LOVED IT: Flawless blend of taps and swipes, cute visuals, great Final Fantasy soundtrack, loaded with replay value
HATED IT: Typically useless story, buffs serve little purpose, occasional button misreads
GRAB IT IF: You love Elite Beat Agents
The rhythm game is not complicated at all. It’s a simple exercise, really, one that has the gamer hitting proper button combinations to the beat of music in carefully-timed levels.
And Theatrhythm Final Fantasy elevates this brand of gaming to near art form. Square Enix’s foray into rhythm gaming handles splendidly, blending a soundtrack heavy on nostalgia with tremendously satisfying gameplay.
Why so many Final Fantasy characters and classic FF songs land in all this rhythm mayhem is oddly absent, but it never matters. Square offers an early paragraph of quasi-explanation, which actually winds up being better than some of the nonsensical tales that tried to explain other FF spinoffs like Dissidia.
Anyway, you’ll quickly find yourself enthralled in developer Indies Zero’s take on rhythm gameplay, so much so that the story — and even some of the typical Final Fantasy nods — will be almost entirely lost.
Simply put, Theatrhythm’s gameplay is magical. You use the stylus to quickly tap red circles, press and hold green circles, and swipe in specific directions whenever arrow circles prompt.
The blend of simple rhythm and syncopation is both challenging for gamers and fitting to the music. And swipes feel terrifically fulfilling, as if you’re slashing with some gigantic fantasy sword. On occasion, the 3DS fails to properly read your swipes, an annoyance that’s particularly bothersome when you’re riding a “Perfect” string in a song, or seeking to break a record. Other than that, controls are spot-on.
Theatrhythm keeps the musical experience varied by including three brands of gameplay, each with subtle yet beautiful Final Fantasy touches. Field music has you following one line as your avatar marches through a field at a somewhat leisurely pace, while Event music has you following a line around a screen, a classic cutscene often playing in the background.
Both of those are prelude to Battle music, the equivalent of “boss” battles, in which you track four lines, hitting notes along them all as they come to the beat line at the right side of the screen. Strive to string together perfection here, yielding a summon near the middle of each composition, and expect a frenetic experience.
Theatrhythm’s gameplay and blend of compositions could easily carry this entire game. In the main campaign, Series mode, each Final Fantasy game is represented by a Field, Battle and Event composition.
Ideally, you want to play this mode by starting with the first Final Fantasy and moving on, appreciating the gradual evolution of the series’ music. You’re never locked into this, though, and I fell in love with songs from my introduction to the series, Final Fantasy VII.
The music is so captivating — and at the same time, challenging — that it’s easy to miss some of the subtle touches Square added to this game. The art style is as elegant as ever, with the soft CG of Event music highlighting everything. Chocobos and Phoenix Downs make appearances, and while boss battles don’t play out any differently than other levels for the gamer, Theatrhythm does throw out memorable enemies, just for kicks.
And you actually pick a full, four-person “team” from a selection of classic FF characters, level them up as you advance, even equip them. This entire exercise feels strangely irrelevant, so much so that you’ll eventually forget to handle equips and change party members.
Still, credit Theatrhythm for including so much fan service, if only to reinforce the ties to Final Fantasy. Square crams a boatload of classic touches into this game, leaving something for everyone. There’s plenty of replay value, too, through Challenge and Chaos Shrine modes, and the simple act of chasing musical perfection.
It all adds up to a fantastic rhythm game. And if you ever loved any of the soundtracks from Final Fantasy, it’s a must-own.
Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
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