Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a rhythm game for the Nintendo 3DS console. It blends characters, cutscenes, locales, enemies, items, and most importantly, music, from all of the mainline Final Fantasy games (I-XIII) into a complete package that's a sort of timeline/scrapbook of the series' long and illustrious history. If you have a favorite Final Fantasy track, chances are you'll find it here, whether it be on the cart from the start or you augment your song choice with the wide variety of DLC available for the title. RPG fans be warned-- though the game boasts some rather interesting RPG elements, they are used entirely to augment the rhythm-based gameplay. This is not a traditional Final Fantasy title!
The first task a player is greeted with when starting the game is to choose a party comprised of four characters spanning the entire series and complete a rather comprehensive tutorial introducing you to the basic concepts involved in the 3 different types of stages you'll play through. These stages are known as Battle Music Stage (BMS), Field Music Stage (FMS), and EMS (Event Music Stage), and I'll go into more detail about each of them later in the review. If you're familiar with the Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents games for the Nintendo DS, you should have very little trouble adapting to Theatrhythm. The basic premise is that there are several circular symbols that move around the top screen to the beat of the music. These circular symbols are known as "Triggers". Ever present on the screen is a grey circle called the "Mark", you'll find that all Triggers eventually pass over or through the Mark. This is the time to press the stylus down, with a score given to each successful press ranging from MISS all the way to CRITICAL. There are three different kinds of Triggers, Touch Triggers, Slide Triggers, and Hold Triggers, and you have to deal with each in a unique way. Touch Triggers are red and simply require a press of the stylus whereas Slide and Hold Triggers require special movements. Slide Triggers are gold and contain an arrow that can point in one of several directions, and when you time your press on the Trigger itself you must flick the stylus in the direction the arrow is pointing. These can be very tricky, especially on harder difficulties when they throw a rapid succession of arrows pointing in opposite directions! Slide Triggers are actually very simple. A Slide Trigger is green and has a solid line that follows it filled with several small green dots. You must hold the stylus down and follow the trail of dots and lift in time with yet another Trigger that caps the line off. Every song contains a varied selection of all three Triggers.
Now, in addition to the several types of stages available, there are also a few different game modes to play. The first available is known as Series mode, which is a nostalgic run through every main Final Fantasy title. Playing through a level in Series mode unlocks that level in Challenge mode, which is like your typical "Choose A Song" mode in any rhythm title. Clearing the "Expert" level of a song allows you to then unlock an additional "Challenge Course" for each Final Fantasy title in Series mode. Throughout the course of playing all these songs, you'll start to accumulate the game's currency, Rhythmia. With the Rhythmia you've gathered, you'll start to unlock additional stages called Dark Notes (as well as items and additional options and characters), playable in the third game mode, Chaos Shrine. These Dark Notes are very challenging, and where the real meat of the game is found.
Series Mode serves as a kind of introduction to the title. All of the states are a breeze to play through and there also 2 extra stages in each Series Mode course. These stages are known as the Opening and Ending and feature the opening and ending (go figure!) tunes from each respective game. You just press down on the stylus any time a piece of Rythmia goes to the center of the screen. It's an easy way to get extra currency to get Dark Notes quicker. Each Series Mode course contains songs for each of the three stage types. In each of these stage types, there is an opportunity to trigger something called the "Feature Drive" by hitting specially colored Triggers. The Feature Drive functions differently in each of the stage types. Each Of the three, EMS is the only exclusive to Series Mode. In an EMS, either iconic scenes (in the case of older titles) or whole cutscenes (in the case of the newer ones) are played in the background as a series of Triggers appear on the screen. This is the only game mode where the Mark moves rather than the Triggers, which show up in predetermined patterns that need to be pressed as the Mark moves to them. I actually find it more difficult than the other modes, even though I think it was supposed to be simpler than the others. The Feature Drive in this stage type allows you to enter Extended Mode, which basically just plays more of the song and cutscene. FMS represents your party moving through one of many familiar landscapes from the series at large. Only one character is on screen at a time and missed Triggers deal damage to the character. If all four characters fall in battle, you lose the Course. This is the most "normal" stage type, as there's just one Mark and the Triggers move directly from left to right at it. The Feature Drive in this stage type allows you to ride a Chocobo, allowing you to find items and get more points. BMS represents your party fighting in a facsimile of a traditional RPG battle with a series of iconic monsters from each respective title. There are actually a total of four Marks in this mode, one for each character in the party. It's a little disorienting at first, but if your eyes can keep up, it's almost identical to the FMS. The Feature Drive in BMS allows you to summon one of several of the Final Fantasy series' summonable beasties at random. I seem to get Ifrit nine times out of ten, your mileage may vary.
