Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (3DS) Review
Music is such a powerful thing – it’s something that I think almost everyone can assign at least an iota of importance to music in their own lives no matter what the genre is. Music can greatly augment the atmosphere or experience of an event, be it in film or games, or, if chosen poorly, greatly detract from it. I admittedly never appreciated music as much as I did before I became a reviewer, and before I became a reviewer I would probably never touch rhythm based games. However, as some of you may know, I’ve become almost addicted to anything any company puts out with a semblance of rhythm gameplay. Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is Square Enix’s attempt to put out a rhythm game based on its flagship franchise, released to celebrate its 25th Anniversary and developed by the Elecktroplankton developers. Nothing could go wrong, right?
For some bizarre reason Square Enix take the stories of even their spin-off series seriously, as such there is actually a reason why you’ll be tapping the screen to the beat. You see, Chaos and Cosmo (who you may remember from Dissidia) are in constant conflict – the space between them in the universe is called “Rhythm” and plays home to a crystal that can birth music. When Chaos disrupts the balance of the crystal’s waves (or something), Cosmos sends her warriors to increase the waves (quantified as “Rhythmia”) to restore the balance between Chaos and Cosmos, making the crystal shine again and ensuring music holds a place in the universe. Yeah, it’s incredibly self-indulgent and incredibly unnecessary but it wouldn’t be a Square Enix game without such an unnecessarily convoluted story, would it?
The first thing I immediately noticed when I played Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is just how well presented the game is. The menus are slick, the graphics are colourful and vibrant and the character artwork is drawn with this kind of quirky charm that you won’t find in any other console Final Fantasy games. Everything moves smoothly at a brilliant pace, and thankfully during almost all of the performances you will be giving, the game runs at a silky smooth 60fps. The only time it doesn’t is during specific moments where cutscenes from older Final Fantasy scenes are being played, but this is barely noticeable and doesn’t affect the game too much.
The 3D effect is used quite well here though this is one of those games that could’ve easily been a normal DS game, as 3D doesn’t really add anything to the game. The action happens on the bottom plane, while the notes that players must hit are popped out using the 3D. Thankfully, as there is no frame rate drop when using 3D, there is little incentive to not use it and it’s not some half assed effect either – there is clearly some depth between the layers of the game’s world and the notes you are playing. Reflecting back, the 3D effect does make it easier to focus on the notes solely but this also means you might miss some of the action happening on screen while you perform the pieces.
The crux of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is, as you would expect, a rhythm game. You pick a game to play through from Final Fantasy I all the way to Final Fantasy XIII. Triggers appear on screen, requiring you to tap, hold or swipe (think a strum on a guitar) as they progress across the screen. There are four main types of “ways” to play included here – Field, Battle, Event and Prelude/Ending. Field is reserved for slower melodies and has your main character traversing a field with landmarks from whatever game the song you’re playing is from, successfully tapping means your character runs faster to their destination. Battle is typically fast paced tracks, and successfully clearing notes allows your party to attack enemies (who usually are derived from the game you’re playing a song from). Event essentially plays a “memorable track” over a collage of key moments from whatever game you’re playing from, and Prelude/Ending, as their name suggests, leads you into and out of whatever game you’re currently playing.
So, while the game gives you about 84 songs to play with – what can you do with them? There’s quite a bit to do here thankfully. The game itself has a “Series” mode which, as the name suggests, let’s players select a game and play through the tracks offered. This is the “story mode” if you will, though completion doesn’t always guarantee you’ll have finished the game – the credits will roll at 10,000 Rhythmia obtained (which are dished out at the end of each performance). A “Challenge” mode allows players to tackle songs they’ve completed in Series mode, but at an Expert or Ultimate level. Finally “Chaos Shrine” provides the player with randomly generated “Dark Notes” which mix two songs together and up the difficulty considerably, including songs not playable in Challenge or Series mode. Chaos Shrine also allows up to four players via local wireless, which is a nice feature if you can get a group together.
Of course, being a Final Fantasy game (somewhat), it doesn’t just end there. Players choose a party of four characters to take with them on each song, each of whom have their own unique abilities. Characters can have their attributes levelled up to do more damage during battles, increase the likelihood of rare item drops as well as unlock new attacks to use in battle. Every character has a unique set of abilities so there is a bit of variety and strategy involved in picking your team (including bonuses awarded for using Cloud during a Final Fantasy VII song, for example). And constructing your team properly can sometimes mean the difference between a good treasure item or a terrible one.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is all around a pretty good game – the mechanics underlying are sound (no pun intended) and all work rather well however there are two major things worth mentioning that really put me off the game. The first is not so much a fault of the game, more so the hardware – the stylus included with the 3DS is really painful to use on more intense songs that require a lot of notes. This was thankfully rectified by the included stylus though I am fairly certain this isn’t supplied with all copies of the game. Finally, there are a lot of unlockables however many players simply won’t be bothered to spend so much time unlocking them (including extra songs).
Without those, however, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy’s soundtrack alone truly is flawless. Featuring over 70 songs (84 to be precise) it features an astoundingly varied selection from all thirteen released Final Fantasy games so far – effectively illustrating a very interesting picture of how far we’ve come from the days of MIDI compositions in the 80s to the full orchestral arrangements we have in the present day. There’s nothing else to really say about the game’s soundtrack – it all sounds great and it’s a good offering.
As I previously alluded to, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is a content packed game – there are over 84 songs to choose from, and this is supplemented by what will apparently become 50 more songs via downloadable content (the process in purchasing which is quite seamless too). To top this off, every song has three difficulty levels and there are 81 cards to collect which depict enemies, characters and such throughout the series (which can be levelled up to unlock new variants as well). On top of this, there are 99 Dark Note combinations which are unlocked randomly, and can be shared with other players via StreetPass. There’s a lot to do here, and if you endeavour to get through everything or at least 50% of everything, it could easily take you upward of ten to fifteen hours (with many more hardcore players easily clearing thirty). If you want to just skim through all the songs though without unlockables and such, this is easily a six to eight hour affair.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is a great rhythm game that incorporates enough Final Fantasy elements to make it appeal to fans of rhythm games and Final Fantasy alike. Being a 25th Anniversary Commemoration title, however, keep in mind that a lot of its appeal lies in fan service to those who have played and enjoyed many games, but thankfully even if you haven’t there is still quite a bit to do and see here too. At the price it’s being offered at, you’d be pretty silly to not pick this up – though obviously if you don’t like either rhythm games or Final Fantasy games, I can safely say you could give this one a miss. But who doesn’t enjoy at least one of these things?