What is it with the Final Fantasy series and its unrelenting desire to smother players underneath fluffy impenetrable pillows of adorable jargon? Theatrhythm is certainly no exception to the trend, clearly attempting to confuse players as soon as they attempt to read the title. Theatrhythm? I can only begin to imagine the various ways people working in video game stores have heard theatre-rhythm (that-rhythm? the-at-rhythm?) pronounced.
At its core, Theatrhythm digs through the Final Fantasy compendium to mix up a trio of rhythm-based action games, a musical trifecta based around up-tempo battle tracks, rambling field tunes and spiralling event pieces set to a background of archive footage. Square Enix elects to call these modes BMS, FMS and EMS in an unsurprisingly obtuse and mandatory tutorial which plays out when you first start the game, further emphasising the publisher's uncanny ability to horribly overcomplicate a game about pressing buttons on a screen in time to music.
Each mode plays out with a small twist on the game's basic set of notes, which feature simple taps and holds with a slightly more advanced move which requires you to flick the stylus in a certain direction. Field pieces have you use the stylus on the 3DS' bottom screen to follow a moving line on the top screen, for instance, to symbolise your character's trek across the series' lush verdant greenery. Battle tunes have your four party members on the screen attacking enemies - you know, like in Final Fantasy - while boshing down notes as they scroll across the screen, and Event stages have the notes flying randomly around a scrolling wobbly line.
Developer IndiesZero is keen to infuse more than just the series' music, adding in a sizeable dose of RPG elements to your objectives. The concept revolves around a battle between Cosmos and Chaos, which is something from the Dissidia sub-series that I'm not even going to pretend to understand. Theatrhythm's ultimate goal is the Chaos Shrine mode, an ultra-difficult random combination which serves up the game's most powerful unlocks via StreetPass-able Dark Note challenges, though your road to it first involves clearing three-song batches from Series mode, which has you blast through arrangements from Final Fantasy I through XIII. These brief tours unlock the tracks in Challenge mode, which allows you to attempt them individually at higher difficulties, and doing all this gains you Rhythmia, the accruement of which servers as the game's primary objective. In short, and because everything Final Fantasy does sounds far more complicated than it actually is, you unlock more songs and modes by repeating the same Final Fantasy tracks over and over and over. The game's biggest failing is definitely repetition, though playing it in lots of small doses helps alleviate the frustration.
Walking you through this impressively extensive catalogue of music is a customisable quartet of Final Fantasy heroes initially restricted to the main heroes from each game - I picked Cloud, Terra, Tidus and Vaan. 16 characters can also be unlocked by hoovering up the Rhythmia, including Aeris, Sephiroth and Kain.
Your ragtag bunch of chibi characters, who bark out patchwork phrases such as "come on we take off endlessly for the end" before going into battle, can be customised with items and weapons gathered from slain monsters and all have their individual strengths and weaknesses. You'll likely ignore all of this, mind, in favour of just choosing your favourite characters, as a level 50 character doesn't feel much different to a level 5 character at the end of the day.
Theatrhythm's real star is undoubtedly its music, however, which appeals far more than its cumbersome RPG elements. There are over 50 songs included, with extra individual tracks also being sold as DLC. Most of the series' popular music makes an appearance on the cartridge, including FFVII's One Winged Angel, FFV's Mambo de Chocobo and FFX's To Zanarkand. I'm sure everyone will have their own favourites: Theatrhythm is clearly made with the series' fans in mind, the sheer broadness of its content ensures that all types of Final Fantasy fan will be able to find something that resonates in this surprisingly quirky rhythm game.
Version Tested: Nintendo 3DS