Honestly, I wasn't that impressed with this game that much until I unlocked the Chaos Shrine. I'm a seasoned rhythm gamer (it's one of my favorite genres) and none of the Courses found in Series mode initially offer much of a challenge at all. I thought the RPG elements were interesting (your characters can level up, increasing stats, and also equip many different learned skills through an Ability Point system) but I saw no purpose in bothering as I barely felt challenged. When I unlocked the Challenge Courses, this changed quickly. When I unlocked my first few Dark Notes, I fell in love. This game is very much like other Final Fantasy spin-offs in that it demands you spend quite a bit of time grinding through stages to unlock everything available. This is where your character's levels, stats, abilities, and equipped items really come into play. Dark Notes are composed of two stages, FMS and BMS. The main difference here is that they are often insanely difficult and usually a combination of two songs from different games. The BMS is what's most important, because you get the opportunity to fight (multiple times, if you're good) up to 3 different bosses in a single BMS. When you feel like pulling your hair out because you need one more item drop to collect a new character, the opportunity to fight more than one boss at a time is a godsend! The fact that you need to use strategy in addition to some serious rhythm skills to get a lot of boss drops in one go appeals to me as lot, as it gives me more than just scoring 100% on every song to give me replay value. Add to that that each Dark Note has a unique Trigger layout and that you unlock another each time you complete one and you have a rhythm game with almost endless replay value.
This is by no means a flawless game. It suffers the same problem that most Final Fantasy spin-off titles do-- it hides basic game concepts behind obtuse menus and ridiculous names (here's looking at you, Dissidia!) which makes it extremely hard to figure out exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Not to mention the mandatory Series mode is a few hours long and could only pose a challenge to rhythm gaming rookies. The art style is fantastic and the rhythm gaming is well designed, but I feel like the RPG elements and over-complicated mechanics may turn off the core rhythm gaming demographic and the fact it's a rhythm game at all may turn off the Final Fantasy crowd. Regardless of all of that, however, it is a rather good game that proudly shares shelving with Ouendan and Elite Beat Agents in my home.
I tried the demo of this game and was turned off by it. My biggest disappointment is that all the music is ripped directly from other games and there are no remixes or recomposures. I guess this might not be something most people care about, but for me, half the appeal of a rhythm game is good music, and I can already get it all elsewhere. I also didn't like the controls, I had no issue completing whatever they call the easy and normal difficulty settings, but the hard difficulty moves too fast for the imprecise touch screen to keep up, so it should have used the buttons.
People who are nostalgic can go play the games or look up the music on YouTube, new games should contain new content. The whole package just feels lazy to me.
@GameDadGrant I checked again and everything I've found says that all the music is taken straight from all the games, and there are no remixes or re-composing. I haven't found anything on what a "Dark Note" is, but the track listing says that the Chocobo Theme is from Final Fantasy V. Did you play that game?
For the record, I still plan to grab the game when I see it cheap, but if it had new remixes and composures in it I'd be all there.
Hm. Well, I did play Final Fantasy V - the GBA version. And a quick search on YouTube reveals that...actually? The theme *is* from Final Fantasy V! Apparently I didn't remember it like that....or I just didn't recognize it. *shrugs*
@Mop it up I think that's a bit over the top. Normally I'd agree with you *coughNewSuperMarioBros.2/Ucough* but this is a rhythm/music game. I'm sure they could've redone every song in the game, but then they'd get complaints that the music is too different or something.
Do they really not have any orchestral versions of certain songs in the game?
This bump was actually appropriate because I started playing this again last week. I tried doing the ios version months ago but the download servers were abysmal and wouldn't load the one song I bought onto my phone. It did work on my iPad and the game has a lot more depth on 3ds as opposed to iPhone gaming.
The 3ds is still amazing with addictive songs and a great unlock system. The iPhone version has no unlocks, just in app purchases, which defeats the purpose of playing.
I enjoyed playing some ff7 and 8 (the best ff game) songs again.