Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call review: take a bow

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call refines and polishes the 2012 release, proving just how well this RPG-music fusion can work with the injection of more mechanical underpinnings. Our review.


Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy was an anomoly even in 2012. As music games were being phased out across the board, it attempted to find a new niche in the video game space with classically-styled songs and a nostalgic hook. I thought it worked pretty well, but in hindsight it didn't hold my interest long after. That may come down to how little it resembled a game, a problem that the latest (and apparently last) entry seems aimed at rectifying.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call doesn't present itself as a sequel. It is instead, as the name implies, one more song and dance. It's a refined and polished version of the previous game, featuring much of the same content with a handful of extra tracks and characters. The musical content itself is largely unchanged, so Square Enix has smartly focused more on mechanical differences. 

The Mechanics of Music

Like the first game, Curtain Call is a who's who of memorable songs from the Final Fantasy series. As the player you'll tap, swipe, and drag your stylus to the beat of songs from the extensive Square back-catalog. Success in a song keeps your party healthy, while missing a beat hurts you. More importantly, performing a song especially well or being damaged in certain ways will auto-trigger equipped spells and items, which are necessary for taking down tougher bosses in song.

In 2012, I called Theatrhythm a tribute and a musical museum, but it didn't feel much like a game. It had game systems in place, but they were muddled and felt inconsequential. Bumbling my way through the note-readings was a way to hear the music more than experience it. To give it the much needed injection of game satisfaction, its light RPG elements have been noticeably bulked up.

First, the systems feel much clearer this time around. I recognized that I was gaining levels and improving stats in the first game, but why this was important wasn't communicated very well. I hardly ever bothered with touching equipment or abilities, because I had no reason to. The game itself was an opportunity to revisit some of my favorite Final Fantasy songs and little more. I didn't need to invest much time in party management, since I was content to play the basic versions, get a dose of fond memories, and move on. 

The increased clarity on stats is important, because I found I really connected with the other big addition: the Quest Medley mode. This was a holdover from the iOS version, but 3DS players will find it for the first time here. To put it simply, Quest Medley a musical dungeon crawl. You face off against a series of songs, and your HP stays constant between bosses. It takes longer to make it through these dungeons than playing individual songs, obviously, but you're rewarded with greater loot.

Pressing On

This was remarkably more fun than simply choosing songs a la carte, and the added challenge of persistence across several songs meant it was more important to carefully plan items and abilities to survive. Suddenly all those game elements I had ignored or felt were too abstract not only made more sense, but were invaluable to strategizing my way through a tough series of battles. It's an invaluable addition, and easily my favorite new feature this time around.

I also appreciated the addition of button controls. While the interface is still very much fashioned after the stylus control, players can switch between any style they'd like. After a little adjustment, I found the button controls working more reliably and naturally than the stylus ever did. The one drawback is that when holding a direction for a long note, sometimes the opposite direction will be marked to finish it. I had a hard time finding an elegant way to pull this off using the circle pad, and I wished Square Enix had better accounted for the contradictory commands.

I'd also have liked to have more freedom regarding my characters of choice. Curtain Call has a wide variety of Final Fantasy stars, but only a few are available from the start and the rest have to be earned. By the time I unlocked a roster I would have preferred as my core team, I had leveled up the ones I started with to the point that I wasn't interested in going back and doing it again with an all new crew. 

Parting Number

Still, my plucky band of characters, some favorites and some third-rate, had dungeons to conquer through the power of music. Square Enix pushed this concept much further in Curtain Call, which makes this the ideal proof-of-concept for its odd rhythm-RPG marriage. It's too bad that now that the company has shown how well it can work, it's taking a bow.

Final Score7 out of 10

This review is based on a downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call will be available September 16 for $39.99. The game is rated T.

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