Thursday, July 05, 2012

Theatrhythm : Final Fantasy

The Final Fantasy brand may be struggling elsewhere but Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy reminds us why the brand has endured for so long.

Bringing a large repertoire of battle, theme, and event music from the thirteen Final Fantasy games the game is easily one of the best entries to the brand.  Developed by IndiesZero (Electroplankton, Game Center CX) Theatrhythm has the right mix of challenge while remaining accessible to more casual players.  The format is deceptively simple, yet hopelessly addicting as you try to redo a track to get a perfect score or to raise your average.  The nostalgia factor is excellent especially for fans of many of the Final Fantasy entries. 
Square-Enix has kept the music faithful to the source.  8 and 16-bit Final Fantasies sound like they were indeed playing back from the NES/SNES and full on operatic scores are true to form.  They even went so far as to use in-game footage of the event music stages for the older Final Fantasy entries, eschewing the new CG cinematics for remakes of entries like Final Fantasy IV.

The basic premise of the game is for players to play through each of the 13 Final Fantasy scores, consisting of an opening/ending theme where players can skip or tap the crystal to earn notes (the game’s currency).  The real meat of the game however are the  three stage types: Battle, Event and Field Music stages.  Each stage type has their own gameplay quirk, but generally involves timed tapping, flicking in specific direction and holding on the touchscreen and a combination of all three for some really intense and complex sets.   This may sound simple but when the difficulty ramps up, you’ll be using these basic skills in rapid fire succession.  The game is definitely designed with a stylus in mind and I find the large pen-like stylus of my DSiXL a better fit for the skinny telescopic stylus of my 3DS.

To clear the stages, players create a party of four drawn from a collection of key characters from all 13 Final Fantasy entries.  The character design is a homage to the tradition of rendering the characters in Chibi (small) format  as a companion to character designer Yoshitaka Amano’s ‘official’ designs during Final Fantasy entries in the SuperFamicom Era. 

There is an experience system. Your party ‘levels up’ as you clear stages. Landing lots of ‘Criticals’ and generally not missing any of the notes will let you clear more enemies on screen in a set musical piece. Clearing more enemies means more EXP, which allows you to equip spells, abilities and increase stats which will help you survive even longer on the really tough challenges such as the Chaos Shrine stages.  The key is that although one could complete a music stage, playing it with levelled up characters and the right abilities will allow players to clear more enemies and in the battle music stages kill boss characters, which drops more items and experience points.

As noted earlier, the game includes Chaos Shrine stages which is a separate area from the main game. These stages mixes 2 themes randomly, usually a field and battle music set,  but are significantly harder.   Clearing Chaos Stages earns players access to new randomly generated chaos stages which can then be exchanged via Streetpass.  In a bit of a headscratcher, players must clear at least 1 Chaos Stage to access Streetpass.  This seems like an unusual hurdle to put infront of players given the relative difficulty of clearing the first set. 

In addition to the music game, there is also a fully featured theatre, a card collecting side-game, and a music player.  Finally Theatrhythm has a DLC feature. On launch 8 of the 50 planned DLC songs are available for purchase at 0.99  per track. A relatively good bargain given these are real DLCs and the download are substantial including brand new scenes, and of course, the music track itself. 

Coming from someone who isn’t and was never big into rhythm games, I have no reservations in saying that I highly recommend Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.  Pick this up if you’re a Final Fantasy fan.

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