Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Review
By David Habinski
Theatrhythm is yet another spinoff title in the Final Fantasy series. Unlike other spinoffs, however, which may feature familiar characters like Dissidia, or just a different style of gameplay like Final Fantasy Tactics, Theatrhythm is centred around some of the most well known and enjoyed songs within the series; spanning from Final Fantasy all the way to Final Fantasy XIII. While rhythm games may be a new genre for Final Fantasy, it’s one that is rather common on the Nintendo DS platform. So is Theatrhythm a game worthy of playing, or is it just another tap to the beat game with an all too familiar Final Fantasy coating?
The plot to Theatrhythm is thin, so thin that it’s mentioned at the beginning and then brought back to your attention after you’ve played the game for long enough. This plot involves the balance of the crystal, between Chaos and Cosmos, being disrupted at the hands of Chaos. To restore balance and the crystal to their previous states, you must collect Rhythmia. To collect Rhythmia, the heroes of your choosing must complete songs. So! After the introduction to the plot and a brief tutorial on how to play the game you’re off and running, setting up your party and deciding which soundtrack you want to play first! Each game you select will consist of 5 stages; the opening and closing sequence, as well as the event, battle and field music stages (EMS, BMS, FMS). The opening and closing sequence are played the same as one another; you must tap the screen when the note reaches the centre of the crystal, often set to the opening and closing themes of their respective games. Each other game sequence is played a little bit differently. The EMS stages play with a moving target area and stationary notes and feature a video which has shots from different cut-scenes from the respective game. The FMS stages feature a stationary target with notes which move towards it while your party leader takes a stroll through a familiar site from the featured game. The BMS stages feature four stationary targets which are placed in front of your party members as the notes approach them, along with a featured backdrop and varying enemies. Within the these three types of stages, there are three different types of notes to hit; red, yellow, and green. The red notes only require you tap the bottom screen, the yellow require you swipe in a particular direction and the green require you to hold for a certain amount of time and the release or swipe. All of the notes in any type of stage are displayed on the top screen, which allows you to tap anywhere you wish on the bottom screen. This style can be a little bit difficult to get used to but in the end it probably works best in respects to preventing your hand from blocking any upcoming notes. Each stage also has a “feature” passage, which will unlock a bonus depending on which type of song you are playing; you will unlock an extended version of the song during an EMS, a Chocobo ride during an FMS, and use a summon during a BMS.
It goes without saying that every one of the songs are amazing, and while all the different types of stages play very similarly, as you are always just tapping to the beat, they are not always as enjoyable as one another. As with any rhythm game, it’s difficult to explain what exactly makes a particular game mode or song less fun than another without simply stating it just doesn’t feel as fun. In any case, I will try to explain why. The EMS stages often feel slow and less difficult to complete; that’s not to say they necessarily are, but you don’t always get that same sense of accomplishment as you do when completing one of the other stage styles. What is nice about these stages is the background videos, which are often entertaining to watch, if you can manage to stay focused on actually playing the song at the same time.
The FMS stages do give you the sense of accomplishment that the EMS stages do not, and of the three types of stages they are the only ones which require you to move your stylus when holding down green notes to keep on the track, adding a little bit more difficulty. However, the background images, while nice for a bit of nostalgia, are, for the most part, pretty bland and repetitive.
The BMS stages are, without a doubt, the most enjoyable to play. The four target spaces add a little bit of extra difficulty and actually being able to beat the enemies and progress to new ones gives an extra sense of accomplishment. On top of providing the enemies for a bit of nostalgia, they also feature a backdrop similar to the field stages.
After completing the songs for a Final Fantasy game, you unlock those songs in the challenge mode to play again individually and on different difficulties. Having the option to play each song individually is a much needed feature, and for those familiar with rhythm games or those who are just getting good at Theatrhythm, the extra difficulties are almost as necessary. The one other game mode is the Chaos Shrine, which allows you to play “Dark Notes”, a pair of songs which are played on FMS and BMS stages. Passing these notes will unlock more notes and potentially extra items.
This leads us to the RPG elements of the game. Completing songs will give experience to your party members, adding to their stats and teaching them new abilities. The stats will alter how effective you are at the different types of stages while your special abilities have a variety of effects from restoring HP to increasing chances of finding items. The items also have a variety of effects from changing your summon to giving extra experience and abilities to your party members. While these extra elements do add depth and longevity to the game, actually managing your skills and items can feel a bit pointless when you’re only concerned with passing the songs.
Outside the core gameplay, the game features a lot of content including unlockable characters and a Street Pass feature which lets you share one of your unlocked Dark Notes and party stats. It also has a museum mode where you can unlock songs to listen to, videos to watch, and player cards to collect. Visually, the game is very impressive; it takes the familiar characters from the Final Fantasy series and puts them in a very unique graphical style which is cute, but not so cute as to come off looking goofy. During the loading screens, your party members combine random phrases into a sentence which are always fun, if not hilarious to read; my favourite combination so far ended up reading “I guess we shout silently in panic”. As well as this, the game’s use of 3D is well implemented to provide a little extra bit of depth but if not kept at the perfect viewing level and angle, it can really throw off your ability to play well.
Remember the 2012 Academy Awards, when the theme was “Let’s go to the movies”, and there was a relentless attempt to remind you how good it is to go out and see a movie in the theatre? Well Final Fantasy Theatrhythm is a lot like that, except it actually worked. Playing so many of these songs provided the perfect mix of enjoyment on their own while at the same time bringing back memories of playing through all my favourite Final Fantasy games; hell, it even made me want to go back and play XII and XIII, neither of which I ever finished. It’s also more than that, though; it’s a solid rhythm game with enough extra content to keep you coming back for more. And while I can easily recommend this game to any fan of Final Fantasy or rhythm games, more generally it’s hard to simply tell everyone else to either leave the game alone or go out and buy it. But, if it sounds like something you may enjoy, then I’d certainly say go for it.
- Very solid gameplay with amazing songs
- Visually enjoyable and fun to look at
- Enough content to keep you coming back
- RPG elements not always necessary
- Very weak storyline
- Not a game for everyone