Chibi characters, beat-matching gameplay, and the music of Final Fantasy. Theatrhythm should have everything a Square Enix fan could possibly want from a music game, absurd title and all.
Although there are RPG dressings--such as experience points, stats, and leveling up--the core gameplay invites comparisons to Elite Beat Agents. Like iNIS' original DS game, you'll have to use the stylus to tap the screen in time with the rhythm of the song. Beats are represented by various colored circles, some of which will require holding down on the screen, or swiping in a specific direction.
While it may be intimidating at first, it won't take long to understand the basics of the gameplay. This kind of gameplay was fun in Elite Beat Agents--so why isn't it as entertaining in Theatrhythm?
I felt like the musicality of the songs in the game weren't well represented. Perhaps it's Final Fantasy's orchestral heritage, but these catchy tunes simply don't translate as well to beat-matching gameplay as the more pop-flavored offerings of other music games. Whereas every note in a Rock Band game, for example, corresponds to a real note in a song, Theatrhythm feels a bit more disconnected.
It's unfortunate that the core gameplay doesn't feel right, as Square Enix has done pretty much everything else right. Presentation is spot-on. Theatrhythm's adorable chibi characters battle monsters as you play through a song, and successfully tapping the streaming notes will have you inflicting critical strikes. Conversely, missed notes will lower your party's HP. Certain songs will give you the ability to unleash a summon, and sustaining a combo will make the attack far more devastating. It's definitely a cute way of tying in the RPG heritage of the franchise into the game.
Theatrhythm takes players on a journey through every numbered Final Fantasy game, 1 through 13, and each game is represented by three songs. Going through the "story mode" is a great way of reliving the incredible accomplishments of the long-running franchise. After these songs are cleared, players can look for other unlockable songs, making it quite a packed cartridge. DLC songs will be available post-release, for fans that need to play even more. (Hilariously, the long-delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII will be a DLC offering.)
Given its impeccable presentation and wonderful song selection, I'm still tempted by Theatrhythm. Sure, it may not be as fun as Elite Beat Agents--but that game doesn't have One Winged Angel. Theatrhythm will be available on July 3.
Watch the Shacknews E3 2012 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. This preview is based on a hands-on demo shown at a pre-E3 event.