Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
When they first told me about Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy [It's still "Theat-Rhythm" to me. ~Ed. Nick], I laughed at them. Who would want to play that?! BWAHAHAHA! That's a terrible idea! BWAHAHAHA! Nobody likes Final Fantasy! BWAHAH--coughcough.
Now I'm forced to eat my words. Why? Because this is the best Final Fantasy game I've played in a decade and easily the best spinoff the series has seen since Final Fantasy Tactics. While Theatrhythm isn't your traditional FF title, it's a spinoff full of spirit, ingenuity, and devout love for the brand. 25 years later, how could a music game possibly make you care about a franchise that's seen (much) better days?
Theatrhythm celebrates one of the consistently grand elements in Square's long-running role-playing series. Nobuo Uematsu's persistent, high-caliber composition takes a seat front and center. Square then takes that seat and hoists it high above the crowd's head as if the music itself were coming of age.
There are three modes of play, with only one to select at first. Playing Series mode will unlock songs for use in Challenge mode. In Series mode play you'll also unlock Chaos Shrine shards (but more on those in a little bit).
Series Mode is really the bread and butter of Theatrhythm, lining up five different tracks from a single game for the player. These usually start with an overture, then a character or overworld theme, a battle theme at the halfway mark, an event theme to tie-off loose ends, and a finale for the closer.
That might sound like a lot, but the time flies, especially as Theatrhythm throws you curveballs to keep things fresh. The overture and finale feature short, simple tapping gameplay, while the overworld and battle gameplay are the most varied and entertaining.
Square's ingenius "trick" is the application of RPG-style mechanics to the Elite Beat Agents style gameplay. When you first start Theatrhythm you'll choose four characters from the leads of the featured FF games. One of them will be your leader and reap a little more XP than the rest.
As you play, these characters will level up and become stronger assets. You might also earn more "Rhythmia" for having a title character in your party when you play their respective game's soundtrack. Rhythmia unlocks more characters, weapons, items, abilities, and Dark Notes.
Dark Notes are selections of challenging tracks culled from all the available tracks in the game. You'll have to navigate to the Chaos Shrine to play these, and once you've achieved a high score, you can attach a Dark Note to your player card and share it and your score with other player's via StreetPass.
Oh, and there's also CollectaCards, BGM unlocks, FF movies, and.... This is really the point Theatrhythm kind of falls apart.
I want to "play" all the amazing Final Fantasy music. I want to have fun with the cutesy little characters and I love leveling up my favorites, but why do we have to make up a ton of bullshit to go along with it? Who cares about the two Gods causing trouble? Who cares that we have to play the music to bring the world back together? WHO GIVES A SHIT?
That kind of cynicism isn't going to go away just because Lightning is jumping up and down on my screen celebrating how many "Critical" hits I got on the last song. It won't go away just because Terra summoned a little Bahamut to kill an enemy. It won't go away just beca-- LOOK LOOK, Cloud has a mini-buster sword!
At least the usual mallaise of Final Fantasy crap doesn't take away from the gameplay and it's fairly tucked away in the background of the best parts of the game. Strapping on a great pair of headphones really makes this celebration sing, and I'm sure it'll look even better on the 3DS XL in August.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, along with Resident Evil: Revelations, proves that third-parties can do amazing things on Nintendo hardware. It is more than deserving of your money, and while it might not be a system seller (or escape from the FF garbage we've all come to know and love/hate), Theatrhythm stands strong alongside Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land as a game 3DS owners must have.
Final Fantasy fanboys and fangirls are already squeeing over miniature Squall, I'm sure.
Copy provided by publisher.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Rewarding gameplay with excellent difficulty scale