Nintendo had moderate success with Rhythm Paradise on Nintendo DS, yet Elite Beat Agents failed to make a mark, Activision had a massive hit with Guitar Hero: On Tour, whilst Namco Bandai refused to brings its highly successful touch-screen Taiko no Tatsujin iterations to Europe. The rhythm genre has definitely had its ups and downs over the years, especially on the portable scene. Now, however, Square Enix follows up its shoddy 2011 launch effort -- Puzzle Bobble Universe -- with an intriguing beats-based title that has players tapping away to classic themes; Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy. Does it deserve to rule the roost?
Developer indieszero has prior experience creating a highly engaging musical title, with the much-loved Electroplankton, working alongside Toshio Iwai, still hailed as one of must-try Nintendo DS titles. Therefore, it is no surprise that Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy immediately strikes the right chord with players. However, initially many would think the very nature of it makes this a niche product in the West -- after all, anyone that has not touched a mainline Final Fantasy game before is unlikely to have much interest, no matter how good the soundtracks have been over the years. How untrue this notion is, though. Just in case, though, the development team has attempted to lure newcomers in by weaving a story amongst the note-filled shenanigans.
The premise is that Chaos and Cosmos, mythical gods, are causing trouble. There is a space between the two called ‘Rhythm’ and a crystal borne of it that keeps control of all music in the universe. However, Chaos is being rather, well, ‘chaotic’ and upsets the balance, throwing the crystal off-kilter and the only way of rectifying matters is to boost levels of ‘Rhythpo,’ a special musical wave. A tenuous connection to the action, but it serves its purpose and despite the randomness of the story, it does not detract from the main enjoyment factor in the slightest.
Players take charge of a team of four, as per regular Final Fantasy role-playing games, and can initially choose from lead characters from mainline games, with the likes of Cloud Strife, Warrior of Light, Onion Knight, Terra, and Lightning available. All characters are cute little models of their former selves, as are the enemies faced along the musical path, making for a very light-hearted atmosphere throughout, although the 3D depth does not particularly add much to proceedings (yet still looks nice, nonetheless). The whole ambience of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is wonderful, from the easy-to-navigate menus, and aurally pleasing themes playing throughout, to the range of options to work through.
What appears to be the initial ‘meat’ of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is the Series mode, where each of the mainline titles are worked through, taking part in Intro, Field, Battle, Event, and Ending scenes. The first and last of these can be skipped, since they are simply the introductory and ending text from each game, with notes floating onto the screen, ready to be tapped as they reach the special crystal located in the centre of the touch screen. There is no penalty for missing notes as they are merely bonus stages to accrue extra Rhythpo, but those who want to unlock all the game’s goodies received for achieving certain levels of this ethereal substance certainly will not want to miss out on the chance of grabbing those additional notes.
Whilst recent Wii release Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise had players hitting the right beats using the Wii Remote buttons, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is purely touch screen based. The action comes in three main flavours -- red circles that need to merely be tapped as they scroll from the left side of the screen towards the marker point on the right side, yellow targets with arrows on that require a swift swipe in the appropriate direction indicated, and greens that need the stylus to be held against the screen continuously and slid up and down to follow the snaking on-screen path before letting go at the exact time. There is some leeway provided in terms of the recognition of tapping/swiping/holding in places, but there are still minor instances where no matter how sure you are that the correct move was made, a ‘Bad’ rating will be dished out. The aim is, of course, to score as many ‘Critical’ hits as possible, by matching the rhythm perfectly. There are all sorts of achievements, so aiming to get the best score possible on each round is advisable.
Throughout, players are encouraged to use the various characters from the initial roster to build a sturdy team of four, with the leader of the group used in the Field mode, all four in the Battle, and none during the event scenes. In actuality, most will likely pick four favourites and stick with them for the duration, exactly as in the RPG adventures themselves. Rhythm game purists will also prefer to dive into music challenges without any armour or special items and abilities equipped so as to obtain the special ‘stoic’ point bonuses awarded for overcoming stages without any aid whatsoever.
