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TheatRhythm: Dragon Quest, Indieszero (2015)
Ok, for a quick recap, I wrote a review of TheatRhythm: Final Fantasy a few months ago. The idea is that you have 70+ songs from the first 13 Final Fantasy titles, and you play rhythm games (tapping the touch screen with the stylus) in time with the cues flowing across the screen. There are three kinds of stages - Battle Music Stage (BMS), Field Music Stage (FMS) and Event Music Stage (EMS). The cues are: a red circle = tap; yellow circle plus arrow = swipe the stylus in the direction of the arrow; green circle with long track = hold the stylus down and follow the track. In the FMS and EMS stages, you just follow the cues as the music plays. With BMS, your party is laid out in a 4-person line at the right side of the screen, and they "attack" the enemy party if you tap the cues right. Make a mistake and you take damage.
(Main menu. From top left: Challenge Mode, Music Play Mode, Sudoroku. Bottom left: Museum, multi-player, Config. Very bottom: Return, Party Setup.)
In Music Play mode, there are five songs per game title, starting with the prologue (simple tapping to get rhythm points (rhythpo)), followed by the BMS and FMS stages (either order), then the EMS stage, and concluding with the epilogue (again, just to get more rhythpo). At the end of each stage, you get items, collectors cards, experience and rhythpo. You can use one item for the party at a time to aid in a specific type of stage. Experience improves your character stats so you do better in the next stage. Cards are just nice things to look at. 4 regular cards upgrades that card type to shimmer type, and 7-8 cards upgrades it to a prism card. Rhythpo unlocks stuff in the game, generally every 500 points (i.e. - unlocking the music and video players, each of the event stage movies, and each of the songs). In the Challenge Mode, you can play the stages individually to master specific songs at each of the three levels (easy, hard and chaos). There's a second game, TR: Final Fantasy Curtain Call. I haven't bought it because the used prices are still in the $25-$30 USD range, but you can access all 270+ songs in the franchise.
(Sudoroku board map selection menu.)
Now, TR: DQ is pretty much the same game in some respects. Yes, the character designs, music and event videos are from the Dragon Quest franchise, but the gameplay for the battle, field and event stages is the same (except that with FF the enemy attacks from the left side of the screen and in DQ they attack from the top). For differences, there are only 65 songs in DQ, from 10 titles. In Music Play mode, you start with only one BMS stage - there's no prologue or epilogue, and when you do unlock the other songs, you only get to play them one at a time (1 event, 2-3 field and 3 battle stages per title, from what I've got so far). Other big departures from FF are the way the challenge mode works, the existence of job classes, and the Boardgame mode.
(Playing one of the board games.)
It's really easy to get experience. I've leveled my 4-character party to 99 each 5 times now. When you max a character at level 99, you have three choices - keep playing them and waste all the subsequent experience; change characters; or, change jobs. When you start, you pick 4 characters from the entire line-up of 20 characters from the 10 games, but after that you're stuck at just the 4 members in your party until you unlock the others one at a time (see the Boardgame Mode below). So, initially you're better off changing jobs when you max out at level 99. (if you don't have anyone else unlocked yet to rotate to). At first, you only have the 6 regular jobs - fighter, mage, cleric, thief, etc. You get the next set of jobs from the Challenge Mode bosses.
(Challenge Mode stage selection screen.)
