Spanning more than a dozen core titles and a quarter of a century, Final Fantasy’s musical roots are nearly unparalleled. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, which debuted on the Nintendo 3DS and has now made its way to iOS, draws upon this rich musical legacy to create something of a celebratory rhythm RPG hybrid. The merging of these two genres is ambitious, to say the least. The result of this fusion is a rich and wholly enjoyable rhythm experience, albeit one that doesn’t utilize its RPG roots to the fullest, and was a much better financial deal on the 3DS than it is on iOS.
Like most music games on touch devices, Theatrhythm’s gameplay largely amounts to tapping and sliding on the touch screen. Nothing is lost in the transition to iOS on this front, as in this instance tapping with your finger works just as effectively as tapping with a stylus. It’s the sort of simple gesture that iPhones and iPads excel at, and it works perfectly well here too. It’s noteworthy, however, that the game controls a bit better on an iPad, as moving your finger around in time with the triggers can sometimes be a challenge on the iPhone’s smaller screen.
While the controls are simple, the developers went to great lengths to keep players engaged with a couple of different play options. Theatrhythm is split into two different types of gameplay, each defined by the pacing of the songs. Battle Music Stages feature a faster beat, and task players with defeating as many enemies as possible by correctly responding to the given rhythm “triggers” (the circular prompts that tell you how and when to tap and slide) that scroll across the screen along four separate lines. Field Music Stages are a bit slower, and have the player moving their finger up and down along a continuously flowing line.
Unfortunately, the Event Music Stages from the 3DS version (which revolve around an important moment in each Final Fantasy game and are easily the most visually memorable) are completely absent in this release. The other two modes are just as fun from a rhythm gameplay standpoint, but it’s still a shame this version doesn’t allow players to tap and slide while Squall and Rinoa waltz or Aerith’s saga unfolds in the background.
As for Theatrhythm’s visual presentation, Square faced the interesting challenge of trying to effectively bind 25 years of wildly varying graphical styles into one cohesive package. The result is the “chibi-fication” of the franchise’s most notable characters. Small, stylized versions of Squall, Cloud, Lightning and Cecil – along with chibi Chocobos, Moogles, Summons, enemies, and the like – all populate the colorful world of Theatrhythm. While it’s a shame the Field segments all use the same scrolling background, the whole production offers an amazing, unique tribute to the franchise, an experience that should prove quite nostalgic for longtime fans of the series.
As a music game, Theatrhythm is top notch, with just about the best song selection you could ask for. The developers also incorporate some RPG elements, which FF fans should be rather familiar with. After choosing a party of four, your chibi team of notable FF characters marches into battle. If you miss a trigger or execute one poorly, the team’s shared HP bar goes down. If that hits zero, it’s game over, meaning you’ll have to start that segment over from the beginning. Each character also has customizable abilities, such as Focus or Brace, which grant them different benefits in battle. It’s too bad the ability to use items has been removed from this version, but in truth they never really added too much to the experience anyway, so it’s not the biggest loss.
The incorporation of RPG elements could have set Theatrhythm apart from other music games in a meaningful way, but unfortunately these aspects aren’t as integral to the experience as you’d think. While leveling up in a rhythm game is a fun notion, in truth, playing with a level 1 character feels no different than playing with a level 65 one. Theatrhythm is still an incredibly fun music game, but it’s a shame more wasn’t done to make the RPG elements feel necessary.
I shall call him… Chocobo Joe.
One of the best parts of Theatrhythm is how it offers something for everyone. Music game novices can stick to the Basic Score of each song and simply enjoy the music, while those looking for more of a challenge have the Expert Score and the blisteringly hard Ultimate Score to flex their skills. Each song also features a practice mode so you can work on getting to the end without worrying about your HP.
The fun isn’t just limited to the main game either. The iOS version also has a Quest Medley mode, which randomly selects songs from your catalogue for you to play through, as well as a Compose Scores mode. Don’t get too excited about that last one – you won’t be creating your own Theatrhythm Zelda with this thing, it only allows you to decide placement of triggers for songs you already own. It’s a bit of a downer compared to what it could have been, but it’s a decent enough addition to the package, and one that’s fun to toy around with.
While the game itself is still great, one downside in this version is the pricing model. The app is free to download, but don’t be fooled – it only comes with two songs. The 3DS version comes with around 40 songs, 65 if you include the Prelude and Ending Theme for each of the 13 games. So in order to rival the original version’s starting library (by purchasing 38 additional songs at $.99 each), it would cost you about $40. That’s intense for a truncated mobile version. Considering you can pick up the 3DS version for about $30 – which not only comes packaged with more songs, but also more bonus content and more playable characters to choose from (you have to buy these for $1.99 each in the iOS version) – that’s not the best deal. If you’re fine with just having a couple of songs to mess around with, you can’t argue with free, but by no means expect this to be a suitable replacement for the 3DS version unless you’re willing to drop a big chunk of cash.
Whether you’re a huge Final Fantasy fan or just enjoy great rhythm games with fantastic music, Theatrhythm Final Fantasyis certainly for you – just be prepared to pay big to get all the songs you’ll undoubtedly want to own. The RPG elements feel a bit wasted in this game (and the extra song mode and bonus features from the 3DS version are regrettably missing), but the brilliant music and adorable presentation still make for an excellent rhythm experience.