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Rhythm games used to be a dime a dozen. After Gitaroo Man, it felt like there was a new DDR iteration launching every other week, among many other prolific series such as Parappa the Rapper, and later, enough Guitar Hero and Rock Band games to fill a small landfill.

Recently however, the genre has really quieted down. The Guitar Hero series is on indefinite hold, and outside of a few minor titles, it’s fairly hard to get your groove on these days. Enter Theatrhythm Final Fantasy — a collection of music from Final Fantasy I all the way up to XIII that seeks to placate all the insatiable rhythm fans across the world.

It isn’t perfect, but if you’re a long time Final Fantasy fan, Theatrhythm is probably the best method in which too relive your nostalgia to date.

Theatrhythm does have a plot, but it’s tenuous at best, and fairly inconsequential. It seems to take place in the same universe as the Dissidia series, as it pits rival Gods Chaos and Cosmos against each other. Chaos essentially disrupts the rhythm of the universe, and it’s up to you to patch up the music crystal that emits said rhythm.

When you first pop in the game, you’ll have access to “Series Mode”, which lets you play select songs from Final Fantasy I up to XIII, in a predetermined order. Each set involves one Field Music (world maps) section, one Battle Music section, and an Event Music portion (various scenes or CGI from the games themselves). Tap notes, hold notes, and directional notes.

All of it was really easy to pick up, and I was able to get someone who doesn’t regularly play games familiar with the system in less than five minutes.

Series Mode is basically a very lengthy tutorial for the game, as every song must be played on “Normal” (which is quite easy) in order to unlock it for the other two modes, “Challenge” and “Chaos Tower”.

If you simply stopped at the Series Mode, you’d probably be incredibly disappointed, as it doesn’t really challenge you past basic concepts. The real meat of the game is playing your favorite songs over and over on two additional difficulties in Challenge Mode, and pounding away at Chaos Tower.

To be blunt, Chaos Tower is my favorite mode in the game, and I really wish that I was fleshed out a bit more. Through various “Chaos Notes” that you can unlock along the way, you’ll play two random battle and field stages. Through these notes you can play special songs that don’t appear in the main game, such as Mamba de Chocobo and Jenova’s theme, making it a blast if you randomly get these songs in conjunction with other classics.

The only problem is that you could also randomly get some fairly uninspired songs from Final Fantasy XIII in the mix over and over, which might inspire you to take a break for a little while. In fact, I think the game would have heavily benefited from a “random/endless mode”, that allows you to filter certain games or songs.

TFF also has a neat streetpass function that allows you to share your detailed profile card with others. You can also attach Dark Notes to these cards (don’t worry you won’t lose them) and share them with your friends. There’s also a local multiplayer function for up to three other players for those who are inclined.

Over time as you acquire more power for the music crystal (the main resource in the game), you’ll unlock new features and songs. The beauty of the mechanic is that you can earn this meta-currency in any of the game’s modes, which essentially means that there’s  no punishment for playing the way you want to play. Once you tap enough power, you can fight Chaos in what basically is the “final battle” of the game.

As a word of warning, if you’re not a fan of chibi artwork, you probably won’t enjoy anything this game has to offer visually. Literally everything is chibi-fied, all the way down to Safer Sephiroth.

While I don’t normally mind the style at all personally, I felt like many character models didn’t really look anything like their iteration counterparts, which kind of distilled some of my enjoyment purely from a fan perspective. Since the focus of the game is mostly on rhythm gameplay however, this style is mostly inconsequential.

As far as Theatrhythm’s RPG elements go, they’re really a mixed bag.  Yea that’s right, TFF attempts to inject role playing elements and items into the rhythm genre! Over the course of the game you can not only earn items, but extra skills and spells for you characters.

The best way I can describe the powers is something similar to “Star Power” in the Rock Band/Guitar Hero series. Certain items and spells will engage at certain parameters (ie your health is below 10% for a potion), but that’s about it.

Since the game is a score-attack based affair, simply “surviving” really isn’t all that vital to the game’s progression or your self enjoyment, unless you plan on barely scratching the surface of what the game has to offer.

Although it can be cool to see your characters use spells and special abilities during battle sequences, nothing really comes from it as long as you’re perfecting your notes on-screen.

All in all however, I had a great time with the game, despite some minor issues that dampened the experience a bit. On higher difficulties the game is actually pretty challenging (although not nearly as challenging as other games in the genre), and as a fan of the series since I first laid eyes on Final Fantasy I on my NES, it only heightened by enjoyment.

Before you buy Theatrhythm, consider the following major factor: are you a Final Fantasy fan? Simply put, TFF is mostly a love letter to people who have supported the series over the years.

There are numerous key scenes from various titles in the series that will mean nothing to non-fans, and the musical selection is much more poignant if you grew up listening to Nobuo Uematsu’s classic tunes. If you’re a rhythm fan, you might enjoy Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, you will love it.

This review was based on a retail copy of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for the Nintendo 3DS.

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