Review by Marsford
Nostalgia isn't the only thing this gem has going for it.
Can you believe it has been 25 years since the first Final Fantasy? Nobody at the time expected there would be twelve more to set industry standards and touch the hearts of millions. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy comes in trying to recapture all that magic, and maybe even accomplish a little more. So does it succeed?
Gameplay/Controls - 8.5/10
The rhythm elements of this game are, as expected, the majority of what you will be doing. Therefore it may sound surprising when I say it only consists of the same three motions: tapping, dragging, and holding the stylus on the touch screen. How these are thrown at you, however, is what makes the game a pleasure. The thrilling combination of these three motions to the rhythm of your favorite Final Fantasy songs (or just great songs on their own) is something special.
Unfortunately, it isn't all perfect. The dragging motion is mysterious. Sometimes the same motion will give you a "Great" one time, and then a "Bad" the other. For those who still read instruction booklets, they actually specify that the motion is a drag across the touch screen, not a flick. Keeping this in mind, it becomes a bit more accurate, until you get comfortable again and a random "Bad" comes out of nowhere. It's not game-breaking in the slightest, for this happens once out of every ten or fifteen drags, and rarely happens when you are extremely focused. But it is still annoying when trying to achieve a perfect score throughout a song.
In addition to simply tapping to the beat, this game promises RPG elements. The variety of the elements is certainly astounding. You start off with thirteen different characters from the Final Fantasy universes, and they all have their own unique stats and abilities. You would expect Cloud to have high Strength and HP, Terra to have high Magic, and Zidane to have high agility, and this is all executed marvelously. Characters gain experience points and level up from completing songs, and their stats grow and they learn new abilities. There's even equippable items like Hi-Potions, Pheonix Downs and Antarctic Winds that have logical and intuitive functions.
The idea works well initially, until you get deeper into them, which I will expand on later.
Presentation/Graphics/3D/Music/Sound Effects - 9.5/10
Needless to say, this game has an amazing soundtrack. How can it not? It features the best tunes in Final Fantasy history. From One Winged Angel, to Man With A Machine Gun, to Terra's Theme, you'd be hard pressed not to find a dozen songs to love. Of course, if you're a huge Final Fantasy fan, there'll be at least one choice of song you won't be happy with. Why You're Not Alone is not in, but Mi'hen Highroad is is beyond me. The developers couldn't possibly cater to everyone's specific wishlist, so I have to say they did a pretty good job with their song choices.
A slight problem is that it seems the 3DS' speakers cannot handle some of the songs. A select few come across as fuzzy and a bit distorted. This problem is completely fixed with headphones, however. Using them really is the best way to experience this game, especially since some songs require you to follow background instruments that can't be easily heard through speakers.
I absolutely love the sound effects in this game. The "chimes" heard as you tap notes correctly is very satisfying, and the option to make then louder or mute is even there if you want. Ifrit's Hellfire sounds really cool, and hearing Chocobo tweets when you summon one is a nice touch. Everywhere you look in this game, there's an appropriate sound effect to something, and this extra detail made by the developers is certainly appreciable.
The graphics are also great. The environments match the songs you are playing to so well that fans can easily guess the song before hearing it, just by looking at the background. They're full of color and detail and really help to bring back memories of what the game looked like, and the atmosphere that came with it.
The character models are interesting. They go by the "chibi" look, which is something that has to be seen to be judged. They're definitely adorable though, and each character is, like everything else, chock-full of detail. Down to their weapons, outfits, hair, and the rest.
The 3D is also intelligently implemented. Nothing really pops too far out or is too mind-boggling, but it helps the game in many little ways here and there. For example, on a menu screen, important elements stand out slightly farther than others. During music play, your notes are noticeably less deep than the fight going on in the background, which really helps to focus on the notes and its tempo, while still being able to slightly shift your focus to the back if you want to see the battle throughout the song.
Finally, the presentation of this game is without a doubt spectacular. Everything is very well organized and visually appealing. There is next to nothing in this game that isn't full of some visual detail. You can tell enough effort went into making this game when random background screens have details you don't even notice after looking at them a dozen times.
Despite the myriad of items and abilities, they're all very easy to equip and manage, and their functions are well-explained. All in all, presentation doesn't get much better than this, and it's nice to see the work done to make this game comfortable to sort through.
One slight quirk with the presentation of battles is that no numbers are shown for damage given or taken. It just says "Damage!". It would have been nice to see your higher Strength stat translate clearly into more damage, and it would have been nice to see the damage differences between Thunder, Thundara and Ramuh's Judgment Bolt, or between being attacked by a Tonberry and a Behemoth.
