Review by dolphinmage
A Standing Ovation
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call could be considered the extended version of the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, but that doesnt give it enough credit for all the welcome changes it has incorporated into its design. At their core, the Theatrhythm games take the wonderful music from the Final Fantasy series, put it into rhythm game format, and add liberal doses of nostalgia. With such a formula, it would be easy to assume that there needs to be love for Final Fantasy and rhythm games to enjoy Theatrhythm. My own love of Final Fantasy games does give me a healthy bias towards liking a game based on the music from that series, but there are many things to like here, even for those lacking experience with Final Fantasy.
Nothing but the music
In a nutshell, Curtain Call is about using three different types of notes to tap to the rhythm. You will touch to the red circles, slide in eight different directions to the yellow circles, and hold the note to the green circles. Its a basic mechanic played out differently whether you pick a battle music stage (BMS), field music stage (FMS), or event music stage (EMS).
During a BMS, good guys are to the right and bad guys are to the left as a musical battle is waged. The notes alternate between the four heroes, but it is the most straightforward of the three types of stages. While the frantic pace exhibited in most battle songs turns the BMS into a tapping frenzy, it is still surprisingly forgiving. You have a pretty wide area with which to hit a critical (the indicator that you were the most accurate), and you have to be pretty off to get a bad or a miss (the indicators that youve just ruined your chain of mostly accurate notes). The FMS has your lead character run through a field to the beat of fun and relaxing music. It plays out differently from the BMS in that the hold notes force you to follow the wave up and down the screen. It maintains the BMSs degree of forgiveness in regards to accuracy. The EMS will cause the most frustration guaranteed. During these songs, an assortment of cut scenes plays in the background while the notes swirl in circles and weaves around the screen. The speed of the music fluctuates more than the other modes, which can make it more difficult to find your rhythm. It also seems to be less forgiving than the other types when it comes to accuracy. All three types are fun, and provide a nice variety to shake up the gameplay.
If you want to jump right into one of the 221 songs included in the base game, the best place to go is the Music Stage mode. Here you can play all of the BMS, FMS, and EMS songs on basic, expert, and ultimate difficulty. The basic difficulty is very beginner friendly. The pace is nice and slow with few notes to worry about. Expert gets the heart pumping a bit more, but works well as a moderate difficulty. Ultimate will challenge even the most dexterous of rhythm fans.
Controls in the game are never a problem, since you are given four different options with which to tap to the beat. Stylus controls are back, and I still felt like it has the most precision of the four. Button controls are a welcome alternative though for people who are more comfortable with a traditional controller. One handed controls felt awkward, forcing you to play with just the circle pad and L button. The hybrid controls also felt weird to me, but more options to play a game that relies heavily on timing is never a bad thing.
The menu in Music Stage is very well designed. EMS is at the top for the titles that have them, followed by BMS and then FMS. You can cycle left and right between the Final Fantasy titles, and they are in the order youd expect them to be. Next to each song is your ranking for each difficulty. A little crown will appear next to the ranking when youve maxed out the critical chart for that difficulty. Clicking on the song allows you to see your critical chart completion, your best score, whether youve gotten a perfect chain for that song, and a few other bits of information. You can also locate the daily special songs by looking for indicators on the top screen while you cycle through. If you just want to play something, you can hit the random button, and if you want to keep track of your favorite songs, you can register them as favorites to find them easily.
Music Stage mode is a great way to get in, play through some songs, and keep track of your progress with very little fuss. The presentation is a huge improvement over that in the original Theatrhythm, and I really cant find any fault with this most basic of modes. Even the songs themselves have many unique backdrops, so you wont get tired of looking at the same location, if you can spare a glance for those pretty vistas. That said, if this was the only mode, Curtain Call might be said to lack variety. Fortunately, that is not the case.
Im leeeeaving on an airship
Building up a party from the Final Fantasy representatives is a lot of fun, but the game only gives you four characters to start. So how do you start amassing your small army of adorable button-eyed heroes? You go questing, of course. Quest Medley mode gives you a chaos map, and then sends you into the wild. There are short, medium, and long quests that have branching paths filled with BMS and FMS to complete along the way. There are keys to find to unlock optional branches, mid-bosses to face for additional rewards, and a final boss to take down at the end of the journey. You can even use tickets to ride airships and cut out a chunk of the travel time. The final boss and some of the mid-bosses will reward you with crystal shards upon your journeys end. These crystal shards are used to unlock characters, and there are several characters to choose from within each colored crystal. I really liked that the game gave this option so that I can focus on unlocking my favorite characters first.
Even when all the characters are unlocked, Quest Medley mode is still an excellent place to level up characters, since it provides experience boosts equivalent to the length of the quest. Since the known boss information is clearly detailed when cycling through maps, it is also easy to track down wanted items or crystal shards dropped from said beasties. Just know that you can only get the final quest rewards for defeating the bosses once. However, you can repeat quests to unlock different chaos maps if youve found that the one you unlocked is not to your liking. I felt that this method was fair. It keeps you from too quickly amassing crystal shards while still granting you easy access to many chaos maps.
