Square Enix have always used the Final Fantasy license as an excuse to explore multiple genres. Outside of the core franchise, they’ve had such a large variety of spin-offs that it wouldn’t be too difficult to accuse them of franchise-milking. However, while there are a lot of games released under the Final Fantasy moniker, they all tend to be of a high quality, which makes forgiving Square Enix for using the series as a catalyst for sales easier.
One genre that Square Enix hasn’t really jumped into before, however, is the music or rhythm genre, which is unusual given that the music in Final Fantasy games is generally very impressive. Now, to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of Final Fantasy, Square Enix has hired developers indiezero to help with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a rhythm-based game for the 3DS. And, it should come as a delight to gamers to learn that it’s a thoroughly addictive package that does a good job of representing the high quality music of the franchise.
While held together with a weak story that grants little explanation or intrigue, the gameplay is where Theatrhythm Final Fantasy shines. Instantly, the game introduces the player to three distinctive game modes. Areas are divided up into Field, Battle and Event sections. Across these three game-types, players will tap along to music from Final Fantasy I-XIII, scoring points depending on the accuracy of the tap.
In Field areas, travelling music, usually from the world maps of their respective titles, allows the player to use the stylus to drift up and down the screen, helping their characters – a party of four chosen from an initial roster of thirteen – to reach a goal. In Battles, enemies attack the player and tapping becomes more frantic, with accurate taps of the stylus dealing more damage to foes. Finally, during Events, full motion videos of iconic scenes from the franchise play in the background and the player has to carefully orchestrate their taps. Events are generally the most difficult of the three modes, providing plenty of challenge to the player.
There are three modes of input during the aforementioned play-styles. Green circles require a player to hold the stylus down for as long as the green line lasts; red circles require simple taps; and yellow circles illustrating arrows require quick slashes of the screen in the direction indicated by the arrow. Despite the apparent simplicity of the game, the challenge grows at a steady pace, and after practising for a while the gameplay becomes a skilful combination of tapping, slashing and holding your ground while drifting through nicely animated landscapes and battling mighty foes, all of which are represented, including your own party of four, by a cute, chibi art style.
Despite the game sounding limited by its medium, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy does an incredible job of keeping players entertained, and there are myriad reasons for this. There’s an enormous variety of collectables to gather up, usually earned randomly every 500 Rhythmia – the game’s currency – acquired. These can include unlocking new music tracks, music to be listened to in the game’s archives, videos, character cards, additional profile customisation options, extra characters from the series and so on. There is a real incentive to continue playing and unlocking extra content, and there are enough game modes to add a huge amount of variety to the package.
Some of these game modes include working through a particular video game. For example, a fan of Final Fantasy VIII can play through that game’s Field, Battle and Event levels back-to-back. Or, there are specific challenge stages, that allow a player to tackle individual tracks that take their fancy. Most engaging, however, is the Chaos Shrine; a series of increasingly difficult levels that put the player up against Field and Battle tracks from multiple titles, varying up levels with different required tap inputs. It’s very possible to play through the same song with a drastically different input required by the player throughout the game, making the 70-something tracks in the title feel like much more. The challenge ramps up steadily, until later levels are incredibly challenging, especially if a player wishes to score highly.
Receiving a high score is encouraged, although in order to do well the player will have to level up their characters. There is a basic RPG levelling up system included in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and while it’s nothing particularly engaging, it makes for an interesting addition to the already bulky game. Items from the series can be acquired to help out during levels – phoenix downs, for example, can revive the player should they miss too many taps – and skills can be assigned to specific characters to offer buffs. While there is the potential for micro-management, it is entirely optional: players don’t have to fiddle around with it if they don’t wish to, but the option is there for fans of RPG strategies.
While the RPG elements perhaps feel a little tacked-on, it’s hard to imagine them not being there in a Final Fantasy title, especially given the fact that many players will be die-hard fans of the series. But while the game naturally appeals most to people who love and grew up with classic tracks such as ‘One-Winged Angel’, there is a wider appeal to all gamers. The music is good by any standard, and a local co-op mode allows for players to work together during challenges. Extra downloadable songs are also available, providing the game with plenty of lasting appeal.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is much more than a cheap way for Square Enix to make some more money out of the Final Fantasy name. It’s a complete package in every sense, offering so much to do and unlock, and the gameplay is compelling, challenging and addictive throughout. It’s the most fun that I’ve had with a Final Fantasy game in many years, and I thoroughly recommend the title to anyone wishing to play a game that invites entertaining, short-bursts of play. With a great collection of music tracks and more available for download, an appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers, and plenty of modes and game options, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is one of the best Final Fantasy spin-offs so far, and the perfect tribute to the music of the quintessential RPG series.
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