Release Date: July 6 (Europe), July 3 (US)
Platforms available on: 3DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Rhythm Action
You could say Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is to avid Final Fantasy enthusiasts what Beatles: Rock Band was to Beatles fanatics; a grand retrospective covering the franchise's lengthy and diverse history, from its humble NES roots through to its peak PlayStation era and beyond. Crammed with character cameos and winks and nods to long-time followers, it's perfectly timed for this year's 25th anniversary, and thankfully also a fun, lighthearted rhythm game in its own right.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy takes the lanes of Guitar Hero and cleverly arranges them into several dynamic role-playing scenarios. While you're essentially doing the same actions in each one - by simply tapping, holding or swiping with the stylus - they're styled in ways that are appropriate to the genre, music and moments that they represent, which makes a refreshing change from the static set-up seen in most rhythm games.
Event stages are set against a selection of cutscenes or FMV playing in the background, while the note lane slowly dances its way around the screen. It's the least taxing of the three scenarios, but allows slower, more gentle pieces - something which Final Fantasy offers in abundance - a place to shine.
The highlight, though, are battles, which see your characters square up against monsters from throughout the series and exchange blows as notes travel down four lanes. It's a perfect fit, offers a boss battle style challenge as you must carefully observe four lanes all at once, and usually provides the most adrenaline-pumping moments thanks to its boss and battle music soundtrack.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy also allows you to power-up in some wonderfully appropriate ways too. Hitting all the notes in specific sections can unleash a summon attack in battles, or extend scene scenarios for more footage and points to collect. In the field, it sees you hop on a chocobo and excel onwards at speed, collecting more chests in the process. None of these are particularly strategic - it's actually difficult not to power up mid-battle - but it's another fun way of cleverly cramming in those Final Fantasy moments into a music game.
When it comes to the soundtrack, the 70 song-strong listing is by and large fantastic, covering 13 mainline entries in the series (interestingly, XIV is absent) with big hitters such as One-Winged Angel, Aerith's Theme and To Zankerand, through to the more fan-favourite Man with the Machine Gun and Battle on the Big Bridge.
There are a few dud choices in there - IX and XII's initial selections are disappointing until you unlock more tracks - but generally you can expect the most recognised tracks to be available from the get go. The promise of copious DLC should also satisfy the demand for more niche requests, too.
Whether due to sweet nostalgia or the realisation that Final Fantasy's music is still incredible to listen to, it's difficult not to grin from ear-to-ear throughout Theatrhythm Final Fantasy's opening hours. After that initial run through, you'll be replaying individual songs on stronger difficulties to unlock more content.
It's a neat idea, but since succeeding in songs is entirely skill based, it doesn't really come into its own until tougher difficulties set in, where you'll want to defeat as many enemies faster for more bonus items, or give you more chances to survive the most devious tracks. It's not particularly strategic or deep, but it's a welcome way to add some role-playing flavour.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Chaos Shrine, allowing you to play dungeon-like quests called Dark Notes. These bite-sized, two-song trials are generated at random, providing you with surprise new songs to play and difficult takes on pre-existing ones. Multiple replays yield hidden new bosses and items, and your favourite encounters can be shared with others over StreetPass.
There's a high number of extras - mainly new characters and tracks - which can take a surprising length of time to obtain. This is a double-edged sword; on one hand there's plenty of content available to keep you occupied on your way to the last few secrets - Dark Notes, harder difficulties as well as the enjoyment of going over your favourite songs - but the lack of a true campaign or obvious unlock path can make it feel like a grind at times. Considering its role-playing game roots this feels somewhat appropriate, but die-hards will eagerly keep going to see everything there is to offer.
While Final Fantasy has lost its way in recent years, Theatrhythm is a warm, wonderful reminder of why you fell in love with the series in the first place. While your mileage will depend on your familiarity with the series, in its own right this is a fun and quirky rhythm game full of neat ideas, but for long-time Final Fantasy fans this is nigh-on essential.