Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call Review (Nintendo 3DS)
Square Enix’s venture into nostalgic musicals is back for an encore with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call. While many of you may have tried this Guitar Hero and DDR-inspired adventure back in 2012, Curtain Call takes the entire experience of the first game and expands it to a bigger and broader stage, with tons of new songs, levels and characters that we longed for in the original Theatrhythm. If you wanted Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, FFXIII’s spin-offs, Advent Children and even A Realm Reborn thrown into the chibi, marionette style of Theatrhythm, then Square Enix certainly caters what you want. A lot of players of the original game might be skeptical, believing that Curtain Call is just Square Enix’s attempt at Capcom-ing an uninspired re-release of the same title, but there is certainly a lot of content added to sway the naysayers. Even if you already gathered your four warriors of the light and trekked down this path before, there's enough here to say it's more than just a remix.
Make no mistake - Curtain Call is completely geared towards evoking nostalgia. In a day and age where the Final Fantasy name has lost much of its shine due to subpar later entries that, arguably, do not hold up to their predecessors, Theatrhythm is all about rekindling your love for the entire series and to spark interest for its lesser known titles that have niche followings. It may even make you become interested in some of the offbeat spin-offs you missed in the past. There’s just something about being able to make a party from the likes of FF IV’s Rydia the Summoner, Kain Highwind, Edge Geraldine, FFVI’s Celes Chere, Locke Cole, FFVII’s Barret Wallace, Sephiroth, FFIX’s Vivi Ornitier, FFX’s Auron and Final Fantasy Tactics’ Ramza Beoulve and Agris the Holy Knight that reminds us of everything we loved about each of these games. It is a grim reminder that Square Enix certainly does not make its plots or its characters as memorable as it used to, but it also acknowledges the love fans have for these heroes. Even though he might be DLC, we marked out just from hearing about Cidolfus Orlandeau’s inclusion. While the first Theatrhythm felt more like a musical retelling of Dissidia, Curtain Call feels like proper epilogue and a last bow starring most of our favorite characters from throughout the series, except Shadow -- he must have been left on the Floating Continent.
In terms of presentation, Curtain Call looks almost the exactly the same as before. The graphics engine remains unchanged, meaning that the adorable, doll-like style of character design has expanded to all of its new characters, and boy there are a lot of them. Thirty-one characters have been added, mainly comprised of the supporting cast of the core series along with the protagonists of the spin-off titles. These spin-offs include Crystal Chronicles, Crisis Core, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Dissidia, Dissidia 012, the upcoming Type-0 and even the ‘Advent Children’ film. It’s a shame that the opening and closing themes of the ‘Final Fantasy: Unlimited’ anime series weren’t added, but there are enough tracks here that we don’t miss those too much. The monsters and enemies’ exaggerated caricatures art style is back and looks even more awesome. Seeing boss characters like Golbez, Typhon and even Diamond Weapon pop up for bouts unexpectedly towards the end of each of their appropriate songs left us bewildered as to how much fan service was added.
Like most Dance Dance Revolution-inspired rhythm titles, Theatrhythm’s gameplay can easily tune you out of paying attention to its graphics and what’s going on in the background in order to focus on matching the musical notes as they appear in the screen’s foreground. If you take the time to check out what’s going on in the backgrounds of Theatrhythm, you will be amazed, especially when it comes to the new Airship Field Music Sequences. Depending on what Final Fantasy’s Airship song you choose, you are treated to a visual adventure featuring that game’s flying vehicle and its world, all rendered in Theatrhythm’s quirky-yet-adorable style of graphics. Event Music Sequences are back from before, mainly taking you through Square Enix’s glorious FMV cutscenes that first amazed us in FFVII. It’s rather awesome tapping and swiping your stylus along to the melodies of the ‘One Winged Angel’ from ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’ while watching Cloud and Sephiroth’s unforgettable CGI fight happen in the background. Summoning Espers, Eidolons and all sorts of other magical creatures is back as well. Seeing Final Fantasy VII’s ultimate summon, Knights of the Round, appearing and performing its “Ultimate End” attack is yet another instance of great fan service while effectively utilizing Theatrhythm’s whimsical graphics.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call is more than just the 31 additional characters, dozens of new stages and 140 songs (excluding DLC) added atop the original -- its gameplay has been tweaked and revamped in many areas, offering tons of replay value and introducing RPG mechanics to its basis that the original lacked. Theatrhythm’s fundamental gameplay remains unchanged: you tap, swipe or guide your stylus along along to the beat in the Nintendo 3DS’ bottom screen in accordance with the notes passing along in the top screen. Curtain Call has also given you the option use the 3DS’ directional pad and face buttons instead of the stylus, but rhythmically pressing buttons just didn’t quite feel as authentic as tapping the screen did.