Which brings me to Challenge Mode. In normal Challenge Mode, you get a grid about 6 x 10, made up of field and battle stages. Successfully completing one stage unlocks the adjacent ones, as well as making that stage available for play in the Music Play mode. The difficulty of the stages is pretty low, requiring a party of not much more than an average of level 20. I was getting so much experience per stage that I was going up 1-2 levels each round. There are a number of "boss" stages here, and beating these gives you "satori," which are effectively special job class scrolls. So far, I've gotten 10 different satori, for Ranger, Paladin, Warrior-Mage, Dancer, Princess, Merchant, and so on. You can only use a satori scroll once, so if you want your entire party to consist of 4 Paladins, you need to get four Paladin scrolls (you only get one scroll from each boss; after that, you can only get more scrolls by amassing rhythpo). When you clear all 52 regular challenge stages, you get the Daily Challenge, and the Hard Challenge. The Daily Challenge has a small board of maybe 6-8 stages and 2-4 bosses. Defeating one boss clears the challenge for that day, so if you want the experience and items, you need to play all the regular stages for that day, then pick a boss. As the name implies, you can only play the Daily Challenge once per day, and each day's challenge gets harder, from normal, to hard, to rolling arrows, to the arrows turning invisible. There are only 5 Daily Challenges, and after the 5th one, you go back to facing the first Daily Challenge again. Hard Challenge Mode gives you a new map with 60 stages, and 2 final bosses. The minimum level for these stages is an average of 60 for the party, and I didn't see much advantage to having Paladins or Warrior-Mages in the party, versus regular fighters and mages. I got to one of the two final bosses, and even with my party at level 99 across the board, and everyone with their own satori-type job classes, it was still difficult delivering enough damage to defeat the boss before the song ended.
(Battle Music Stage. Tap and hold the touch screen with the stylus when the green circle gets to the character's white action circle.)
Items. You don't get to choose the weapons, spells or attacks your party members use. The game does that for you. Instead, you get one disposable item and one accessory for the party. Items can be a healing potion if you take damage, or +50 to strength if you're playing a battle stage. At the end of the stage, you use up one of that item (if you have 7 potions, you only burn one potion per BMS stage play). Accessories are harder to come by, and seem mainly to be from the boardgames. These can add a small amount to one character stat, but at least you don't use them up at the end of the stage. Outside of experimenting with the items and accessories a little bit at the beginning, I haven't bothered with them at all.
(Field Music Stage. The characters walk along the field, and you tap the touch screen with the stylus as you go.)
And now, we get the Board game Mode. In Japanese, board games are called "Sudoroku." The Sudoroku boards consist of a series of squares going from start to finish. Each board is different, and according to a couple Japanese game sites, there are 35 boards total (I've unlocked 35 boards, but only played 32 of them; I don't know if it caps out at 35 or not). To play the game, you need a sudoroku ticket, which can easily be obtained from rhythpo, fighting boss monster BMS stages, or getting SSS rank when you complete a stage. You start with a fixed number of dice, and you roll one die at a time. You can only move forward, although there are split paths. Squares can give or take away gold or dice; or, you may be able to jump 2 squares forward or have to go 3 back. Some squares yield collector cards, items or money, others can cause damage. There's an inn for healing and a shop that sells dice (only rolls 1, only rolls even, etc.), cards and colored spheres. Trapdoors kick you out of the game, and battle squares give you 1d times experience (if you roll a 6, that could be up to 12,000 exp). You must roll the exact number to reach the goal before you run out of dice and lose the game (having "only rolls 2" and "only rolls 3" dice in your inventory helps here). The goal square is another battle stage that gives you 2 spheres of a fixed color. Having 6 spheres, one each red, green, blue, etc., unlocks one more player character for you to play, if you want them. You get 50g for every die still left unplayed, with a max. of 500g. The first 6 sudoroku boards are normal difficulty BMS stages, giving different colored spheres. The next six are hard BMS stages, but with more spheres. At 33, the battles are at the Insane level, and that's where I gave up. The real advantage of playing the sudoroku boards is that you get a lot more experience and rhythpo per play than in the other modes, when you fight monsters in the BMS modes, but that's only for the first time through the board (monsters and treasure chests don't restock). The higher-level the board, the greater the chance of landing on a trapdoor or running out of dice, and losing. If you want, though, this is how you unlock the other players, and buy collector cards (if you land on a shop square).
(Music Play mode stage and game title selection screen. This is the only way to access the Event Music Stages.)
