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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Title Screen
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
I think we all rolled our eyes when Square Enix announced Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. This was for several reasons.
  1. Music games seem to be on their way out.
  2. A new Final Fantasy game should be an RPG, not some weird rhythm game.
  3. That horrible, horrible name. 'Theatrhythm'? In what language does that even make sense?
Boy, were we wrong. Well, except for the name. That's still pretty stupid.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is, at its core, a rhythm game using the music, characters and locations of Final Fantasy as the backdrop. It pays homage to Final Fantasies I all the way through XIII, but excludes the side games like X-2, XIII-2, Crisis Core and others.

Personally, I've only played a substantial amount of IV, VI and VII, although I've dabbled in every installment through X. I wouldn't call myself a huge Final Fantasy fan, although I like the series well enough. And yet, there are a few things that make Theatrhythm a lot of fun, even for a guy like me who's only spent a minimal amount of time in the series.

Let's veer off-topic for a bit. Remember the big Guitar Hero/Rock Band debate from last decade? No? Well, here's the gist: Guitar Hero was more popular, but Rock Band was the better series and ended up being the one with longer legs in the end. What made the difference? After the first two installments, Guitar Hero was handled by people who were merely making a game. They would have weird note blockings, like having the player press notes that didn't actually exist, just to make the song a little more difficult. Instead of making you follow the music, they had you fighting the music.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Screenshot
Rock Band and the first two installments of Guitar Hero were made by Harmonix, people who understood the music and didn't want to get in the way of it. They wouldn't focus so much on making the game difficult, just fun. You felt like an active participant, even though you were just pressing buttons on a plastic instrument.

All right, back on topic. Theatrhythm was made by people who understood the music and didn't want to get in the way of it. Even though you're just tapping and flicking your stylus, you feel like you're doing it along with the music instead of feeling like you're fighting against it. This is a huge deal and something that's very hard to nail down.

Theatrhythm is also helped by the RPG trappings surrounding it. Instead of just being presented with a score at the end of each song, which usually feels meaningless, you get more tangible benefits than that. Your characters gain XP, get items and become more powerful the more you play, which means that they can beat better bosses and get better items, which means they can beat better bosses and so forth. 

My main complaint with Theatrhythm is that there isn't much more beyond improving your characters. Sure, you can venture into the Chaos Tower, where much of the meat of the game is, and continue getting more tracks, beating bigger opponents and so on, but that's it. That's what holds Theatrhythm back from being a great game with a capital G. This game would be best served by being surrounded with a real RPG. Now that Square has worked with this concept, I'm assuming that's the next step for them, and I'd love to play that game.

Even still, I can say that while playing Theatrhythm, my heart ached to play some of the Final Fantasy series that I had merely glanced at in the past, and it especially made me want to race back to some of the ones I had already played through and enjoyed. If that was what Square Enix was aiming for, mission accomplished.

If you don't like Final Fantasy or have never played a Final Fantasy game, Theatrhythm is not for you. However, if you've played a few installments of the Final Fantasy series or are interested in playing them, pick this up and see if it whets your appetite for more. If you're a Final Fantasy fanatic? Get this game. Like, now.

Final Rating: B