Developer: Indies zero
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Out Now
There“s been some debate as to how Square Enix has recently been treating its flagship series, Final Fantasy, these days. As in, whether or not the company is grinding the name into the ground like a stilettoed heel crushing a cigarette butt into the sidewalk. It“s under this massive shadow of doubt that Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has hit the market, so is this bizarre title a mere gimmicky attempt to remind us of Square“s former glory, orâ€¦orâ€¦well, what is it, really?
For starters, it's a rhythm game featuring Final Fantasy music. Now uncock that eyebrow and listen, because it's far cooler than you might be imagining. The game“s music spans the Final Fantasy series from I to XIII, meaning the bulk of it comes from the mind of the brilliant Nobuo Uematsu, with a few choice tracks from other talented composers as well. If you“ve played games like Elite Beat Agents, Theatrhythm“s gameplay won“t feel too foreign: you tap, hold, and slash at the bottom screen to correspond to the symbols on the top screen. Theatrhythm“s gameplay is deeper than that, however.
There are three types of stages: Battle Music Stages (BMS) that involve fighting enemies to battle themes, Field Music Stages (FMS), which contain more relaxing world map music, and Event Music Stages (EMS), levels that play cutscene montages from the various games in the background. Each type of stage plays differently and has different goals to complete. You can play all the songs from one game in a row in Series Mode, play specific songs in Challenge Mode, or attempt difficult special stages known as â€œDark Notesâ€ in the Chaos Shrine.
The game has you pick a party of four characters – title characters from the various games, all of whom have different skills and stats, and all of whom look ridiculously cute – who level up as you complete stages. Theatrhythm“s brilliance lies not so much in its level design but in its usage of these RPG elements.
For instance, in every FMS stage, in which the object is to traverse as far across the plains as possible; a character with high agility and luck stats will guarantee that you accumulate more items as you go along, as well as reach farther areas where stronger bosses lie. In the battle sequences, characters with high magic and attack stats will tear through enemies to reach the boss of the stage, and characters with high HP will keep you alive if you start messing up too badly.
And it takes more strategy than simply getting four random characters up to level 99. Around midway through the Dark Notes in the Chaos Shrine, you“ll have to choose party members, skills, and items very carefully if you want even a chance at beating the bosses. Luckily there are tons of characters to unlock, all with their own unique stats and abilities to help overcome the obstacles, which continue to get more and more obstacle-y as you play.
New characters aren“t the only extras in the game; there are unlockable stages, collectable cards, attainable trophies, and a theater and music player to fill with movies and songs. Extras are obtained through â€œRhythmia,â€ an aggregate score you keep building up through the game, and it“s always fun to see what you get when your Rhythmia hits certain amounts. All this should be enough to keep any gamer occupied for eons, and that“s not even mentioning the levels that can be purchased as DLC.
Theatrhythm isn“t without its moments of frustration though. Oddly, the Chaos Shrine repeats certain songs often while omitting other songs altogether; Final Fantasy III“s catchy battle theme is surprisingly absent here, while Final Fantasy V“s obnoxious â€œMambo de Chocoboâ€ seems to make an appearance on every other Dark Note. There are also a few songs with vaguely-defined tempos that prove difficult to predict unless you know the tracks like the back of your hand. And there“s always the possibility that the adorable art style will turn away gamers used to the "visual kei" style of modern Final Fantasy titles. Still, these few diminutive drawbacks do virtually nothing to reduce the playability of Theatrhythm.
What seems at first to be a cute rhythm game turns out to have an impressive amount of depth. Final Fantasy fans will get dozens of hours out of this title, and rhythm game enthusiasts will find much to respect in its original take on the genre. Wherever Square Enix takes the illustrious franchise (and prospects don“t look good), Theatrhythm Final Fantasy serves as a perfect homage to a series whose magic has survived in many of us, even through its darkest notes.
+ Over 70 of the best tracks from a series highly renowned for its music
+ Tons of unlockable content
+ RPG elements that have a large effect on the gameplay
- Songs repeat with odd frequency in the Chaos Shrine
- Certain tracks just don“t seem right for a rhythm game
Overall Score: 8.5 (Out of 10)
A fun and original take on the rhythm genre, and a must for fans of Final Fantasy“s outstanding musical oeuvre.