Sometimes, Square-Enix never cease to amaze me.
When a company can take such a large franchise such as Final Fantasy, and completely rework the system to become a musical rhythm game, and have it come out successful, addicting and fun, it is enough to truly appreciate the great minds behind the team.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy does all that and more. It takes the formula that has made the series successful and applying a whole new game design overlay, Theatrhythm has proven to me, as well as every player I have spoken with that Square-Enix still has some great ideas hiding in their sleeves yet!
Bringing the beautiful music of Final Fantasy into an RPG realm has been an absolute joy, and with hours of playtime and unlockable features, Theatrhythm will have you engaged and getting quite intimate with your 3DS.
While it is rather small and insignificant, Theatrhythm’s story piggyback’s off of the storylines from Dissidia and Duodecim using the cast from each of those games. Between the good realm of Cosmos and the evil realm of Chaos lies Rhythm, a serene euphoric atmosphere that houses a sole crystal, providing music to the lands. Chaos, being the evil brute that he is, decides to disrupt the crystal, and it is up to our heroes to battle through various stages to obtain ‘rhythmia’ in order to return the music to its normal state. Again, the story is insignificant in comparison to all that is Theatrhythm, so do not plan to be blown away by some incredible storytelling. However, as the player progresses through the game, they will come to find that there is no real reason to have a story at all.
The biggest aspect of Theatrhythm is the gameplay, and on the same ‘note’ is exactly what makes this game shine. The player starts by building a party of four from the original 13 playable characters available in the game. Each character represents one of the main numbered games in the series, from the Warrior of Light to Lightning. Each party member can be equipped with a set of skills and one item (utilized for the whole party) to aid in progress. The characters also have four stats that are optimized for different stage types: Strength, Agility, Magic, and Luck. I will get into those a bit later. Once selected, there are three modes to play music from: Series, Challenge, and Chaos Shrine.
In Series mode, players are asked to select a Final Fantasy franchise to play through in — you guessed it — a series like fashion. Each title has five songs to play through: Intro Theme, Field Music Stage (FMS), Battle Music Stage (BMS), Event Music Stage (EMS), and an Ending Theme. The three songs in the middle are not always in that order. The game modes are played as followed:
- Intro and Ending Themes – These are the most simplistic of all the themes, and are even skippable if the player does not wish to participate in them (although doing so still adds to the final rhythmia total at the end). As the music plays, players are asked to tap to the rhythm of the song as notes flow in a spiral like fashion towards the crystal in the middle of the screen. Very simple, very low-stress, and does not allow the player to fail. In fact, there isn’t even an HP bar shown. Certainly not the bread and butter of the game, but always nice to listen to.
- Field Music Stage – In this stage, characters will walk across the screen, as if traversing from one destination to another in the regular games. Characters with high Agility and Luck are requested here, as they will walk faster and find more items as they move. As the music plays, players are asked to tap to the rhythm, but where this stage differs is on the hold notes. Hold notes will move up and down, and the player is required to also move their stylus up and down along the screen as well. Notes with arrows will have the player swiping in the direction that they see. Towards the latter half of the stage, the player will earn the opportunity to ride a chocobo, should they successfully hit the special notes accurately. Missing notes will cause the HP bar to deplete, and should it reach zero, it is game over for the party!
- Battle Music Stage – All four party members are located on the right side of the screen, and various foes are positioned on the left in true Final Fantasy Fashion. In this stage, players are asked to tap, swipe and hold notes as they scroll from left to right on the screen (the player doesn’t actually move their hand around the touch screen). Each successful hit makes the characters attack the enemy they are facing. This stage is great for characters with high Magic and Attack stats. The more foes that are taken down, the better the prize at the end (as well as more rhythmia earned). The HP bar carries over from the FMS, and will end your game if it reaches zero. Similar to the FMS, a special set of notes will appear, however if the player hits all of them accurately, a summon monster will come out and deal additional damage. If the player hits all of the summon notes with accuracy as well, then before leaving the summon will perform its signature move, dealing even more damage.
