Ride your chocobo down memory lane.
Rejoice, fans of Final Fantasy! Theatrhythm, which, with its release in Japan, marks the franchise’s debut on the Nintendo 3DS, will soon arrive in English-speaking territories. Theatrhythm aims to take the players on a trip back in time to cherished games and experiences. At this point, I’ve spent nearly 50 hours with the game and have seen a ton (and then some) of what Theatrhythm offers. Regardless, there’s still plenty more left for me to do—fans of Final Fantasy and rhythm games alike should be kept busy with Theatrhythm.
Battle Music Stage
Theatrhythm’s gameplay is easy to understand and difficult to master. There are three types of songs, and each has its own variance of control, though all are based on simple taps, holds, and directional swipes on the touch screen. Battle Music Stages (BMS) show your four-character team lined up on the right side of the screen, similar to the battle formations in 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles. Color-coded emblems streak in from the left side of the screen, which players have to correctly tap, swipe, or hold on, using the touch screen, in order to get a hit on the enemy on the right side of the screen. Every time you misses a note, a character takes damage. Take too much damage, and your characters die and you fail the song.
Field Music Stages (FMS) feature your party leader walking from right to left while notes zip across the screen. Again, players need to tap, swipe in the appropriate direction, and hold the stylus to the touch screen to hit the notes. The holds require players to move the stylus up and down in sync with the upper screen. Needless to say, this can get tricky on the higher difficulty levels.
Event Music Stages (EMS) feature video compilations of gameplay footage or video clips from FF games. While the emblems remain the same, this time around, however, they arrive on a track that moves along preset paths on the top screen. Players are not required to mimic the same movements as the top screen, only tap, hold, and swipe in the correct directions.
Field Music Stage
Theatrhythm’s style-rich features and modes will likely bring back nostalgic feelings. The single-player mode is divided into three sections: Series, Challenge, and Chaos Temple Mode. The first mode allows players to choose one of the 13 entries in the Final Fantasy series and play through five different kinds of songs: an opening song (typically from the opening scene or introduction of the respective game), a BMS, an FMS, an EMS, and an ending song (from the particular game’s credit sequence).
Challenge mode is more basic, and lets you play through any of the main BMS, FMS, or EMS tracks in the game, as well as any downloaded content. The last mode is called Chaos Shinden, or Chaos Temple, and allows you to play through two random FMS and BMS songs consecutively. Usually these songs are taken from a BMS, FMS or EMS, though they can also come from opening or ending songs. The music composition and difficulty are set at random, with a near-infinite level of variation. This means that even though you might play through a familiar song numerous times in the Chaos Temple, the notes may focus on different instruments, and the emblems can even rotate while coming across the screen. It can get to the point where the experience is absolutely ludicrous and challenging beyond belief.
Theatrhythm makes use of both local multiplayer and StreetPass. The local multiplayer mode, located in the Chaos Temple section, allows up to four players to form a party and tackle the same song. Unfortunately, I did not to get to spend any time with this mode. However, I have had plenty of exposure to the included StreetPass functionality. Before players can StreetPass, they must set up their profile. Players create a profile card, which contains information such as most played songs, time played, Rhythpo points, current party setup, a personal message, and their favorite combination of tracks from Chaos Temple, which they will be able to StreetPass to others. I have StreetPassed several people since purchasing the game and it’s a great way to see how far others are in the game, read short, personal messages (most of the ones I received talk about their favorite game in the series), and obtain some extremely difficult or fun tracks from the Chaos Temple.
The visuals in Theatrhythm harken back the simplistic character sprites of the Famicom and Super Famicom era. The 3D effect is also used well, using levels of depth accordingly. Characters are typically placed on the back layer, with music notes in the second layer, and the health bar, score, and other on-screen notifications (like grades for a note) on the top layer. For EMS, there are unfortunately no true 3D videos converted for the game. The videos are simply placed on the back layer of the screen. Menus and other elements are laid out in visually appealing ways that make the game come across as extremely sharp and polished.
Event Music Stage
Theatrhythm features a variety of unlockable content. Even though you will be able to see the credits roll after sinking about 5-6 hours into the game, the most interesting content comes afterward. Not only do you get ranked and scored after every song you play, you also gain experience for your party members, receive items and abilities, and acquire points for your Rhythpo, which is more or less experience points for your overall playtime. Rhythpo points unlock things such as songs for the music player, playable songs, videos, crystals for unlockable characters and character art, and other items to modify your profile card for StreetPass. I’m typically the kind of player who is lucky enough to beat the games I own, but with Theatrhythm, the sheer amount of songs and unlockables is amazing and should make you want to keep coming back just to see what you’ll get next. If you’re willing to pump more money into the game for additional songs, Square Enix currently has over 30 tracks available in Japan, and continues to add them every two to three weeks.
Theatrhythm is one of the best rhythm experiences you can have on a handheld platform, but it isn’t perfect. The game is controlled solely with the stylus, and while it’s not that the touch-based controls are bad by any stretch, the game could have benefited from giving players the chance to use the physical buttons. Also, in terms of control, there are sometimes some inaccuracies while playing the music stages. This is rarely a problem, but I’ve run into incidents (particularly on the hardest difficulty) where direction-based swipes did not register correctly. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it is maddening. These issues with the game are minimal, but I feel if they were addressed, particularly providing some option to use the buttons and Circle pad for menu navigation, it would make for an even more refined experience.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is an outstanding collection of Final Fantasy content that should speak to those who have nostalgia for the series. Sure, the game is fairly accessible to gamers of all skill levels and experiences, but the main draw of Theatrhythm is reliving past experiences and memories from the games. With a pretty solid control scheme, 70 playable songs (nearly 100 if you count the DLC), and an overabundance of unlockables, Theatrhythm is an amazing and worthwhile Final Fantasy experience.