There are very few games that can keep my attention for long periods of time, and by long, I mean somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours of gameplay. Batman: Arkham City was one of those games, but that was nearly 9 months ago. Well another game has surfaced that has captivated me, and that game is Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. This charming rhythm RPG hybird has many things going for it besides the fact that the soundtrack is composed of many of the brilliant tunes of the Final Fantasy series.
Like most rhythm games on the DS, Theatrhythm’s gameplay is composed of simple tapping, holding, and sliding of the stylus. However, Square Enix spices things up quite a bit by adding three different modes of gameplay to the mix. You have Battle Music Stages, which tasks you with defeating as many enemies as possible by correctly responding to the rhythm triggers that scroll along the top screen on four separate lines with each line representing a party member. BMS stages are generally the fastest and most hectic. Think One-Winged Angel (FFVII) and The Man with the Machine Gun (FFVIII).
There are Field Music Stages, which involves your characters running through a field by continuously moving your stylus along a single line. These are generally the slowest and easiest songs. Examples include Terra’s Theme (FFVI) and Mi’ihen Highroad (FFX). And finally there are Event Music Stages, which are based on important events in the Final Fantasy world. Rather than the rhythm triggers moving from left to right on a line, they consume the entire top screen moving all around, which forces you to pay close attention. These can range from easy to hard. Elia, the Maiden of Water (FFIII) and Behind the Door (FFIX) are two such examples.
Each mode has its own version of a “star power” like mechanic. BMS stages incorporate a summoning mechanic, which summons either Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Odin (my favorite), or Bahamut (although you must have a special item equipped to summon him). FMS stages allow you to call upon various colored chocobo, which allows you to get farther and possibly snag some rare items. EMS stages simply allow you to extend the song at the very end.
What also makes Theatrhythm special, is that everyone can play it. Rhythm game novices can stick to the Basic Score of each song and simply enjoy the music and the backgrounds. Challenge seekers like myself have the Expert Score and the incredibly fast and furious Ultimate Score. Each song also features a practice mode.
Now let’s touch on the RPG aspect of Theatrhythm. After all, what would Final Fantasy be without a leveling system? You set out with a party of 4 characters, each with their own stat line and abilities. Experience is earned after completing each song. You’ll want to use characters with high strength and magic stats in BMS stages, as they’ll do moar damage to the enemies. Cloud and Lightning are good choices. For FMS stages, characters with high agility and luck are best, as they’ll be able to go farther and collect moar items. Zidane and Tidus are ideal for these stages. For EMS, character choice doesn’t matter as much.
There are a plethora of abilities that are either passive, requirement based, stage based, or probability based. Passive abilities include stat enhancing ones. Requirement based abilities include Squall’s Lionheart ability, which triggers upon the arrival of a boss type enemy in BMS stages that deals massive damage. Stage based abilities are ones that only activate if played on the correct stage. And probability based ones include Steal, with each successive level of Steal giving you a higher percentage of stealing an item in a BMS stage. There are also plenty of items which also have their own requirements before activation.
Some reviewers have argued that these RPG elements were a little lacking or forced. I happen to disagree. While it is true that you have the option to not use abilities or items, it simply isn’t as fun without them. They definitely help in higher difficulty songs along with using higher level characters. I had a blast mixing and matching characters to find the right combinations for each song, series (a set of each installment’s music), or Dark Note (which I’ll explain later). Since each character’s stat line leveled differently, and since each character had different skills, it was fun experimenting. I believe Square Enix did the best they could mixing two very different genres together, and to all the naysayers, I would kindly ask what you would have done instead of merely stating “there could have been more.”
Then we have the “Chaos Shrine” area, which features tricky Dark Notes. These are additional songs of varying difficulty. Each Dark Note is composed of an FMS and BMS. While multiplayer is not the main focus of the game, it certainly enhances the “Chaos Shrine.” Players can swap Dark Notes via StreetPass, and you can recruit up to three friends via local connection to tackle a Dark Note. However, the main reason for playing Dark Notes is to play songs you wouldn’t normally be able to play and to earn different colored crystal shards which unlock additional (!) characters. Collect 8 of each shard, and you’ll have yourself a new character. There are 16 additional characters to collect, so happy hunting.
If you’re in the collecting mood, there’s moar to collect besides characters. You can unlock various Proficards, which are your StreetPass profile cards. Then you have CollectaCards, which profile characters and monsters from the series. These cards can be leveled up as well by earning multiple copies of the same card, adding a “holofoil” version and then a “platinum” version. Then we have the trophies, and with 64 of them to collect, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the world of Rhythmia. I know the trophy for Perfect Chaining (not missing a trigger) all the Ultimate Scores will take me quite a while.
I would like to touch on the art a bit, as it has thrown some fans for a loop. In an interview with IGN, Theatrhythm producer Ichiro Hazama was asked by the lovely Audrey Drake why they went with the art style they did. In short, his answer was that due to the varying art styles of the various Final Fantasy games, they had to go with a new style. Having worked on a mobile Kingdom Hearts game which used a chibi style, he thought it would be perfect for Theatrhythm, and he brought the idea to Tetsuya Nomura, who approved.
Lastly, let’s focus on the game’s music, which is the most important factor of any music game. The song selections are phenomenal and will definitely amp up the nostalgia factor. Some of the songs are not the full length, which has caused some fans to complain. I don’t think it was feasible to have some 6 minute songs to play, so I wasn’t bothered by this. Other fans have complained about the lack of certain songs, and while I would have liked to see some of my personal favorites, you can’t please ‘em all. Plus, Theatrhythm will be the first 3DS game that will feature DLC, and Square Enix has said there would be at least 50 additional songs for purchase, each at 0.99 cents a piece. You can find the list on the Final Fantasy wiki here (scroll down to the DLC section).
All in all, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a wonderfully unique rhythm game that offers hours upon hours of content and memories. With its innovative RPG elements, countless collectibles, and vast song library, Theatrhythm is the perfect game to celebrate Final Fantasy’s 25th anniversary. It even made the great Nobuo Uematsu cry. If you own a 3DS and are looking for a game to justify dusting it off, pick this one up. Remember I said a game that supplies at least 30 hours of gameplay is one I consider long? Well I just logged 31 hours, and it’s only been a week since I started playing
Developer: Indies zero
Publisher: Square Enix
Notable people involved: Ichiro Hazama (first game he’s led), Nobuo Uematsu
Available on: 3DS
Genre: Rhythm/RPG hybrid
Release date: July 3rd, 2012