Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Some time ago, I was defending Final Fantasy on a forum, and I talked myself out of having liked Final Fantasies seven through thirteen. I was surprised at the feat, and after some time trying to get FFXIII over with, I traded it in after a crash meant what felt like 90 minutes of cut-scenes and 30 minutes of fighting were all lost. I still like the idea of Final Fantasy games, much like I’m a fan of the idea of horror movies, it’s just that there’s a lot of crap out there with that label.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, a tap & swipe music game celebrating 25 years of Square Enix’s jRPG series might seem like an odd purchase after that. It isn’t, though, as I’m a fiend for Elite Beat Agents (and, in turn, of Ossu! Tatakae! Ouendan!). Elite Beat Agents was fantastic, a game where secret agents dance to inspire a person into beating their own personal problems. This could be getting a little girl over the death of her dad (You’re the Inspiration by Chicago), a babysitter of terrible children (Walkie Talkie Man by Steriogram), or a lost dog (Highway Star by Deep Purple). The song choices weren’t all good, but the gameplay, DS mechanics and animation made it a compulsive game.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, is a spiritual successor to that, with added jRPG elements and enough fiddly things and unlockables to make it a game to return to, even if you have played all the tunes. You control a party of four Final Fantasy characters, one of thirteen protagonists from the games, with another 15 characters as you progress. Each party member has stats which go up when they level, and special abilities to select. You can select a piece of gear for your party to equip, and then you’re ready to battle.
The levels are divided between three types. The easiest is the Event level, where a reticule floats around in patterns and when it rests over a dot, arrow or green line, you tap, swipe or hold the stylus down, respectively. This happens while cutscenes from the relevant Final Fantasy game plays underneath the action. The quality of the cutscenes holds up, from the simple FFI battles to the pretty chaos of FFXIII. If you do well, you get an extended cut.
The next mode is the Field level, featuring one of the adorable little party members walking around the world map of the relevant Final Fantasy. This time the reticule stays still and the icons come at you, often waving up and down the entirety of the screen. The final the more in-depth mode is the Battle level. In this, your whole party is in a line attacking an enemy using notes which whiz across four horizontal lines. There’s a supply of HP which drains with each miss. Each hit you get on a note hurts the enemy and your score is based on how many beasts you can kill before the song’s done.
All while you play, you generate XP for your characters, gather collectables and ‘rhythmia’, the currency of the game. With every 500 rhythmia you generate, you unlock more things, other levels, music tracks, videos, or gems which lead to unlocking new characters. Each of those characters, like your initial 13, have their own special abilities to help damage people, recover after missed notes, help summoning or chocobo riding. It’s a shame there’s not more flash to the abilities, some special effects or character animations.
One of the more versatile sections involves Streetpass, as you open up the Chaos Sphere. Either in-game or by passing other people with Theatrhythm, you get “Dark Notes”. These are pairs of levels which randomly change the difficulty and patterns are often manic but a great way of unlocking new characters and levelling.
The look of the game is charming. Rather than ape one particular style of Final Fantasy art, the designers have done something totally different in making little adorable puppet-like caricatures of the cast and monsters. The 3D is well-integrated, the notes floating above the scenes, which are often in multiple layers themselves. The speech of the characters is randomised, making sentences from fragments at the start of each level, such as, “We Go – Bravely – Um – For Moog?” and giving little Final Fantasy-ish statements when they level. Like Final Fantasy, enemies and elements of terrain are re-used, but most fit the specific game you’re playing a level for.
The music, of course, is the main part of the game. Starting as most people do, from Final Fantasy 1, you might be fooled into thinking these are all simple chiptune tracks. You’re wrong, fool. They advance as the technology did over twenty-five years, starting to include synthesisers, instruments and lyrics when you progress. Much like the animations on the Event levels, you forget the power the 3DS has until you see and hear it in action.
Watching the cute little characters cutting down cute little enemies, using familiar abilities and items, exploring old themes… It’s done something I never thought possible. It’s made me nostalgic for Final Fantasy games. Even Final Fantasy XIII. Again, I love the idea of the Final Fantasy saga, and this allows me to explore it and remember all the things that made it great, all while having a great rhythm game, to boot. There are enough unlockables to keep you going back for ‘just one more song’.
(D+PAD reviewed Theatrhythm Final Fantasy on the Nintendo 3DS; game purchased by D+PAD)
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