Theatrhythm is a love letter to fans of Final Fantasy music on the 3DS
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Theatrhythm is a rhythm game that only uses music from the Final Fantasy series of games. There has never been a game that easy to sum up in a single sentence, and that sentence will let you know whether or not this game is for you. Do you love everything Final Fantasy? Do you remember where you were and what was going on in your life when you played each game? If so, you’re going to enjoy this immensely. If you’re not a fan of the series, or only have a passing knowledge of Final Fantasy, you’re going to be left wondering why so many people are excited about this release.
Theatrhythm pulls music from Final Fantasy I through Final Fantasy XIII, and each game is laid out as a kind of course. There are four types of levels: a section where you simply tap the screen in time with the notes that float into a crystal while you read a little about the game’s story, battle scenes where you tap, slide, or hold notes as they come from the left, levels where you walk from right to left while you tap the notes or move your stylus up and down along a flowing line, and “event music scenes” where you do the same thing in front of cinema animations from each respective game.
The method of interaction never changes, but the mechanics are enjoyable once you learn the somewhat tricky move of sliding your stylus the appropriate distance when triggering the arrows. The game’s difficulty curve gives you plenty of time to learn the game, and you can practice songs with higher difficulties in the challenge mode or tackle what seems to be a randomized series of songs in the Chaos Shrine. The song selection is strong, and the game gives you plenty of reasons to master each one to unlock new goodies. Theatrhythm isn’t scared to create note charts that serve the music, and not simply the difficulty level, and that’s a classy move with music so many people love. Some of the songs may not be difficulty, but they are fun to play, and the taps and slides mimic the movement of the music. At its best, the game feels almost balletic.
This may sound basic on paper, but the game is wrapped in Final Fantasy finery. You select a team of adventurers to play as in the game, and the levels and character designs have been stylized for a super-deformed, cute look that lets you know how seriously you should take the game. Before a song the characters spit out a random selection of words that seem to poke fun at the dialog of Square games. “For starters, we shine superficially in strength!” they said cheerily before my last song. Indeed.
You earn items that help you through the game by increasing your stats or giving you back health if you miss too many notes, but these don’t really do much to change how the game is played. In fact, I usually sent my party into battle unequipped in order to get the point bonus. You level up your characters by using them in play, but again these bonuses seem to be more window dressing than anything you’ll actively care about as you play. The RPG elements are welcome, but they seem to be there to remind you that you’re playing a Final Fantasy game. Think of them as another nod to the series that created this music and not a serious game mechanic, and you’ll be happier. When was the last time you played a rhythm game were you could salvage a failure if you have a Phoenix Down equipped?
That connection to the Final Fantasy setting is what elevates the game to something more than a standard rhythm title. Revisiting this music is amazing, and being able to interact with it, even in the limited way of tapping and rubbing the screen with the stylus, feels satisfying. Watching your characters walk through settings from the games, fighting the monsters, and then enjoying game play footage from each game is also an inventive way to remember the games that did so much to define the idea of Japanese role-playing games.
If you don’t have a history with this series the game may feel limp, but others are going to enjoy the many nods to past titles and their characters. This is a victory lap, and a way to allow fans to enjoy the music and the memories they’ve created over years of playing these games. It’s a fascinating product due to the fact that few other games have the history to be able to pull something like this off, although I’ve seen some suggest that Castlevania and Mega Man would likewise be able to support an entire game about their music. In terms of gaming history, that’s good company to be in.
Theatrhythm is a slight experience, and it relies on your emotional connection with the music to keep your interest. Still, the game is fun, and it’s fun to be able to send your favorite Final Fantasy characters into battle. I expected to a hit a wall in terms of enjoyment, but hearing songs I haven’t thought about in years and striving for the perfect scores kept me interested and playing for much longer than I expected. After this review is done I plan on putting on my headphones and playing some more. This may be a game for super-fans, but those super-fans have been served very well.