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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Review

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  • 3DS

Tapping your way through the memorable Final Fantasy themes of the past two decades is more fun than you'd think.

Not nearly as weird as it looks.

The music of Final Fantasy is so integral to the series' enduring popularity it's a wonder Square Enix hasn't made a game focused purely on that music until now. Enter Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a rhythm action game that runs the risk of being almost as absurd as its nonsense title. I was all ready to chuckle at this game when it crossed my desk and then move on with my life, but it turns out that tapping your stylus along to the dramatic Final Fantasy themes of yore is actually a ton of fun, and the game wraps enough unlockable content and RPG-style character progression around the core rhythm mechanic that it actually starts to feel like a decent value even at full price.

Theatrhythm is a fine rhythm game in the mold of Elite Beat Agents or Gitaroo Man, so if you're the sort of person who gobbles up every game of that type regardless of how you feel about the music, feel free to jump on in. But the people who should really be looking at this game are the ones who revere the grand scores that anchored Square's epics from the NES right on up to the modern era. For me, the Final Fantasy series marked one of the first times I realized music in a video game was actually capable of stirring the soul, and VI in particular inspired me to go out and spend a bunch of money on an actual soundtrack CD. That puts me smack dab in this game's crosshairs, and it does a good enough job of tweaking my nostalgic feelings for this material that I don't even care how blatantly I'm being pandered to.

When you first fire up the game, it feels a little light on content, since you've only got access to a small selection of songs from each of the first 13 core games in the franchise. For each game, there's one "field" music (typically the overworld theme), one battle track (a mishmash of regular and boss themes, depending on the game), and one "event" piece that corresponds to a particular dramatic moment from the game's story, say, the famous opera scene from VI. Each of these song types comes with a unique type of gameplay, so you're doing a little of everything with each game, and they're always bookended by the opening and ending themes of the game in question, which let you tap out the rhythm to earn a little extra rhythmia (the game's unlock currency). Still, it takes less than 10 minutes to play through any one of the games in the series mode, and they're all extremely easy at first, so it's hard to ignore the feeling that there's just not much in here, especially for a full-priced 3DS game. Luckily, the more of Theatrhythm you play, the more it seems like there is to play.

Leveling your party turns out to be pretty addicting.

The game strengthens its case almost immediately since you get to build a party of four characters drawn from all the leads of each of the 13 games as soon as you boot it up. I went with Cecil, Terra, Squall, and Lightning, partly for nostalgia and partly because each character has significantly different stats and abilities that come into play depending on what sort of song you're playing and how well you do. You've got hit points and magic just like a regular RPG, and some abilities will heal you when your party becomes weak or unleash a certain type of elemental magic based on how many of a certain type of note you've hit. There are even single-use items you can equip that cause specific effects to trigger. Leveling up your party to unlock better and more unique abilities becomes sort of addicting in its own right, especially since the later difficulties can get overwhelmingly hard. I really grew to like the idea that leveling up my party and intelligently equipping them could help me scrape by during encounters that I had no chance of beating otherwise. You know, sort of like in the old Final Fantasy games this thing is based on. It's also worth mentioning that part of the game's charm lies in the cutesy art style all of these widely varying characters have been mashed into, and they tend to spit out some lovable nonsense dialogue in between songs. The game has a droll sense of humor in general that makes it more likable.

Theatrhythm doesn't really get engrossing until you open up the challenge mode, where you can play those higher difficulties, and especially when you get access to the chaos shrine and start unlocking dark notes. That's right, dark notes. These are mystery combinations of one field and one battle music, so you don't know what songs you're going to play until you tackle that particular note. The upside of this is, the dark notes contain a bunch of new songs you won't see at all in the main story mode. The downside is, they're super tough, but they'll level your characters pretty quickly and will almost always drop you another dark note as a reward. I was mostly excited to get into the chaos shrine for some new music, but the dark notes, like everything else you do, will generate rhythmia, and the more of that you rack up, the closer you get to adding some more unique songs to your challenge mode lineup, or even unlocking some other fan-favorite characters like Sephiroth, Yuna, and Vivi. The rhythmia requirements for those unlocks are pretty stiff, and I only started even getting close to the first ones after about eight hours. But the good news is, I'm not at all tired of playing what's already available; heck, I haven't even played through all 13 games start to finish yet. It starts to feel like a lot of content after a while.

Dark notes. DARK NOTES.

If you find yourself wanting more, this game bears the questionable honor of being the first 3DS game to offer paid DLC. It could've been easy to get upset about the selection of songs included with the base game, but aside from the conspicuous omission of Final Fantasy IV's final boss music, I'm generally pretty happy with what's already in here, which the game claims already amounts to "over 70" songs. It's not like there isn't already a long precedent for rhythm games selling piecemeal downloadable songs anyway, and at a dollar a song, the prices aren't completely insane. It's ridiculous, however, that the barebones in-game store doesn't offer some kind of preview of the available songs. You probably won't have much trouble finding samples of those songs by name on the Internet, but you should have that option at the point of sale, full stop. Otherwise, it's nice to have the option to pick and choose a few extra songs if you want to supplement what's already in the game.

