Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

When Theatrythm Final Fantasy came out in 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS, the small-but-hyperaddictive game stole more hours of my life than I usually care to admit. It certainly wasn’t the greatest game ever released, despite its featuring of some of the most iconic video game music. The original Theatrythm felt like a really well-polished rhythm app game you might find on iTunes (and to be fair, it did end up on iTunes with a $0.00 price tag and a veritable ton of DLC). With the release of Theatrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, Square-Enix and developer Indieszero have vastly improved upon their experimental RPG/rhythm hybrid of two years ago. Although it still comes up a bit short as far as depth is concerned, Curtain Call is the definitive version of anything with the Theatrythm Final Fantasy label. Moreover, it’s what the original really should have been.

For those unfamiliar with the adorable/wacky concept of Theatrythm, please allow me to explain. The game is a spiritual successor to Square-Enix’s Dissidia Final Fantasy series, which was a unique blend of arena-style fighting, beat-em-up, and the obligatory RPG elements (no, really). The series at-large featured heroes and villains from the first thirteen Final Fantasy titles locked in an endless war between good and evil. Now, enter Theatrythm. Like its predecessor, the game featured nearly the same cast and essentially retold the same story; but this time, through the magic of song. Dissidia’s frantic, fast-paced battles and graphic realism were replaced by adorable chibi-characters, cartoonish environs, and an easy to pick up style of rhythm gameplay. That wasn’t necessarily a bad change… it just makes for an entirely different gaming experience.

Theatrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call retains the same core gameplay of the original. There are three types of music stages—Battle, Field, and Event. Notes will float across the bottom screen from the left, and you tap the screen when they cross a goal zone on the right. Red notes require a simple tap, green notes you’ll need to hold your stylus down for a few seconds, and yellow ones require a surprisingly hard to master tap/swipe combination. You get to form a party of four characters from the FF series, complete with their own abilities. In Battle stages, your party engages in a classic Final Fantasy-style fight. Field stages have your party crossing side-scrolling maps based on locales from across FF lore. Event stages depict a slideshow of scenes from whatever game the current song is from. Curtain Call now allows you to play using the 3DS’s face buttons to play through music stages, which while isn’t totally groundbreaking, is still a nice accommodation.

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One of the major improvements Curtain Call makes over its progenitor is the staggering amount of content contained within. The first Theatrythm game featured about twenty playable characters and around seventy songs, not counting several made available as DLC. Curtain Call brings the character cast to around sixty, and the song count to well over two-hundred, with new songs and characters being made available as DLC every week. It nearly tripled the amount of content its predecessor had, at literally no cost to the technical performance of the game. This further reiterates my point that Curtain Call really is what 2012’s Theatrythm should have been.

I have to give some props to Square-Enix for referencing some of the more obscure Final Fantasy titles in Curtain Call. The character Benjamin, for instance, is from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest—this game has hardly been acknowledged since it came out twenty-two years ago. Even the Chocobo’s Dungeon games get a reference, with two Battle music tracks available to play. While I’m glad SE included X-2 and the entire FFXIII trilogy, the fanboy in me was a little disheartened to learn that the sequel to Final Fantasy IV, The After Years, went unreferenced. Oh well, right?

Despite the inclusion of over sixty playable characters, one discrepancy I still have is how each hero feels like he or she is a clone of another. Curtain Call did a good job of making stat development and level gaining more relevant in the sequel, with the addition of two new stats characters can have and a slew of new abilities to learn. As great as that is, sadly, it doesn’t remove the ‘samey’ feeling I get from my party, regardless of which characters I have in it. That being said, there are clear-cut magic users and physical attackers and thief-class characters; but it all starts to blend together after a while.

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Perhaps the most significant new addition found in Curtain Call is the Versus Mode. This was the single biggest factor missing from the first Theatrythm, and it was sorely desired. Curtain Call’s competitive multiplayer can be used both locally and online. After around an hour and a half of constantly playing online Versus, never once did I have any lag or slowdown issues. Exclusive to the Versus Mode are ‘EX Bursts’, special attacks that can be used to directly mess with your competitor. While I like the concept of status effects literally affecting a real person’s ability to play the game well, I have to be honest; some of these special attacks can be downright unbalanced. EX Bursts such as Zooming Triggers, for instance, will make the notes floating across your screen really small until they reach their goal zone, at which they instantly become normal sized. Or, take Wave Speed, which randomly shifts the speed at which the notes travel. Now, I realize that this was by design—these EX Bursts are supposed to impede your rival, which they absolutely do. So much to the point that friendly competition turns to unenjoyable frustration rather quickly.

Overall, Curtain Call feels much more like the musical history/tribute the Final Fantasy series deserves than its predecessor. Painstaking efforts were taken to ensure that each music track was faithfully presented. There are heartwarming FF references and quotes around every corner. Even the Dark Note challenges from the first Theatrythm were replaced by the new ‘Quest Medley,’ which sends a party of four heroes on musical quests of varying lengths. It’s just another way to play through music stages, but how it’s presented—as a classic Final Fantasy quest—is heartwarming.

As with the first Theatrythm, no need to stop here if you’re not a fan of either rhythm games or Final Fantasy. That said, Curtain Call is one of the most addictive experiences available on the 3DS—even if said experience might better belong on your iPhone.