Game Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

Taking on a 3DS review now. This charming musical title came out on July 2nd and I’ve been tapping along to it ever since.

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Platform:
3DS
Developer:
Square Enix
Rating: G
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Chibi!

Complete with slick pre-order bonus stylus. Aww yeah.

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Twenty-five years.
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That’s how long it has been since the first Final Fantasy graced the Famicom System in Japan, launching a franchise that would become a beloved worldwide phenomenon. Developer Square Enix has decided to honour the quarter-century landmark by releasing a quirky rhythm game celebrating the series’ incredible musical pedigree. This is Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.

THE SET-UP

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy aims to bring together 25 years and 13 games worth of Final Fantasy music, from across five console generations, creating a mosaic of musical wonderment and an opportunity to put a new spin on classically challenging FF gameplay.

WHAT YOU DO

Like any other rhythm game on a touch-capable Nintendo handheld system, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy tasks players with tapping and sliding along to music using the stylus and touch screen. The action is divided into three variants: Battle Music Stages, which involve your hand-picked party of four facing off against enemy after enemy, doing damage using spells and techniques as an indirect result of your successfully timed taps; Field Music Stages, which see your party leader trying to make it as far across an open field as possible in order to acquire treasure; and Event Music Stages, which take place directly over footage from one of the 13 main FF series entries represented in the game. Nostalgia is rampant for series fans, but there is still lots to do for newcomers.

It's all happening

My team, picked from my four favourite Final Fantasy games (granted, I’ve only played six of them).

The nimble stylus movement is good fun and it only gets more engaging as the difficulty increases. Each track has three difficulties: the Simple Score, the Expert Score and the brutal Ultimate Score. What’s more, each time you complete a stage you work towards unlocking something in the game. You are awarded points known as “Rhythmia” (so imaginative) for just about anything you achieve during a stage, which go towards unlocking songs and video clips for the game’s “Museum”, additional game modes, as well as “shards” which unlock additional playable characters. You also receive good old EXP for your characters, which allows them to level up and learn new skills for additional battle options and faster field movement. All of which means more treasure chests, which contain goodies like usable items and collectible 3D character cards… The game even has its own self-contained “Trophy” system.

That’s about all there is to Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. It definitely isn’t for everyone but if you like music-centred gameplay and/or unlocking a lot of things, you will find plenty to love here, all wrapped up in a throughly appealing package. Speaking of which…

WHAT YOU SEE

This is Square Enix’s second attempt to present a universe where characters from all its major games can co-exist, following the Dissidia Final Fantasy fighting game series on PSP. While those games united dozens of characters under a redesign umbrella helmed by one person’s stylistic vision, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy takes a different tack. The stars of Final Fantasy I through XIII, whether hero, villain or field landmark, are super-simplified into chibi-fied versions of themselves. An utterly ridiculous story conceit serves as an excuse to bring everyone together and then it gets out of the way, allowing the visuals to positively ooze charm from menu to stage to hilarious closing credits sequence.

Oops!

Don’t mess up, or things like this will happen.

Supporting characters from each game show up for brief cameos and then appear with everyone else as collectible 3D virtual cards (as mentioned earlier). These double-sided cards are a very shiny way to bring a near-encyclopedia of franchise lore into one place. Seeing a host of terrifying bosses reduced to cute cartoon versions of themselves is definitely quite amusing.

WHAT YOU HEAR

Well the game definitely wouldn’t be very good if this section was underwhelming. As far as rhythm games go, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has a pretty spectacular selection of music tracks. Each game yields three quality pieces of music as well as semi-playable opening and closing credits songs that add to the experience when playing each franchise entry in Series mode (one track after another). A few hidden songs, some in the form of downloadable content, are also available to digest and enjoy (the “final boss” music is a particularly surprising treat). The Final Fantasy series has always led the way in terms of video game music writing, so there isn’t much more for me to say on the matter.

8...

Oh look, I can take poor double screenshots too!

WILL YOU GO BACK?

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy‘s replay value will hinge on how much you enjoy rhythm-based gameplay and how much you enjoy collecting things. Though the game tries to be an RPG, the mechanics can only go so far in a genre that is inherently reliant on testing human reflexes. If you’re good at this kind of thing, anything you equip your characters with in battle and out on the field will be inconsequential in determining your score and the amount of Rhythmia you receive. The only thing they will help you with is getting more EXP and items! This creates a circle of redundancy that ends up feeling a little disappointing.

He's quick, believe it.

Onion Knight shows off his super speedy stats.

The kicker is, of course, that their not mattering doesn’t actually matter to what Theatrhythm Final Fantasy ultimately is: a well-executed rhythm game for fans of good music and shiny unlocks. It’s the perfect game to pick up and play for a few minutes each day, all the time feeling like you’re achieving something, but it also has the ability to suck you in for longer sessions to try and beat those merciless Ultimate Scores. It’s a charming package and good value for its $50 price point.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Incomparable selection of quality music, plenty to collect and unlock, fitting tribute to a storied franchise
Bad:
Most RPG elements hardly matter at all
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3.5 VsG !

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