It probably says a lot that Theatrhythm so ably overcomes the absurdity of its premise and actually ends up deserving a place in the collection of rhythm-gaming Final Fantasy fans (either current or former). Given Square Enix's recent track record, it's easy to see this game showing up on iOS devices in the not-distant future, but if you're looking for an endearingly entertaining rhythm package to occupy your 3DS right now, Theatrhythm fits the bill.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
62 Comments
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Posted by the_scientist21

Good to hear

Edited by VierasTalo

EDIT: SO CLOSE

Also, I want this game. I Don't care about the FF-series in general, but this just seems so many ways of awesome.

Posted by pplus0440

Good, just about done with Kid Icarus and I need something else for my 3DS. I will be checking it out.
Posted by Winternet

A great Final Fantasy game? What year is this?

Posted by TheHT

Always a pleasure when a game comes along that puts your pessimism to shame.

Posted by Atwa

Want want want

Posted by Animasta

@Winternet said:

A great Final Fantasy game? What year is this?

the one that FF13-2 came out in.

Online
Posted by Gordo789

3DS XL needs to come out so I can have a platform to play this on.

Posted by Ben_H

Might get this if I got a 3DS. I've never been huge on the Final Fantasy games but I have always liked the music.

Posted by Hailinel

The title isn't nonsense. It's a portmanteau. It's no different than Harmonix's Vidrhythm.

Posted by Maystack

I pre-ordered almost as soon as I'd finished playing the demo, it was so good. I think this is the most excited I've been for a game in a while.

Posted by Pr1mus

@Winternet said:

A great Final Fantasy game? What year is this?

1997. I'm sure everyone will agree in harmony.

Posted by StealthRaptor

No FFTactics I'm guessing?

Posted by RaidenMitsuru

I... I love this game...

Posted by Cybexx

I've played my way through nearly all of the series mode (in order of course), dabbled a little bit in the challenge and dark note stuff. I am surprised how much I'm enjoying myself. Its definitely firing up the nostalgic part of my brain and is kind of making me want to go back and finish some of the FF games I have not finished yet.

Posted by Turambar

The reason this game is so weird but also amazing: its made by the same guys that did the Retro Game Master games.

Posted by Senate4242

I had zero interest in this game, despite being an avid FF fan. The quicklook and nostalgia quickly won me over and I picked it up right after watching. Thanks Brad!

Posted by darknexus209

I haven't thought about whether I should or shouldn't get this game.

Posted by m2cks

@Winternet said:

A great Final Fantasy game? What year is this?

2077. Seeing as a "great Final Fantasy game" was the final sign of the apocalypse, China then proceeded to bomb America. Thank God for these conveniently-placed vaults.

Posted by JackSukeru

It upsets me that this game is not listed as "in stock" at Play-Asia yet.

Posted by Suoritus

I came in hoping this was a review for the Vita theatrhythm, but it wasn't. At least I learnt that this is an ongoing series.

Posted by Eojay

This game and this game alone is making me consider getting a 3DS, which I've held off on getting so far. I'm a massive fan of Uematsu-san's work on the core FF games.

Posted by OllyOxenFree

I do like me some rhythm games. I do like me some Final Fantasy music. I do like me ordering things in Amazon.com.

Posted by Joker369

Great review. I'm pleasantly surprised that this game is good.

Posted by Mento

Brad's appreciation of the Final Fantasy franchise seems at times a little incongruous given how few other JRPGs he'll cover, but it makes perfect sense when you read a review like this. It's all about the nostalgia; that time in Brad's life when this genre was still a big thing for the dude.

I'm now seriously considering getting this game after the review and QL, as the demo didn't really give you any sense of the vast array of bonus stuff, character development and the Smash Bros-esque dedication to the source material behind the already fun EBA style note-tapping. I wanted to like Dissidia for that reason too, but really didn't like the odd fighting game that framed it all.

Moderator
Posted by kerse

I'm having so much fun with this game, love the music from Final Fantasy games.

Posted by Marmaladebrat

A good game and I am enjoying it, even though I am not very good at Rhythm games.

Posted by erinfizz

This game is on my incredibly short list of 3DS games I must get when i finally buy a 3DS. pretty sure Paper Mario in the fall will be my tipping point for needing one.

Posted by Gordo789

@StealthRaptor said:

No FFTactics I'm guessing?

FF tactics is kind of more of a Tactics Ogre game than a final fantasy game. I think only the numbered FF games are considered to be "real" final fantasy games. I could be wrong about this.

