You have to give credit to a series being around for 25 years. Mario, Link, Mega Man, the Street Fighter gang, and even Kirby have been around for well over 20 years. And then there’s Final Fantasy. A series whose very name implies there will only be one, yet a series that has been in gamers’ hearts for 25 years. 25 years of games means 25 years of music, and that’s saying a lot for a series as respected as Final Fantasy. To celebrate the quarter century mark for the franchise, Square Enix released Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy. Bringing together the heroes of all 13 numbered games in the series and infusing the gameplay with plenty of music and rhythmical action, Theatrhythm is a love letter to Final Fantasy fans. It also happens to be one of the better games on the 3DS.
First and foremost, Theatrhym (pronounced as a combination of “theater” and “rhythm,” so the-at-rhythm) is a rhythm game. Notes travel down the screen and you must tap the screen in beat with the music. It should all seem very familiar to players of other rhythm/music games. Theatrhythm feels a lot like Dance Dance Revolution combined with Rock Band, albeit in a simpler package.
There are three types of notes: tap notes, hold notes, and slide notes. Tap notes are simplest, requiring you to tap the touch screen when the note enters the desired zone ala Rock Band. Hold notes are similar to tap notes, except you have to hold your stylus on the touch screen until the very end of the note, where you must lift up in rhythm. Lastly there are slide notes, which are just like tap notes, but instead of tapping you have to slide the stylus across the touchscreen in the show direction. And that’s it, there’s only those three notes. The game is a tad on the easy side, but that makes it much more accessible to beginners, and the inclusion of increased difficulty levels and challenge songs more than make up for it later on in the game. I thought the rhythm aspect of gameplay was well done. Yeah, it’s simple, but for what it’s trying to accomplish (hitting notes in rhythm to a song), it does it well.
A handful of game modes will keep you entertained for some time. The closest thing to a story mode would be Series Mode, where you select one of the 13 games from the main series and play through three songs from said game. The three songs are usually more familiar songs, so you’re likely to hear something you’ll know. The songs start with the game’s overworld music, followed by battle music, and culminate in the final song, which is boss battle music. Each of these stages, if you will, play out a little different, but you’re always tapping and sliding the stylus in rhythm with the song. The Chaos Shrine is a separate mode that has you tackling two songs (some of which not found in Series Mode) back to back. No matter how you play, each song you complete will earn you Rhythmia, which is used to unlock more content like new songs and new characters to play as. Playing songs and gaining Rhythmia is addictive, and the game has that, “Just one more song!” feel. If you’re looking to unlock everything in the game, expect to play for dozens of hours as some items are rare drops that you have to get lucky to find. So kind of like a standard Final Fantasy game.
Speaking of characters, you can play as the main characters from all 13 Final Fantasy game. Creating your party of four characters is more than just selecting an avatar, as each character levels up differently and has different stats, like agility and strength, to keep in mind. Learning abilities, equipping items, and battling monsters (by successfully hitting notes) gives the rhythm game a somewhat strong RPG aspect. In short, Theatrhythm is a great blending of RPG and music. Crazy how that works.
Personally I thought the gameplay to be a bit too easy. Granted, some songs on the highest difficulty were challenging, but for the most part I breezed through each stage. The problem here is that you have to do a hell of a lot of grinding and leveling to advance the game further. Somethings you might complete a song with all criticals, but since you didn’t deal enough damage because your level is too low you won’t reach the stage boss, or find the rarest items. Putting all that aside, the music based half of the game is very entertaining. I was very happy tapping away with the music and reliving some of my greatest video game moments all over again through song. Like I said before, this is definitely a game for fans of the series.
While each new iteration of Final Fantasy pushes the bar in terms of stunning, realistic visuals, Theatrhythm almost does the exact opposite, looking very cartoony. But this is assuredly not a bad thing. The visuals in Theatrhythm are the definition of charming. Each character is represented as a doll-like version of their former self, with big, beady eyes and super deformed heads. I thought this dramatic shift in art direction was great, capturing the “fantasy” aspect of the series, while showing just how much fun saving the world from diabolical evils can be. Overall the visual style is something you’re either going to love or hate.
There’s no reason at all to play the game with the 3D slider turned up. The visuals don’t present themselves well in 3D, and the gameplay hampers the perspective of the 3D screen by constantly tapping and moving the 3DS.
What would a music game be without excellent sound quality? Theatrhythm delivers perfect versions of each song. Each song is the version lifted directly from the game, so Sephiroth’s “One Winged Angel” sounds like it does if Final Fantasy VII. I liked this choice. Rather than including orchestrated versions of songs, or remixes from other games/movies, hearing the original track and tapping away is the right choice. The quality of songs and sound effects is top notch, and one of the highlights of the game.
The song selection will undoubtedly leave something to be desired, as it’s likely one of your favorite songs isn’t included in the game. For me it’s FF9’s “Vamo Alla Flamenco.” While it’s a big letdown to not hear your favorite tunes, I can’t entirely fault Square Enix for this, because the catalog of fantastic Final Fantasy music is so extensive there were bound to be some big omissions. But then again I can blame Square Enix for this, because there is DLC available for the game. This should be where Square Enix puts out more classics, but as of now the DLC songs are a mix of good choices (Cosmo Canyon) and weird choices (FF2’s Battle theme). I hope there’s more to come, as this is a great way to suck out money from my wallet and likely many others.
There’s a lot to say about a game that is based entirely off a series’ storied soundtracks. But that’s exactly what Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is, a game based off the solid music from the past 25 years of Final Fantasy. The gameplay is solid, the music is wonderful, and the visuals are charming. Players looking for a challenging rhythm game akin to Guitar Hero or Rock Band will be disappointed as this is more a game to enjoy the music than be challenged by it. Even with the easiness, Theatrhythm’s combination of musical gameplay and RPG elements makes the game very addictive and always enjoyable.