Like many big gaming companies, Square Enix is one that's well aware of both its own history and the history of its own franchises. So of course the company is going to make a big deal about the 25th anniversary of what's probably the most popular RPG series of all time, Final Fantasy.
After years of sequels, re-makes, ports, and spinoffs, it's easy to see that a lot of the Final Fantasy games are tributes to previous titles in the series, but none come off as accessible as Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.
What's It About?
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is an ode to one of Final Fantasy's most valuable qualities, its music. A lot of Final Fantasy games are great, a lot are good, and there are even some bad ones, but the music is amongst the most timeless aspects in the series, and it'll make both diehard Final Fantasy fans and newcomers alike come to further respect the series for its superb musical scores.
Theatrhythm is a music and rhythm based game similar to popular titles like Rock Band or Guitar Hero but more closely resembles that of Elite Beat Agents on the Nintendo DS. The game is played completely with the 3DS touch screen and stylus, requiring players to tap, slide, and hold their stylus to the touch screen in tune with a selection of music from the original Final Fantasy up to Final Fantasy XIII.
Of course, being the RPG masters that they are, Square Enix isn't going to create a title with the Final Fantasy brand in it without some sort of RPG element. The game's plot, if you can call it that, tells the story of the war between the Cosmos (light and good) and Chaos (dark and evil). The space between Cosmos and Chaos is called the Rhythm, which gives birth to a crystal that controls music. Chaos disrupts the flow of the Rhythm to the crystal, causing all the crystal's "rhythmia" to flow away, forcing the Cosmos to call upon the heroes of every Final Fantasy game to help restore rhythmia to the crystal, making the world musical once again.
The plot itself is barren, but oftentimes that's what you get with simple fan service, which thankfully the game doesn't lack.
Why Should I Care?
Upon first turning the game on, there won't be many modes to play through. Everything has to be unlocked by playing what's available. Players will only get to take part in Series mode at first, which allows players to pick any game in the Final Fantasy series to play select music from. To go along with that, players can also pick a party of four heroes, which will at first only consist of the main characters from every Final Fantasy flagship game, limiting players to 13 characters to choose from. There are three kinds of gameplay styles: field music, battle music, and event music.
Field music, usually comprised of music from the selected Final Fantasy game's world map, is a right-to-left sidescrolling rhythm game that'll require the player to tap, hold and move the stylus up and down to get through the stage. The object is to reach the end of the stage by finishing the selected song. Upon finishing, the player will meet a character (whose identity depends on what song from what game is played) who'll reward the player's effort with an item.
Battle music is where things get a little more intense. Notes still travel from right to left, but this time there's no moving of the stylus cursor, since the music is generally fast-paced. All the player has to do is tap and hold the stylus. The object is to kill as many enemies as possible before the song is over. Players with higher scores also have the opportunity to activate a summon to make the battles go by faster and easier.
The last gameplay style is the event music. Notes will come up all over the place, and the cursor will move along with the flow of the music. On top of that, or rather below that, there will also be selected cutscenes and moments from the featured Final Fantasy game, and it kind of gets distracting, especially with the newer 3D cutscenes featured in every game beginning with Final Fantasy VII.
After enough time spent playing the music of each Final Fantasy game, players will unlock the Challenge and Chaos Shrine modes. The Challenge mode is basically the same thing as Series mode, except players can choose exactly what song they want to play, as opposed to going through a game's entire 3-song list. On top of that, the levels are much more difficult, and in turn become more satisfying to play. Sephiroth's "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII is such an example.
The Chaos Shrine mode is probably the one that is most rewarding. This is where players' parties are awarded the most experience, the most rhythmia, and the most difficult selection of music. One of the reasons for its difficulty is you simply won't know what's coming, because every game and song is replaced by question marks. Not only that, but there are also songs that players have to play that they've never come across, and it gives the game a pleasant surprise factor.
Aside from the music itself and points players gather, there really isn't much else to the game. While it's nice to be able to gain experience points for the heroes players select, there's no real point in doing so. Sure, there are items to collect and spells to learn that make the game easier to play, but the game is already accessible without such extras. There isn't any real advantage to using any of these abilities at all, and if anything, all players should really expect to see are extra animations.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Square Enix takes its production values seriously, especially when it concerns Final Fantasy. The visuals in Theatrhythm are stunning. In fact, at times, they're too stunning. It was already discussed earlier, but when playing event music levels of games after Final Fantasy VII, the cutscenes sometimes get in the way of the rhythmic action. As for the music itself, it's simply great. Add the fact that it features the music in its original form (just cleaned up a bit to make them clear as crystal), and you have one heck of a rhythm game.
Players even have the option of downloading adding additional music through DLC over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. However, at 99 cents a song, only the most hardcore Final Fantasy music fan will take advantage of this feature.
As stated, Theatrhythm is a tribute to the finest music in one of the finest franchises in all of gaming. According to his Twitter feed, Nobuo Uematsu, the famed composer of most of the Final Fantasy music fans love, fell to tears when playing the game. Cry with him.