When I first heard about Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, I dismissed it out of hand. It sounded like a cheap, stupid attempt to cash in on 25 years of Final Fantasy nostalgia. Around its release I heard quite a bit of buzz about it and finally deigned to check out a preview video. Then I immediately preordered. Theatrhythm is not, in fact a cheap stupid cash-in; it is a brilliant, enthralling attempt to cash-in on 25 years of Final Fantasy nostalgia.
I’ve put about fifteen hours into it so far, and have barely scratched the surface of this rhythm game. I haven’t unlocked any of the hidden characters and only a few of the songs, but I have played through the series mode several times. The mechanics are pretty simple, much like the underrated Elite Beat Agents. You tap, hold and slash to the rhythm of a song. The brilliant part is all in the flavor. It fuses some RPG mechanics to the simple rhythm gameplay to make it truly a Final Fantasy game. Players choose from the protagonists of the 13 mainline FF games, get experience from completing songs and learn abilities. That dressing is nice, but the real fun, at least for me is what is going on in the background during the songs. Though they are less involved than the stories that play out in EBA, they are so steeped in Final Fantasy Lore that it is almost disgusting.
There are traveling songs, where the characters walk, or ride chocobos, through the landscapes of the various games. Authentic landscapes from the games. All of the important landmarks are visible in the background. There is some inherent joy in seeing familiar places from a new perspective. Then there are the battle songs. These are less specific to the individual games, but the simulated battles against classic Final Fantasy enemies are cool. The real killers are the movie ones. Behind the main theme of the various games they play the big scenes of the game in the background. It is just an unstoppable wave of nostalgia backed by solid gameplay. Plus there is the charm of the cutesy character designs and the often hilarious pre-song party quotes.
Final Fantasy is one of the few series that could do a game like this and get me the way Theatrhythm does. Zelda and Mario could, so could Mega Man and Suikoden. I think that’s about it. There are other series with games that I love or games that have terrific music, but I don’t have the nostalgia for them that I do for Final Fantasy. As much as I love even Mario and Zelda, I’m sure I’ve spent more time playing Final Fantasy, if only because the games are longer. Also, the greater focus on story in Final Fantasy gives makes it easier to mine nostalgia than Nintendo’s gameplay rich but story poor franchises. As far as anniversary games go, Theatrhythm blows Nintendo’s offerings out of the water. Popping a Super Mario All-Stars ROM on a Wii disc just doesn’t cut it. Theatrhythm is a novel experience that hits me perfectly in the nostalgia center of my brain. Now I’m off to play both Theatrhythm and half of the Final Fantasy series.