Content/Replay Value - 8/10
First you have series mode. This features five songs from each Final Fantasy game. An intro, a Field Music Stage (FMS), a Battle Music Stage (BMS), an Event Music Stage (EMS), and finally an ending. The intro and ending simply consist of a crystal in the middle of the screen that you tap as some music bubbles hit it, while the background is full of text and pictures, giving a nostalgic feeling for each game from Final Fantasy history.
The FMS consists of a character dashing through a field to some relaxing or uplifting songs as you tap. The BMS consists of four characters battling numerous enemies to more upbeat and epic songs, while the EMS consists of scenes from all the Final Fantasy games with more emotional songs.
Then there's Challenge mode, where you challenge one song on one of three difficulties. And lastly, you have the Chaos Shrine, which is where I've been spending all my time. After playing through the game for a few hours, you'll unlock your first Dark Note. These consist of a random FMS and a BMS. This is also where the RPG elements of the game become a lot more relevant. The higher your character's agility, the further you get on the field. The further you get determines which boss you face in the BMS, and increases your chances of running into a Moogle, which rewards you with an item. During the BMS, the goal is to take down enemies as fast as possible, because after killing a few, the boss shows up, and defeating it will get you an item.
Luck affects various things, like chances of finding Moogles, and chances of enemies missing you.
Therefore it becomes more obvious how the RPG elements factor in. You have a limit to how many abilities you can equip in the form of CP. You gain CP as you level up, and abilities like Fira take more space than Fire. You'll want a healthy mix of abilities to increase your agility as well as your offense. Defensive abilities like Cure and HP Up become necessary during highly difficult songs, because the poorer your rhythm performance, the more HP you lose, and then it's Game Over.
So it all sounds great, until you realize it's just a matter of equipping the most offense that you possibly can. Things like Cure become less necessary when you realize you can just do better next time. Evidently there's depth, but not too much strategic depth, and the Chaos Shrine and its Dark Notes don't do too much to help that. The option for a mode to really combine your rhythm and RPG skills would have made this game the absolute perfection it deserves.
Another problem with the Chaos Shrine is that they apparently only included 20 songs that can be randomly used in the FMS and BMS. The game features over 75, so why they limited it to such a small amount, especially when it's the deepest mode, is it a bit of a wonder.
Beside those three modes, everything in this game is recorded and viewable in the Museum. You can sift through songs and scenes you've unlocked, read details cards with information on various people and entities, unlock trophies to add to your collection, view your performance records, and more. Taking the time to 100% this game will be lengthy, but will certainly be worth the trouble just to see the lore and history packed into this one cartridge.
There's also a Streetpass mode, where you can customize your own profile and share it with others you Streetpass. You can also share Dark Notes through this function, which is a nice inclusion.
Dark Notes can also be done with a friend through Multi-Cart play. Although you play different sections of the song, you each choose a customized character to bring in and add to the team, while the game will fill in any missing spots.
Finally, if all that isn't enough, there's loads of DLC that will be released (with one pack already available at launch). You can buy tracks one at a time for a dollar each, and then they will be available to be taken on in Challenge mode.
To summarize, this game is a complete and utterly polished package well worth anyone's time because of its great soundtrack, beautiful history and unique RPG/rhythm elements. Obviously, however, big Final Fantasy fans will get much more appreciation for the game, and will find more motivation to unlock all the content, like the over a dozen other characters.
I should mention there is a story, but it's so subtle and shallow, you'll most likely forget it completely. You technically "beat" and complete the story after getting a certain amount of Rhythmia (which is earned by just playing). This should take no more than 10 hours.
If you are still wondering whether this game is worth your time, weigh the pros and cons.
- Amazing music selection from Final Fantasy history
- Great visuals
- Amazing details everywhere
- Solid and fun rhythm gameplay
- Various difficulties
- Tons upon tons of unlockables
- Great use of 3D
- Incredible nostalgia for FF fans
- Interesting and creative RPG elements
- The amount of detail and polish is commendable
- Drag motion is not 100% accurate and can get frustrating
- The relevance and depth of the RPG elements is a bit lacking
- Chaos Shrine can get repetitive due to limited song choices
- Some songs and text are still in Japanese (like Melodies of Life)
- Some songs sound weird through the 3DS' speakers
To be blunt, this game is a must-have for Final Fantasy fans, a must-have for rhythm fans, and worth a look for anyone else wanting to try something new and special. To answer my initial question, I say yes. This game will bring back a rollercoaster of memories and emotions, and does well to stir up the magic felt from playing Final Fantasy for all those years. Beside that, for the most part, it's just a very, very well-made game.
26/30 is my final score, which I round up to 9/10 because I love Final Fantasy.
Product Release: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (US, 07/03/12)
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