Developer: indieszero > Publisher: Square Enix > Systems: 3DS > Rating: E10+
The non-sequitur spinoff is a tricky thing to pull off. To take a previous game and insert those characters into a completely different style of game is a risky venture that is great when it works out, but can permanently tarnish a franchise’s legacy when it doesn’t.
Theatrhythm, a quietly-released 3DS game by Square Enix, takes on the task of combining Final Fantasy culture with an Elite Beat Agents style of rhythm-action gameplay. It’s a bizarre creation that only could have come from Japan, and it’s actually pretty awesome.
The best word to describe the music in Theatrhythm is authentic. This game contains no techno remixes, and only the fastest songs, like the beloved Chocobo theme, come anywhere near the BPM speed of other music games. What this means is that unless you’ve actually played most of the 13 Final Fantasy games sampled in the product, you may be underwhelmed by many of the game’s slower, quieter tunes.
But if you've played many Final Fantasy games, you'll get much more out of the game. For instance, hearing “Battle on the Big Bridge” from FFV made me feel 11 years old again. But getting through the slow, unfamiliar themes of the games I hadn’t played felt like a chore. I envy those who have played every single Final Fantasy game, as your familiarity with the series and its music will be the major factor towards your enjoyment.
Initially, five different songs are available to play for each game. “Series Mode” has you play these songs in order, starting with the game’s opening theme, then some battle music, an overworld theme, an iconic slow song from the game, and finally the game's closing theme. The three middle songs are the real draw, with each type of music coming with a different style of gameplay.
Along with the 70-odd songs available in the game, Theatrhythm holds the distinction of being the first 3DS game to offer downloadable content. These songs are a dollar a pop and can be played in challenge mode. Please let me know when the FFX Battle theme becomes available. I really like that song.
The Battle themes are by far the most enjoyable. Not just because they carry the best beat, but because the mode attached to them has you leveling and equipping any four of the series’ 13 protagonist as they slay enemies in a classic battle sequence. The better you play, the more monsters your party defeats, earning you more Rythmia (the game’s unlock currency) and XP at the end of the round. The battle system doesn’t go too deep, but leveling your party up is addicting, and occasionally, a higher-level team will be able to squeak out a victory in a level that you otherwise would have failed.
As you play through the game, the completion of game modes and acquisition of Rythmia will result in a number of unlockables becoming available. Most notably, other Final Fantasy characters will become available for your party...and they’re not all good guys.
The songs in the starting mode will probably seem pretty easy—don’t get too cocky. Completing a series in the main mode unlocks it in Challenge Mode. It is here that you can play any song you want. Scoring an “A” on a song will unlock a harder difficulty. Even as a seasoned music-game fan, I found myself getting whooped over-and-over again by the top difficulty level.
Within the game you will also encounter the Dark Shrine. In this mode, the average level of your party dictates two random songs to play—some of them only available in this mode. The monsters faced, (and loot dropped) are also random, meaning that you will want to master several different Dark Note challenges until you find one with awesome music, and even better rewards. These custom playlists can then be shared with others through the use of Nintendo’s Street Pass system.
Theatrhythm is a game firmly rooted in nostalgia. From the countless unexpected cameos to the faithful readaption of the series’ battle system to the intentionally goofy Japanese mistranslations—this is a game that really feels like a love letter to fans.
Hint: Beating levels without any character skills or items equipped will lead to a better ranking.
by Mattie Culkin