Do you love the hell out of Final Fantasy? How do you feel about rhythm games? Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, Square Enix’s newest 3DS outing, takes these two seemingly unrelated types of games and combines them together in a celebration of Final Fantasy’s rich aural history.
At its core, Theatrhythm is a relatively simple game. You tap, flick or slide your stylus along the touch screen in time with the notes that scroll past the upper screen but that’s only half the story. Rhythm games are only as good as their soundtrack but, luckily, Theatrhythm has the backing of one of the best sounding series in gaming history. So – if you’re a fan of Uematsu’s soundtracks – you’re going to love it.
Gameplay itself is divided into three different sections: Field, Battle, and Event. Field involves your leader travelling through various areas as you slide along rolling beats, Battle includes all three types of notes flying at you in rapid succession while you destroy baddies and Event plays an iconic Final Fantasy montage (based on the game from which the song that you’re playing originated) as you tap, hold, and flick your way to victory. After selecting any game in the series from I – XIII (XIV is mysteriously absent. Not that I blame them), you will play through each section as well as the game’s opening closing song. As you go, you can eventually unlock “Dark Notes”, which are essentially supercharged, super hard versions of classic songs. If you find the Dark Notes too hard and the regular mode too easy, there’s also a challenge mode that lets you play any previously completed song at three different difficulty levels.
Of course, Final Fantasy is an RPG series and Theatrhythm goes all the way in reminding you of its role-playing heritage. Backing all the rhythmic tapping and swiping is an RPG backbone. You can create a party of four Final Fantasy alumni and these characters will level up as you play, earn new abilities, and can be equipped with items to help you out if you start to fail. It’s a cool feeling to see your characters grow as you play. At first. Eventually you realize that, while it’s always fun to see that number climb, they are ultimately meaningless; levelling up your characters doesn’t actually change anything and the game will play the same at Level 99 as it did at Level 1.
You don’t just earn EXP after every song either. The more you play, the more “Rhythmia” you’ll collect and the more you’ll unlock. You can unlock anything from songs for your music player to Event movies to new characters. There’s a hell of a lot of content waiting for you and don’t be surprised if you spend as much time unlocking it as you did playing Final Fantasy VI.
Another interesting element to look at is the particular style of this game. Final Fantasy hasn’t had a single graphical style over its history. Indeed, any long-term fan can tell one game from another just by looking at screenshots and comparing the graphical styles. With such a wide range of visual history, the developers faced quite the challenge bringing all these different worlds together under one visual theme but they seem to have pulled it off. Everything is drawn in the sickeningly cute chibi style and it’s fun to see all of your favourite characters (and enemies) rendered so adorably. Theatrhythm may not exactly have the wow factor for which Final Fantasy has become known for but the big eyes and solid colors are sweet enough to give a guy diabetes.
The memories that can be evoked through song are nothing short of amazing; any seasoned fan of the franchise will find all of them flooding back every time that they play a new song. It’s what makes Theatrhythm greater than the sum of its parts. Rhythm gaming enthusiasts may find a great game but it’s the Final Fantasy fans, the people who feel nostalgia for all of their past adventures and who have stuck with the games through the years, that will truly find something to love. For the long-time fan, Theatrhythm is a fitting, near perfect tribute to the series for Final Fantasy‘s 25th Anniversary.