The original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was one of my top games of 2012. It brought together a superb selection of music from the mainline entries of the Final Fantasy franchise, designed a sort of rhythm RPG hybrid out of it, and tied it all together in a nice cutesy bow. For the longest time, it was one of the most addictive and frequently played 3DS games I owned. The sequel, dubbed Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, promises the same compelling gameplay, but with more songs, modes, and characters. After hearing that, how could I not take the plunge?
Like its predecessor, there isn’t much of a story to be had. Cosmos and Chaos from the Dissidia titles are at each other again, and between them is a music crystal called Rhythm. After the distortion that occurred with Rhythm was restored in the first game, things have come full circle and Chaos has gained newfound power. It’s up to the heroes of the Final Fantasy universe to collect Rhythmia and set things right yet again.
Yeah, it’s so forgettable I had to consult the manual just to remember it. Fortunately, it’s irrelevant to your enjoyment.
If you’ve never played the prior game, the gameplay in Theatrhythm is divided into three distinct styles. The first is Battle Music Stage, which displays your chosen party on the right hand side with your enemies on the left in classic FF style, with each of your characters being designated their own note tracks. As the notes come scrolling across and land in the circle next to your character, you have to tap the touchscreen with your stylus. If the notes are red, all that is required is a simple tap, but if it’s green, you’ll have to hold down the note until it is finished. There are also notes with arrows drawn in them, which task you with making a motion on the touchscreen in the direction of the arrow. Sometimes songs will combine the two and have you hold a note, then draw an arrow at the end of it. Occasionally, you’ll encounter sections that will trigger a summon or chocobo to come to your aid, leading to more enemies defeated or land traveled within that stage.
Another game type is Field Music Stage (or FMS), which has the main character of your party traversing the landscape of whatever game the song you’re playing is from. As before, you have to tap the touchscreen as the notes pass through the circle at the top of the screen. Except now, the green notes that you have to hold will weave up and down, and your placement of the stylus on the bottom screen has to match where the line is going up top. If you miss, your character will fall down and lose potential progress that can be used to gain an item at the end. New this time around are songs that play while riding an airship that actually feature your characters traveling the skies. The viewpoint is slanted in these particular stages, which makes them arguably trickier than the normal FMS’.
The final game type is Event Music Stage (or EMS), which shows a montage of cutscenes set to the tune of a memorable song from the game in which the scenes are based. The notes and circle will not be in a stationary horizontal plane as before, and will instead zigzag around. Also throwing a wrench in things is the fact that you can only see so far ahead of you, so you won’t know what notes are coming until you are about to hit them.
You have an HP meter at the top of the screen which dictates how much you can fail on a particular stage. Every time you miss, your party takes damage and your HP meter drains. Once the meter is empty, you’ve failed the song. As you complete songs, your party levels up, raising your HP with it. You can also equip items and skills that can regenerate HP or give you another shot should you be dealt a finishing blow. I should note that, although the stylus play works just as well as it did previously, you’re not limited to that control scheme anymore. If you’d rather press the face buttons or the analog stick in time with the notes, or even do a combination of the two, there’s an option to do that. There’s even a one handed option that lets you play with just the thumb stick and the L button!
Since you can choose a party comprised of characters from the first fourteen games and the various spinoffs, each one has different stats and abilities that can be improved as they gain levels. Using characters high in Strength and Magic will make it easier to down foes in battles, where Agility will allow you to progress farther in FMS’s. Luck is helpful in obtaining treasure chests, and Stamina and Spirit stats resist any damage thrown your way. The collectible cards are more than just for show this time around too; they can used to power up your characters at the loss of the cards and, depending on which ones you pair up, lead to different effects.
The modes from the first game have been pitched out the window in favor of some new ones, which is both good and bad (mostly good). You can still play individual songs as you could before, with each one categorized by their respective game. The Basic, Expert, and Ultimate difficulties are all unlocked from the get go, and favorite songs can be marked as such so you can easily cycle to your favorites at a given moment. New to this entry is the Quest Medley mode that challenges you to traverse a map to defeat the boss (or bosses) that await you at the end to earn crystal shards needed for unlocking characters. Your party always starts at one end of the field and makes their way across by completing song selections. The songs are always unknown at first, but they are revealed to you if you play the map more than once, and you can choose a different route each time you play. Once you reach the other end of the field, you must enter a dungeon and traverse that map before facing off against the final boss and completing the mode.
