Theatrhythm Final Fantasy might be one of the oddest concepts ever. A rhythm game not with pop or rock music, but using the mostly orchestral soundtrack from a series of RPGs. If you’d have told me a decade ago that such a game could ever have been a reality, I’d have stroked my extensive Final Fantasy collection and laughed at you. I suppose that’s why I don’t work at Square Enix because, simply put, Theatrhythm is absolutely spectacular, and a game in which anybody with a love of the series and a Nintendo 3DS should immediately invest.
Music has a fantastic way of making you feel nostalgic, of surfacing memories and making you smile. Theatrhythm is a game built around that concept, making you reminisce about games you may not have played for quite some years. With at least five songs from each of the main Final Fantasy titles included on the game (usually one battle, one adventure, one cutscene, and both the opening and closing theme), plus extras available as DLC (with more on the way), it’s really a celebration of the music that made up a huge part of the RPGs that put the genre on the map.
You begin to hear familiar things from the start menu itself, and it takes only moments for you to begin to fall into the game’s trap. After a brief tutorial, you’ll be allowed to pick a series of songs from any Final Fantasy game you choose. Chances are you’ll go straight to your favourite game and work your way through using your own personal “best to worst”. At first, you play on the lowest difficulty, which is a small annoyance, especially if you want to enjoy the music the first time through. Once you’ve finished the series, though, you unlock the ability to play on expert and, later, ultimate.
It’s hard to believe that everybody will be happy with the musical choices in the game, though. Of course, Final Fantasy VII is going to have One Winged Angel and Aerith’s Theme, but what if you wanted Barret’s Theme? Or what if you’d like the song from the Golden Saucer? Music is subjective and your love or hate of the choice of songs in the game will be equally subjective, and might make or break how much you enjoy the game. DLC will at least ease the blow, as there’s plenty to choose from, but even then it’s not comprehensive and you’ll still not get everything you’d like.
If everything clicks though and you find every game has exactly the tracks you’re looking for, there are hundreds of hours’ worth of entertainment ahead of you. Not only are there countless unlockables, including a very cool card collection, there are characters to level and bosses to beat. Despite not being a “traditional” RPG, there’s plenty to do in terms of developing your characters, taking advantage of their abilities, and equipping them with awesome items. You also have bonus songs to unlock, new characters, movies and more. Theatrhythm has real value to anybody who loves collecting.
To use a cliché, Theatrhythm’s gameplay takes seconds to learn but quite a while to master. Playing through the initial Series mode will at times be a test of a your patience more than your dexterity and your ability to quickly read upcoming notes, but try an expert or ultimate level song and you’ll last only a few moments. As the song plays you’re made to either tap, tap in a certain direction, hold the stylus to the screen or hold and move your stylus up or down. It sounds stupidly easy, and in theory (and on some of the slower songs on the initial play through) it really is. Try doing it all within a short succession though and there will be times you’re ready to break your console in half.
When you’re not tapping, dragging or collecting, you’ll be staring at the 3D graphics. When you look at FMVs from the later games, and I’m thinking specifically X and XIII at this point, you’re in for an absolute treat. I can’t exaggerate how amazing it is to see scenes from those games in 3D and, in the case of X specifically, it makes you hope for an announcement of a 3D re-release on PS3. When you’re not watching clips from the original game, you’ll be looking at the chibi-like re-imaginings of your favourite characters either traversing the various worlds from the series or in battle with instantly recognisable enemies.
For some Theatrhythm may be the sort of thing they don’t even want to try, or maybe the gameplay won’t be deep enough to keep them coming back for more. If you’ve only ever played VII, VIII and XIII, you’re likely to equally as underwhelmed, the main thing this game has going for it is nostalgia and if you’ve never heard a song before, it’s not going to have the required effect. I’d definitely say it’s not for everybody and I’m not sure what Square could have done to change that. The very nature of the game makes it a niche title at best, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying out.
Thankfully, there’s a demo on the 3DS store for you to download. I found that the demo didn’t really give a look at the amount of extra things there are going on behind the scenes, beyond the music, but it’ll show you the core gameplay and there isn’t much point in looking deeper if you don’t enjoy that. Personally, I can’t get enough of Theatrhythm, and I’d love to see similar games made for other franchises (I’m thinking The Legend of Zelda). It offers something genuinely fresh to the series, hitting all the right notes and only occasionally missing a step and making a noise like a kicked cat. Long-time fan of the Final Fantasy series need to buy this game. Even if you trade it back in a week later, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be suitably impressed with this alternate journey through some of the best games ever made.