Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a bizarre little beast. For a series well known for its epic RPG adventures spanning a number of different consoles and decades, it seems like the strangest decision to bring it over to the music genre. In what seems like a sure fire miss for the franchise, Theatrhythm however ends up working surprisingly well.
Like many music games that have come before on the DS, Theatrhythm has you tapping and sliding the stylus on the touch screen in time with a number of tunes. You’ll find three different stage forms to tackle in Theatrhythm bringing with them varying pace and types of gameplay. The Battle Music Stages for example use a much faster beat and have you following on screen prompts as they fly by four separate lines (corresponding to four Final Fantasy characters). Hitting prompts at the right time initiate attacks on enemies in a mock battle as you take them down one by one. You’ll need to tap, slash (in one of eight directions) and sometimes hold the stylus on the screen in order to successfully defeat enemies. It sounds like nothing out of the ordinary, but when you’re performing these actions with an entire Final Fantasy battle taking place in the background, it all has a wonderfully unique feel to it. Field Music Stages are much slower paced and have your character wondering an environment as you hold and slide the stylus up and down much like a conductor. Finally Event Music Stages feature an iconic moment from each Final Fantasy game with you following a moving prompt as cutscenes and gameplay play out in the background. Of the three modes, this feels like the weakest as it fails to offer as appealing a hook that the other two so successfully manage. The overall basic idea is the same for the three options but feature their own unique additions that help give the game variety.
Things kick off in the game’s story mode where you’ll choose any of the series’ thirteen Final Fantasy titles and play through five musical sections in each. The opening and ending sections (which can be entirely skipped if you wish) feature scrolling text explaining the game’s story. Whilst this is going on you tap the screen in time with music as swirling musical bubbles home in on a magical crystal in the centre. It’s a decent way of collecting Rhythmia (that in turn unlock characters, songs and more) but feels somewhat pointless. Sandwiched between the two are the Field, Battle and Event stages which provide the main chunk of gameplay. You’ll be done with all thirteen quite quickly but thankfully the game opens up with more possibilities as you play on.
Challenge mode allows you to play any of the music you’ve encountered and try it on harder settings. While the first difficulty may feel like a cake walk, things start to pick up by ‘Expert’, and by ‘Ultimate’ you’ll be tapping and sliding till your hand begins to blur. This game is no walkover and feels extremely satisfying, it’s just a shame it also forces you to play through the easy difficulty before unlocking the harder ones. When you finally do, you’ll find yourself constantly going back and replaying older songs to topple your previous scores and rankings. It would have been nice to have all three available from the get go. Chaos Shrine is the final option allowing you to tackle increasingly tougher challenges on addition music not found in the main modes, either alone or wirelessly with friends.
In a neat RPG-style twist, you’re able to pick a party of four characters (from the vast cast of the series) and level them up via experience earned finishing stages. As well as increasing things like your health and strength, your characters will also learn special moves that help you during certain moments of battle. It’s a small feature, and one that could have been expanded a bit more but being given the chance to hand pick my own team is certainly appealing and helps give me reason to keep playing and levelling up.
If the game’s hefty selection of songs aren’t enough for you then extra tracks will be available to download easily via the game’s main menu. As I write this review eight songs are being offered with four more due later this week in Europe. Over fifty are being promised in total taking the total to somewhere over the hundred and twenty mark! Priced at an okay…ish sum of ninety pence each, every purchased song is then playable in the challenge mode on any difficulty. Unfortunately there is no way of previewing a song so YouTube will be your best testing ground for new additions.
Considering the thirteen games on offer feature a wide range of art styles and characters, Theatrhythm does an excellent job of combining them together creating a Chibi style that is both cute and lovable. Seeing small, stylized versions of Squall, Lightning and Cloud may look weird at first, but after a few songs and seeing it all come together you’ll be hard pressed not to love the new look. Backgrounds look decent and
As you can imagine, the game features quite a rich library of music to choose from and while I’m not a Final Fantasy fan per say, I did appreciate the overall quality of each track. It was also a nice touch to keep the original NES and SNES songs as the originally were rather than attempt to update or remix them.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a brilliant music title that manages to cater to both fans of the genre and of course those of the series itself. With plenty to see and unlock and a great selection of music to go through, Theatrhythm delivers a surprise hit for the Nintendo 3DS, sure to please owners of the system looking for something to keep them occupied this rainy, miserable summer.