Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-07-28 Nintendo 3DS Music/Rhythm E10 (Everyone 10+) SquareEnix

To the cynical outsider, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy may outwardly appear to be nothing more than a cheap cash-in on the arguable obsession expressed by many life-long fans of the Final Fantasy franchise and its many games. Once you actually pick up this mobile rhythm game however, it becomes readily apparent that the game is so much more than average, and is one of the few system sellers that are worth the purchase price of a Nintendo 3DS.

To describe it simply, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a rhythm game that allows you to tap on your 3DS touch screen in time to music from all of the Final Fantasy games. However, the game as a whole is much more complex than that, with multiple difficulty settings, a ton of virtual unlockables, RPG-like character evolvement and so much more. There's even an outlandish storyline that revolves around collecting a material called Rhythmia to bring life back to a magical crystal and save the land. In other words, it's the best of both rhythm games and the world of Final Fantasy combined into one (without all of the level grinding).

To begin, players can become accustomed to the rhythm gameplay by completing the "Basic Course" levels, which are separated by individual Final Fantasy game and come with three different songs to complete, plus the intro and outro for each game as it was released in Japan. These intro and outro segments can be skipped, as they ultimately serve as a fast way to gain Rhythmia. That is, you'll tap on the screen as music notes appear with no real skill level required. In between these two segments, you'll complete three songs, each with slight variations on the rhythm gameplay.

In battle stages, your customizable party's four characters stand in a vertical battle formation, and you'll tap on the screen as circular prompts arrive near their weapons. Certain prompts require nothing but a quick tap on the screen, while others are of the "tap and hold" variety. Finally, you'll be asked to draw arrows in every direction to activate the final kind of prompt, which is where accuracy really becomes key. That is, you can't simply flick your stylus from left to right (as an example) - you must tap and drag your stylus on the touch screen to form a full line for it to count. It's an odd movement to get used to, as flicking is so much more intuitive, and your combo meter will reset if you do end up flicking rather than actually drawing the arrow line to completion.

These same prompts show up in the game's other two varieties of songs: Field music and Event music. Event music tends to contain those songs from cutscenes or large events in their particular game, while field music is that which you might have encountered while simply advancing the story. Field music stages see you helping your virtual characters move from the right to the left side of the screen, drawing your stylus up and down on the touch screen where required, while Event music is simply presented uniquely on the top screen, with symbols showing up anywhere on the screen with little advanced warning.

Throughout it all, you're allowed to tap wherever you'd like on the touch screen, with the game taking care of the rest. Accuracy is of course required with each tap and you'll earn points accordingly based on how accurate your timing is with each tap, but the game's Basic Courses are rather simplistic and work well to introduce the complex gameplay to the unfamiliar. As the gameplay setup places so much focus on the top screen, it's important to note that the 3D and graphics hold up to the pressure, with notes and actual gameplay presented in the foreground, and adorable representations of Final Fantasy characters (including the lovable Chocobo) being pushed farther back. When text is presented on the top screen in 3D, some of it can be rather blurry, but we never found this to be a deal-breaker, as the text is never truly the focus of the experience. The music, however, definitely is, and it's presented with incredible quality, even when pushing the volume toggle to its maximum.

Once you're ready for a challenge, you can move into the appropriately named Challenge Mode, where each song that you've completed in the Basic Courses is available to play on three different difficulty levels. These higher difficulties not only contain more notes and in more complex patterns, but the notes simply move faster on the screen. Most experienced gamers will likely have no trouble with the first two difficulties, but the most difficult option is incredibly hectic, with a single mistake being enough to cause you to fail the song altogether, as it's difficult to get back into a groove, as it were. If Theatrhythm lacked it before, these multiple options add limitless replayability to the experience, as we personally struggled to earn passing grades on these most challenging levels.

In traditional Final Fantasy fashion, RPG elements are added in for each character in your party, as you'll earn experience points and Rhythmia at the completion of each song. Each character has its own stats, but the true function of these stats and experience points remains hidden for the most part, and simply choosing your four favorite characters from the available list presents just as entertaining an experience.

Rounding out the package is the ability to unlock a slew of content, like collectible trading cards that contain trivia about franchise characters and enemies, cutscenes from games and even the songs themselves in a standard music player. Whether you're a fan of a single Final Fantasy game or each and every one, the gameplay here is incredibly entertaining with plenty of variety and content to unlock, lasting you hours before you've even come close to seeing it all. While the three kinds of song types can become repetitive in lengthy gameplay sessions, simply switching the difficulty level is enough to make the experience fresh and challenging all over again.

Simply put, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is an absolute delight and is full of fan service for those looking for it, but is also an incredibly well put-together rhythm game for outside fans of the rhythm genre. With DLC allowing for even more content before all is said and done, this isn't just a game you'll pick up and play once - it's a worthwhile investment and a celebration of the Final Fantasy franchise that will make you want to go back and play all of your favorite games all over again.