Theatrhythm Final Fantasy – E3 Preview
For a franchise as well-loved and long-lasting as Final Fantasy, a self-reverential title celebrating its history is all but inevitable, and also a ground well-worn to the point where the Disney/Square collaboration Kingdom Hearts has had so many entries that it in itself is due a self-reverential title or two. Even if such a title were to be made, what possible spin could you make on the role-playing genre that would feel unique? After all, Final Fantasy is a series that’s tackled turn-based combat, the fighting game genre, card games, MMOs, multiplayer and numerous interactions with Disney characters. Well, how about a portable game that combines the rhythm genre with familiar role playing elements and acts as a tribute to the iconic music the series is well known for?
Enter Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a 3DS title that allows players to battle their way through generations of Final Fantasy music with a cast of well-loved characters that’ll get your nostalgia pumping as much as the soundtrack will. Tracks from Final Fantasy 1 all the way up to the much maligned thirteenth chapter are present, as are a range of characters which includes fan favourite Cloud as well as oft-forgotten heroes like Bartz and the Onion Knight. Each included entry in the series contains three stages: the field, battle and the event, and each of these utilises the rhythm-based gameplay in a specific method. As well as this, players can also play through the opening and closing themes of each title, meaning that each game included has up to five tracks each for players to work their way through.
Each stage is cleared through the use of the touch-screen, which tasks players with tapping, leaving the stylus on-screen, and swiping it in different directions as the music and chart dictates. The way you play Theatrhythm Final Fantasy may seem simple enough at first, but that’s only a deceptive facade that players will soon discover when venturing into the tougher difficulties provided. While the easier difficulties are easier to acclimatise yourself to, the later difficulties will have your stylus flying about the screen in an increasingly frenzied flurry as you try and keep in time with the music. Think how tired you feel after a couple of bouts on a title like Dance Dance Revolution, then concentrate all that on your wrist, run to the freezer and grab an ice-pack.
This may seem simple to follow so far, but here’s where it starts getting complicated. Each stage requires you to create a party of four Final Fantasy characters, each with their own set of stats and powers, and who you then have to level up by completing each stage successfully. As well as this, your score and rank after each attempt will grant you additional currency to spend on extra items and equipment to further customise your parties for battle, and bosses and enemies will also occasionally drop loot themselves.
The stages also lend the game variety, as each of them uses the rhythm action in their own unique way. The segments dealing with open and end themes simply require the player to tap the screen in time with the music as each note hits the centre of the screen, while the field music takes a side-scrolling slant as players are expected to tap, swipe and move the stylus up and down during sustained notes as the party leader moves across the over-world. Each failed note causes the player to slow down or fall over, and a successful jaunt before the music ends results in an ally providing our hero with a new item to play with. The event music then requires players to keep in time with the music as familiar and iconic scenes from that specific game play out, which is bound to trigger some fond memories in players who are able to witness the action between the frantic rhythm action.
Finally, we have the battle music, which allows your entire party to take part in a battle lasting as long as the music does, pitting enemy after enemy against you with each successfully matched beat dealing damage and each failed note resulting in your party being attacked. This is also where things can get a little more mental, as longer chains can result in characters unleashing special attacks or even summons, as I found out when I managed to summon series long-stay Ifrit in one particularly mental sequence.
While some may easily find limited appeal in such a title, others will find a brilliant pick up and play title that’s perfect for short commutes rather than extended sessions. Each stage only lasts a few minutes, and the score attack system that encourages you to best your score and unlock higher difficulties will only serve to keep players hooked to ridiculous extremes. Granted, it’s a title that may purely serve as a slab of nostalgia for fans of the series, but anyone who chooses to give this a look will find a loving tribute to Final Fantasy that simultaneously provides one of the most unique twists on the series you’ll ever find.
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