It’s hard to believe that core franchises that have been with us since the days of my youth are now celebrating 25 years of existence. The likes of Mario and Zelda have had their turn, but there are plenty of candles to go around un-blown. There are franchises that have lain dormant for an extended hiatus before making a comeback. Rarely do we get a franchise that has not only touched the very fabrics of our being, but also gone through baffling journeys between genres.
Final Fantasy has seen various jumps between RPG styles, but also RPG infused fighter success on the PlayStation Portable and one of the first successful MMORPGs before World of Warcraft took the world by storm. The team at Square Enix even created direct sequels to key numbered titles. Some of the games in the series had questionable choices in more recent times, but as a whole the series is as fondly remembered and revered as its music. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (pronounced The-at-re-rhythm) is a unique celebration of the melodies that defined it in a distinctive take on the rhythm game genre, but does it manage to keep in time with music?
Much like the Rock Bands and Dance Centrals before it, each song is placed on a menu in the main campaign, with the games acting as the stages composing of five tracks. With all the main games represented, you have thirteen games in all to delve into their respective soundtracks. Each game will have a Battle Music Stage (BMS), Field Music Stage (FMS) and Event Music Stage (EMS). These are essentially the bulk of the experience and are initially fantastic to play. What sticks out like a sore thumb are the bookending Introduction and Ending music for each game, which are nothing more than tapping in time with the songs. Since most of these consist of the general Final Fantasy theme, they are easy points to pick up, but feel shallow in comparison to the Music Stages.
Let us begin then by looking at the most familiar of the three – BMS. Essentially if you have played Rock Band, this shouldn’t be too dissimilar. You will be tasked with tapping, swiping and holding/releasing along four tracks that represent the characters on-screen. Where you place the stylus/finger doesn’t really matter, so the four tracks are a little misleading; but the action is fast paced at times, providing a challenge worth tapping away to. The aim here is not only to get through the track, but to defeat the monsters by maintaining a decent chain of successful inputs. FMS feels more subdued in tempo, but makes up for it by being the only stage type to add dragging tasks which require you to trace a route with the stylus. Finally, EMS has one cursor moving around the screen with the requirement being like the others. There are occasions where the inputs don’t take, which take their toll on frustrating endeavours of more taxing tracks, but generally speaking the game isn’t particularly difficult to ease yourself into.
Once you’re done with the set-list, your options reduce to either attempting to beat your best score on the Challenge modes and their unlockable higher difficulties, or delving into the Dark Note stages to find hidden items and shards. While the former acts the same as before, Dark Note stages are where the RPG element gets its foot in the door. Each Dark Note comprises of a FMS followed by a BMS. The numbers determine difficulty and which songs you will be faced with. Your characters abilities are important for these stages because your abilities help you get to and defeat the boss encounters in the BMS. By playing the game, you can increase your party’s capabilities in “battle”. The trouble is that this RPG element is so minor that it isn’t particularly obvious to begin with as to its purpose, especially when it comes to Health. The multiplayer aspect is also missing a trick by not being online enabled, despite supporting local multiplayer, as I can see people taking on harder levels while taking on the role of one character in the BMS.
So what is the point of all this? What is it that you are doing all this post-game content for? The vast ton of content unlocked by collecting Rhythmia of course! It ranges from the card collection, a movie theatre showing off the montages in the EMS, the music player and more music to take on in the Challenge section. More music is able to be bought online for your pleasure as Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is the first 3DS game to feature DLC. You can also use hidden sub-characters for your party, including everybody’s favourite villain Sephiroth, when you collect the necessary number of Shards. Items also help boost your party by teaching the leader new skills, healing at a pinch or even helping get rarer items. This is really where the grinding will divide the masses. If the fond memories of the franchise are your motivation for obtaining this game, then you will find a lot to love here. One thing that is peculiar is the decision not to localise the video footage used within the EMS/Movie Theatre from the original Japanese. It crosses the line between nostalgia and someone else’s nostalgia. For those who don’t really care, the scope is limited in comparison.
Did I mention that it is unbelievably cute? Square Enix has decided to give each of the characters and enemies a colourful ragdoll like vibe. Landscapes change constantly as you go from game to game and even the menus manage to look incredibly appealing. The 3D effect is mostly beneficial, with the Prologue/Epilogue tapping stages of the main game really benefit from the depth perception featured here and the tracks springing out of the screen in the FMS/BMS/EMS levels. The music as you would expect is composed of reused material, which is fine as long as you recognise and like the music. Why they decided not to put in certain tracks in the menus as stages is beyond me, and while some of the choices for the main game are excellent, others are the more forgettable scores of the series.
This is a tough one to call solely because of the demographic. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is by far one of the more interesting music based games to come out in recent years, with interesting mechanics, a mostly decent soundtrack and ever-changing challenges. There just isn’t enough scope here to fully proclaim this as a must have for everyone. Within hours you will have seen everything it has to offer. The decision doesn’t lie in the adorable puppet theatre on show, but on whether you cried when that cute flower girl in that seventh instalment was brutally slain in front of your eyes – and then that music came on. If music be the food of nostalgia, play on!