Everyone has a favorite entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. Even when gamers argue over which is better than others or question the quality of some its more recent entires (myself included), one thing that is universally accepted is that Final Fantasy always has good music. Final Fantasy Theatrhythm is a celebration of that music, using faux-RPG elements and rhythm gameplay to bring even the most bitter of devotees gleaming with nostalgia.
If you've ever played Elite Beat Agents (or Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan) on the DS, Final Fantasy Theatrhythm will be very similar. Circles slide across the top screen, and you tap, slide and flow with the rhythm of the music to gain points and high ratings. There are three different kinds of "stages", but they all play the same. The Field Music stage uses easy-going overworld songs to start things of simple. The Event Music stage has memorable cutscenes or moments from the series, and the Battle Music stages all have the quicker, more upbeat battle songs. Even though each is presented differently, they all use the same gameplay of tap, slide, and hold touches on the bottom screen.
Unlike most rhythm games, Theatrhythm is rather generous when it comes to hitting the mark. The ratings ranges from "bad" to "great", with "critical" being the highest possible. Missing one causes your hit point bar to drop. Getting criticals does not require absolute precise timing, as you can be a little early or late and still get the critical. It's bizarre for a rhythm game, but great for players who just want to enjoy the music and not have to worry about performance all the time. This isn't to say that the game is easy by any means. The basic courses are quite simple, but once you unlock the challenge mode and try the same songs on Expert and eventually Ultimate, high grades do not come as easily.
Tying all of the music gameplay and tapping together are RPG elements. You create a party of four characters from the main line of Final Fantasy games (the same cast as the Dissidia fighting games). Each has different stats, hit points, and special abilities. These can slightly affect gameplay. For example, Zidane from Final Fantasy IX can move further ahead during the field stages and has a higher chance of finding items, and the Warrior of Light deals a lot of physical damage during the battle scenes. Completing the songs earns each character experience points, letting them level up and improve stats and learn new abilities. The abilities are all based on performance, too. Casting a Thunder spell requires a number of "good" ratings in a row to cast, and the Steal ability has a 10% chance of happening every time you defeat an enemy.
The Battle Event music stages are the most entertaining, because they are vaguely classic Final Fantasy battles. Every successful note hit has that character in line attacking with his or her melee weapon and dealing damage their enemy. The amount is a complete mystery, as it just says "damage!" next to the enemy letting you know that you hit. It's a bit superficial, but at the same time, defeating enemies gets you new items to equip your party with, or if you're really lucky, crystal shards to unlock additional characters.
Of course, none of this would be any fun to play if it wasn't for the beautiful music. One of the coolest parts of Theatrhythm is going down the line of Final Fantasy songs and witnessing first hand how gaming music has improved and evolved. It's absolutely incredible that so many songs have stood the test time and are truly classics. It's difficult to play Terra's Theme or Within the Giant and not have memories forcing your lips into a smile. If the music wasn't enough, the charming chibi characters and impressively compressed clips of classic gameplay running the background are more than enough to melt your heart.
The game can be "beat" in about four hours; beat in the sense that you see the end credits. That would only scratch the service of unlockables in Theatrhythm. Challenge mode let's you attempt the basic courses in the Expert and Ultimate difficulties, while the Chaos Shrine provides a different challenge altogether. The Chaos Shrine has 99 two-song challenges to unlock, each one with varying rewards and up to three bosses to battle. You do not know the songs going in, so you cannot pick the ones you know you are good at it. At the same time though, this can cause the repetition of some songs numerous times in a row. Plus, the Chaos Shrine can be played cooperatively with up to three other players in the same room. And if the Chaos Shrine isn't enough, you unlock several dozen collectible cards of characters, a movie theater mode, and a jukebox to listen to the music.
Any person that has even a moderate amount of appreciation for Final Fantasy will find things to like Theatrhythm. While the gameplay itself is simple, it's rather addicting, and the number of hidden songs you'll discover give Theatrhythm the ultimate "just one more song" mentality. It's difficult to put down, even if the repetition can get to the best of you some times. There is already new song DLC available for purchase, with more promised in the future, to help stave off that repetition though.
It's an absolutely fantastic way to kill a few minutes of down time, but prolonged play sessions can cause boredom. Still, everything about Final Fantasy Theatrhythm oozes charm and nostalgia, and is a worthwhile purchase in the right hands.
|Jared Knabenbauer is the ScrewAttack.com Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of our weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Newsroom, Nametags and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.|
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