July 2, 2012
Following on from the Dissidia games, Theatrhythm features a similarly themed story - it's just focussed around music instead. The almighty crystal has once again grown dark from the evil Chaos that has plagued the world and it is up to our Final Fantasy heroes to bring light to the crystal once more. However, while Dissidia had the Final Fantasy heroes interacting with one another, Theatrhythm does away with this entirely. In fact, the story is so non-existent that when it does appear, it's rather unexpected. Fortunately, it doesn't detract from the game itself as the story isn't what drives Theatrhythm - it's the gameplay
There are three different music play modes in Theatrhythm; the basic Series mode, Challenge mode, and Chaos Shrine. Series mode is where you can go through each game in the franchise, playing sets of three songs. Each set features three different types of gameplay experience.
The Battle Music Stage (BMS) is a lot like a traditional rhythm game; hit the correct buttons at the correct time and you win. What's nice about Theatrhythm though, is that it adds a bit more difficulty by including diagonal commands. With these, you have to drag your pen in the correct direction. These get extremely dicey in fast areas where you have to quickly decipher what direction your supposed to go. With every note you get right, that's another attack to the enemy that your fighting against. For every note you get wrong, your health bar goes down and once your health is completely depleted you'd better hope you have a phoenix down equipped other wise it's game over. It's also nice that your equipment and spells come into play when you play the harder tunes. The whole levelling up once you complete a song starts to mean something.
The same sort of concept is carried through the Field (FMS) and Event (EMS) categories, however, the style of gameplay is a tad different. For example, with Field songs, your character is literally walking through the field and when you mess up a note, your character either falls on his/her face or is switched out. Gameplay mechanics change a bit with this mode since the notes scroll past in one central area. So unlike Battle Mode, where it's separated amongst the four heroes, holding notes is a lot different. Now you have to worry about moving the stylus around the screen to follow a zig zag pattern, hitting sub-notes when they come. Think of it like those carnival games you see where you have carry a key-ring through a maze of wire and if you touch the wire it's game over. It makes the field sections very interesting and pretty difficult especially with fast sections.
The "Event Music" is a section often dedicated to the ballads of each Final Fantasy. Instead of the notes scrolling past like in the other two modes, the notes appear on a string. The background often shows a montage of FMVs from the specific Final Fantasy games. Although it's slower, it is still a bit harder as you often don't see the notes until right before you need to press them. The speed at which the notes come isn't necessarily related to the beat either, it's more about the distance on screen, so it can be a little deceptive.
Square Enix should be given some praise for changing the gameplay in these sections, as they could have just stuck with the BMS type. It helps to give the sections some originality, stopping them from becoming drawn out and boring. The addition of the EMS type is also a nice touch, as it feels a lot more interactive. You may even feel the need to tear up when reliving your past Final Fantasy adventures.
Neat gameplay and classic tunes aside, there are a few niggling issues with the gameplay. Sometimes, albeit not that frequent, the game just glitches out leaving you unable to perform the correct sequence. Also, the "slide" notes don't always register making it rather frustrating when trying for perfect chains. Aside from that the gameplay should leave you quite pleased as it challenges not only your hand-eye coordination, but also how well you know the tune you're playing. This in itself can be a draw-back though, as if you aren't familiar with the tunes from Final Fantasy, the experience won't be anywhere near as enjoyable.
Aside from the Series Mode, there's the Chaos Shrine. This is where you can collect Dark Notes. Only Field and Battle songs are featured in this mode, which makes it a little bit more tricky. You have to beat both songs in a Dark Note, and your performance determines what item you get at the end, if any. Upon completion, you also unlock another Dark Note. By doing well in this mode though, you can collect different coloured shards, which are used to unlock other characters, however, the joy of gaining a new character dims a bit when you come to the realization that they're brought in at level 1 and that all of your main characters are at lvl 50. It also dims further when you realise how much time you have to sink in, and that the Dark Note section has a pretty limited array of songs.
Further to the Chaos Shrine is Challenge Mode, allows you to test your skills further with Expert and Ultimate difficulties. It's a bit obnoxious, however since you have to play through Basic mode in order to unlock Challenge Mode. You also have to play through all of the Expert songs in one game in Challenge Mode in order to play the Expert Series - pretty redundant. With 13 games to get through and with 3 songs a pop, that's a lot of playing time. It's fine if you're looking to get your money's worth, but after awhile, it just gets a bit old playing the same songs over and over. There's also the fact that finishing a song on Ultimate doesn't get you anything.
As far as presentation goes, in some ways, it's great, but in others it seems rushed. It's clear that nostalgia has played a massive part, but there's no reason why the older Final Fantasy titles couldn't have seen rebooted versions of their tracks, or at least versions that were used in Dissidia. The older tracks are extremely repetitive, as they aren't very long. This means that one "song" could have 3-4 loops, with exactly the same note patterns. And when you think about playing that song numerous times, it's monotonous.
You'll also find that after plugging in a lot of hours worth, there aren't that many tracks to play in general. Dark Notes are made up of a combination of about 10 different BMS tracks and 10 different FMS tracks, and for every 10,000 Rhythmia Points, you'll get an Encore track in Challenge Mode. It's nice, but it's not enough.
Soon you'll find yourself playing different variations of the same tunes and suddenly the game goes from decent to not so decent. There are hundreds of tracks in the Final Fantasy world - why couldn't tracks from some of the spin-offs have been included? To only feature about 3-4 from each main game is unfortunate.
In terms of replay value, it depends on how much you can stomach. It's there, if you want to try and get Perfect Chains and S ranks on all songs, on every difficulty. Unlocking all the different characters will also take a considerable amount of time. But you end up asking yourself if it's worth it. Either way, the character design is great, and the random one-liners they generate before each song are rather comical.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is fan service, pure and simple. So, for fans of the franchise it's a great way to spend your time. In the long term, it's a title that you'll always be able to look to when you're having a bad day or need something for a long train journey. With that being said, the selection of songs feels limited, especially with the amount of times you'll have to play through them to unlock things. Still, it's worth picking up and you'll definitely have a blast until the monotony starts to outshine the nostalgia.