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REVIEW: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call

September 24th, 2014 by Tony Garsow

TFFCC

If you ask me, the most prominent legacy the Final Fantasy series owns is its incredible music. There’s a lot of it too, spread over twenty-six years and a near dozen talented composers (including many more arrangers and performers) with their own unique style. It helps color the worlds as vividly as gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds, flashy and over-the-top cinematics, and thrilling combat sequences. Many of your favorite memories in the series are sweetened some of best music the industry has to offer.

It’s fitting, that Square Enix decided to celebrate Final Fantasy music with its own game.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call is, if the name isn’t a giveaway, a definitive edition of the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, which released in 2012. This “rhythm meets RPG” compiles Final Fantasy music into playable stages of three different kinds: battle music stages (BMS) involve a party of four Final Fantasy characters fighting a gauntlet of monsters set to (most often) various battle themes in the series. Field music stages (FMS) are set up with field, world map themes, or sometimes character themes, and have you trekking along with the beat. Event music stages (EMS) are set against a cutscene in the background, featuring visuals from their respective games.

Collecting characters, levelling them up, and tricking them out with different abilities is a big part of Theatrhythm — and its genius is that it never once intrudes on your ability to hop in and enjoy the music stages nor does it feel like a waste of time to muck around with. The music is, appropriately, at the forefrontit’s what Curtain Call is decisively better than its predecessor at doing.

Ok, so, upon booting up the game you’ll have a few preliminary tutorial bits that won’t last you three minutes but are serviceable enough to teach you everything you need to know. It’s then you’ll choose a party of four different characters from the series and then begin playing through stages in a music select mode. While you’ll only have access to a few songs, it’s not many minutes later before you’ll unlock hundreds. Curtain Call sports 221 playable songs, truly massive. I still haven’t played all of them yet, now pushing the twelve hour mark on my save file. There’s also a steady supply of DLC songs coming post-launch (around $50 when adding up individual purchases). Thankfully all but one of the DLC that accompanied the original Theatrhythm is in Curtain Call by default.

As you go about amassing Rhythmia (a point system) different features in the game automatically unlock such as Quest Medleys, Versus Mode, and even settings. It’s a bit weird to lock some of this stuff behind Rhythmia, but it’s not too much effort to unlock it regardless. I only assume that by gating things one at a time so the game can bring your attention to each of its notable features. You won’t spend hours farming songs to unlock different modes, thankfully. I had everything within my first hour of play, which flew by swiftly. A bit odd, but matters little in the larger scope of your time with the game.

All the music can be accessed in by-game playlists here. Curtain Call caused me to reflect on the original Theatrhythm‘s segregation of songs in Series Mode and Challenge Mode (amongst other modes) and it retroactively seems a bit scatterbrained with more emphasis on presenting different game modes rather than sitting you down in front of a vastly satisfying catalog and setting you free. Every song you unlock can easily be found in Music Stages mode, separated by title. You’ll unlock even more songs as time goes on, which are immediately added to this mode too. If anything, it provides you with with a tingle of collection and completion.

By far the best feature of this mode is the addition of a random shuffle, yet another important something that the original Theatrhythm sorely missed. A simple press of the X button will make up the minds of the indecisive and adventurous. If you’re more picky about what songs you’re playing — particularly if you’re keen on practicing the most challenging difficulty, there’s a handy Favorites feature that allows quicker access to courses you’re working to master.

Quest Medleys are Curtain Call‘s improvement upon the original game’s Chaos Temple. In Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, you could collect “Dark Notes” that contained a random combination of around twenty songs out of the game’s library. Bosses in these notes often carry worthwhile loot and colored Crystal Shards which unlock characters (and serve the same purpose in Curtain Call). This is another example of the odd segregation of music in the original Theatrhythm, where only a fraction of the game’s library of songs are reserved.

While only Field and Battle stages are accessible in Quest Medleys, the assortment of tracks is already much improved, even when sitting down to finish a Long Quest (which have sometimes taken me about an hour). This mode is a great alternative to the pick-up-and-play Music Stages mode, and serves to sate a sense of purpose or mastery. Medleys themselves are sorted by length, and you can also collect them from other players that you’ve befriended through your 3DS friend list or encounters through Versus Mode.

