There’s not a gamer in the world who doesn’t know what “Final Fantasy” is. There’s the long-time fans who’ve played through every single game — including the misnumbered ones. There’s the fans who have their absolute favorite and swear by it — “Final Fantasy VII” is usually the one considered to be the Holy Grail of the franchise. There’s even a new set of fans who are still waiting for “Final Fantasy Versus XIII” whose trailer is as old as the PS3 itself. No matter what category you fit into, “Final Fantasy” is a big piece of gaming history. Ah, I still remember foolishing jumping into the crater in “Final Fantasy VII,” not knowing about the wonders of leveling up as my pathetic party tried to stop a certain one-winged angel.
Believe it or not, “Final Fantasy: is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Not bad for a franchise that started as a last ditch effort. Some companies, like Nintendo, re-release games to celebrate their anniversaries — that special edition “Super Mario All-Stars,” the upcoming Kirby on the Wii — but the creators of “Theatrhythm: decided to celebrate… musically. The soundtrack to this game alone makes it worthwhile for Final Fantasy fans, but to actually play through the classic music of the franchise? Now this is how to celebrate an anniversary… along with a yellow frosted chocobo cake (which would have been a delicious pre-order bonus).
Unlike the previous Final Fantasy installments, the plot is not front and center stage. In fact, the plot — or lack thereof — can be (and will be) ignored. Something about Chaos, Cosmos, and the space between them known as… wait for it… RHYTHM! Yeah, clever right? Said space gets disrupted and it’s up to you and a team of ridiculously cute “Final Fantasy” characters to restore it. Unfortunately, there’s no cutscenes, no dialogue between the characters, just text to read before you pick a “Final Fantasy” to jam to. Once you gather enough “Rhythmia” you will face Chaos himself and them… that’s it. I would’ve been fine with just tapping the screen in time to beats, but if you tell me there’s a plot — and its an rpg franchise — I expect something to come of it besides triumphant music and reading.
The story may be lacking, but the gameplay certainly makes up for it. “Theatrhythm” is addictive as all hell. I would often play a song or two, set the 3DS down to go about my day, then find myself back with the 3DS in my hand when I knew darn well I had other things to finish. There’s a variety of things to do but it all boils down to playing your favorite “Final Fantasy” tunes from the first game to the most recent one — XIII. The style of play is similar to “Elite Beat Agents,” but instead of having to hit buttons on the bottom screen you focus on the top screen the entire time, hitting the bottom screen in time with the different buttons that appear, the ultimate in hand eye cordination. Red buttons are simply tapped, while green buttons are held down and released. There’s also directional buttons to follow which makes you flick your stylus across the screen. As you play (if you have abilities and items equipped) silver buttons will appear. If you hit them all correctly, something special will happen in each stage — summons, longer versions of songs, and even turning into a chocobo. You can play the game in 3D, but I wouldn’t recommend it at all. It’s hard enough to focus on fast moving buttons that fly across the screen, but to put them in 3D? Don’t even bother.
Each music session is broken down into five parts: Opening Theme, Field Music, Battle Music, Event Music, and Ending Theme. The Opening and Ending Themes are optional to play. Playing them doesn’t get you new items nor does it take away health, it simply serves as a way to get more “Rhythmia,” the music notes needed to restore the balance of rhythm. Field Music is a side scrolling game that goes through a level you’d see in the game you choose. Battle Music is where you face off against enemies up until you face the boss — again, ridiculously cute versions of them like their heroic counterparts. Event Music tends to be much slower paced — like Aeris’ theme — going all around the top screen as a video from the game plays.
As you play you’ll unlock things that makes the gameplay more challenging. There’s a Challenge Mode where you can play the songs on a harder difficulty. There’s also the Chaos Shrine, which strings together Field Music and Battle Music that have level two or level three difficulty. The Chaos Shrine, unfortunately, can get repetitive since it’s only Field and Battle Music, but it sometimes has tracks that aren’t featured in normal gameplay — Jenova’s theme, for example. Like most music games, the first mode available — to me — seems much too easy. But it’s perfect for beginners, and a great way to get use to the gameplay for a couple of songs but soon I was wanting something harder.
I should really learn to keep my mouth shut on these things, because holy mother of swiss cheese does “Theatrhytm” deliver difficult gameplay modes.
I didn’t really see the point of “level grinding” at first. You can equip your characters with abilities and items, or you can let them go in completely empty — which gets you extra points. At first I thought, “Well give me the extra points,” because who cares about leveling up when you can beat the song without it. But those hard songs? You want that bigger health bar, those powerful attacks, and Cure — for the love of everything, Cure will be your best friend. The third level difficulty is no joke. It will completely, and totally, wreck your hand. I thought I was pretty bad ass for getting S and SS scores on second level songs, but third level is like fighting “Kingdom Hearts” Sephiroth with the wooden sword Riku leaves you.
On top of unlocking harder difficulties you discover different colored shards as you play. These shards seem to unlock more characters — I don’t have them all yet — and just when I think I’m doing good on one color another color shard will appear. You also get trophies as you play, though I’m not sure if they serve any purpose. I’m thinking they don’t and are similar to PS3 and 360 trophies and achievements. Much to my surprise there’s already DLC for the game, but I haven’t even gotten through all of the songs yet to even consider downloading new music.
The thing I love most about “Theatrhythm” is that it keeps in mind each year the games were made. For example, the very first “Final Fantasy” has classic 8-bit music, no updated tunes to fit with the current generation of consoles. Also, there’s no video for the Event Mode, just gameplay since the original “Final Fantasy” games didn’t have videos the way they do now. It’s intriguing to look at the 1987 “Final Fantasy” and watch it progress from some 8-bit game made as a “final” attempt to make it into the industry to the powerhouse it has become. From the bleeps and boops of “Final Fantasy” up to the crisp graphics and guitar riffs of “Final Fantasy XIII,” it’s like watching gaming history in the making.
Despite its lack of story and unnecessary 3D, I’d say “Theatrhytm” is a title to pick up this summer if you have a 3DS. If they keep making DLC for it — which they could since there’s so much music in the franchise — this game will have a long lifespan. Fun gameplay and fantastic music are the perfect components for a great little entry to “Final Fantasy.” Play that funky music, gamer, play that funky music til you die! Well… die is sort of harsh, how about until your hand crumbles in on itself? Is that even possible? Try playing Sephiroth’s theme on Ultimate Score mode to find out.
Final Rating: 8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Nintendo 3DS
Time to completion: To get to Chaos and beat him? A couple of hours. As far as doing everything? There’s no telling, I’m at about 11 hours and am nowhere near unlocking everything. And this is all without trying multiplayer yet.
Price Bought at: Used + birthday coupon + discount card = $18
Current Price: $34.99
Recommend Purchase Price: $20 – $25, not quite full price, but not quite half price.
Why you should buy it: If you like Final Fantasy music and tapping to the beat of it.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You hate Final Fantasy, adorable heroes, and you want some sort of story.