Cid's outdone himself.
When I’m working my “regular” job and I feel the need for a background playlist, I turn on my “Work” list in iTunes. Ignoring a few assorted pop songs, the list is heavy with gaming music. Between the soundtracks of Chrono Trigger and various Persona titles, I’m pretty much covered, but I always find myself going back to one soundtrack over and over: the original soundtrack to Final Fantasy IV. So when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call was tossed my way, I was ready. And thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.
There are three main modes in Curtain Call: the Music Stages themselves (basically, “Arcade Mode”), Versus Mode, and Quest Medleys. Completing a song earns Rhythmia, essentially “game experience” points, which further unlocks features and special tracks and characters (which are mostly cosmetic outside of the Medleys). Even though they’re minor rewards, like unlocking a new chime in the Options menu, it’s nice to unlock something as often as you complete stages. Early on you’ll gain a new unlock every 250 Rhythmia collected, which is—if you’re not utterly bombing every song—about every two or three tracks played.
The core gameplay itself hasn’t changed from the first incarnation of Theatrhythm apart from a few of the options. After a few practice rounds through the tutorial to get you started, the majority of the tracks are already unlocked and ready to play. You can sort them by name, by game title, or even by their style of play (either field music, battle music, or movie clip). The layout is clean and offers some nice art unique to each game represented. A few of the tracks listed in the older games have been re-imagined and updated with newer effects and instruments, but they still hold up to their originals. And while I’ve been skeptical about the audio appeal of the games post-PSOne, I’ve gotta admit… some of the newer game songs are really, really awesome. “War: The White Weapon” from Final Fantasy Type-0 is bad-friggin’-ASS.
Visually there isn’t that much here, but it’s the nature of this type of beast. As everything but the play itself is in menu form, it’s clear and clean with enough information to share where you are and what to do. Depending on the style of the song (battle music, field and town music, or opening title music) the play is slightly different, but only in the way the screen displays the basic notes. Battle music will display the baddies on the left and your team on the right a-la classic FF, and everything is a cutesy, almost paper-doll version of itself, which is a really neat visual twist. That goes away when you play the opening title tracks, because the background is the actual opening film from the respective game. It can be a little distracting—ooo, pretty colors—but when the song is beaten, the video becomes available to watch in the Museum, so you can enjoy it at your leisure.
In a style reminiscent of head-to-head Tetris or Puyo Puyo, playing against either the AI or another player is linked to what you accomplish within the round first; if you connect a solid chain of notes to build up your EX bar, a random attack will be sent to your enemy with the intent of screwing with their chain. There’s a solid number of ways to screw ‘em over too: randomized speed at which the next note appears, hiding what kind of note it is until it’s about to pop up, even switching your life bars around. If you’re really nailing them before the toughest part of a track, and they switch life bars around on you, that can get nerve-wracking.
The light RPG elements involved in Curtain Call take a more prominent role in the Quest Medleys (as would be expected), where each character’s individual skills and the equipped item can actually be used. The idea is simple: You have one life bar and you need to get through a certain number of battles, so you'll need to manage your skills and equip the necessary weapon as best you can. Selecting your team is important for characters’ unique skill sets, and having enough potions on hand (should you need them) will help along your progress.
Of course, if you’ve played any rhythm games before—and are at all familiar with the music of the most prolific video game series of all time—then you won’t have any trouble getting through on the ill-named “Expert” level. Even with the tracks I wasn’t so familiar with, I was able to get through with an “S” ranking, minimum. It’s a bit absurd how easy this game feels. It’s reminiscent of a nerfed, FF-themed Gitaroo Man, which is not necessarily a bad thing… just a “done before” thing.
Unlocking characters, leveling up, and customizing your team is less necessary than maybe it should be, but it’s another nice set of customization options. After unlocking a character, they are immediately available for adding to your team, and they span the entire series of FF titles. It’s almost a kind of Pokemon card collection system, where they each learn different abilities at different levels… and there are only four abilities that can be used at a given time… and they all look special and have their own… holy crap, it’s Pokemon again! The only exception is that I don’t have to worry about mixing the wrong charactes together as they become part of a team and not an individual target. The reason why choosing the “right” team is almost useless is because they all do learn the same techniques, and as they move as one unit no “one” character is ever singled out. The only difference is the character chosen to “lead” is granted more experience points.
Unlike the original Theatrhythm you’re not forced to play through every song in the order they’re given, nor do you have to play through an entire game’s tracks. It’s easy to pick-and-choose, buffet-style, what songs you want to play, select favorites for a personal playlist, and even play through “Today’s Tracks” which encourage testing new songs while taking in a larger earned-Rhythmia score. I’ve found a few neat tracks that way that I either had never heard or had completely forgotten existed, like some kind of game-specific Pandora.
Curtain Call is a nice and “fixed” update to the original Theatrhythm, which while good already, is made better and with a few additional little tracks tossed in. Rhythm gamers will definitely find some challenge with the most difficult levels (though not anything lower, they’re super-easy to perfectly combo). Final Fantasy nerds can still scratch that itch without having to dedicate three hours at a time to leveling up and reaching new towns, and for anybody else, it’s an easy portable distraction worth the time and cash. Is it perfect? Nope. But it’s more than good enough.
Download code provided by publisher. Exclusive to Nintendo 3DS.