Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy strikes a sweet chord

Part parody and part shrine, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a must-buy for FF fans and a solid rhythm game for everyone else. Its gameplay is simple but challenging, unlockable content pours down in buckets, and — most importantly — it boasts the best soundtrack since Super Smash Brothers Brawl.

If you’ve played at least a few FF games, prepare for a flood of memories and emotions as famous moments and locations unfold beneath your tapping stylus; there’s that train bearing the fallen…there’s Aerith…there’s Yuna’s last three words to the crowd…

On the flip side, most of Theatrhythm is just plain adorable. Every image that’s not taken from classic gameplay or cinemas has been transmuted to fit a comical chibi impression of the FF universe. If the chocobos make you laugh out loud with their outrageous super-cuteness, just wait ’till the first time your team performs a summons…

Gameplay consists of tapping and sliding the stylus as target-cues (triggers) march across the screen, and there are three different chapter styles which vary how the triggers come at you.  Your timing determines the effectiveness of your team’s attacks while in battle, while racking up points in travel and cinema modes. Your ever-increasing total levels up your chosen characters while unlocking abilities, items, trading cards, music, cinemas and bonus characters.

The game is very player-friendly, making a large selection of mode choices quickly available. In Series Mode, you can pick any FF game for a mini-adventure run through that title’s prelude theme,  three tunes from the quest (one battle, one travel field, one cinema) and an epilogue. Once a series entry is completed, the three main tunes become available for Challenge Mode, where you can increase the difficulty. Chaos Shrine mode allows single or multiple players to tackle additional tune pair-ups for further bonuses.

Through it all, Theatrhythm maintains a polished, upbeat and very enjoyable atmosphere. It’s a joy to play.

As a Final Fantasy fan, it’s difficult for me to be objective about this game. I love this music. FF VI, VII, IX and (especially) X gave me some of the most emotional game experiences I’ve ever had, and Theatrhythm brings back vivid memories of those tales. The whole production, however, is so sharp, clever and beautifully designed that I truly believe any music game fan can have fun with this.

If there’s one criticism I can throw at the game, it’s one that applies to most titles in the music genre: the gameplay itself gets repetitious over a long session. Theatrhythm is best played in shorter bursts, though the lure of the unlockables could keep you plugging away until your 3DS battery wears out (insert  short battery life joke here).  If you don’t mind the goes-with-the-territory repetition, Theatrhythm makes a classy, quirky and long-term addition to your game library.

The game is also a 3DS groundbreaker: it’s the first North American title for the handheld to feature paid DLC. Eight additional tracks are available to purchase at 99 cents a pop. The option works from within the game and draws funds from your eShop account. These bonus tracks can be used in Challenge Mode. Before anyone cries, “foul,” let me assure you that the main game itself contains a hefty, generous track list. The game feels complete and satisfying even without the DLC.

That said, I forked over the cash for “Cosmo Canyon” and “A Fleeting Dream” in a heartbeat.