With TR:DQ, you can use the monster and character cards you collect to boost the stats of one character at a time for their current job class. You can select up to 8 cards (it seems better if they are not all the same card), and each one will give +1 or +2 to strength, defense, HP, etc. For the most part, this seems like a lot of work for very little gain, but I think this is the only way to get strength up past 300 on characters that have hit level 99 for whatever job you gave them.
(EMS stage. The white circle moves around the screen as the video clip of the game plays in the background. It's very distracting when you're trying to figure out what actions to take with the stylus.)
It's nice that TR:DQ is not exactly the same game as TR:FF, but I'm not a big fan of the Dragon Quest series, so only having 65 songs, and not being able to locate the music and video players (TR:DQ doesn't seem to provide them) is kind of unsatisfying. Having to start over at level 1 for each new job class every 4-6 hours is annoying, too. My strategy had been to change jobs when one character hit level 99, to get all of the possible job classes on only the 4 members I had in my team (I'm not concerned with unlocking every single character in the game). If I had several characters changing jobs at the same time, I'd play the next set of Music Play mode normal FMS and BMS stages for the next game title if they were still marked "new", to get the party average to 20. Then I'd do the next sudoroku boards until the party was average 65 or so. This let me try to unlock the next set of hard Challenge Mode stages (difficulty average level of 60 to 99), so I could unlock all 60 stages there and face the final 2 bosses. I don't know if there's a third Challenge Mode map, though. I use the past tense, because I quit playing. See below.
No discussion of a Dragon Quest game is complete without mentioning metal slimes. Each battle music stage has a fixed number of enemy you have to defeat. After that, you enter the "metal slime chance" portion for the remainder of the song. This gives you 4-6 metal slimes, which are worth more exp than the other monsters. If you have "metal coin" items equipped, the metal slimes can turn into liquid metal, king metal and liquid metal king slimes, to get even more exp. But, as mentioned above, it's easy to get exp. and max out at level 99 anyway, so forcibly trying to get metal kings is only useful if the point is to max all 16 job classes at level 99 for all 4 characters. When you get about 40,000 rhythpo, you unlock the metal slime challenge, where all you get is metal slimes. But, you can only fight this stage once, then you have to wait until it unlocks again some time later.
All that's left is to talk about rhythpo. You get rhythm points at the end of each stage, based on your performance (playing an almost perfect song gets you rank SSS; playing the BMS and FMS stages at normal difficulty, I've never gotten below S rank). Every 500 points unlocks one thing, which may be a colored sphere, a small coin (good towards getting a rare collector card), the sudoroku mode, or backgrounds for your character ID when you link to someone else with a copy of the game. In TR:FF, finishing the Music Play mode stages (prologue, BMS, FMS, EMS and epilogue) for all 13 game titles gave me the final boss fight. Beat him, and you get the story ending and game credits roll. For TR:DQ, when I got 20,000 rhythpo, I received a terse message saying that I'd triggered the boss fight. When that was over, I got a really short message telling me that I'd restored music to the land and everyone loves me, before the credits ran. That was anticlimactic. Sigh.
The game maxes at 999,999 rhythpo, and I gave up at 80,000. Looking at the Japanese game sites, there doesn't seem to be a way to get the music and video players. I've played all the EMS, FMS and BMS stages for all 10 game titles at normal mode, and I've leveled the party up to 99 for 5-6 job classes per character. The boardgames aren't fun anymore, and I'm getting bored replaying the various challenge stages for the normal and hard modes. And, again, the only real goal to the TheatRhythm games is amassing rhythpo to unlock the music and videos to watch them in the players as if they were mp3s. Not being able to do that in TR:DQ is a big disappointment.
Summary: TR:DQ is a fine game if you like rhythm games, and you like Dragon Quest. I prefer TR:FF, but I wanted DQ for the collection, after it dropped to 950 yen ($9 USD). It did, so I got it. Now it goes into the slide case.