Field involves just the one rhythm line with the leader of the group taking charge as the three types of rhythm pattern appear at varying speeds/intervals, dependent on the difficulty level chosen. Upon completion, items are rewarded by characters waiting at the end of the route. Battle has all four characters lined up on-screen in a vertical manner, as per the traditional RPG adventures, each with their own line to deal with. In multiplayer it is possible for players to each control a separate rhythm line via local wireless, but alone is even more of a test for rhythm game aficionados as it becomes more of a Guitar Hero style affair, having to manage multiple rows at once. The idea here is to take part in what are supposed to be standard battle scenes, with successful rhythm taps resulting in damage being dealt, whilst misses or badly timed ones lead to the team’s life being depleted slightly.
There are basic and expert levels of difficulty in the Challenge mode, as well as an ultimate one that is unlocked after gaining at least an ‘A’ grade in the expert version of a song. The basic difficulty will make Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy seem extremely boring at first since it is so entry-level that even young children should be able to easily get a high score. However, as the levels increase, the action really starts to heat up and becomes much more engaging. Whereas in Challenge players are able to select any of the songs they have successfully beaten in Series, as well as some extras that appear later, Chaos Shrine is a place where up to 99 ‘Dark Notes’ can be gathered (via StreetPass or simply by completing the previously found note) and tackled. These take the form of two-song sets (Field and Battle) that gradually increase in complexity as more are polished off. Each one has three potential bosses to ‘fight,’ depending on the score achieved in the first Field phase, and each can drop one of three items, so there is incentive to try again to attain all nine possible key items, many of which are magical shards that go towards unlocking new characters to play with. The other incentive is that there are songs not featured in Challenge and Series to be found. More songs, more variety, more fun!
The common point throughout is how the team used will receive experience points, just as in the main RPGs, levelling them up over time, improving statistical aspects and health (in other words, the length of time players can survive when hitting bad notes). Bonuses are provided for when a main character from a game takes part in the completion of a song from its respective title, when players come back on a daily basis to the game, and for various other reasons, resulting in more Rhythpo being gained and extras opening up. Reaching a set level of Rhythpo also actually completes the story mode, but since there is so much hidden away in Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, watching the final credits roll is by no means the end. In fact, most players will only have completed a tiny amount of the full package, with trophies to acquire, the objective of clearing the different levels in Challenge to unlock higher difficulty levels on Series, the wealth of Dark Notes to be faced in Chaos Shrine, and the numerous combinations of characters and items that help open up even more (movies, full songs, sticker books, and so on).
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is without a doubt the complete package, and the more it is played, the more the soundtracks’ strength shines through. Whilst tapping along (or waggling on Wii) may grow old when playing the pop and rock songs from other games repeatedly, the orchestrated musical wonders from the likes of Nobuo Uematsu and Hitoshi Sakimoto are truly timeless pieces of history that fill anyone playing the game with wonderment. The game does have some pitfalls that prevent it from sheer perfection, however, such as the distracting Event Music scenes where the rhythm trail twists and turns around the screen -- which is fine in itself -- whilst key scenes from the main game the music is derived from play in the background, causing much disruption to the flow as the eyes naturally focus on the goings-on in the background rather than the tapping action at hand. The fact that several yellow directional arrow targets do not always register the correct swipe of the stylus also proves frustrating, as mentioned earlier, especially when on a ‘perfect’ run, only to have one ‘Bad’ pop up, despite definitely dragging along the screen in the required direction. All-in-all, though, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy from Square Enix is a sound product that beats its competition with ease, striking all the right notes.
Rhythm games can be confusing for the layman at the best of times, so providing an easy-to-use, entry-level base works a treat, and the three main types of rhythm game available are all perfectly suitable for not only all demographics, but are robust enough to still work well, and without confusion, whilst travelling.
Cute visuals for the character avatars and monsters faced during ‘battles,’ and a clear, intuitive rhythm input mechanic without too many background distractions to impair concentration, apart from in the sometimes disruptive Event scenes.
The wealth of gorgeous music included is absolutely stunning. It really drives home how impressive the soundtracks for Final Fantasy games truly are, and leaves players yearning for future Dragon Quest, Mana, and Chrono versions of Theatrhythm.
Playing through all thirteen mainline Final Fantasy titles the first time round takes long enough, but with the varying difficulty levels, challenges, hidden content to unlock and even downloadable extras, Theatrhythm is a joyous bundle indeed.
