Monday, December 24, 2012

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS)

I've been playing a bunch o' Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for 3DS.

Really, this game should be a system seller for Nintendo's current handheld for those longtime fans of the Final Fantasy franchise.

It's cool to see an atypical entry in the FF franchise, which is typically exclusively role-playing (including some lackluster MMORPG attempts).

Theatrhythm is a deep rhythm genre game that lets you play through and enjoy songs from Final Fantasy's I through XIII, with lite RPG elements earned from and affecting gameplay, and fan-service unlockables galore -- virtual collectible trading-style cards, songs and videos from the game, play modes, and characters.

Core gameplay is purely stylus-driven. You tap, hold, or swipe to the beats of different songs from the FF games.

There are three main modes to the game:

  1. Music Play (the main gameplay mode)
  2. Museum (the collectibles vault)
  3. StreetPass (trade / swap the "ProfiCard" trading cards and "Dark Notes")
The core gameplay "Music Play" has three child modes -- Series (initially the only mode unlocked and available), Challenge, and Chaos Shrine.

After setting up your initial party of 4 (cutesy versions of iconic characters from each game), Series mode lets you play through each of the Final Fantasy(ies).

Series mode starts with an optional Opening Prelude, tap-only quick game (which does earn you in-game points), followed by "Field Music" (a traveling visual game set to the Main Theme from the game you're playing). Then "Battle Music", where the make up and equipping of your party really matters as your rhythm game does damage to a variety of enemies, and prevents damage to party members. "Event" sequence music plays the game's opening theme against a backdrop of gameplay (in earlier games), and FMVs (in the later games). Finally, there's another optional "End Theme" minigame, similar to the Opening Prelude.

Throughout these modes, you gain skill points, level up your team, and get loot drops that you can equip per round.

Play enough Series mode, and you'll unlock Challenge mode, where you can try to perfect songs from Series mode, using either "Basic" or "Expert" score baselines. Where Series mode was fun (and challenging) for me,  Challenge mode stressed me out, but that's balanced with increased RPG leveling, and the score being weighted (what feels like) appropriately for the Expert scale.

Playing enough Series mode will also unlock "Chaos Shrine" mode, which has solo and multiplayer facets. Like Challenge mode, I found this a little less fun than the core Series mode, other than it really leverages -- and rewards -- the lite RPG elements in the game (which I really enjoy). Even cooler, "Dark Notes" are unknown songs (in the context of the game), so you're "defeating" (unlocking) new franchise tunes and composer information as you play through the game.

The Museum mode is solid in the context of the game itself, but even cooler for franchise fans. Here, you can view your play records, the cards you collect, listen to and favorite unlocked songs and videos from the franchise, really rewarding fans.

Packaging-wise, the Menus are pretty phenomenal (other than the music and video players). Each menu clearly defines where you are in the flow, and offers multiple selection to go to sub-modes, or tapping "Play" or "Select" after selecting the mode or level.

Along the same lines, the timeline portrayal in Series mode feeding my inner geek -- It's a slick, scrollable lower screen presentation of the Final Fantasy title and its year of release, and an upper screen showing a screenshot from the selected game, and any score you may have earned.

Score recaps are very nicely done (an art in and of themselves), and the visual FX are a step above many 3DS titles.

As far as the 3D itself, while it's fun to see franchise assets in 3D for the first time, and the Prelude and End Theme optional sequences arguably look better in 3D, ultimately the 3D is really unnecessary.

Which brings us to the one downside of this title. Since the 3D isn't needed and it's a purely tap game that requires no discreet button presses, it's totally unnecessary as a handheld game, and could find strong footing on phones and tablets in instead.

There is an iOS version of the game, which removed several of the key gameplay modes, so it may be the other reason the title makes sense on discreet handheld is to support the wealth of content in and unlockable from the game.

That said, this title is unique on the 3DS in that it's a differentiated expression of the franchise -- holding onto core elements (RPG and characterization), and giving a unique focus to one of the biggest facets of Final Fantasy (the music). It's slickly packaged, and has a lot of replay-ability. I think it was also the first 3DS title to support DLC of additional content the team couldn't fit on the original game. I like that kind of business innovation, but I have no numbers that show how this worked out for gamers or Square.

Overall, a strong recommend if you're a fan of solidly packaged handheld games, rhythm titles, lite RPGs, and/or the Final Fantasy franchise.

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