Posted by StealthRaptor

@Gordo789 said:

@StealthRaptor said:

No FFTactics I'm guessing?

FF tactics is kind of more of a Tactics Ogre game than a final fantasy game. I think only the numbered FF games are considered to be "real" final fantasy games. I could be wrong about this.

Tactics includes many of the Final Fantasy tropes (chocobos, a guy named Cid, phoenix downs, etc) and the world, Ivalice, is also used in FFXII so I think it counts. It's tied with FFVI for my favorite music so I'm going to be really sad when I learn it's omitted.

Posted by Curufinwe

I wish the 3DS XL was out already so I could it and this game.

Posted by BenderUnit22

I bought this game. And a 3DS.

Posted by csl316

Awesome, I'm looking for an endearingly entertaining rhythm package.

Posted by Gordo789
Posted by Undeadpool

@Mento said:

Brad's appreciation of the Final Fantasy franchise seems at times a little incongruous given how few other JRPGs he'll cover, but it makes perfect sense when you read a review like this. It's all about the nostalgia; that time in Brad's life when this genre was still a big thing for the dude.

I'm now seriously considering getting this game after the review and QL, as the demo didn't really give you any sense of the vast array of bonus stuff, character development and the Smash Bros-esque dedication to the source material behind the already fun EBA style note-tapping. I wanted to like Dissidia for that reason too, but really didn't like the odd fighting game that framed it all.

Not just about nostalgia, but a time when JRPGs, and especially Final Fantasy, were on the bleeding edge of videogame graphics and storytelling. Not a withered husk shambling along, trying to follow the trends set by the thing itself.

Edited by Red

Sounds surprisingly good, but not enough to make me go out and get a 3DS.

What I find most interesting about Final Fantasy spin-offs is where "Final Fantasy" goes in the title. It seems as though it switches to before and after the game's title completely randomly. I just imagine a PR room of people arguing about what should go first.

Posted by ZenaxPure

I love how everyone was shitting on this game when it was first announced and now look at everyone. I can't believe anyone thought FF music + elite beat agents gameplay would end in anything other than an absolutely amazing experience.

Posted by Brackynews

I don't think I can get over how every character looks like a Tarutaru version of themselves. But that shouldn't stop me from enjoying the mechanics or the music. But that tambourine-tap might...

@Zenaxzd: There's no guarantee that those everyones are the same as these everyones. ;)

Posted by cyraxible

@Zenaxzd: You say that like it still isn't a crazy and niche concept.

Posted by courage_wolf

No one panders to their fans quite like Square Enix. No matter how bad their current games are they can still pull a rabbit out of their development hat and get me to spend $40 on a 3DS rhythm game after watching one gameplay video.

Posted by Gordo789

@Zenaxzd said:

I love how everyone was shitting on this game when it was first announced and now look at everyone. I can't believe anyone thought FF music + elite beat agents gameplay would end in anything other than an absolutely amazing experience.

I knew that this would be the game that sold me a 3DS the day it was announced.

Posted by RecSpec

I've been telling people on the fence that this is a reason to buy a 3DS. The game is stupidly deep, and a ton of fun if you like rhythm games and/or Final Fantasy games.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Okay so once I get my 3DS XL it's this and Mario 3D Land immediately. I'm so stoked.

Posted by tehtimeisnow

this gane is so stuped and its like a poor mans guiter hero but its a bad game for littel kids with bad grafics and bad music

Posted by Set

@tehtimeisnow said:

this gane is so stuped and its like a poor mans guiter hero but its a bad game for littel kids with bad grafics and bad music

same

Posted by Zaxex

I want to buy the game for several reasons; there's not much compelling 3DS software, I like many Final Fantasy games, not least of all their music and this seems like a really good game. On the other hand, it was named by an insane person, so I'm in two minds.

Theatrhytm.

Fucking portmanteaus...

Posted by dropabombonit

Sounds pretty good but think I will wait for a price drop despite being a huge FF fan

Posted by GolazoDan

I've played the demo of this and it seems awesome, hopefully it's come in the post today. I'm no FF expert, in fact the only one I've really played is VIII, but I like the music generally and I like rhythm games. I mean it'll be no Rhythm Thief, of course...

Posted by dragonzord

@Zenaxzd said:

I love how everyone was shitting on this game when it was first announced and now look at everyone. I can't believe anyone thought FF music + elite beat agents gameplay would end in anything other than an absolutely amazing experience.

It's a pretty silly concept when you first hear it.

If the experience was as barebones as something like EBA. I don't think it could get away with just FF music. Luckily, Square's knack for presentation in their games helps it along a lot.

Posted by SpiralEye

If they are going to include music from FFVIII, how can they omit the operatic Liberi Fatale? It's the piece that sets the entire mood of the game..

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