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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy - 3DS Review

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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

3DS | SQUARE ENIX / Indies zero | 1 Player | Out Now
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25th July 2012; By Patrick

Have you ever been at a point where you needed to use games as a means of escapism? I don't mean that in a negative way at all; I simply mean that a circumstance or circumstances out of your control required you to play videogames to re-center or distract yourself. I most certainly have, and the two types of games I play in those situations are RPGs and rhythm/music games. Because I tend to play RPGs at vulnerable times in my life, the music carries some truly emotional impact for me, and for that reason, the idea of
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a perfect one for me. A rhythm game taking you through 22 years of Final Fantasy music (1987's Japanese release of the original Final Fantasy on the NES up to 2009's Final Fantasy XIII for PS3 and Xbox 360), the game is the first Final Fantasy brand game for the handheld system. The game is also a first for including paid DLC from the Nintendo Network in North America. With a number of records being set with the game, all heads have been turned to the game. But how does it actually fare?

    When you start the game, you are greeted by a remix of the traditional Final Fantasy Prelude, which serves to increase your anticipation for the music that lies ahead. The first time you play, you will only be able to access Series Mode. Other modes such as Challenge Mode (which lets you play songs you've completed in Series Mode at will), the Chaos Shrine, and the Museum open up as you play more. Series Mode is structured based on the first thirteen Final Fantasy games. You may pick any game from I-XIII and play through its three songs. Before you play the songs, you have the choice to play an optional mini-game where you tap to the beat of the opening song or prelude to the specific game you chose. At the end, you may do the same as an outro. Doing so will earn you extra rhythmia (more on that later), though it can become tedious as you play through all of the games.

Each game is represented with three songs: a field song, an event song, and a battle song. For all intents and purposes, all three play identically. You tap when you need to, swipe when told to, and hold (and if needed, move the stylus in the displayed direction) when indicated to do so. With one exception, it does not matter at all where on the bottom screen you tap. When dragging, it does matter, though all distance is relative to where you first set the stylus down. The entire game is controlled directly through the stylus, with all prompts given on the 3D Screen.
The main difference between field songs and battle songs is visual. Field songs are composed of a character from your party of four walking to the left, set behind a single bar of prompts that come at you from the left side of the screen. Battle songs have animations of your party fighting enemies and bosses, while four rows send different prompts to different characters. Since gameplay does not require you to touch specific locations, the impact of this change is minimal.

    Event songs feature prompts that move around the screen in odd shapes and curves, placed over clips from the game it's based on. There are two problems this brings up: It can be hard to judge exactly when you need to tap, and the video can be distracting from play considering that there is an excess of motion that you aren't meant to pay attention to for gameplay purposes. Finally, one problem I had as a fan of the series is that almost every single instance of pre-recorded footage had at least one major spoiler in it, usually from the ending sequences, which goes unmentioned and could lessen the enjoyment of any new player looking to go back and play one of the games.

    Once you complete a game in Series Mode, that game's music becomes available for free play in Challenge Mode. Series Mode guides you through the games in 'Basic Score' difficulty (the lowest of three), while Challenge also offers the more difficult 'Expert Score' and the unlockable 'Ultimate Score' for players looking for more challenge. Unfortunately, at least for me, the Ultimate Scores aren't very challenging, and I have received all S Ranks, with most of them also consisting of Perfect Chains (never missing a single prompt and never getting a Bad on a note). This lack of difficulty is off-putting, but I do enjoy the ability to sit down and relax with some Final Fantasy music and easy gameplay.

The Chaos Shrine is a very interesting part of the game and is the most compelling aspect for me. The game will give you a random Dark Note, which contains one field song and one battle song that you must play through. You're not told what songs they are or what games they're from until the song is actually over, giving a large element of surprise. What the game
does tell you is the approximate difficulty of the Dark Note, and it generally offers easier Dark Notes earlier and harder ones later. In order to alleviate repetition, there are several songs that can only be found in the Dark Notes, including some of my favourites (Mambo de Chocobo, the Ending Video from Final Fantasy XII, etc.). Completed Dark Notes can be shared through StreetPass if you can find someone else with the game. Chaos Shrine also features a multiplayer mode that could not be demoed for this review.

    Of course, extra songs may be purchased as regular DLC. It seems that a new set of songs will show up every Thursday, each costing $1, so I'm fairly pleased. Already we have a song from the game-in-never-ending-development, Final Fantasy Versus XIII (PS3), although we notably skipped over a song from Final Fantasy Type-0 (PSP) that Japan got. Personally, I'm just biding my time until Those Who Fight Further from Final Fantasy VII is released. As Square-Enix seems content with releasing songs from games not in the base game, I hope they release a few songs from Final Fantasy XIV (PC MMO which Square-Enix seems to have swept under the rug for the purposes of this game). They have also released a song from the recently-released Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, Xbox 360) in Japan, so I can always keep hoping they will release Crazy Chocobo, right?

The museum is effectively a gallery of art, music, and videos that you collect with rhythmia, the total running amount of points you have. Rhythmia is also used to unlock extra characters that you can include in your party aside from the default 13 (the main character from each of the first 13 games). This is useful if you wish to pay attention to the included RPG aspect of the game, where you can equip items and abilities to your characters (as well as level up after songs) to increase stats. The stats can determine how long you last in a song by giving you more health, as well as allow you to defeat more enemies in battle songs, netting you more unlockables. You don't have to focus on the RPG element; in fact, if you complete a song with nothing equipped you are rewarded with extra rhythmia.

The "story", as it were, is so simple that the game literally only tells it to you, beginning and end, in about ten sentences. I won't discuss it in case someone
actually cares, but it's not fulfilling and by the time the ending comes around (once you hit 10,000 rhythmia for the first time), the bigger surprise will be remembering that there was a story, instead of how it ends. It takes roughly five to six hours to collect enough rhythmia to see the credits, but that is certainly not the end of the game.

    Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the package. The lack of difficulty is a turn-off to me, and the background visuals (sometimes aided by the 3D) are irritating to say the least. However, the fact that where you touch doesn't matter (unlike in other 3DS rhythm games) means that this game is actually portable and can be played just as well in a car as at home. The finite amount of content is already being remedied with a steady stream of downloadable content priced at next to nothing, and with that rounding it out, the game is a very solid package.

24/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 8/10 - Excellent rhythm gameplay, three types of levels aren't different in gameplay, event music often harder, optional RPG mechanics
Presentation 6/10 - Background visuals often distract, many songs but missing some key ones, nice 3D that can sometimes aid in distracting you
Enjoyment 5/5 - Lack of difficulty doesn't get in the way of enjoyment, keeps pulling you back for more, music from one of the best franchises in history
Extra Content 5/5 - DLC stream very welcome, 39 songs in Series Mode excluding preludes and outros, RPG element can add depth, tons of unlockables

Equivalent to a score of 80% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by Patrick

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy 
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