Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Over the last 25 years the Final Fantasy series has been one of the highest grossing exports from the Japanese games industry . Seeing its first inception on the Super Famicom, Final Fantasy has seamlessly blended manga/anime pop-culture with visceral fantasy visuals, deep interweaving stories and characterizations that vary from title to title.
Another mainstay of this game’s series is its music. Final Fantasy has gained a massive fan following and dedication for each games score, with fans going as far as importing the soundtracks from Japan.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was designed to celebrate the love fans have for this game’s musical history, in the form of a rhythm game, whilst still retaining some of the classic RPG elements present in every Final Fantasy game.
The basis of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is extremely simple. The story is lifted from the Dissidia series of Final Fantasy games, centered on the battle of Chaos and Cosmos (Good vs. Evil basically). The collective cast of the past 13 videogames is present, allying themselves with their respective Good or Evil side according to their karmic alignment.
Rhythm is the connective nature between Chaos and Cosmos, which is represented in the form of a crystal that controls music in the universe. Chaos begins to disrupt the crystal and you're tasked with the mission of returning harmony to the crystal’s form by collecting “Rhythmia”.
Rhythmia is collected from various songs performed throughout the videogame. All songs are taken from the 13 Final Fantasy titles. Once you select which Final Fantasy game you want to play the music from, you have to then successfully complete 3 stages consisting of: “Field (Overworld)” Music, “Battle” Music and “Event (Dramatic)” Music (Basically Medium, Fast, Slow in respective order).
Gameplay consists entirely of touch screen controls - no other buttons are used. Context sensitive buttons appear on screen in time to the music, much like popular rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and the now defunct Guitar Hero series. These buttons are representative of the melodic notes and rhythmic key points in the music you hear.
There are three types of actions used: Green “Slide” gestures which require you to hold your stylus (or finger) against the touch screen until the note ends. Yellow “Directional” gestures with an arrow inside them which require you to swipe the touch screen in the direction the arrow is pointing to and finally red “tap” gesture which just require you to tap the touch screen to activate them.
Your performance while playing these buttons/notes is graded on the time taken activating the buttons as they travel from the left side of the screen to the “activation spot” on the right side of the screen, which is represented as an empty button area (Yet again, similar to the DDR and Guitar Hero series).
Like most Final Fantasy games, you can create a party of up to 4 characters. Playable characters are taken from the memorable lead and supporting cast from the series, and have varying stats, such as HP (Hit Points), Strength, Agility, and Luck etc. These stats are indicative of your success through particular stages of music. For example, Strength will help each successful note destroy enemies on screen quicker during “Battle” music stages. Agility aids your party in travelling faster during “Field (Overworld)” stages and finally Luck helps overall succession during “Event (Dramatic)” Music stages. The most enemies defeated, the more distance travelled and the more luck you have rewards you with prizes and unlockable content such as more playable characters and extra stages, music or other extras such as collectors cards.
Every unsuccessful note causes damage to your parties HP bar. When it reaches zero, you lose the song and you have to restart over. You are also graded on how precise you hit each note/button with a variation from Bad to Critical. If you can score all criticals and no misses during a song, you will be rewarded many “Rhythmia”, experience points to level up your party as well as a grading rank on how you performed on the song ranging from an F to SSS.
Outside of the main game, you can engage in a “Challenge” mode which is basically a solo play mode to perform any song without going through 3 stages of music in sequence and a “Chaos Tower” mode which consists of 99 levels with boss monsters at the end of each one – If you successfully defeat these bosses multiple times, they drop rare items which help unlock various features in the game.
However, unlocking more content requires multiple play-throughs of songs you have already completed and it's not guaranteed that after you defeat a boss it will drop an item at the end of the stage, or that the boss you want will appear at all – repetitive and redundant in everyway possible.
The main game mode forces you to go through 3 stages of music in the context of the Final Fantasy game you choose. Even though the difficulty of the main mode is extremely easy, I felt the song choice to represent each Final Fantasy was overall very poor.
