Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Hands-On Preview: Tapping to Familiar Tunes

Say what you will about Square Enix; they know the recipe for what their fans like. They know if they take equal parts cute and fun and mix in a sprinkle of nostalgia, they’ve got our money before we even know we’ve given it up. They’ve got a seemingly never-ending supply of resources in their library, with a huge list of popular franchises. So it’s no surprise that their new rhythm game for the 3DS, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy – still mocked for its ridiculous name – was a big hit at PAX East.

Platforms: 3DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Indieszero
Genre: RPG (Rhythm Precision Game)
Release Date: July 3, 2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Theatrhythm doesn’t have much going on mechanically that is innovative. As the music plays and the note prompts are shown on the top screen, you take the 3DS stylus and tap along, sometimes holding the stylus down and picking it up, sometimes just touching it once to the screen, and other times swiping it in the direction indicated on the screen. Like most rhythm games, you get into the groove of it, feeling the music more as you go. Simple enough, right?

Where Theatrythm really shines through and stands out as unique is in its content. The songs that you play originate from (where else?) the entire Final Fantasy library. They have several different stage options – there’s Overworld Music, Battle Music, Event Music (covering a vast array of scenes), and the Opening and Closing Music. Each one has its own charm: in the overworld music levels, you must play well to get to the end and meet up with a character who has an item for you. In the battle music levels, the goal is to do damage to the enemies, which can only be done if you play the notes successfully. The Event Music stages play the scenes they’re from in the background, while the Opening and Closing Music levels are the simplest, with music notes in a crystal on the top screen.

I opted to play one of the boss battle songs from Final Fantasy V, a game I wrapped up recently, so the music was still fresh in my head. I was bopping along to it, tapping and humming and smiling. In the top screen were chibi graphics of the party and the boss, fighting adorably. Everything about the game is heartwarmingly addictive – as I said, it’s cute, fun, and nostalgic, which are all things that go well with the Final Fantasy series. While it may sound ridiculous fighting a boss battle this way, it’s actually a fresh take on both genres, mashing them up together to create something that’s fun and new. Add to that the sheer amount of music and characters and stories that can be drawn from this franchise, and this game is a success story waiting to happen.

While it seems strange to have a rhythm game on the 3DS, it works well on the system, blending the 3D in a subtle way. There’s not much here that the 3D will be adding to other than giving the colorful game a little more fun. But the decision to have it on Nintendo’s portable as opposed to Sony’s is a good one. The two screens work perfectly with the gameplay, creating a successful and entertaining experience. I’m sure many fans were hoping for another full Final Fantasy game for the new handheld, but this game is about to shoot to the top of the list of the small library of fun games for the 3DS.

Eager fans will be happy to know that Theatrhythm Final Fantasy will be coming out in the United States on July 3. While it’s still nearly three months away – I was secretly plotting to somehow walk away with a copy of it from the show floor, but came up empty – this is plenty of time to brush up on those old Final Fantasy games to prepare for it. Or perhaps you want to dust off some of your old rhythm games to get your brain and hands back to their finger-tapping apex again. Or maybe you just need a reason to pick up a 3DS. Whatever your plan of action, make sure it includes pre-ordering this game.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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