Review by Exodist
The perfect game for any fan of Final Fantasy and its wonderful music.
It's no secret: Nobuo Uematsu is a musical genius who has provided fantastic compositions to one of gamings best known and loved RPG series. Whilst music may not be a big deal to a lot of people when playing video games, there are still huge numbers of people who love to listen to great video game music whilst playing games, and maybe even some who like to listen to their favourite sound tracks outside of games. Whilst I mostly listen to non-video game music, the Final Fantasy tracks do hold a special place in my heart along with a few other select video game sound tracks. So what better than to release a game celebrating 25 years of Final Fantasy and its music?
As implied by the annoying title, Theatrhythm is an entirely rhythm based game using the 3DS touch screen where you tap along to Final Fantasy songs. The biggest comparison can be towards the utterly fantastic DS game Elite Beat Agents however there are many differences. The game is entirely touch screen controlled, where you must tap along to the beat with three different kind of notes which appear across the screen. The big difference is that you can tap anywhere on the screen to hit these notes as opposed to EBA where you must hit the note itself in a specific order. Here, you simply tap to the beat where ever you want. The three notes are very simple: to hit red notes you must simply tap at the right time, green notes you must tap and hold the touch screen, and yellow notes you must strike the screen in a certain direction indicated by an arrow on the screen itself.
All songs are categorised into three types: Field Songs, Event Songs, and Battle Songs. Whilst the notes are the same the way these songs play out is different. For field songs, the notes come across the top screen from left to right and you must hit at the right time, the green notes will move up and down meaning you have to slide up and down along with them, meaning notes can appear in any position on the screen but all on a strict path. To time you simply tap the screen when the note reaches the marked point of which there is just the one and remains on the right side of the screen (although as said will move up or down depending on where the green notes go). The event songs see's the marked point move automatically in shapes with the notes along the path. Probably the easiest of the three this mode isn't great compared to the others as its pretty simple (as said everything is more or less automated, you just do arrow, hit or just hold, no extra movement required) however cut-scenes from the game the music features in is played in the background as a kind of bonus. The must fun and difficult type however is the battle music. There are four marked points on the right side now for each character in your party. You can still hit anywhere on the screen but the notes can come at any of the 4 characters at any time. These are harder because the songs are much faster paced, the notes go all over the place and the series of notes gets more complicated, especially the arrows. And that's more or less it, your timing of hitting the note will make you range from missing the note which depletes your HP (run out and you fail, obviously), getting a bad hit which also depletes HP, to critical which earns you the most points. Finish the song and you earn a rating up to SSS. That's pretty much it.
Whilst the mechanics of the game are simply they work and the game offers a lot of content in a few different ways to make the game highly replayable. The main mode on offer here is the series mode where you'll probably want to spend the least amount of your time. Here, you can select a game from the series going from Final Fantasy I, all the way to XIII. Yes, XI is included and no, X-2 is not included. As a side note, notice how Final Fantasy XIV which was released in 2010 isn't included? Yes, it really was that terrible (although not the music). Anyway, you select a game and off you go. Each game will have a short introduction where some text flies across the screen, usually from the game itself, and you hear the opening music. At these points you can tap the crystal in the middle of the screen as this rhythmia flies into it but its merely a short distraction. You then play 3 songs from the game, one field song which is usually the world map music, an event song which is just a generic cut-scene type song from the game, and a battle theme music which can range from just the normal battle themes to special boss themes. You then finish and beat these songs and get the closing credits music where you can once again tap the screen. After this, you 'finish' the game and can do another. All 13 games are immediately unlocked from the get go. However, difficulty is not.
In fact, difficulty is a major point of this game and definitely an oddity. All series must first be completed on the basic difficulty setting. Once you beat a game, you unlock the songs in challenge mode. Challenge mode is akin to Guitar Hero or Rock Band's quickplay where you can just select any one song you have unlocked to play. In this mode, you can then choose the next difficulty up, Expert. If you beat the song on Expert, it unlocks a third and final difficulty, Ultimate. Beat all 3 songs in a game on Expert and you then unlock Expert difficulty for series play, same for ultimate. Yeah, it doesn't really make any sense but there you go. The problem is, even for new players, basic is dull and boring as hell. It's just too easy. As in brain dead easy. This wouldn't be such a big issue if you could start on other difficulties, but you can't. You have to do all 13 games on basic and its the worst thing ever. Even for me, as a person who never played the demo, flied by on basic earning top ratings on all the songs, same for my friends who never play rhythm games ever. Its not fun at all. By the time you finish every game however in series mode you can more or less abandon it, as so far, even though I have unlocked ultimate difficulty for every game I still haven't gone back.
