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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy 3DS (Square Enix, 2012) Grade: B
I didn't realize that there's an actual genre name for this kind of game, but I guess there is - it's a rhythm game. Rhythm games have you tapping the screen or a switch in time to the music; Dance Dance Revolution being a prime example. I just thought that these are music games.
(The collector cards album. If you get 4 of one card, it levels to a Prism background. For 7 of one card, it levels again to a Spectra class. You also get to see the battle and idling animations for those monsters.)
Anyway, the game this time is Theatrhythm, which I assume combines "theater" with "rhythm", and is based on the music from the first 13 Final Fantasy games. There's no story, but TFF does have quite a bit in common with the Nodame Cantabile DS game, albeit in a fantasy role playing setting. You put together a party of 4 members, each of which represents one of the FF games, with their own strengths and character types. Then, you pick one of the FF games, and play all 5 stages in one go. If you complete all 5 stages, you unlock the "Challenge" version for that game, and you can play again at a harder level. Each FF game follows the same basic pattern of an Opening Song, Field Stage Music, Battle Stage Music, Event Stage Music and End Song. With OP and ED, you just tap the screen with the stylus as the notes fall into a big crystal. This gives you "rhythpo" (rhythm points).
(The movie player lets you watch the videos you unlock as you amass rhythm points.)
The other three main stages have their own play systems, which revolve around using the stylus on the screen based on visual cues (a red mark means tapping once, yellow means tapping and sliding in the indicated direction, green means tapping and holding until you're told to let go. If you do well enough in the stage, the colors change to silver, and then to gold, and the effects amplify as well.) With the Battle Stage, you get the battle music for that game, and your party forms a front line against attacking monsters. Hit the markers correctly and you deliver damage to the enemy. Miss your cue and you take damage. In the field stage, the chocobo walking music plays, and you try to avoid tripping and falling as you cross the field. If you're lucky, you'll turn into a chocobo and reach the finish line as the song ends (giving you items as rewards). Finally, the Event music simply has the movie playing in the background, summarizing the game storyline, while you get the marker cues in kind of a maze pattern. Again, making mistakes means your party receives damage, and if your entire party gets wiped out, you lose the stage.
(The music player. 77 songs total, and they too are unlocked as you get more rhythm points. Rhythpo maxes at 99,999.)
The better your timing in tapping and releasing the markers, the more "criticals" you pick up. At the end of each stage, your results are added up and ranked. (F-A, S.) The better the ranking, the more experience, items and rhythpo you get. Experience lets your party members level up, improving their stats (HP lets you tolerate more mistakes; Strength and Magic help defeat monsters in the Battle Stage; Agility lets you move faster in the Field Stage; and Luck compensates for your timing in tapping the screen to give you more Criticals). You can only assign one item per run through a game, and it's used up after the run ends (things like potions for healing, bomb fragments for dealing extra damage in the Battle Stage, or greens for attracting specific chocobos in the Field Stage). Leveling up also gives you skills (activated using CP) your party members can use in the Battle Stage (special attacks or Cure spells). Finally, "rhythpo" are a running tally of your success in every stage. Generally, an event unlocks every 500 points. Events can include unlocking new game music or event stage movies for replay later, or unlocking the Chaos version of the game (much harder music replay).
(Game selection screen. "Series" lets you play all 5 stages for any given game. Challenge lets you play one stage at a time, and Chaos lets you access special boss stages at the harder levels. Both Series and Challenge can be played at Normal, Hard and Very Hard levels as you chose.)
You can play a game as many times as you like to gather more experience and rhythpo, or to try getting a better ranking for that game. "Series" game ranking is an average of the Battle, Field and Explore Music Stage rankings. That is, if you play the Final Fantasy 1 game and get S for the Battle Stage, A for Field and C for Explore, you'll probably get an "A" ranking for the Final Fantasy 1 game as a whole. Getting better ratings for a game can mean being able to unlock special collectors cards in the options screen. And, your performance in the easier games will improve for the Battle and Field stages as your party levels up.
(Selection screen for the Challenge mode, where you can play just one stage if you want - Battle, Field or Event. Again, you can choose Normal, Hard and Very Hard modes. The higher modes unlock if you get A or S rankings in the next easier mode.)
Theatrhythm is MUCH easier to play than Daigasso Band Brothers, and has almost the same replay value and difficulty as Nodame Cantible. While Nodame had a clear storyline and more information on the history of classical music, you never got stronger no matter how many times you played any given song perfectly. TFF lacks a story and plot, but the better you do on a song the stronger you get, which improves your chances for a better result next time in the Battle and Field stages, which is nice. On the other hand, having the monsters and videos running on the screen is incredibly distracting when you're trying to look at the music markers and avoid screwing the timing up when tapping the stylus. Initially, I just wanted to play all 13 games through in normal mode to see what happens, and maybe get "A" rankings for each one. I've done that already, so now I'm trying to get 99,999 rhythm points so I can see all of the movies and hear all of the songs in the associated players.
(Example of the Field stage. Your party leader walks from the right side of the field to the left, and you have to follow the tap instructions as the music plays.)
I don't want to beat every single stage at the harder levels (I don't like playing the Event stages), or get all the characters up to level 99, but I kind of want to unlock 1 or 2 of the 12 secret characters, just to look at them. And doing that means collecting drop items from the secret bosses in Chaos mode. What I mean by that is that the secret characters each require 8 crystals of a specific color (yellow, red, silver, gold, etc.). You get 2-4 of these crystals from the 500-point events as you collect rhythm points. The rest are drop items from the Battle Stage boss monsters in the Chaos-level games (in the English version of the game, these levels are called Dark Note songs).
(Battle stage. Follow the stylus instructions when they reach the circles in front of your party.)
(Event stage. The movie plays in the background and the timer circle moves around to each of the tap instructions.)
(Staff credits. This plays when you beat the boss monster after completing all thirteen games in Series mode. There's no New+ game; after the staff roll you just keep playing normally.)
Summary: TFF is the first Nintendo 3DS game I've bought to-date, and it's a bit ironic that most of the game recreates extremely primitive graphics from simulations of Famicom ports of the first few Final Fantasy games. Then again, used 3DS games are still in the 2,000 yen ($18 USD) and over price range, meaning that they're not cheap yet. TFF was one of the only games priced as low as 950 yen (Monster Hunter 4 is cheaper, but I'm not sure if it's just a front-end interface for the on-line internet version of the game, and I don't want to spend the money to find out). I will keep playing TPP for a while longer, in any event. The music is lifted straight from the other FF games. The character designs are a bit cutesy, and, as I say, there's no plot. The story is that Chaos (shown in the title screen) has stolen all the rhythm crystals in the world, and Goodness wants you to get them back. The Battle and Field stages keep using the same backgrounds, which gets repetitive, while the Event stages had recorded video of each specific FF game, which is going to vary in quality based on how old the games are. Recommended if you like the Final Fantasy franchise. The good part is that as you unlock the music, you can play it back as desired using the Options player as if it were an MP3 player.