The Final Fantasy series has withstood the test of time. For over 25 years, the franchise has been a staple to the lives of many gamers. Fascinating characters and whimsical stories bewitched fans for years. The enchanting melodies of the series’ soundtracks have imprinted themselves permanently within their minds. Symphonies around the world have praised its success, and now SquareEnix joins in the celebration with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a different breed of Final Fantasy that explores new genres for the franchise. The name says it all: theater – watching a performance – and rhythm – a succession of movement. The story revolves around a battle between Chaos and Cosmos, which disrupts the plain of existence known as Rhythm, a neutral boundary that houses the Music Crystal. This crystal gives birth to music that fuels harmony throughout the lands but it goes dark as the war rages on. Heroes from all corners of the Final Fantasy universe are brought together to gather Rhythmia to help bring the crystal back to life. The story is there enough to give you some sort of end game goal but it plays very little part in the game itself.
This spin off focuses on spontaneous bursts of fun instead of extravagant storytelling and in-depth role playing, elements we normally see in traditional Final Fantasy games. The core gameplay follows a rather simple flow chart. You play though each chapter, gain Rhythmia, and unlock more features and items to use later on. Each chapter pays tribute to a single Final Fantasy title by taking songs from the album and pairs them with patterns displayed on the top screen for the player to tap along to on the bottom. Like most rhythm games on the 3DS, the game is played by lightly tapping the bottom screen when the right icon appears in just the right spot on the grid located above. Red circles indicate that a single strike needs to be made while yellow arrows require the player to slash in certain directions, or you might need to follow a curved green pattern.
The main quest line (if you want to consider it as such) is told through series mode-a collection of rhythm-based mini games: Demo Music Stage (DMS), Battle Music Stage (BMS), Field Music Stage (FMS), and Event Music Stage (EMS). While the order in which the modes appear varies, the gameplay is identical. DMS mode is both the first and last mode available in a chapter. Here small music notes fly across the crystal that you can collect for some quick, easy Rhythmia and helps warm up your reaction senses for the game itself. BMS is a rather neat concept. Here the party faces against a group of monsters in a customary formation. Instead of taking turns to attack, the player follows the pattern to make the characters attack. Successful critical chains and trigger classic summons to use during battle. If you mess up your chain, a character’s attack can be weakened and it also opens you up for the enemy’s attack.
FMS is a travel stage where the player moves from point A to point B. Speed is based on their performance. Missing notes will trip up your character while successful chains will change you into a Chocobo. Finally EMS mode highlights the theater aspect of Theatrhythm. Unforgettable moments are relived via in game clips accompanied with appropriate songs. The performance is disrupted if you mess up your patterns while an extended version can be unlocked if you connect a long enough chain.
The player’s skill is judged on a simple scale once the mode has been completed. Points are earned by having correct timing and linking together chains by not missing a single note. You are then graded at the end of each session which determines the amount of Rhythmia you will gain which unlocks other features within the game.
Finishing a title in series mode will unlock Challenge mode. Here you can pick a single song to play through on either basic score or the more intensified challenge score to unlock more bonuses in the game. A demo mode is also available to help build familiarization with the song in order to help you fine tune your timing for future performances.
Once enough Rhythmia has been collected, you can unlock the Chaos Shrine mode where you play through the Dark Notes that you have collected from FMS and BMS encounters. Each Dark Note has a different combination of scores, difficulties, and items that are obtained from completing them. Some Dark Notes might result with you getting a rare item or perhaps unlocking a new character. This is only one mode that you can play with up to three other friends via Local Play. However, each player needs to have their own 3DS system and copy of the game.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is not just a rhythm game, however. Some RPG elements have still snuck their way into the gameplay turning the game into a hybrid of both genres. You can choose four Final Fantasy protagonists to use in your party. Each one being an adorable chibi-like adaptation of themselves only adds to the games mesmerizing charm. Characters have stats that go into play during rhythm sessions. Luck increases your chances of finding items during FMS while strength and magic determine the amount of damage done during BMS. Health ultimately determines the amount of “hits” – or misses – you can take before you game over. Abilities can be equipped that give bonuses during gameplay. Reactive-type abilities have requirements that must be met to trigger them while proactive-type abilities are active at all times. Items can be collected during gameplay and be equipped one at a time. Potions can “heal” you thus letting you avoid game overs while other items can increase stats or chances to evade attacks during BMS segments.
The RPG mechanics add more depth to simplified gameplay but I personally did not notice many changes in gameplay. Multiple party combinations all felt the same; using different abilities did not alter much during battles or traveling. The stats did not seem overly effective since the success is based on the player’s timing capabilities. They felt more like an illusion of complexity than actually being meaningful to the gameplay.
The bottom line is that Theatrhythm is a solid rhythm game that does exactly what it is meant to do. It highlights the magic of Nobuo Uematsu’s work in a tasteful way with addictive gameplay. The colorful ambiance that surrounds the title makes it seem like a celebration of his work. The game, however, feels shallow only because each mode is rather short and feels more like a collection of three separate concepts strung together than a complete game. There is not quite enough depth to justify playing through more than a few songs at a time before growing bored with it yet you’ll find yourself having urges to go back to it time and time again. It is great for small bursts of gameplay but certainly nothing you would spend an entire afternoon doing. Fans of the series should consider snagging a copy when you can since you will get enjoyment from interacting with your favorite songs. You will love every second of it but those seconds might only last a few minutes or an hour tops. Personally, I would have loved to have seen an actual RPG with the BMS style of combat but maybe that will be project for the far future. For now, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy will have to do.