMS in varying orders, concluded with an ending theme. The opening and ending are both far simpler than normal gameplay as you simply tap the screen to the beat, but both are completely optional. Rhythmia collectors might want to stick with them though, as they do add extra Rhythmia for participation. Completing the Series for any FF will allow you to unlock the three main songs in the Challenge mode. In Challenge Mode you can select single songs to play at any time at the Basic or Expert difficulties. Clearing a song on Expert will unlock the Ultimate difficulty for that song, and clearing all songs from a particular Final Fantasy on Expert difficulty will allow you to play them on Expert difficulty back in Series mode. Lastly, the Chaos Shrine is home to any Dark Notes you obtain. Normally these can only be grabbed by completing other Dark Notes, or from StreetPassing friends, you get one freebie to start you off. Dark Notes are hectic and you have to be on your toes as you play through a higher difficulty version of one random BMS and FMS back to back. The draw? Dark Notes are the best way to get rarer items, CollectaCards, and Shards.
The only drawback to the gameplay at all is that sometimes it feels as if you are getting the run-around. Personally, I would have liked to unlock Expert difficulty in Series mode by beating them all on Basic or something similar. Having to unlock different songs and difficulties by hopping back and forth between Series and Challenge mode is the game's only real annoyance. It is pretty obvious this was done to up the playtime on this game, but come on SE; the love of the songs should do that just fine.
Speaking of "upping the play time", Theatrhythm has plenty of very non annoying ways to suck up your time as well. Despite seeing the credits after only six hours of gameplay, I have already more than doubled that time with other things. First off the game features 13 playable characters to start, all which level well past 30. Getting every character to their max level is always a must for me but even if that isn't your bag, unlocking all the songs should be. Though the game is technically over after you reach 10,000 Rhythmia, you will only see one extra song unlock by that point. To get the game's extra 12 songs you need to keep building Rhythmia, with new songs unlocking periodically all the way to 45,000. There are also CollectaCards and Shards (see, I told you I'd get to 'em!) to collect. Shards require eight per color and once completed will unlock one of 16(!) alternate characters that can also be used as playable characters. Among these fashionably late to the party are Yuna, Aerith, Kain, Locke, Seifer, and Rydia. CollectaCards are what they sound like, collectable cards. Each character, monster, boss, and summon all have their own trading card that can be added to complete your album of 83 in total. Get four of the same and the card will turn holofoil, even more and it will become platinum as well. These don't affect gameplay at all but as you can imagine being both a completionist and a card buff I'm going for an all-platinum set. Theatrhythm also has multiplayer co-op play for 2-4 players. Heading over to the Chaos Shrine allows you to play with friends who also have the game to tackle the games difficult Dark Notes together. I have to say I was delightfully surprised by this and I already have a few friends who own this and will be lending me their help very soon!
Excuse me while I gasp for air. If all of that was not enough, the game even has trophies for certain feats you attain. No, Nintendo has not added trophy support, so calm down; these are entirely in-game based. There are 60+ and although they do not change the game they are something to aim for. Theatrhythm also utilizes the 3DS's StreetPass function, allowing you to pass your customized ProfiCard (profile card for long) to others. If you receive one it may even have a Dark Note attached! Square Enix has really covered a lot of bases; ensuring players will be able to find a reason to keep coming back to this title for awhile.
Theatrhythm is a masterful entry into Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchise, easily as masterful as the amazing compositions that drive its unique gameplay. There really is so much going on in this game it's almost hard to understand the full breadth of this game at first glance. The marriage between the rhythm and RPG elements alone is enough to praise, as the balance between the two is right where it needs to be for fans of both genres. The game is as smooth as eggs with a marvelous 60 frames-per-second gameplay speed. Theatrhythm also has fantastic replay value from the songs, to the collectibles, and finally the DLC, so players are sure to get their money’s worth. The only problems I see at all are the unnecessarily difficult task of getting higher difficulty songs across the board, and the inevitable "I wish this song was...” Not to say I didn't doubt a few choices myself, but even without a couple favorites, the songs that were included are thoroughly enjoyable.
Despite any flaw perceived here Theatrhythm is an excellent hybrid game that really has the ability to bring FF fans around to other popular tap games such as the tap-a-licious Elite Beat Agents, or the upcoming Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure. Conversely, it has the chance to attract rhythm enthusiasts to Final Fantasy as well. In fact, it would be an outright shame if this game were to be overlooked by non-FF fans simply for its branding. So if you like either genre, you will feel right at home here, and if you don't this is a pretty exemplary title and you might want to give it a chance!
In closing, Theatrhythm is Amaze-balls.