Curtain Call’s three main gameplay modes include Music Stages (where you select the score you want or just play random songs), Quest Medleys and Versus Mode. The most noteworthy addition would have to be its Quest Medleys Mode. Quest Medleys is pretty much the closest thing Curtain Call has to a story mode, which itself is just a rehashing of the original story. The evil god Chaos is back and you must round up another four warriors to stop it from ruining the world by collecting the Rhythmia crystals (by playing songs), which is the same exact plot of the first game. What the Quest Medleys Mode does differently than before is that you have a contained, Super Mario World-like overworld that lets you take a path through the land and choose what kind of song sequence you’d like to tackle next. For example, I was able to take my group through a Field Music Sequence from Final Fantasy VII (which visually started at Midgar and went to the open plains), to a FFVI-themed Battle Music Sequence, a FFIX Airship Field Music Sequence, a mini-boss Battle Sequence from FFV, a Field Music Sequence from the moon of FFIV and, finally, a boss Battle Sequence from FFX. Since your party can contain any variety of characters from across the Final Fantasy continuum, Quest Medleys actually felt like a much more enjoyable experience than just choosing songs from a massive playlist. Quest Medleys’ overworld map lets you choose between what stages you want to do next, with certain stages unlocking hidden areas of the map you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Quest Medleys Mode is split into Short Quests, Medium Quests, Long Quests and Inherited Quests, giving you a variety of options and overworld sizes based on how much time you have available to play.
With all of this new content, Curtain Call feels like what the original Theatrhythm should have been. We must note that some of the new features feel pointless and don’t offer any type of replay value -- you'll simply try it once and likely never try it again. In particular, Versus Mode lets you challenge the AI, nearby friends or online strangers in head-to-head battles across the same song. While this is an interesting concept, it is certainly not a new concept to the music genre, especially when games like DDR and Pump It Up have had Versus Modes for the past 15+ years, nor does it offer any of the synergy that the other rhythm games had. During Versus Mode, you have the ability to warp your opponents’ notes by switching their swipe directions or keeping their notes hidden until the last second with EX Bursts. Besides EX Bursts’ offensive changes, there is hardly anything different you’ll experience here than playing through the Music Stages Mode by yourself. It's not like Guitar Hero where one guitar was lead and the other player's was the bass. Also, the ability and item options for your party members felt rather useless. Most of the abilities and items just offer more things for your characters to automatically do while you’re tapping through the notes on the screen. If you miss a note, your characters lose HP, and most items replenish lost HP after a certain percentage is gone. While these items and abilities help in terms of the higher difficulties, they just act as crutches when you’re unable to keep up with the Expert and Ultimate Scores. These customizations and bonuses are nowhere near as interactive, fun or intuitive as the Star Power of Guitar Hero was -- they simply give your characters another automated action to do while you’re focusing on the notes. Many times, we played through Expert and Ultimate without even bothering to update our items and abilities. Most items are one-time-use only, so we ended up trying to save them and forgetting about them in the long run.
Despite these non-essential gameplay differences, there is simply too much content added in to Curtain Call to pass up, even if you own the original title. Paying $40 for the first title two years ago and paying $40 for this one might not feel worth it for some, but going from almost 76 songs to 220, doubling its characters and all of Curtain Call's other new features make Theatrhythm feel like a different game. Sure, most of the original songs feel exactly the same, with many of their sequences unchanged, but we believe Curtain Call is a must have for die hard Final Fantasy fans. Nobuo Uematsu has made so many unforgettable songs throughout the entire franchise, and Curtain Call perfectly taps into the series' stellar soundtracks. Whether it be from Uematsu’s 8-bit era or a full symphony orchestra playing his scores, Curtain Call is a fitting swansong to Final Fantasy games as we know them. With Final Fantasy XV intending to bring about its action-oriented changes, Theatrhythm reminds us of everything we ever loved above the franchise, even why we stayed with it during its less than stellar adventures. Its music-oriented gameplay and doll-like graphics might not be for everyone, but there is no disputing that this is a final bow we should all applaud.
This review was completed using a digital copy of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call provided by the publisher.