Many of the best soundtracks people talk about come from the halls of Square Enix and its wide range of talented music composers, either those still within the company or now working as external contractors. Being the developer’s biggest series, Final Fantasy is generally the most highly revered of the Japanese team’s properties, and over the 25 years since the original NES edition, there have been a wealth of beautifully crafted pieces for each entry’s score. Now Square Enix is bringing together many of the favourites from the archives, along with plenty of efforts from newer releases, for a special Nintendo 3DS rhythm title, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.
This is not actually a Square Enix-developed game, however. In fact, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is completely pieced together by the expert group at Japanese outfit indieszero. Not heard of the team? Well, perhaps some of its biggest hits will ring some bells; try these on for size: Electroplankton, Retro Game Challenge, Cooking Guide: Can’t Decide What to Eat? It also worked on the duo of Japanese-only games, DS Calligraphy Training for Nintendo and the million-selling Love and Berry DS Collection for SEGA. Quite the track record! Now Square Enix is hoping to tap into that potential with its twist on the standard Final Fantasy RPG antics, instead transposing the world into one filled with rhythmical magic. Step up to the plate, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.
Rather than being an out-and-out rhythm-only affair akin to Nintendo’s upcoming Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise on Wii, Square Enix and indieszero have taken a leaf out of SEGA and Xeen’s book, replicating the approach that made Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure so delightfully addictive. Rather than making it a puzzle adventure, though, instead there is some fantasy storyline mixed in, along with battles and overworld navigation. Between the gods Chaos and Cosmos is a void called Rhythm, which is where a special music-controlling crystal derives from. Chaos causes havoc one day by disrupting the balance of said crystal, and the only way to rectify matters is to boost Rhythpo, a type of musical wave. Thus ensues some Final Fantasy shenanigans with a twist in this stylus-only controlled musical adventure.
Looking for a favourite character? There are the likes of Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII), Cloud (Final Fantasy VII), and even the Warrior of Light from the very first NES outing. There is plenty of fan-service included in Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, making the standard touch-screen tapping gameplay even more palatable for gamers not always sold on the genre. In Quest Mode there is the chance to choose four characters from the selection of thirteen mainline RPGs -- initially only leads, but later on more of the supporting cast -- as they work through Field, Battle, or Event Music-themed stages, with the on-screen characters running from right-to-left, with notes flowing in the opposite direction and the player having to tap at the correct moment. There are a variety of different note styles to keep the action fresh, with red ones that need simple tapping when the icon lines up with a circular marker, greens that involve holding down the stylus for a set time, and yellows where the touch-pen must be swept across the screen in the correct manner indicated. To spice matters up even more, there are numerous variations on the notes to provide a little twist to keep players on their toes. Missing notes causes damage to your team, whilst hitting combination runs will inflict pain upon enemies, such as in the Battle scenarios.
To keep track of how far along a song is, since there is so much going on and players will likely become distracted, there is a timeline at the bottom of the screen, and anyone that does feel they have missed out on the gorgeous scenery and wonderful 3D nature of background locations can view key scenes in a gallery later at their leisure. Experience Points play a significant role in Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy as well, with characters levelling-up like in a traditional role-playing game, gaining new abilities, and being able to don special pieces of equipment to raise stats for musical ‘attacks.’ Trying to achieve the highest score possible in a round is imperative for those wanting to unlock all aspects of the title, since the greater the points accumulated, the more crystals are earned for spending on extras.