Two thousand and twelve’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was definitely a spinoff that few people predicted, mainly due to its choice of genre. While almost every previous Final Fantasy game had some semblance of traditional role-playing in its core gameplay, Square Enix chose to mix things up and make a portable rhythm game featuring many notable tracks from the iconic series.
I enjoyed the original Theatrhythm as a whole, due to its use of familiar tunes that many gamers have nostalgia for, as well as its solid presentation and gameplay variety. My biggest gripe with it actually lied within the control scheme itself. The title required the use of the 3DS’ lower touch screen for all of its gameplay, but made things a bit awkward by showing the actual game on the top screen. More important was the recurring feeling of imprecision when the game cued you to swipe across the screen in a specific direction. There were many occasions where it didn’t approve of my attempts, even when I felt that they were precise, and later difficulties became impossible as a result.
Square Enix may have heard similar complaints from consumers and test groups, because two years later, we have a full-fledged sequel to the game in the form of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, and it directly addresses the original’s biggest hindsight by adding other input options that make use of the face buttons and circle pad on Nintendo’s handheld. But that’s far from the only addition, as the actual amount of content has been enormously expanded, and several modes have been refined or added to for a better experience. If you thought the original Theatrhythm was great, or even just decent, this is a sequel you should definitely consider checking out.
Just like the original, Curtain Call ignores the often complex plots of the main series, with story relegated to very simple walls of text describing a battle between Cosmos and Chaos, the gods introduced in the Dissidia spinoff games. There’s one that displays when you first play the game as well as one that appears after collecting a certain amount of Rhythmia, which is a returning system of points that is added to after each song, with the total depending on your performance and a few other factors. Final Fantasy fans who play this game without prior knowledge of its predecessor, which took the same approach, should know that story is not the focus here at all. That isn’t exactly a problem though, as the structure and gameplay don’t require a narrative in the least.
The core gameplay remains identical to the original Theatrhythm. Songs fall into one of three categories, those being Battle Music, Field Music, and Event Music. Before each song, as well as upon first starting the game, players can form a party of four characters from past Final Fantasy titles, ranging from the majority of lead protagonists to certain members of supporting casts.
Battle Music has the party taking on a string of enemies, but instead of turn-based combat and choosing specific moves, you’ll be able to preserve your HP bar and continually attack as long as you successfully perform the specific inputs the game clues you in on, with four outlines and approaching circles that can be best summed up as the traditional Dance Dance Revolution interface turned sideways.
The one new element that mixes things up in Battle Mode is a specific Summon section, and each song has one at predetermined points. If players can pull off every input during the first part, one of the trademark recurring Final Fantasy summon creatures will appear, and the four lanes will collapse into one. If the player can also pull off the next couple of inputs, the summon will then perform a special attack that is much stronger than normal ones provided by the party, and is often guaranteed to take out the current enemy instantly.
Field Music uses mostly similar controls, but mixes up both the look and the way certain notes are handled. Your lead party member is shown automatically walking through a sidescrolling environment that’s typically themed after the current song’s original game, as a single lane above them shows circles in the same manner as in battles. The notable exception here is that the extended notes that require you to hold down on them often curve up and down, requiring you to move your input and match the change in direction to keep your combo going. A mechanic fundamentally identical to summons appears here, too, only it summons a Chocobo that lets your party cover more distance due to its increased speed. Admittedly, I’m still not exactly sure what benefits the increased distance is supposed to provide, though I assume it can result in more valuable items provided to you upon completion.
Finally, there’s Event Music, which is definitely the least common of the three. Instead of your party, the background shows a montage of key scenes from a specific game, along with one of that title’s most iconic tunes or themes. A circular cursor moves across lines, curves and corners automatically, but the input method remains the same in terms of matching your actions to when the outline perfectly overlaps each circle. The specific sections that lead to summons and chocobos in the other levels appear here, too, but they serve a different purpose, in that if you fail to perform well during them, the song will end early. Passing these parts successfully activates the song’s Extended Edition, both providing the full version of the song and allowing for a higher score and combo.
All three modes are enjoyable, but I’d personally give the overall edge to the battles for a few minor reasons. The held notes in field levels very often have direction-based prompts at their ends, and while it’s easier to pull this off at the right time with a stylus, using the circle pad is also allowed for those who prefer buttons. The nice thing is that precision doesn’t become an issue when the pad is used, though the downside is that many held notes have ongoing curves right before their directional input, and far too often, the game detected my input towards the curve’s direction far too early. I ended up resorting to putting the pad back in its default center position a little bit before reaching the input, but that can result in your outline falling off the note line if you do it too early, creating a rather tricky balancing act. Those who stick with stylus controls won’t have to worry about this as much, though.
Event levels are certainly enjoyable, too, but a few aspects can be a bit confusing. The direction of the outline’s path seems pretty random and unfocused, and its movement speed can increase and decrease at certain points, making it harder to get a hold of the rhythm and timing. Also, while successfully beating battle and field levels always results in some sort of reward, that seems completely random here. Pulling off a highlighted note perfectly causes a treasure icon to pop up, but it either results in a confirmation of a reward or a failure. I was generally playing well on the sections where these chests appeared, so I’m not sure if it’s dependent on your accuracy, but if that’s not the case, this random element feels pretty unnecessary.
