When I first heard that Square Enix was publishing a Final Fantasy rhythm game I, like most everyone else, was a little skeptical. The basic premise of the game is to play through Final Fantasy songs in an Elite Beat Agents-style rhythm game. The two genres seem like a strange mix, but with Theatrhythm it works. I’ll just say right now that I absolutely adore this game. I feel like it offers a ton of replay value, as playing the songs is just plain fun. However, I will leave you all with a disclaimer: Do not play this game if you are rhythmically challenged. A lot of the game requires you to be able to anticipate when beats are going to hit, and if you can’t handle that, you will not enjoy this game. That being said, my review of this game comes with years of experience playing percussion in my high school’s concert band, so I might not be the most bias-free reviewer.
From the beginning of the game you are given the choice of plenty of modes. Some are only obtained after playing others, but these are quickly unlocked. Museum mode lets you look at all of the things that you collect throughout the game, including a music player, collectible card viewer, record-keeper, and theater. Within the main meat of the game, there are 3 modes: Series, Challenge, and Chaos Shrine. Beating any song in any of these modes will net you Rhythmia, a currency that unlocks new collectables, characters, and songs, as well as experience and items.
Series mode lets you play 3 songs from each Final Fantasy game from 1-13, as well as an opening and an ending theme for each game. Within each game there are 3 different types of songs. You have Field, which is overworld music, Battle, which is self-explanitory, and Event, which is more soaring, dramatic music from important parts of the games.
Field Music Stages have you dragging your stylus up and down the screen, tapping along with the song, and sliding wherever the arrow icons dictate in order to run through a field of some sort. The songs of this type are typically overworld themes, and tend to be a little more melodic than the Battle Music Stages. Hitting notes successfully allows you to run faster, and therefore cover more ground, which in turn nets you more prizes when you finish.
Battle Music Stages are very upbeat, and my personal favorite. They’re very percussive, with lots of tapping and short slides. BMS’ tend to be much faster and more challenging, which is why I like them the best. Hitting notes successfully makes your characters do damage to the enemies, while missing makes them damage you. Kill enough enemies and you will face a boss, which will drop rarer items when slain.
Event Music Stages feature more dynamic songs, songs that ebb and flow like waves. This is my least favorite type of song, as they’re a bit slower and less exciting than the other types. While you tap, hold and slide cutscenes will play in the background, which really add to the nostalgia factor of this game. My biggest complaint about this type of song is the fact that it’s hard to focus on any of the cool cutscenes because of the notes on top of them. You focus entirely on what you’re doing, and it’s hard to watch both the notes and the scenes. My other complaint about these songs is that the cutscenes feature Japanese text! Why, in an English-version game, would the text be in Japanese? This seems like a minor thing, and I have a hard time believing that it would have taken a lot more effort to change out a couple cutscenes for their English equivalents.
Now that I’ve explained the three different kinds of songs, we’ll get to the most fun modes. Challenge mode allows you to play any song you’ve beaten in Series mode. Clearing any song with an A or higher unlocks the next difficulty of that song, and if you clear a higher difficulty on all 3 songs from one game, you unlock that difficulty for Series mode. This, I feel, creates a lot of synergy between the Series and Challenge modes, as they both play off of each other to progress.
Lastly, there’s the Chaos Shrine. The Chaos Shrine houses a series of what are called Dark Notes, which are unlocked by clearing other Dark Notes, or by receiving them from other people via Streetpass. Dark Notes are random combination of two tracks with different enemies that give you a chance at rarer items, shards to unlock characters and other things of that nature. They sometimes contain songs that can’t be played any other way. Within the Chaos Shrine is a mode where you can play your Dark Notes with friends via local wireless. There’s no option to play over the wifi connection, which is a little saddening, but not terribly so, as the multiplayer is nothing special. It almost has no purpose, as you’re doing the exact same thing, just simultaneously.
The RPG elements of the game show themselves in any of the 3 main modes. You can initially choose from one character from each game to create your four-person party, but you can unlock more as you play. As you clear stages your characters will gain experience and level up. Leveling up increases their attributes, as per usual, and allows them to learn new abilities. Every few levels, characters will learn skills that they can set to give them bonuses during battle, or spells that cast when certain conditions are met. For example, Cure will be cast when your HP gauge drops below 75%.
As you progress through the game, you’ll also obtain plenty of items that you can equip your party with before you start clearing stages. Rather than equipping each character, or choosing when to use items, you may set one item as your party’s equipped item. The items do all kinds of different things; from healing your party when you dip below a certain health percentage, to increasing a specific attribute during the stage. The items, however, are all one-time use, and will be destroyed when the stage is cleared.
I would love to see more emphasis on these RPG elements. I feeI like you can completely ignore the fact that your characters learn skills or level up and still enjoy the game. This is a problem for me, as I think that the music and RPG elements really have the capability to mesh well. I think that Squeenix could really put together a game that is more RPG heavy, with lots of rhythm elements, instead of the opposite, which is what composes Theatrhythm. But for what it is, which is a rhythm game with some RPG elements, Theatrhythm does a beautiful job. It is a treat for the eyes and the ears. The artwork is incredibly endearing, though you don’t get to enjoy it as often as I’d like, as most of the time playing is spent focusing on notes.
I would also love to see another Theatrhythm game, just like this one, but featuring the music of other Squaresoft and Enix properties, like Grandia, Xenogears, or Chrono Trigger. Square Enix (both together and separately) has a long history of games with great soundtracks, and I would love to play Ayla’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, or the Opening Theme from Dragon Quest VIII in the same fashion as these Final Fantasy songs.
My largest complaint about this game as a whole is the lack of a story mode. There is a small background story to the game, but I forgot it immediately as it was mentioned once and then never again. This is a hugely missed opportunity, as the Final Fantasy games are richly storied, but this one is an exception. While taking a step back from storytelling, this game does take a step toward a first for the console. By that, I mean DLC. Theatrhythm is one of the first games in Nintendo history to offer DLC in the form of songs you can purchase for $1 apiece. (You can buy BMS or FMS songs only). This is a huge step for Nintendo, as they are the last to get on the DLC bandwagon.
In closing, I will say again that I love Theatrhythm. It does a lot of things well, and should help pave the way for some new ideas in the same vein. The game is really charming, and the songs are so much fun to play. If you are musically inclined and have a 3DS you must purchase this game. I know I’ve said that before, but I meant it then, and I mean it now. The 3DS doesn’t have a large pool of great games yet, but Theatrhythm is definitely going to go down as one of the most unique games on the system.
- Tons of things to unlock
- Nostalgic music
- Addictive gameplay
- Cute character art
- Multiple difficulty levels
- Virtually no story
- Hard to enjoy the artwork