It's no secret that Final Fantasy over the last few years has been suffering badly compared to its heyday 15 years ago, and I feel that its music has played a big part as to why current titles in the series have failed to deliver as well as their predecessors.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that Final Fantasy 13's music was represented very well in the game, as they share the same composers. However, the developer and Square Enix’s choice of which tracks should represent the older games was poorly selected, neglecting very important fan favorites altogether in favor of obtuse examples from the series – I felt served as a metaphor for the problems that Square Enix’s audio department currently faces, which is a lack of understanding as to what musically made these games a charming and memorable experience.
The original composer for Final Fantasy 1 to 11, Nobuo Uematsu, no longer works with Square Enix and while I wouldn't say he composes completely flawless work, I will say that he completely understood what made a Final Fantasy game and was instrumental in creating some of the most dynamic and memorable music in the videogames series to date.
The latest work on offer is very predictable from the pop-cultural standards created in Asia today. I felt the music in Final Fantasy 13 was the pinnacle of this problem, in how it represented the various hyperbole of tropes and quality you would hear in a Japanese produced TV movie or J-Pop/J-Rock chart single hit. It's something that never has and never will translate to Western markets fluidly due to its cheesiness and overall outdated sound (I would say the equivalent is the sheen production heard in Easy Listening / Adult Contemporary music – However just imagine more drum n’ bass with glam rock guitars and synth-y pop vocals) – overproduced, soul-less and a cash-in with no dynamic or memorable lyric or melody.
I know I should be reviewing the “game” here, however this is a MUSIC game and I feel its very important we understand how this game series has failed over recent years. In short, I found it ironic that Square Enix released a “Music Game” from this series, as it was one of the core reasons as to how Final Fantasy has recently lost its magic and “fantasy”. Regardless, the charming element of this game is of course the nostalgia value represented by various video clips and FMV's played throughout a performed song. Characters and enemies are marionette in style and animation, which has a cute, although somewhat creepy effect. Characters you choose spout phrases that are representative of their personality, a nice little touch to its charm factor.
Overall, there is a mass load of content to unlock. There are inbuilt trophies for achievement in playing the game on hard difficulty settings, or flawlessly playing a piece of music and getting top scores. As mentioned before, there are many unlockable characters, music and other collectible items to add hours to your gameplay time.
Some annoyances I found during gameplay were that some gestures on the touchscreen do not activate properly. At higher difficulty settings, it can become extremely difficult. The other annoyance is the DLC store. In the store you can download various tracks missing from the game to perform in “Challenge” mode. Each track costs 0.90p each. I found this to be somewhat dirty play by the developers, and made me question if the choice of songs in the retail game was poor choice or intentional poor choice.
Lastly, this game is ENTIRELY touch screen. The sheer basis of this game’s concept is to just tap the screen. A quick gloss to the app store on iTunes will reveal to you MANY games like this already available on the iPad and iPhone for sometimes as cheap as 0.99p, almost £30+ cheaper than what Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is charging.
If your wondering maybe it’s because of the 3D effect, I’ll say it right now that the 3D is as 2D as it gets in this title. It’s the worst implementation of 3D to date and you might as well play the game in 2D as it already looks like the 3DS’s 3D slider is turned all the way down.
How about the uniqueness of playing a “Final Fantasy” rhythm game? Yet again, moot point, as not all the songs are included, specifically the really good tracks – You’ll need to go the DLC store to buy them if you want them and they aren’t even all up there yet! Even the tracks that are already included in the game aren’t full length, they are pretty much 2 minute snippets of the songs, sometimes starting right smack in the middle.
I don’t understand what the exact privilege or appeal of playing this sort of rhythm game on a 3DS is if you can purchase something so similar for much cheaper and the exact same control scheme on the app store. I think this speaks volumes about Nintendo’s out of touch view on mobile gaming and the consumer digital market.
In conclusion, if you are a Final Fantasy fan, this is a love note to you in every way. Its something that rekindles fond memories now and then, but misses its target at times with the exclusion of more memorable pieces of music. It's a fun game overall and very satisfying.
For non-fans, I would say that there is something slightly suspect going on here between Nintendo’s overcharging for a extremely simplistic rhythm game and Square Enix’s possible intentional exclusion of popular songs from the retail game.