Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
February 16, 2012 (JP)
July 3, 2012 (NA)
July 5, 2012 (AU)
July 6, 2012 (EU)
The Final Fantasy series has seen its ups and downs over the years, but one thing has remained consistently great: the music. So what better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of such a well-loved series but with a game celebrating the series’ rich musical heritage?
Well, Square has chosen to do just that, and the result is Theatrhythm, an RPG/rhythm game hybrid featuring music from the series’ 25-year history. The concept may look ridiculous at first glance, but Theatrhythm is not only an enjoyable nostalgia trip, but a great rhythm game to boot.
If you’ve played Elite Beat Agents, then you’ve got the general idea of how Theatrhythm‘s gameplay works. You tap, swipe, and slide the stylus across the touchscreen in time with the music. Red circles require a simple tap, while green circles require you to hold the stylus on the touch screen for their duration. Finally, with yellow circles, you need to swipe the stylus across the touch screen in the direction the arrow is pointing inside the circle.
Sound pretty standard so far? Square mixes things up by dividing the game into three separate gameplay types. Field stages have notes that flow along a single line and usually feature music from world map areas. Notes will flow up and down in the line and you’ll have to follow them accordingly. Event stages have gameplay and cutscenes from the particular Final Fantasy in the background, with notes appearing a couple at a time in the foreground along a track. And last but not least, Battle stages are more upbeat and feature battle themes from the series (and, yes, before you ask, One-Winged Angel is one of them), with notes flying across the screen along one of four separate tracks – switching between them at any given moment. These are among the fastest and most difficult songs in the game because there’s so much to keep track of.
It’s a lot to process, and like all rhythm games there’s a learning curve and a certain amount of coordination required. But with practice you’ll get the hang of it and the gameplay will become second-nature. That doesn’t mean the game is easy, by any means. The initial difficulty level is a piece of cake once you get used to the different gameplay types, but once you start playing the same tracks in Expert and Ultimate mode the game’s fiendish difficulty becomes apparent.
It doesn’t help that the game is really finicky about picking up your swipes. They can be in eight directions – the four cardinal directions plus diagonals – and you have to actually swipe across the screen and not just flick the stylus in that particular direction. This isn’t too bad at first, but when the higher difficulty levels start throwing swipes at you one right after the other, it’s really easy to lose your coordination and screw up a whole section of the song.
There are three game modes in Theatrhythm. Series mode gives you a pre-defined setlist of songs from each game in the series. Challenge mode allows you to play songs on various difficulty levels. Finally, the Chaos Shrine throws random sets of two high-difficulty songs called Dark Notes at you: each one featuring a field song and a battle song, many of which are exclusive to this game mode. During the Dark Notes, you can defeat bosses which drop rare items, including crystals to unlock new characters. Clearing any song in any mode gives you Rhythmia, and every 500 Rhythmia unlocks something, whether it be a new song, movie, or character crystal. You also get Rhythmia bonuses for random things, such as having a character from the particular game in your party, or playing every day.
Theatrhythm also features some light RPG elements and even a very barebones story. The plot is nonsensical and barely worth a passing mention – but who plays a rhythm game for the plot anyway? The RPG aspects come in the guise of characters from the series – the main character of every game in the series is represented, and you can make a party of four, equip them, gain experience and level them up by clearing songs and defeating enemies, and give them skills and items to use. Having more HP means you can miss more notes before you fail a song, whereas more strength means you can defeat enemies more quickly. It really doesn’t make much difference gameplay-wise, but it’s a nice touch. There are also a bunch more characters to unlock by gaining Rhythmia and beating bosses in the Chaos Shrine.
The game has an adorable visual style, with the highlight being the chibified characters and enemies. It’s interesting seeing characters as varied as Lightning, Tidus, and Firion all on-screen in the same visual style. Meanwhile, the backdrops feature scrolling field areas representative of the song’s particular game, battle screens, FMV cutscenes, and actual gameplay. It’s an incredible sight to see actual cutscenes from Final Fantasy XIII displaying on the 3DS’s screen during an event stage. Some of the field and battle backdrops are repetitive and bland, but overall, the game’s has some nice visuals, though they don’t really push the 3DS in any way.
The sound, however, is incredible – as it should be in a game like this. Every song is in its original form, and it’s a huge progression going from the 8-bit tunes of early games to the fully orchestrated, epic scores of the PS2 and current-gen games, all in their original detail. This is a game that you really want to be playing with headphones for the best experience. And there are a ton of songs in the game – Square touts that there are over 70. In addition, several songs are available for purchase as DLC at the standard rhythm game price of 99 cents each, with a new batch being added every week.
It’s perfectly normal to shrug Theatrhythm off at first glance – especially at $40. But the game features an absolutely staggering amount of content. You’ll spend a ton of time unlocking and leveling up characters, mastering and discovering new songs, watching videos and listening to songs in the Museum, collecting character cards, and more. And, in addition to the DLC songs, you can also unlock new songs and Dark Notes with StreetPass. All of this adds up to an impressive package well worth the admission price.
Final Fantasy fans will get the most out of it, but even people who haven’t played any games in the series should be able to appreciate Theatrhythm as an entertaining rhythm game – and they’ll hear some great music along the way. Despite the tacked-on feeling of the RPG elements, Theatrhythm is a fitting 25th anniversary tribute to a series that has captured the hearts of gamers since the NES days.
Cute graphical style.
Fun, varied rhythm gameplay.
Finicky swipe recognition.
Tacked-on RPG elements and plot.