The Quest Medleys are divided up into Short, Medium, Long, and Inherited, which are mostly self-explanatory save for the latter, which are obtained from playing with other people. As you complete the medleys, more are unlocked and your favorites can be attached to your profile for people who StreetPass you to play. Each one is also assigned a level threshold that acts as more of a suggestion rather than a requirement so you can gauge how difficult it’s going to be.
The cooperative mode from the original has been scrapped as well, which is unfortunate considering I’d rather play with my friends than against them, but at least the Versus Mode is entertaining in its own right. This mode can be played against the A.I. or with friends, both locally and online, each one with its own ranking system. Both players pick a song and the game will randomly select one of the two. The objective, of course, is to be more accurate than your opponent. There’s a catch, however: an EX gauge will fill up as you land notes and defeat enemies, and filling it up will saddle your rival with a status effect. These effects include speeding up the notes, hiding them until they get close, or even spinning the arrowed notes as they approach you. Resulting effects are often based on luck and are often what mean the difference between the winner and the… not winner.
Curtain Call retains the cutesy art style, which continues to be endearing even two years later. Characters are chibi-style with blank eyes and rosy cheeks, and the monsters look more like pets rather than creatures to be slain. The environments are far more varied, with each song having its own unique background themed after the game it represents. That is, if you can pull yourself away from the zooming notes long enough to admire the scenery.
Let’s talk about the soundtrack. It. Is. Massive. There are 221 songs in all, which includes the entirety of the setlist from the first game, all of its DLC (save for the one FFXV song), and an entire barrage of songs pulled from the spinoff games. Obvious ones, such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 are to be expected, but the game even pulls tracks from Crystal Chronicles, Tactics, and (gasp!) Mystic Quest. Almost every song you could ever want made the cut, and the ones that didn’t are slowly being drip fed via DLC. There are still some major omissions, such as “Eyes on Me” or “Liberi Fatali” from FFVIII, but to my knowledge DLC packs are still being released in Japan, so there’s still hope.
In addition to the massive setlist, there are sixty characters to round out your party with, including those characters from the spinoff games. Playing the Curtain Call demo unlocks a bunch for you to pick from, though anyone not chosen immediately has to be unlocked again using crystal shards, so choose wisely. If you can’t decide on an ideal party from those on the cart, you can purchase characters as DLC too. What’s unusual is that the ability to purchase DLC has to be unlocked, which is probably the first time in history that any company has challenged the player to unlock the ability to pay them money.
Speaking of paying a company extra money, those that picked up the collector’s edition are in for some extra goodies. I could have done without the 3DS pouch, but the collectible cards are a nice touch, and any kind of soundtrack is a double bonus. I would’ve appreciated more songs (who wouldn’t), but at least closing the lid on your 3DS while in the music player will continue to crank out tunes for you. It’s like having your own Final Fantasy themed radio station on the go! The package design was also very sharp looking. How unfortunate, then, that it’s currently sold out.
You can play Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call for hours and barely touch the entire setlist. There is that much content. Add in all of the unlockable characters and songs, the in-game trophies, and the various Quest Medleys that can be picked up from other players, and there is no shortage of things to do. Add in the fact that the simplistic rhythm-based gameplay is STILL incredibly addictive, the soundtrack is the best in probably any game ever made, and that it’s easy to pick up and play in short bursts. It’s practically the perfect portable game. This is a labor of love from Square Enix if there ever was one, and I would love to see more of it in the future.
Short Attention Span Summary
Rather than having the design philosophy of “more of the same,” Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call instead opts for just “more, more, more.” With over 200 songs, over sixty characters, and a myriad of unlockables, the sheer amount of content dwarfs that of the original release. And at the time, I thought that was absolutely worth the price of admission. The rhythm based gameplay is just as addictive as it was two years ago, and the soundtrack is simply mind-blowing with its combination of tracks from both mainline and spinoff Final Fantasy titles. If you are a fan at all and own a 3DS, you MUST get this game. And if you’re not a fan, well, at least check out the demo if nothing else. It just might make you one.