E3 Hands On: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain CallFiled inside: News
Allow me a moment to breathe after that title.
Portable rhythm game fans rejoice! Final Fantasy players, similarly rejoice! The sequel we didn’t know we needed, but will buy anyway is totally on its way in the form of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, the sequel to the fairly popular Theatrhythm game that release back in 2012.
If you’ve played games like Elite Beat Agents, you’ve got a pretty decent handle on how Theatrhythm works. You select from a wide variety of songs from the Final Fantasy universe, which task you with rhythmically tapping, pressing, and flicking at your 3DS screen in a variety of ways in order to nab a large score.
While other rhythm games are essentially relegated to a single method to do this, Theatrhythm manages to veil its one-trick-ponyism with different stage types that present the notes to you in different ways, and injecting several other sort of RPG-esque elements in to give a better sense of progression than just hitting an arbitrary score.
There are three different kinds of notes in the game, which appear on the top screen. Standard red notes just need to be tapped with proper timing. Green notes task you with holding the stylus down (and in some cases positioning your cursor properly) and releasing it at the right moment. Yellow notes house an arrow, requiring you to swipe across the screen in the matching direction. Perform these with good timing to add to your combo and score. Do so poorly, and you’ll lose HP, eventually failing the song entirely. It’s the most ubiquitous formula the rhythm game has.
The variety comes in the stage types, each of which functions to mirror the archetypal gameplay types you find in the Final Fantasy games. Event songs display a video of a major event or sequence from whichever game the song hails from. A timing marker follows a set track across the screen, and you perform the necessary action when it reaches a note. Good performance can extend the scene, allowing for a higher overall score, and to see the featured scene in its entirety.
Field songs feature your party of characters moving over a world map or other familiar area of their game. In this mode, notes soar across the screen, left to right, and meet a timing line. This is the only mode that requires some precision with your stylus, as the held green notes will require you to slide up and down to reach certain “checkpoints” along their paths to maintain a good rating. Exemplary rhythm makes your characters move faster and further, sometimes finding moogles in the field that provide you with additional items. New in Curtain Call are airship field stages, which alter the angle of approach a bit to better utilize the 3D aspect of the game.
Then there are battle stages, in which a party of four heroes fight a batch of creatures. Notes move more quickly here than they do in the other stages, across four set lines (one for each party member). Every successful note hit has that character attack the current monster: more hits, more damage. Enemies can drop “items” used to unlock various pieces of artwork or additional characters.
I was a bit of a music game fiend, back in my younger days. I picked up the original Theatrhythm on release, and did enjoy my time with it, though it felt like it got stale fairly quickly. Curtain Call‘s counter to this is a staggeringly large song collection from a wider variety of games in the series (the original only featured song from numbered entries) including DISSIDIA, Crisis Core, and even the CG movie Advent Children.
This is further bolstered by the fact that Theatrhythm is one of the rarer games on the 3DS platform that utilizes DLC, allowing for more songs to be added with relative ease, should you have the desire to pay for them.
A few new aspects of gameplay will keep things a little more dynamic, as well. Critical Hit Triggers appear in different songs, with special functions in each stage type. Event criticals yield treasure chests, battle crits do more damage, and field crits result in temporary speed boosts.
The “Quest Medley” mode is a mode that appears in the iOS version of Theatrhythm, returning in Curtain Call. The game will randomly generate a set of songs to play, often yielding rarer rewards than doing a normal song. Quest Medleys can be shared with other players via StreetPass, as well.
The game features a very cartoony graphical style overall, featuring cute papercraft-looking versions of characters, and very simple renders of enemies. Most environments for the battle and field sequences are brightly colored and remain in keeping with the overall theme of the game. The event stages are the general exception, having their backdrops ripped in their original forms from their games, it’s a good burst of nostalgia from the older games in the series, and generally familiar stuff from newer ones, though it can be a little unusual to see ultra-modern visuals after everything else has been so animated.
The game has also included some new modes, many of them more focused on multiplayer. The original game only had one multiplayer mode, a cooperative mode for up to four players, and even then, it played like the normal game, just granting all players the score of the best-scoring player.
Now, a battle mode has been introduced. Two players battle on a single song for a higher score, with the ability to inflict various status ailments on the other player to try to impede their progress.
A daily feature rotation features a different song every day, and completing that song will net half again as many Rhythm Points as usual, with the points being used to add various bonuses to your characters.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the game on the floor (there were only three songs featured in the demo), but I got to take a look at an airship field song and an event song from the newer Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and I can tell you that the core mechanics are certainly intact. The game requires a certain level of adjustment to get used to, it sometimes feels like the game judges too harshly for accuracy, or that the detection is somewhat poor. It is a little strange that the game features the notes on the upper screen, rather than using the bottom for matching note positions and things like that, though as a left-handed player, that might actually ruin the game for me (my hand would cover approaching notes, putting me at a direct disadvantage).
The music of Final Fantasy has always been one of its biggest draws, so a spinoff title based around that is a fairly expected phenomena. That being said, the game is almost pure fanservice, you’d probably only really enjoy the game if you were already a big fan of the music, happened to like rhythm games to begin with, and are willing to deal with the occasional hand cramp from how tightly you’ll end up gripping your stylus on higher difficulties.
Still, I’ll probably buy it, it has a lot of charm, even if it has less substance than I’d like. It’s coming out on the 3DS on September 14th from Square Enix.