Remember about six or seven years ago when music/rhythm games were all the rage? Guitar Hero, Rock Band — who didn’t have fun playing those? Then, remember about three or four years ago when that genre died the quickest death? My peripherals moved with me to my apartment two years ago and have been collecting dust ever since. Square Enix tried to resurrect it with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, but unfortunately failed.
- TL;DR: A good idea executed poorly, only decent because of it’s pedigree
- Platform: 3DS
- Score: 6.3
- Hours Played: 8
- What I Played: All of series mode, a few challenge songs, a few dark notes
- Recommended: Only if you’re a huge fan of all things Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy is a series that, similar to The Legend of Zelda, has music that sticks with you long after the fact. The story in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is that a crystal that holds the world together has been damaged and must be saved with rhythmia, a mystical essence that … it doesn’t really matter. The point here is that you’re playing DDR with FF music.
With such a long running series in Final Fantasy, you’d expect TFF to be very deep, which it is. You can play music from each of the first 13 numbered games. There are three types of stages: Battle, Field, and Event. Battle stages, pictured above, pit your team of four heroes against monsters with notes scrolling left-to-right. Field stages have your party’s lead character running right to left with the goal being to reach the end of the stage before the music runs out. Event stages overlay the notes on a video showing a high-speed recap of the game you’re playing the music from. Each type of stage has a bonus section that can be unlocked by playing a certain section of a song well — battle stages summon old standbys like Ifrit and Shiva, field stages let you speed up by transforming into a Chocobo, and event stages show you more of the video.
I mentioned that you have a party of four, a staple in most FF games. You can choose between the lead characters of the 13 games, from Warrior of Light to Lightning. Characters have four stats — strength, agility, magic, and luck. Each stat serves the purpose that you can guess — strength/magic make your melee/magic attacks stronger on battle, agility makes your field stage runner move faster, and luck helps with finding items. Each character also has both active and passive skills, equipped by using up a pool of points called CP (think Flower Points in Super Mario RPG). These skills are activated at certain intervals throughout stages (30 straight hits in a battle stage, for example).
My biggest grip by far is that series mode is way, way too easy. Once you get the hang of the gameplay, you should be able to full-combo almost every song with ease. Going back and playing these same songs in challenge mode will allow you to up the difficulty of series mode, but you shouldn’t be forced to play every song on easy before being able to crank it up. There is a Chaos Shrine that has “dark notes”, two-song stages with the difficulty turned up. These are fun and definitely a challenge, but can only be unlocked by beating a previous one or at random intervals. You’ll get items from “defeating” the boss monsters in these stages as well as during series mode, but the items don’t do much (guarantee that you summon a certain summon if you get one, increase the chance of a black Chocobo). Skills and even stats seem to have little to no impact. Another small gripe — the event stages for FF 1-6 have the text in Japanese. What’s up with that?
The art style is pretty cute at first, but I would have liked to see each main character retain some of their uniqueness. This is a game where the main characters of all FF games are together, but they all look like the mascot for Jack in the Box. Seeing Cloud and Squall in a different visual style than Cecil and Terra would have been a very nice touch. There are a number unlockable “collect-a-cards”, sports cards of various FF characters/monsters, and even some unlockable characters that are supposed to keep you coming back for more, but the lack of cohesion between JRPG and rhythm games and general forced feeling might turn you away as it did for me.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is kept alive by the fact that it’s a Final Fantasy title. A random game trying to mix RPG and rhythm elements would have sputtered out quickly. The idea is decent enough, but Square tried to shoehorn too many RPG elements into the simple gameplay of tapping. If you truly love Final Fantasy and can’t get enough of the epic music, this may be a game for you. If you’re a casual fan like me who hasn’t played every numbered game, you may want to steer clear.