Now that I’ve covered the flaws I encountered, I should probably describe this game’s positive points and improvements, because there are plenty. As I mentioned before, more direct input methods using the circle pad to emulate swipes and the four lettered face buttons for hitting normal notes, are automatically supported and work very well, aside from the noted field level issue. It’s great that the developers chose to directly address what was easily my biggest complaint with the first game, and the result is a much less frustrating and precise experience. The traditional stylus controls still remain for those who are fond of them, and you can even combine the two while playing if you desire. It’s a win-win situation.
The amount of overall content and longevity provided here completely dwarfs the original, too. While the first Theatrhythm provided around 70 songs and some additional ones through gradual DLC, Curtain Call gives you over 200 right away (aside from the Event songs and a few bonuses that can be unlocked by accumulating Rhythmia). A big part of why the lineup is so much bigger is that the entire tracklist from the first game is retained, with the only exception being a song from the still-in-development Final Fantasy XV. This is one of those rare instances where there is essentially no reason for players to hold on to their copies of the original title, since practically everything from it returns along with plenty of new stuff.
Another mode returning from the original, albeit with heavy modifications, is the Quest Medley mode, which serves the same purpose as the Chaos Shrine in the first game. Players once again start off with randomly generated and named quests, and can obtain longer and more challenging ones by completing each one. However, while the Chaos Shrine offered nothing unique other than providing a nonstop medley of various songs, Quest Medley adds a simple but appreciated overworld map in-between songs, which often contains branching paths that lead to different songs and unlockables. These range from colored keys that can unlock alternate paths in other quests to checkpoints that you’ll return to if you fail a later song. It’s a simple addition, but one that helps lessen the monotony that I often felt with Dark Notes.
Beyond that basic structure, beating a quest often results in far better rewards than just playing a single song in the main mode, such as rarer items or colored crystals that are used to unlock hidden characters for your party. StreetPass functionality also returns in the form of ProfiCards, customizable displays in which players can adjust background designs, the featured character, and a short custom text message. Besides players being able to automatically send their cards to others through the 3DS’ local wireless function, you can also attach a copy of a quest of your choice that you’ve already completed, helping to provide other players with new quests they may not already have.
Many additional party characters are provided, too. You still have the lead protagonists of the main numbered games available (with the exception of the MMOs XI and XIV, likely due to the lead playable characters being highly customizable in both), but there are a lot more side characters that you can unlock, including fan favorites like Edgar, Barret and Auron. In a nice touch, the game also includes both characters and playable songs from some of the series’ numerous spinoff titles, like Chocobo’s Dungeon, Advent Children, Crystal Chronicles, and even the notorious Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I’m still not a fan of how almost every character has the same face and body shape, but there are thankfully a few exceptions to this rule, such as Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. The fact that each character can unlock unique moves and buffs by leveling up through experience gained from each completed song also helps add an incentive to occasionally mix things up.
Players shouldn’t expect to play as all their favorites right away, though. When you first start the game, you can pick four initial characters from the main characters of each game. After that, you need to gradually unlock various colored crystals, which are obtainable through collecting Rhythmia or beating quests. Each color will provide you with a lineup of unlockable characters when you reach a certain plateau, allowing you to then pick your favorite individual to use in your party, with the rest becoming available the next time you collect more of that individual color. If you’re interested in unlocking specific characters, this helps to increase the game’s replay value a lot.
Even some of the more unimportant features from the first game have been given additional usefulness. The unlockable character CollectaCards, which are randomly received when beating a level, originally served no purpose outside of being eye candy. Now, when editing your party’s lineup and abilities, there’s an additional option to use up CollectaCards, with the reward being improved stats for whichever party member you want. Seeing noticeable growth can take many cards, but it’s very smart that Square Enix added some actual usefullness to them.
The multiplayer has also seen some improvements.
While the original limited multiplayer to local cooperative play via Dark Notes, a more substantial option is now available. What’s neat is that this new scenario allows for EX Attacks to be activated through successfully timed inputs, causing a random negative effect to activate on your opponent’s screen, potentially affecting their life bar or changing how notes look and how fast they move. Not only that, but now you can challenge others via an online mode. In a nice move, you can specify whether you want to look for opponents within your region or internationally, which was fortunate for me since I recieved the game before its official North American release. From the matches I played with Japanese players, I discovered that the mode can be quite fun, though it seemed likely that players with higher-leveled party members will gain an edge, as an opponent with everyone at level 99 basically wiped the floor with me despite the fact that I played well.
If you absolutely hated the original Theatrhythm game, or just don’t enjoy rhythm games in general, there’s not much of a reason to pick up Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call. However, if you enjoyed it to any extent and the additions of many more songs, characters, and modes sounds promising, it’s definitely worth buying.
While it may have seemed like a random decision for Square Enix to create a rhythm-based Final Fantasy spinoff, it’s ended up paying off big time with this second instalment.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
Addressing many of its predecessor's flaws and dramatically increasing its amount of content, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is definitely worth playing for fans of the original, as well as anyone looking for a fun rhythm game.