Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS)

If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.

We’re not kidding – this is the game that Final Fantasy fans have been waiting for, and it’s surprising how long Square Enix took to come up with it. Because, you know, a JRPG isn’t a JRPG without its music.

Theatrhythm is essentially your basic rhythm game with Final Fantasy tunes and themes as accompaniment, but with a twist. True to FF’s JRPG roots, there are options to not only customise your party – you get your pick of four of the games’ protagonists – but to also equip them with the latest spells and items.

Spells are learned as your characters level up (each song completed earns you EXP) while items drop at the end of every battle. Both these spells and items are reminiscent of what you might find in a Final Fantasy game (tantal greens for Chocobos, anybody?). They also enhance your gameplay, giving you the option of hastening through one stage, or dealing extra damage to a monster during battles.

The party customisation is the most unique feature about Theatrhythm, and we’re glad Square Enix got it right. The simplicity of the system complements the game instead of dominating it, giving Theatrhythm the much-needed tie-in to the games that inspired it.

That aside, Theatrhythm is otherwise very much a rhythm game; you will tap, swipe or drag your stylus across the screen in-sync with the music. And boy, how we love the music.

Only the most iconic tunes from each game are featured in series mode (Yes, One-Winged Angel has to be included of course). Each series comprises of its respective game’s opening and closing themes, a field music stage (FMS), a battle music stage (BMS) as well as an event music stage (EMS), ensuring that only the most memorable mixes made the cut.

FMS has your party leader, a.k.a. the first character you picked, strolling through the game landscape. It’s a nostalgic throwback to the days when you were the one traipsing through that very forest. And yes, you do get to summon a Chocobo!

BMS is the battle stage, where your party of four does battle with various stylised monsties taken from the games. There’s an opportunity to summon familiar Guardian Forces/eidolons, should you not mess up your synchronisation.

And finally, the Event Music Stage takes the most iconic cutscenes from each respective game and guides you through those haunting moments. You do spend more time concentrating on the gameplay, though, which is a waste. For instance, the EMS for Final Fantasy 9 concludes with the final cutscene of the game, where Dagger runs to the stage to throw herself into Zidane’s arms. Ordinarily, that scene makes me cry. But not in Theatrhythm.

That aside, it’s not that the game is difficult to begin with. Each song starts out easily enough, with difficulty levels that scale as you progress. Achieving a minimal score of ‘A’ for each song (or series) unlocks the next difficulty: one goes from Basic, to Expert, and finally to Ultimate.

Songs can be played individually in Challenge mode, so you don’t have to tap your way through more snoozeworthy songs to get to the ones you want. Challenge mode also retains the difficulty levels you’ve already attained in the Series mode.

More complex songs also appear as drops. These fastest-finger-first remixes are stored in the Chaos Shrine portion of the game – basically a different area that houses these pairs of songs, known as Dark Notes. The aim is to find all the Dark Notes, and that would cause you an inestimable amount of grinding, were you not able to swap Dark Notes via the 3DS’s Street Pass. Phew! Dark Notes can also be played in multiplayer mode. It’s worth noting that while Theatrhythm comes with 36 songs for immediate play, you have an option of purchasing extra songs for US$0.99 each, making Theatrhythm the first 3DS game to offer paid DLCs.

That doesn’t mean you can completely escape from having to grind it out in this JRPG-inspired game, though. Apart from grinding for Dark Notes, the game also requires you to tough it out for coloured shards. Eight shards of each colour unlock a new character: typically one of the supporting characters or the villain from the games. There are also collectible cards that drop randomly at the end of stages.

Fortunately for players, it won’t be a chore to keep on grinding. Not only is the gameplay addictive and the music untiring, Theatrhythm, like every (Ed: Okay, most.) Final Fantasy ever created, is also pleasing on the eyes. It has adopted an adorable chibi art-style for the characters, and while the more serious ones look a little out of place as chibis, the style is still very much suited for the overall mood of the game.

On a whole, Theatrhythm is a great trip down memory lane, and certainly a game that can carries the weight of all that nostalgia it holds. The party customisation and spells keep it from becoming just another rhythm game on the market, while the different modes available – Series, Chaos Shrine and Challenge – provide enough variety that will have you wanting to continue playing just one more song. Ultimately, though, it’s the songs from a good two and a half decades of Final Fantasy that carry the game. Everything else is just complementary. And so we reiterate: if you’re a fan, buy this game.

Graphics 10.0
Chibi and cute, the adorable sprites will have you cooing over them as hard as you swooned for each of the series’ delectably boyish protagonists.
Sound 10.0
Final. Fantasy. Music. Need we say more?
Gameplay 9.0
All the goodness of a well-made rhythm game combined with the simplified inventory and character stats of a JRPG. Complementary, yes. Necessary? Maybe not to such an extent.
Lasting Appeal 10.0
I could play Final Fantasies 8 and 9 forever, just sayin’. Then again, I am a fan of the games.
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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was developed by Indies Zero and published by Square Enix for the 3DS. It was released on July 5 2012 and has since captured the hearts of Final Fantasy fans young and old.