For me, the game just isn't very hard. Whilst it will definitely vary a lot, I will admit I was pretty good at EBA, its been years since I played that game. EBA took hours and hours to master just on the earlier difficulty. At about 10 hours played time I beat every single song on ultimate difficulty. The Event music songs are not hard at all and the field songs don't pose too much of a problem. Of course, battle songs are the most fun to play and end up being pretty challenging but nothing practice won't solve. Once you finish everything in ultimate there isn't really that much to do. In typical RPG fashion, you have to grind to unlock other stuff. Grind a lot. You earn on average probably around 100 rhythmia points per song (and get big bonuses for first time stuff), you unlock a song maybe every 5000 points. To unlock extra characters you have to earn 8 crystals of the same colour which also takes absolutely ages. The game relies on you taking ages to even beat or master its songs and it just doesn't. Granted, I haven't perfected ultimate difficulty but I passed it too quickly to keep me playing.
There is a third mode called Chaos Shrine however it is pretty weak. In chaos shrine you earn dark notes which you can play. Each note has two songs that you play in succession. And that's pretty much it. You beat the note and immediately get a new one. The more you get (you can hold up to 99 but there are more, I have no idea if they're randomly generated or not to be honest) the harder they are. The bonus of this mode is that you will play and hear some songs not available in the normal modes or haven't unlocked yet, however on the flip side you will play the same songs over and over and over and over. Interestingly the dark notes do spruce things up a bit, for example the difficulty of the songs changes compared to challenge mode, sometimes ranging between expert and ultimate and sometimes being harder. Even further, the arrow notes start spinning making it really difficult to hit those and that's pretty fun.
In the end however, its all the exact same content just provided in different ways. Providing you don't get bored there is plenty to do, you can do series mode on all difficulties, unlock all the characters, all the songs and master each one, and as mentioned you can hold up to 99 dark notes, so plenty to grind there. It just depends for each person and how difficult they actually find the game. There are some game mechanics where you can play as 4 characters and you earn EXP. I honestly don't think this does anything. My characters got to level 99 and there's not much of a difference. Your HP does go up but I dont know whether this actually means you fail songs with more mistakes or not. You can also equip items on your characters but again I don't really know what these do. These systems just seem thrown in and forced purely because its based upon an RPG system. You can ultimately use whoever you want (the cast simply ranges from the main characters of each game along with another party member) and you benefit more from unequipping every item as you can only achieve an SS or SSS rating this way. There is also a museum where you can unlock cards and songs to listen to by playing, another feature added for completionists.
The graphics in the game are pretty cutesy, providing cute little cartoon versions of the characters. The backgrounds in the songs are based upon the games themselves and pretty well detailed, whilst many different boss enemies will appear as foe whilst you play. That's pretty much it, as the game really isn't graphically intensive, it runs very well as a result and the notes are very clear to see and recognise. Of course the soundtrack is excellent and whilst a few of your favourite songs may be missing here and there, there are also 50 extra songs that will be available for download at a small price to further increase your library and add more to the game.
This game exclusively appeals to fans of Final Fantasy and even more so, fans of its music. The game is very fun and very addictive however I feel it is too easy. It just doesn't take long at all to clear songs on ultimate when really you should work your way up. Its a real problem in a rhythm game when you can master the easiest difficulties immediately and without the long term challenge its hard to stay addicted for a long period of time. In many rhythm games the joy is in improving and seeing yourself really improve as you play, something that just doesn't happen here. The modes are also highly repetitive and the party and gear system is basically useless. However, the actual rhythm portion of the game is perfectly handled and the game features a collection of the best music in gaming. For those that don't get bored easily, there is a huge amount of content on offer here, just be warned there isn't much on offer here for people who don't like Final Fantasy.
Score 7/10 - Very Good
Product Release: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (EU, 07/06/12)
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