The baton is mightier than the sword
Another fun addition to Curtain Call is the Versus mode. You are given the option to play against AI, local, or online multiplayer and can rise through the ranks to greatness. When playing locally or online, you even get CollectaCards as rewards. Three are presented and the winner gets two while the loser gets one. Its a nice little bonus, and I like that the loser gets something to soothe that bruised ego as well. And your ego is guaranteed to be bruised at some point with the addition of ex bursts.
Ex bursts are a series of pitfalls that you visit upon your opponent, and they repay you in kind. It can be anything from speeding up your music bar to causing anything less than a critical to register as a bad hit. These effects can really make the difference in a tight match and help to level the playing field when one person is more skilled than the other. If desired, these effects can be turned off completely so skill is the only deciding factor.
The treasure trove
Unlockables are an important motivating force in any game and Curtain Call is no different. The Museum mode contains the records, card binder, theatre, and music player. The records are extensive, keeping track of play time, songs most often played, characters most often used, and a wealth of other fun data. It also contains the trophy list, and it has a sizeable amount of goals to shoot for, even if it likes to keep most of those goals secret. The card binder contains all the CollectaCards youve found, each one with three different rarity levels. The back of the card gives a brief insight into the character, monster, or esper. Its a nice touch, since not everyone has a long list of Final Fantasy titles under their belt. The theatre contains the movies for the EMS so you can watch them without trying to keep track of wayward notes, and the music player gradually unlocks songs with the Rhythmia you acquire. A welcome feature given to the music player is that you can even plug in headphones and close the system to turn your 3ds into a portable music player. Who wouldnt want to just relax with a massive list of awesome music?
Gathering Rhythmia is the easiest way to start unlocking characters, music, and more choices in other menus. You get it after every song played in Music Stage or Quest Medley, and the amount depends on a variety of factors. You get extra Rhythmia for doing the daily songs. You get extra Rhythmia for having a party member from the same game as the song you are playing. There are many ways to boost your Rhythmia bonus, and there is a lot of Rhythmia to be gathered before you can unlock everything.
Prepping for the concert
This is a game based off a beloved rpg series, so naturally, there are going to be some rpg elements. You can equip an item, each with its own helpful effect. When choosing your party of four, you can also equip skills. Each character has their own set, which they learn as they gain levels. While there is overlap between the skills, each character does feel somewhat unique, especially the ones that get limit breaks. You can build your team any way you like, but their stats do make characters more effective at one of the three different types of music stages.
For those interested in boosting a characters stats, the Crystarium is available to turn all those card dupes into something worthwhile. Pick a character, cycle through your cards with stat boosts easily visible, and have that character devour up to eight cards at a time to increase the desired stats. Rarer cards have more valuable stat boosts, and pairing up like types of cards gets you further bonuses. Be warned that there is a chance of failure here, but the risk of failure for each card is known to you going in. Im not the type that tends to take advantage of maxing out my stats, but this is a fun option for people interested in doing so.
Other options include customization to the sounds made when you touch, hold, or slide notes. I liked being able to switch all my BMS chimes to battle sounds taken straight from a variety of Final Fantasy games. Its not a big thing, but it is a further sign of all the detail that went into every aspect of this game.
The only omission I can see amidst the myriad options for both character and experience customization is the lack of ability to save party set ups. I wouldve loved to create specific teams and switch effortlessly between them instead of cycling through the large list of characters.
An exchange of triumphs
Games on the 3ds like their StreetPass options, and Curtain Call is no different. You are given a ProfiCard that contains your achievements for the random passerby or online opponent to admire. The cover of your card is customizable with character pictures, bylines with a peculiar mix of adjectives and nouns, pretty backgrounds, and greetings. I find the bylines in particular to be amusing, and I was fond of referring to myself as a gleefully mischievous time mage. And if other players arent interested in your card, they will definitely be interested in the chaos map you attached to it. This is a great way to share valuable maps and find those missing crystal shards to fill out your character roster.
Still not enough
Over 200 songs and dozens of characters and you are still craving more? Not a problem, since Curtain Call follows the trend of offering DLC. Fortunately, its the type I find most acceptable. Individual songs and characters are reasonably priced, and none of it feels necessary in the least. The option for DLC is located on the menu for selecting your save file, making it both prominent enough to easily locate, but discreet enough to easily ignore. This is not the type of game to make you feel obligated to make extra purchases. The only problem I see with the DLC is that it really shouldve offered a cart for multiple purchases and downloads. As it is, the game forces you to buy and then download each song and character one by one, which can make the process more cumbersome than it needed to be.
Isnt it wonderful?
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is loaded with songs, characters, customizable options, and fun little pieces of Final Fantasy lore. Its easy enough for novice players and challenging enough for rhythm fans. Its great as a pick up and play experience, but has enough depth to draw you in and keep you playing for hours upon hours. Curtain Call is the exceptional type of game that can hook practically anyone. Fans of Final Fantasy and rhythm games will adore it, and even those with only mild interest will soon find themselves addicted to the fun gameplay and overall charm. If this game has caught your eye in the least, I cant recommend it highly enough.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (US, 09/16/14)
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