25 years, 14 core entries, two animated films and a flurry of spin-offs. Final Fantasy irrefutably remains as one of the video games industry’s stalwart franchises, even if, at times, it has felt a troubled ride. Yet even so, one factor of its near universal admiration has long remained constant. Music.
From chiptune melodies to sumptuous orchestral scores, Final Fantasy’s evolution has been as much an audial journey as that of a technical one, so what better way to celebrate reaching such a significant milestone than through this rhythm-action extravaganza.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, whilst it needn’t, seeks to explain its existence through a bizarre plot. The Gods Chaos and Cosmos are once again involved, the space that exists between the two known as Rhythm and which plays home to a crystal that controls all music. Naturally, Chaos disrupts the crystal and characters from across the history of the Final Fantasy series find themselves banded together, tasked with restoring the balance of a musical wave known as Rhythmia. Wacky indeed, but purely a means to objectify the entire experience.
Rhythmia therefore understandably plays an integral role in the game, continual collection rewarding the player with an ever-expanding selection of play modes to delve into.
There are three modes within Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, all housed under the Music Play banner. Initially, only the core Series mode is available to you, enticing you to play through an assortment of music tied to individual Final Fantasy titles. Completion of any of these then opens up the tracks separately within Challenge mode where you can aim to perfect scores, with the Chaos Shrine the last mode to unlock.
This sees players attempt to defeat mysterious Dark Notes that are collected through playing the game, which is able to be tackled with friends through a local wireless connection. Success can provide you with crystal shards that, once a set amount has been collected, unlock new characters within the game.
Each mode sees stages divvied up between three types: Battle Music Stages (BMS), which feature fast, up-tempo battle songs; Field Music Stages (FMS), that incorporate happy, relaxed field songs; and Event Music Stages (EMS), which are described as ‘vivid, emotional event songs’ and usually see an iconic FMV sequence visible within the background.
In most simple terms, the game mechanics require players to touch, slide or hold the stylus on the touch screen in time to the music, across a variety of modes. On a more technical level, these are described as Triggers which must be hit on the character’s Mark. There are three kinds in the game, each differentiated by their approach. The red Touch Trigger must be tapped, the yellow Slide Trigger seeing the player slide the stylus in the indicated direction, and the green Hold Trigger having players hold the stylus to the touch screen, often tracing a line in the process.
These can, at times, be combined as difficulty heightens, and you’ll periodically encounter sections that include a Silver Trigger too, success allowing you to unlock an extended version of the music that you have chosen, a Chocobo Dash that sees you travel a greater distance, or summoning an Eidolon to deal a significant amount of damage. These are, of course, dependent on which type of stage you are playing.
Further to this, completion of any stage will see you awarded your score, with a Critical Chart depicting at which point within the stage that you did well on, or areas in which your concentration perhaps lapsed.
It wouldn’t be a true Final Fantasy game without RPG elements, and you must first form a party that consists of four key Final Fantasy characters from across the history of the series. Whilst these can be switched, progression rewards you with EXP that allows them to continually level, with your chosen party leader receiving slightly more than the other three.
Levelling, whilst not as integral as your normal Final Fantasy fare, still remains to occupy an important role, enabling characters to increase their statistic parameters and gain new abilities. These, limited by a character’s maximum CP, grant various abilities that can be utilised if you’re performing well, aiding you in progressing further to gain rarer rewards. Items act similarly, although only allow a one-time use. Whilst these don’t necessarily affect your scores, clearing a stage without anything equipped will grant a bonus.
There’s an element of strategy to the entire experience, as well. It is recommended that characters with high Strength and Magic are used for BMS, opening the opportunity for monsters to be defeated quicker and heightening the chance of reaching and besting the Boss for a rare item. FMS, in which the player must regularly for BMS, each monster defeated ups your chance of getting an item. A boss may reward you with a rare item.
Whereas FMS are better suited to those with high Agility and Luck, those that travel further raising the chance of encountering Moogles from whom you can receive items. A high Agility and Luck are also recommended for EMS, helping you to avoid taking damage whenever you miss a Trigger.
If your feverish concentration needs a break, you can visit the Museum in which gathered Rhythmia will allow you to unlock new tracks to listen to within the Music Player, or new movies to be viewed within the Theatre.
StreetPass also receives support enabling players to exchange customisable ProfiCards, which detail your current progress and also enable you to share gathered Dark Notes.
With CollectaCards and further downloadable content steadily being made available, there’s a further level of depth hidden away that will keep you occupied for hours, even if more variety in gameplay approach would have been welcomed. Addictive, vibrant and beautifully presented, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy proves the perfect fan service to the legions of devotees that it has garnered over its twenty-five years.
Version Tested: Nintendo 3DS
Review copy provided by Square Enix