The Final Fantasy series has seen numerous iterations over the years and can be found on just about every console and handheld of the modern generation. Since the inception of the series there have been a handful of common threads in gameplay and in the games themselves, with one of the most consistent highlights being the the series' signature music. With such a wide repertoire of songs spanning 25 years of role playing games, Square Enix have crafted a unqiue experience that blends the long established gameplay of the franchise with some of its amazing music in their latest release for the 3DS, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Unlike any of the previous games in the series, Theatrhythm blends rhythm-based gameplay and monster slaying in a whole new way.
The game's story is simple - the gods Chaos and Cosmos are at odds, and the space between the two, Rhythm, is controlled by a crystal that controls music, the Music Crystal. The balance of the Crystal has been disrupted, and it up to characters from all of the Final Fantasy games to come together to help restore the music wavelength that permeates creation with Rhythmia. Okay, so it's not that "simple," but it boils down to all of your favorite faces from Final Fantasy coming together to combat evil with music. That's all you really need to know.
Whereas most early Final Fantasy games pioneered turn-based combat, and later ones set the standard for action-based RPGs, Theatrhythm takes players in a completely different direction. Instead of selecting moves that would best take down your foes, players need to follow the scrolling targets that are based on the songs from the different games in the series. Each FF game through Final Fantasy XIII are represented with five of their most recognizable tracks playable from the moment you load Theatrhythm.
To acquire Rhythmia throughout the campaign, players must survive four different types of scenarios. Each game has an opening and closing theme which serves almost as a bonus level, in that it's optional, can not be failed, and basically just allows you to rack up Rhythmia by tapping in time with the song. The other three types of games play out a bit differently. The Battle Music Stages (BMS) should be the most recognizable, as they pit your party of four directly against attacking monsters, with triggers scrolling for each individual character. The Field Music Stages (FMS) put your team out in the wild, as if they are traveling between dungeons, and have the player follow along as a single, steady stream of triggers scrolling across the 3DS' top screen. The Event Music Stage (EMS) take place over some of the most recognizable cutscenes from the franchise, with the triggers appearing as a consonantly moving guide line across the top screen that players must follow. In any of these scenarios, if a player misses targets, their characters take damage, and missing too many can
eventually wipe out the entire party.
In addition to the Series levels Theatrhythm also offers two additional modes, with gameplay based on the Music Stages. Challenge Mode is fairly straightforward, in that it allows players to replay any song in the game at a higher difficulty, to score more Rhythmia. The other mode, The Chaos Shrine, offers players the opportunity to play challenging songs in the game while going head-to-head with some of the most intimidating characters in the franchise in order to unlock more Shrines, and better items. Chaos Shrine levels provide the only multiplayer aspects of the game, and can also be exchanged via StreetPass, which is a great way to expand the gameplay and potentially score some rare items.
Along with all of the modes there's also a vast amount of unlockables, from playable characters to CollectaCards that provide a profile of everyone (good and bad) that's featured in the game. There are also songs and movies that should strike a chord with fans of the series, whether they prefer the original FF, VII, or XIII.
Overall, the gameplay itself is rather enjoyable, albeit a little redundant. Since the gameplay doesn't vary too much, working through all of the songs, over and over again, can feel like a bit of a drag, but, fortunately, the music and the visuals do keep most of the game feeling fresh at least to some degree. With 60+ songs, fans might feel like there are some gems missing, but fear not, Square Enix is the first company to offer downloadable content via the eShop to expand the gameplay for Theatrhythm. At $.99 a track, players can cherry pick what songs they would like to add to their library.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a wonderful experiment that fans of the franchise should enjoy wholeheartedly, and appreciate both the characters, art style, and humor that is pervasive throughout the game. It's a bit tougher of a sell to your average gamer, who, at this point, may have an aversion to Final Fantasy and rhythm games, but since the gameplay is so simple, it isn't hard to pick up and play. As long as players don't get too bothered with the repetitive gameplay, Theatrhythm is great new way to experience a franchise that has continually reinvented itself over the last 25 years.