If anyone knows how to play the nostalgia card, it’s Square Enix. With Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, they are playing it to full effect, all the way through.
While many of us have differing opinions on which iteration of Final Fantasy is our favorite, most generally agree that the music has been incredible since the very beginning. It’s surprising, then, that it has taken this long for a game centered around the music to be released. The basic mechanic of the game follows after the examples set by Elite Beat Agents and other portable rhythm games: a series of notes moves towards you, and you must execute the required action with proper timing. Actions include tapping the screen, swiping or holding the stylus on the screen for a set duration. These are slightly altered depending on which type of song you are playing.
The songs are divided between Battle, Field, and Event themes. Each different style changes the presentation and mechanics of the song. For example, in a Battle theme, notes move toward you from the left, much like the enemies in a Final Fantasy game. Initially you will be able to play a set of songs from each game, including the opening and closing themes. Once a set is completed, the songs become available in Challenge Mode, where higher difficulties are available. Dark Notes add further challenge, though completing them will lead to much better rewards and unlockable characters.
The premise of the game is that “Rhythmia” must be collected by completing songs. The game’s story, such as it is, presents itself much like Dissidia did, with a struggle between good and evil. Aside from a way to unlock new songs and characters, and to measure progress, it doesn’t really have much bearing on your gameplay. Another large aspect of the game is forming and improving your party. Again like Dissidia, the game allows you to level up and equip main characters throughout the series, and equipment and experience will make difficult songs easier to complete.
The art style feels perfect, showing each main character converted into somewhat cutesy versions of themselves. Monsters have new models for Theatrhythm, though they still reflect their appearances in the main series. While it would be somewhat awkward in an RPG, the character designs work wonderfully in this context.
Then there’s the music, which is the reason for the game’s existence. It’s great. There is a nice selection included from each game, with more available as DLC. It sounds about as good as it gets from the 3DS, and it’s unlikely that improvements could be made without plugging in a speaker system or using high-end headphones with the game. I did notice several instances, especially during the intro and closing songs, where I would try to react to the song and not the notes I see coming. That disconnect makes those segments difficult, but for the most part, it works.
Someone looking at Theatrhythm and expecting something more than a rhythm game will be disappointed, but for someone who loves Final Fantasy and its music, this is a must have title for the 3DS. It will leave you wanting to replay the entire series from beginning to end.
Pros: Easy to learn, wonderful look at the music of the series
Cons: Intro and closing themes don’t really work that well