The line-up of songs chosen generally makes or breaks rhythm games, but Square Enix has wisely decided to opt for arguably its aurally strongest series for this new franchise. Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is a masterpiece, that will not only be adored by fans of the RPG series, but anyone who loves music, full stop. A stunning music-based game that any Nintendo 3DS owner should not be without.
This truly is an endless experience, and if it wasn't for the one or two niggles that have made me want to break my 3DS in half and scream in rage whilst on the train, it'd pushed closer to the ten mark. Best rhythm game I've played since...well, not sure, to be honest. Rhythm Tengoku on GBA was superb, some of the DS Taiko games have been great - there are many greats, in fact, but this not only trumps them, but comes with SO much damn content it's amazing!
You'll find some of the slower songs don't always ignite the passion as much, but they're still good. Some of the battle themes are amazing, though, and the extra songs found in the Chaos Shrine are great. Can't wait to try some of the songs available for download as well!
The first and only Final Fantasy game I actually like (judging by the demo).
( Edited 05.07.2012 01:08 by Marzy )
I love Final Fantasy music. Not really a fan of the numbered RPGs, though I did enjoy the classic ones. Playing the demo of this has really made me want the full game. Which I am going to do at some point!
The game is amazing. Hands down gitaroo man is my number one music game but this game is superb and deserves a buy. Also the game does not register the slides wrong. What's probably happening for you is you are trying to reposition your stylus back to center after a slide. In a swipe chain try sliding the next note from where the previous one ended. Great review.
Can't wait for this to arrive in the mail in the next few days. Always loved the FF series music and this seems the ideal compliment to it.
I'll be having a lot of fun playing this. Was going to buy it, but my sister decided she wanted it for her collection, which makes it even better since I'll play it for free hehehe.
I'm currently working my way through VII on PSN and want to get through the PS1 FFs eventually because i missed them all. Will this game spoil them any? Because after reading your review I'm tempted to go straight down my game shop. Why can't digital downloads have started already haha this looks like a prefect download title.
( Edited 05.07.2012 17:53 by Lynk )
It's on the list of third party downloadable retail games so it will be eventually.
I'm currently working my way through VII on PSN and want to get through the PS1 FFs eventually because i missed them all. Will this game spoil them any?
Maybe it's because I haven't found a mojo or gotten deep enough into it yet, but I've been kind of really disappointed at the experience so far after seeing some stellar reviews.
I mean.. this is a tribute to 25 years of Final Fantasy music, yet Dissidia has more in the way of music than this does. Dissidia is a last gen fighting game with more musical content than a current gen music game. Maybe I'm disappointed because I wanted to be blown away with the musical content and feel more like it's a celebration, instead there's a handful of tracks sometimes lazily ported from each game, no new remixes or remasters (which again, Dissidia had a mix of originals and remixes, some remixes weren't great but hey at least they tried), and already tons of day-1 dlc that doesn't even save to the cartridge (so I have to buy it more than once if more family members want to use it hurr). Thanks Square happy anniversary to you too.
That and I feel like it takes way too long to unlock stuff, getting rm takes ages and I never know or have any motivation in what I'm working towards.
I completed every stage in Series mode pretty quickly and am very stuck in Chaos Shrine (I'm guessing I need to level up more) but didn't unlock anything new at all (not even any new music to play through) from doing all that and so kinda lost motivation to play it.
..All that said it's pretty fun and I'll probably keep going back to it, I just feel like it could quite easily have had quite a lot more music and remixes, maybe some medleys. The menu musics are some of the best tracks in the game and it's a shame I can't play through any of those tracks or more like them!
Still, it's good to know some of you guys enjoyed it more than I have, at least.
( Edited 06.07.2012 21:57 by SuperLink )
Adam Riley said:
...I'd keep playing if I were you, especially if you want to play using the in-game music
Reached 10,000 Rhythpo yet?
Playing through the different difficulty levels in Challenge alone was great fun for me, as was tackling the amazingly tough Dark Notes you pick up later in the game. I 'finished' the game (reaching 10,000) pretty quickly, to be honest.
I was annoyed at first, because I didn't realise that you can unlock tougher versions of the Series tunes, but I obviously soon got over that
Whereas Beat the Beat struggled even in the Wii only chart...
How are people getting on with this? Is the DLC worth it? Are the extras that unlock enjoyable?
I see it dropped like a rock in the UK in its second week