Final Fantasy, Square’s relentless series of role-playing adventures, has been central not only to some of gaming’s most poignant moments, memorable characters, laughs and shocks, but also to some of the most beautiful, haunting and jovial melodies ever to grace videogames.
Theatrhythm gives fans of the franchise the chance to relive some of the more cherished musical accompaniments, with Square conducting a plot that sees former heroes returning – albeit in uniforming cutesified form – to collect “Rhythmia” for the realms Music Crystal, so restoring its harmony and in turn saving the world.
The likes of FFVII’s Cloud, FFX’s Tidus and even the “Warrior of Light” from the series’ original outing all make an appearance, as players create their party of four warriors and begin their quest to gather as much Rhythmia as they can.
With the theme of the game all about rhythm it shouldn’t come as any particular shock that the gameplay segments take the form of rhythm-based mini-segments as players guide their motley crew through Field Music, Battle Music and Event Music stages.
Field Music stages set players with the task of travelling as far as they can in a bid to discover extra loot (a task made easier by hitting the crucial notes which summon a Chocobo steed); Battle stages are depicted via the series’ iconic fighting screen with game-specific bad guys popping up and players hitting sequences to score damage; while Event stages take place against FMV sequences of the games’ most emotive moments.
Each presents its interaction in a slightly different fashion, but all rely on the fundamental element of tapping the 3DS’ touchscreen in time to the visual indicator (which handily enough generally keeps in time with the beat); while each stage has a basic and advanced version to conquer.
This being Final Fantasy there are of course RPG overtones too, as characters level-up and extra items are discovered. The extra strength and agility of high-level characters ensures they will crush more enemies, or travel further depending on the stage type; while items raise certain special abilities, bestow a buff or call in familiar magical allies such as Shiva and Ifrit during certain interludes.
Alas, these RPG elements aren’t pushed far enough, with only limited upgrades attainable across both magic and equippable weapons. It’s a statement also true of the story, which is rarely referred to, the result of which creating an experience that feels disconnected – a shame as by properly joining the dots Square could have easily created one of the most fun and quirky RPGs to release in the last few years.
At least as a celebration of an iconic series Theatrhythm offers a host of collectable extras, from unlockable characters, to cards which populate a virtual scrapbook and detail the notable good guys, bad guys and monsters of the series. Devotees will even be treated to cameos from the likes of Ultros, Cactuar and Tonberry.
Ultimately, those touched by any of the series’ past productions will find plenty to savour here, Theatrhythm offers one of the 3DS’s most charming experiences and as a showcase of the series’ instrumental scores the game hits all the right notes. The only downside is the lack of cohesiveness across its parts, something I hope they revaluate when the time comes for a sequel.