- Fantastic homage to the Final Fantasy series
- Visually charming
- Easy to learn, tough to master
- Music selection is great…
- …although there’s a few odd choices and omissions.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way before we get into anything meaty. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a rhythm game with a Final Fantasy theme. If you, for any reason, don’t like Final Fantasy’s music, you’re not going to get as much enjoyment out of Theatrhythm as someone who does. It sounds incredibly obvious but when you get stuck into the game, it becomes apparent just how much of a love letter to Final Fantasy fans Theatrhythm is.
If you’ve ever played Elite Beat Agents or the Japan only release Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, the general premise of Theatrhythm should feel instantly familiar. When you’re not jumping around in the menus and viewing the various unlockables and extras (more on those later), your main port of call are the songs from across Final Fantasy history. Featuring music from all thirteen main series games, you tap and hold your stylus on the bottom screen in tandem with the top-screen beats. Dependant on your song choice, you’ll be thrust into one of three scenarios, each playing differently.
If you’re playing through the game’s main Series mode, you’ll be tasked with playing through sets of songs from each of the Final Fantasy games in one sitting. You start with an opening theme before moving through the three differing scenarios in varying orders, and then you’ll finish with an ending theme. The opening and ending themes only appear in this mode and only require you to tap along with the beat of the song as musical notes enter the screen and hit a crystal in the centre. For the main songs, you’ll alternate between Field music, Battle music and Event music. Each game has a single song for each of these that can be played at will through the Challenge section of the game.
In Field Music, your party leader (more on characters later too) moves from right to left as beats slide in from the left. As the beats reach the circle above your character, it’s time to tap, hold or slash in a specific direction. Red beats require a tap, green lines require you to hold and release and yellow arrows require a slash in the relevant direction. It’s not overly complex but dependant on the difficulty you’re playing on, notes can fly at you thick and fast and missing just a few can give you a quick Game Over.
Battle Music is similar to Field Music but four lanes appear on the screen instead of a single one. Rather than walking through a field stage, enemies appear one by one and you defeat them by hitting notes. The third music type is Event Music. Rather than seeing your characters on screen during this, you get to watch a montage of clips from the song’s original game. Disappointingly, the clips from older Final Fantasy titles are in the original Japanese which isn’t a game-breaker, but it’s harder to feel appreciation for something you can’t understand. The notes remain the same but appear all over the screen rather than in a straight line.
Despite being a music game at core, Theatrhythm has some surprisingly deep RPG elements. When you first start the game, you’re tasked with picking four characters from across the thirteen main Final Fantasy games to make a party. Each game has its main protagonist playable (Cloud from VII, Lightning from XIII, etc.) and you can unlock a second character for each through continuous play. As you complete songs, your characters gain EXP and level up making their stats increase. Higher stats will ultimately mean you have a better chance at surviving in some of the more frantic songs on higher difficulties. You can also equip each character with skills that provide them with stat boosts or extra perks that help you along the way.
For longevity beyond just playing the game’s main songs continuously until you have Final Fantasy on the brain all day, the game encourages repeated play through unlockables including Dark Notes and collectible cards called CollectaCards. Although the cards are purely aesthetic and only serve as more for the Final Fantasy enthusiast, there’s a certain something about collecting them. Also, collecting each of the 81 cards multiple times evolves them into Holographic and eventually Platinum cards. Sure, it doesn’t really mean anything but they’re brilliant and really show off the game’s fantastic art style. Dark Notes on the other hands, are unlockable “movements” that can be shared via StreetPass that challenge you to complete two random songs in succession and reward you with items and shards that unlock new characters.
To say the audio in Theatrhythm is exceptional might sound like the most apparent thing I could say but it’s not just the fact that there’s a stellar selection of music, the quality of the music is outstanding too. As a self-confessed audiophile, I’m the type who cringes at compression artifacts in some games or the lack of a good bitrate but Theatrhythm’s soundtrack is crystal clear. Everything from the bleep bloops of the original NES 8-bit music to the full orchestral offerings of Final Fantasy XII onwards sound amazing. There is a good selection of familiar tunes used in menus and the like also, but you can’t help but wish they were playable.
Whilst Theatrhythm is intentionally fairly simple visually, it takes that simple style and makes the game look fantastic. Everything from the chibi-styled character art to the 2D planes your characters run across during Field songs just suits the game’s charming style so well. There’s a certain something about watching your character stroll through deserted Zanarkand whilst the Zanarkand theme from Final Fantasy X plays and spotting the weapons from X’s main cast in the background. As someone who adored X more than any other Final Fantasy, it was a joy to experience.
That could be said for the entirety of Theatrhythm really: the entire game is a joy to experience. Whilst the soundtrack has some odd omissions and inclusions, the song choice is strong and playing through them all never gets boring. With tons to collect and library expanding DLC on the way, you’ll have plenty to keep you going. Theatrhythm is a love letter to fans of Final Fantasy and its music and you’d be insane to pass it up.
Theatrhythm is amazeballs.