|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: July 3, 2012|
|Players: 1 + 1-4 player multiplayer mode|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco|
by Becky Cunningham
I'll be the first to admit it—I don't usually play rhythm games unless they involve beating on a plastic drum set, and though I've enjoyed my share of Final Fantasy games, I wouldn't count myself amongst the biggest fans of the series. What, then, am I doing playing Theatrhythm Final Fantasy? Having a surprisingly good time, that's what. The Final Fantasy series features some of the best video game music out there, leading to a great library from which to create a rhythm game. This nostalgia-soaked title features that music well, providing solid gameplay and plenty of hooks to keep the player tapping and sliding for high scores.
Theatrhythm starts the player off simply with a collection of all thirteen main Final Fantasy games to choose from, each featuring three main music tracks bookended by short starting and ending segments. Players create a party of four characters chosen from the games and learn the game basics by going through the most basic versions of the tracks. These basics are easy to learn and remember, requiring stylus movements based on colored on-screen prompts that follow the rhythm of the music being played. Red notes are a simple tap. Yellow notes have an arrow on them and require a stylus slide in the arrow's direction. Green notes require the stylus to be held to the screen. The game is generally quite responsive to these inputs—I have some trouble getting it to recognize slides at times, but having spoken with others who have played it, I think that's my own problem rather than the game's.
Three different kinds of song stages provide some variation on the basic gameplay. Battle stages have the four party characters lined up on one side of the screen, with the notes floating by à la Guitar Hero. They face off versus various monsters, doing damage when the player hits the notes and taking damage when the player misses. Field stages feature the party characters skipping along past backgrounds based on the applicable game, and hold notes require the player to slide the cursor up and down according to the hold line. Event stages feature slow, emotive pieces and play a video recording of important events from the games in the background. The notes follow an elegant, looping course on the screen, but the player doesn't need to follow it, simply hit the notes when they're under the moving cursor.
Once the player has completed the three basic tracks associated with a game, they are unlocked for "Challenge Mode," in which the player can play individual songs and can progress from basic to expert, and finally to the ultimate difficulty level for each song. After getting a certain amount of rhythmia, the player will also receive a Dark Note, which unlocks the game's third major mode, the Chaos Shrine. Dark Notes are randomized pairs of battle and field themes (some of which aren't available in the game's other modes) which are meant to challenge the player. Once completed, a Dark Note can be traded to other players via StreetPass. They can also be played multiplayer with up to four people, each of whom controls a single party member.
Underpinning all of this gameplay is a light RPG system. The player's Final Fantasy characters level up while completing music scores, increasing their statistics and learning new abilities. Increased statistics help the characters travel farther and find more treasure in field mode, as well as doing more damage in battle mode. Character abilities, which have the classic Final Fantasy names such as Cura and Thundara, allow the characters to replenish hit points lost by missing notes and do additional damage in battle mode. The party can also equip items looted from field and battle modes that have various helpful effects.
Along with experience, players will receive rhythmia after playing through a score. It's the game's currency, which is racked up based on the player's score and various bonus points gained for things like not equipping items or having a track's title character in the party. Players get a prize for every 500 rhythmia points, which can be anything from extra tracks to gems that count toward unlocking extra characters. Many of the prizes go into a museum, including a gallery of collectable cards featuring the characters and monsters from the game, unlocked event movies, and unlocked music tracks from the game. The music player even works when the 3DS is closed, allowing players to listen to the tracks while on the move.
Added together, Theatrhythm's scoring system, Dark Note challenges, RPG mechanics, and rhythmia unlocks combine to create a very addictive gameplay experience. Players will find themselves compelled to keep playing through songs in order to improve their performance, level up their characters, and collect new treasures via rhythmia unlocks (which happen quite regularly.)
Starting with expert difficulty, playing through the game's music pieces is pleasantly challenging, and perfecting the most difficult tracks will take plenty of practice. Casual players will still find plenty of enjoyment at lower difficulty levels, though. Since collectable unlocks are based on rhythmia instead of difficulty level, players are free to play at whatever difficulty level they please.