- Event Music Stage – This stage will look familiar to those who have played Elite Beat Agents, as it plays quite similarly in style. Notes will be all across the screen in sweeping fashion, and again, the player is asked to tap, swipe or hold them as they move all around. During the stage, a signature movie will play as it relates to the song (this is more accurate for the games that actually had FMV sequences). Towards the end of each song, special notes will appear, and hitting them all will allow for an Extended Cut of the song (about 30-45 seconds more added on). The HP bar is shown here as well, allowing the player to fail if they miss too many notes. Although the notes move around on the screen, it is not required to move your stylus to match where they appear.
As a sidenote: One of the most wonderful things about all of these modes, and the way that the game was executed is that the kind of tapping that you do doesn’t require you to focus on a screen where nothing is happening. The player’s eyes are always focused on where the events are happening, so there is never a point where the player can’t experience the game in its entirety.
The Challenge mode is basically a free play mode, allowing the players to perfect their skill at the songs they completed in the Series mode. Should a player do well enough here, new difficulty modes can be unlocked for more of a challenge. As the player earns more rhythmia, additional songs that are unlocked are also placed in this mode. Theatrhythm also has a store where more songs can be purchased, and these too will show up only in Challenge mode. This mode will prepare you for the insanity that is Chaos Shrine.
The Chaos Shrine is for the best of the best, and one of the reasons why Theatrhythm will never ‘run out of new songs.’ Each game starts with one song in the Chaos Shrine called a Dark Note. These songs are typically more challenging, consisting of one FMS and one BMS. There are a total of ten for each mode, making a possibility of 100 combinations of songs that can appear out of Dark Notes. With each combination, the notes are randomized, so the odds of getting two Dark Notes that are truly identical is nearly impossible. The difficulty of each Dark Note is based on the average level of the party that beat the prior note, so it can get quite challenging. There are even a few songs in the Chaos Shrine that can’t be played or bought anywhere else!
With all of these modes, it’s hard to believe there is much more, but there is! I mentioned an ‘average level of the party’ and I meant it. At the end of each stage, players are awarded experience along with their rhythmia, which will increase their character’s level in true Final Fantasy fashion. Each increase in level raises the maximum HP, and the four stats available. There are also CP that are awarded every few levels that allow characters to equip more or higher leveled skills. Each character can max out at level 99. Aside from the 13 playable characters, there are 16 unlockable characters that can be obtained by finding eight of a designated color crystals. Optional collectables include unlocking all of the songs in the music gallery, 13 movies in the movie gallery, and 81 cards listed under three rarities (common, uncommon, and rare).
I know this is a lot to take in, but I have one last feature to talk about: multiplayer! Unfortunately, Theatrhythm only has local multiplayer and streetpass features, so I haven’t had a chance to experience them yet, however, they are available. The multiplayer games allow four players to play songs together, working cooperatively (and sharing one HP bar) in the same fashion as the original game. This means if one player doesn’t perform properly, then the whole team is down. The StreetPass feature is kind of neat, but if you don’t have anyone to StreetPass with, then it’s a problem. Players are able to design their own ‘player card’ that has a bunch of stats, from total play time, to last used party. On this card, a player is allowed to attach a Dark Note, so that when a player has StreetPassed with another player, they also swap notes. The original notes are never lost, so there’s no fear of putting your favorite note on there. As I said, each Dark Note is unique, so it would be a surprise each and every time you swapped.
Visually, the game looks great in both 2D and 3D. The overly cute chibi characters are pleasing to see in action, and look fantastic on the 3DS. All of the backgrounds are beautiful, and represent each game well. During the FMS especially, the player will see places that bring back memories from each game. There isn’t an ounce of slowdown, even during the EMS videos playing in the background, which lends to an overall positive experience. The colors are vibrant, and the whole game stands out, even on the dimmest brightness setting. Some of the locales are quite gorgeous to see on the handheld!
If Theatrhythm isn’t a reason to pick up your 3DS and start using it again since Mario Kart 7, I don’t know what is. Chock full of features and tons of replayability, it was difficult for me to put this game down. Being able to ‘interact’ with the music we’ve all come to know and love from the franchise has truly been a remarkable experience, and it was well worth the purchase. I have been describing it to my friends and family as ‘Distant Worlds meets Elite Beat Agents.’ Theatrhythm was music to my ears when it was announced, but since it has been released, it has been one of my favorite titles on the 3DS to date. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the series, or who enjoy music rhythm games.
Rating: 4.5 / 5.0