Review by MagitekOmega
A Harmonious Symphony of a Game
Final Fantasy is an absolute juggernaut of an RPG franchise. Like many popular video game franchises, it is no stranger when it comes to making spin-off games. One of the aspects that the Final Fantasy series is most renowned for is its tendency to release fantastic soundtracks in its titles. Naturally, Square Enix found the idea to make a rhythm game based around its music a very strong one, giving them the chance to showcase the music of Final Fantasy, spanning across all of the main games, as well as various spin-offs. Thus, the concept of this game's predecessor, Theathrhythm: Final Fantasy, was born, and like this game, was released on the Nintendo 3DS. Having not played the previous game, I didn't really know what to expect. The question is, does this game hit all the right notes?
The story in this game is that there exist two deities, Cosmos and Chaos, who govern the world, and the space between them is known as rhythm, and contains a crystal that keeps the world's balance of rhythm in check. One day, Chaos decides to disrupt the balance, and so Cosmos sends out her warriors (your player characters) to restore stability to the crystal by collecting a substance called "rhythmia". While one would not play a rhythm game for its story, I feel that the premise works for what is going on within the game.
The graphics in this game are very simple and clean. The style used for the character sprites was originally used in another Final Fantasy spin-off game, Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade. The look of the characters is also very clean, and stands out. The backgrounds of the game are very simple in nature, and goes well with the character sprites. The background will often consist of locations taken from various Final Fantasy games, and appear with the songs from the games that they are from as well, which is an appreciated touch. The usage of 3D, is minimal in the case of this game, which happens to be a positive, as a heavy usage could serve as disruptive to the player. As a case of "less is more", the approach that was taken here works perfectly.
One of the two most Important aspects of a rhythm game would be the music contained within. Theathrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call offers an expansive variety of music. The game contains over 200 songs (excluding downloadable content) from the main series, as well as many of the spin-off games. As a franchise known for having very high quality music, this is an absolute positive. Ranging from 8-bit tracks from the Final Fantasy games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all the way through to the symphonic, orchestrated tracks that hail from the franchise's most recent entries, and even some remixes of older tracks that you will hear in the menus of the game, there is absolutely no shortage of variety in this game's soundtrack. The game also features plenty of downloadable content that one can purchase. Although affordable on their own, there are a lot of downloadable songs. Purchasing them all would be very costly, so my suggestion would be to purchase only one's favorites, or to give them a listen from an outside source first.
Sound effects in the game are simple, clean, and non-disruptive. In addition, sound effects taken from the main Final Fantasy games themselves can be unlocked and used in place of the default sounds, and can be set differently according to which type of gameplay stage is being played. In this regard, the sound effects have almost as much breadth as the game's soundtrack.
In addition to music, the other most important aspect in a rhythm game is its gameplay. Theathrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call features three different types of gameplay, but before explaining how they are different, I will explain the general similarities. The core concept of the gameplay is to hit notes, set to the rhythm of the music, as they line up in the center of your cursor. This can be done through using the stylus to tap or hold to the touch screen, or use the stylus to swipe across it in the appropriate direction, tapping or holding the a button and moving the circle pad in the appropriate direction, or through a combination of the two. As the game is about using appropriate timing to hit notes, I will explain the three types of notes that exist. First there are red notes, which must simply be tapped at the appropriate time. Second are green notes, which require you to hold down the stylus against the touch screen or the a button, and must be released at the appropriate time. these are sometimes ended with a command similar to the last type, yellow notes, in which the correct direction must swiped or pressed. Stages may be played in three difficulty forms, which are "Basic", a very simplistic track of notes for beginning players, "Expert", a medium difficulty set of notes, and "Master", a very difficult set of notes for the most advanced players. All of these stages feature a display of the player's health, shown in an HP bar at the top of the top screen, and a progress bar, shown at the bottom of the top screen, which lets the player know how far they have gotten in the song. In addition, a section known as the "Feature Zone" exists in each song, marked with a green section on the progress bar which serves as buildup to the bonus received in the orange section. What this feature is, varies among the game's stage types. When the player completes or fails a stage, based on how well they performed, they will receive a score and letter grade. If a player completes a stage, they will receive rhythmia and items, in accordance to their performance, and can obtain bonus rhythmia through meeting certain criteria. Rhythmia allows the player to unlock various features such as new songs, the ability to listen to songs in the music player, the ability to customize their profile card, additonal sound effects, and crystal shards, which allow for the player to unlock characters, correspondant to certain colors of shards.
