"25 Years of Rhythm"
When one thinks of Final Fantasy's 25th anniversary, a celebration of a quarter century of epic tales, crystals, moogles, and spiky-haired heroes that forever changed RPGs and gaming in general for all time… does one think that a rhythm game with a chibi aesthetic can properly do justice to such a prominent milestone? Odd as it may seem at first, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy does succeed on that end, celebrating the one thing that has remained pretty consistent throughout the franchise's ups and downs: great music. And it's fun too.
Shucking one of Final Fantasy's greatest traditions (intricate plots), Theatrhythm contents itself with a simple setup that tasks you with collecting a force known as "Rhythmia" in order to restore a crystal called the Music Crystal and bring balance back to the universe. This is done, as you may suspect, by playing through the many music mini-games present in the game and listening to the many tracks that encompass every main title between FF I and FF XIII (with the inclusion of some songs from games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and FF Versus XIII).
That is the first thing that makes Theatrhythm Final Fantasy worthwhile, its soundtrack. As I've mentioned, the Final Fantasy franchise has a vast library of music tracks spread across a variety of genres, from chiptune sounds of old, to sheer orchestral epicness, to more lighthearted themes. There are over 75 songs available in this game (not including the DLC songs available), and they are all worth a listen or two.
As for the mini-games (or, as they referred to here, "stages"), they're all pretty basic, making it easy to get a handle on gameplay. Also, they all share the same objective: hitting various "triggers" to the rhythm, either by tapping the touch screen, sliding the stylus, or holding down on the screen. The stages are split into three types, each with its own theme. You got Battle Music Stages (BMS), which has you hitting triggers as they move down four tracks, Rock Band-style; Field Music Stages (FMS) where the triggers are on one wavy track that requires you to move the stylus up and down at the right times; and Event Music Stages (EMS), where the timing marker moves about the 3DS bottom screen along a random, slowly-revealed path filled with triggers.
Theatrhythm's gameplay is a pretty standard rhythm experience. As you play, hitting triggers and trying to keep the beat, the game keeps track of your rhythm and whether you hit the notes spot on, well enough, or just plain horribly. Depending on your performance, you will receive more or less Rhythmia, as well as an occasional reward for an exceptional job. Adding some spice to the experience, however, is a health gauge that appears in all stages and that depletes whenever you are too late on a trigger or miss entirely. Mess up enough times and the gauge empties, ending the stage in early defeat.
While the gameplay in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is the same throughout, the game's three modes throw in some effort to diversify. The first you'll come across is "Series", which groups tracks by game and tasks you to complete each set, all of which feature a BMS, FMS, EMS, and two bonus stages. Clearing tracks in Series allows you to play them separately in "Challenge" where you can unlock harder difficulties for each track in both Challenge and Series. Rounding off the list of modes is the oddly name "Chaos Shrine", which has you collecting Dark Notes (these can be considered mini-challenge sets, featuring an FMS and BMS).
Despite the modes and such, the rhythm stages make for some, admittedly, rather shallow gameplay. Luckily, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy throws in some classic RPG elements to give some depth to the experience. You start by choosing four heroes from a number of iconic Final Fantasy characters, and these characters appear in the stages (fighting monsters in BMSs and traveling across levels in FMSs) as you tap and slide away at the triggers.
Completing stages will reward your heroes with experience, which will increase stats like strength, luck, and so on. However, that's not all you can do with your heroes... no sir. Furthermore, you can equip your heroes with special abilities and items that can enhance their stats, regain health after missed notes, assist in battle, or even guarantee a good price upon a successful run.
While it can be fun managing your flock of heroes and watching them level up, there is one noticeable problem with the RPG elements present in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and that is it darn near impossible to see their effect on gameplay. Theatrhythm tells you that improving stats like strength and agility make characters more effective in BMSs, and yet it's hard to tell if more monsters are taken out while you play with characters at level 1 or level 50. Same thing with FMSs, where characters with high agility are said to travel farther across stages. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the levels seem completely unnecessary for the gameplay experience.
Then again, you could say that a Final Fantasy rhythm game is completely unnecessary. For a franchise known as the king of RPGs, is a dip into a niche genre like the rhythm genre truly worthwhile? Ultimately, that hardly matters, because Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is simply fun. It might lack the depth and impact of the games it celebrates, but it makes up for that by being an enjoyable experience, one that will have you delighting in the sounds of Final Fantasy for a long time.
GameDynamo's Score for Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS)
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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