In addition to the rhythm based gameplay, the game also contains RPG elements, which fit perfectly, given that this is a Final Fantasy game. Over 60 characters can be chosen, and four are used at a time. Four characters are chosen as the player begins the game for the first time, and the rest must be unlocked through playing songs. These characters possess unique statistics and abilities, which the player may choose to utilize in order to clear the song more easily. These abilities, however, cost "Command Points" or CP. Through playing songs, the characters used will gain experience points and level up, in the way that characters in a traditional RPG would. Leveling up gives characters greater statistics, stronger abilities, and more Command Points to use. In addition the player's characters can be switched out after every song, in order for the player to configure the party to his/her liking. Another RPG aspect retained in this game is the use of items. Before a stage is played, the player may choose to use items in order to aid them through the song, or to reap greater rewards after they have completed the stage.
Each song is played as a stage called a "sequence", which the player must complete with out losing all of their health. Three different types of sequences exist. The first is a Field Music Sequence, or FMS, in which one of your characters will be running along a road as you play through the stage. In this stage type, in addition to hitting the notes at the appropriate time, the green notes will also require you to move the stylus while held or the circle pad while the A button is held, to go up or down on the track of the note. The objective, in addition to hitting the notes, is to cover as much distance as you can, which can lead to gaining additional bonuses. The Feature Zone in this song turns the player into a Chocobo, a birdlike creature that has become iconic within the Final Fantasy series, and allows the player to cover more distance while in the Feature Zone section of the song. While the gameplay of this stage type is responsive, I find sometimes when one must swipe at the end of a green note, that the game can be finicky in regards to the timing of the swiping. In conjunction with having to move the cursor up and down, this can prove to be troublesome at times, especially if the degree to which the cursor must be moved is sharp.
The second sequence type is a Battle Music Sequence, or BMS. This sequence type features the player's characters on the right side of the top screen, and an enemy on the left side of the same screen. creating a battle scene reminiscent of the older titles in the main Final Fantasy series. The player will have four tracks, lined up with each character. Hitting notes in this sequence will cause the player's characters to attack the enemy, who will appropriately flinch upon taking damage. Likewise, if the player is missing notes or timing them poorly, the enemy will be shown attacking the player's characters. The player must defeat as many enemies as they can within the sequence. By defeating more enemies, the player will accumulate more rewards. The Feature Zone in this type is used to summon a powerful being to assist the player, which will unleash a powerful attack on the enemy at the end of the Feature Zone. The summon that is cast by the player depends on the character at the front of the party. However, if the player performs poorly in the section prior to the Feature Zone, they will summon a Chocobo instead, who will inflict a far lower amount of damage at the end of the Feature Zone. Overall, I found the Battle Music Sequences the most polished in terms of gameplay.
The last event type is an Event Music Sequence, or EMS. The rarest of all three sequences, This type features a different perspective from the other two sequences, in which the cursor will move along a track across the screen, which the player must react to accordingly. While doing so, a full-motion video will be playing in the background. The Feature Zone in this sequence is at the end of every song, and allows the player to access the final section, known as the "extended version". If the player performs poorly, the song will end instead.
The player may play these songs individually, or play through them in a mode known as a "Quest Medley". In these medleys, the player must make their way across a map, which is randomly generated for each medley, filled with branching pathways, in order to conquer a boss at the end. These exist in short, medium, and long lengths, as well as "inherited", through which a player may acquire maps from another player by streetpassing them or playing against them online, both of which allow the players to exchange information. Through clearing these maps and defeating bosses, the player may earn items or unlock additional characters, and acquire new maps. A player can hold up to 200 maps, and they may be deleted if the player wishes to make room for more.
While very sparse, this game does feature a multiplayer mode. It may be played via local wireless, over the internet, or against the AI. This mode plays similar to the battle mode, but with a twist. The player can build up a meter to unleash effects on the other player called "EX bursts" which can cause the players to exchange health bars, directly attack the other player's health bar, or disrupt their note tracks in a variety of ways. The winner is the player who scores the most points, which can be lost through running out of health. The multiplayer is minimal, but allows for fun gameplay nonetheless.
This game has a VERY high replay value. The amount of rhythmia needed to unlock everything in the game will take a very heavy amount of hours in order to unlock. The amount of quest medley maps that can be generated is mathematically near infinite, meaning no two maps that are generated for the player should be the same, and use of multiplayer will add more longevity to the game, provided the player wishes to test their skill against friends or strangers locally or online. Combine these aspects with the expansive amount of songs that exist both within the game and as downloadable content, and the potential exists for a MASSIVE amount of hours to be put into this game, especially if one is a completionist.
Theathrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is a very enjoyable game, with hours of potential playtime. Although there is the occasional flaw, the gameplay is very polished and a little bit deeper than one would expect for a rhythm game. This game is a must-have for those who are fans of rhythm games or Final Fantasy's music. Regardless, the game is worth a try for anyone, as they may find themselves surprised how polished this game feels. Theathrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is overall a very good title for the Nintendo 3DS, a very strong Final Fantasy spinoff.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (US, 09/16/14)
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