I live in Podunk, USA, so access to other people to play Curtain Call (much less any other handheld game for someone approaching 30 years old) is near infinitesimal. Much to my delight, Versus Mode has a zippy matchmaking feature that connects me to challenge players around the globe. I’m really glad Square Enix put the effort in here, rather than abandoning online functionality for other upcoming titles like Final Fantasy Type-0 HD or Kingdom Hearts HD II.5 ReMix.

What’s also great is that Curtain Call‘s PvP is a blast. Both you and your challenger pick a difficulty mode and a song; a coin flip decides which song you battle with. In “combat” you’ll gradually build up an EX gauge based on how well you’re performing. Once it’s full, it will begin a Mario Kart-style shuffle of various abilities that will be used against your foe. Some examples are Monster Buff (causes slide triggers to rotate), Super Speed (causes the course to speed up dramatically), and Judgement (any hit other than a Critical is counted as a Bad). It keeps both of you on your toes, and will test your mastery of any given song.

After battle, you and your opponent pick one of three CollectaCards (with the winner getting first and third choice) as spoils and accrue ranking points. It’s a neat little addition reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad victory sequence, though you’ll never lose your own precious CollectaCards to another player. It’s a cool way to encourage you to keep in the mix. You’ll also exchange ProfiCards (identity cards featuring a customizable profile) so that you can stay in touch. I like it.

If you’re a bit shaky on PvP, you’ll be able to fight through ascending tiers of AI to acclimate you to the real deal. The only downside to Versus Mode is that only battle music stage types are available for this mode, which makes sense in certain respects; nevertheless, it’s a small disappointment.

Another notable addition to Curtain Call is the ability to stash the stylus and play with the buttons and directional nub. After giving this a few curious tries, I haven’t been able to switch back. I have to admit I’m a bit biased against the stylus as my hands cramp to all hell after using it for more than a few minutes, but that’s more of an issue I have with the 3DS design itself (the most uncomfortable handheld I’ve ever owned). I rejoice in Curtain Call‘s accommodation of something other than stylus play. The only difficulty I’ve come across so far is that hold-slide triggers can be a bit fickle (especially the crazy fast ones) with the touchy directional nub, but in most cases its helped me get those coveted “SSS All Critical” results.

The CollectaCard Crystarium is a boon for the dedicated hyper-completionists, which will allow you to sacrifice various CollectaCards in battle to raise the stats of your characters. While I haven’t the time to test this out myself, it appears you’ll be able to max out any character’s parameters with enough time and effort. A healthy amount of trophies have also made the jump from Theatrhythm into Curtain Call, and will likely take you dozens of hours to fill out.

Monster Octopus, who lends his talents to design the characters and monsters of the Theatrhythm games, fills the game with a very charming and light (if not sometimes silly) mood. You’ll likely get a kick out of watching the ending cutscene (attainable after amassing 20,000 Rhythmia points). Another nice tidbit I’ve enjoyed about Curtain Call is its very clean, crisp-looking user interface and choice of fonts. (Yeah, I think about stuff like this!) Post-battle screens of tallying your score, experience points, loot, and Rhythmia have thankfully been sped up a bit, since you’ll be seeing it quite frequently.

There are a few small things that must be noted about Curtain Call‘s library and one of which is many of the original game’s Event Music Stages have been changed to Field or Battle Music Stages to make way for new ones (from more recent titles). It’s unclear why this decision was made, though it may have something to do with the size of the digital version possibly ending up larger than most 3DS default memory sticks. If so, it’s a bit of a shame, but subtracts little enjoyment in the big picture.

The only omitted song from the original Theatrhythm seems to be a DLC of Somnus from Final Fantasy XV, which is a bit puzzling given the game’s recent push at Tokyo Game Show. What isn’t mysterious about that game these days? Oh well. Soon. (Hopefully.) It’s great to see some love thrown towards spinoffs like Final Fantasy Tactics, Mystic Quest, and Crystal Chronicles — amongst others. Final Fantasy XIV‘s inclusion is welcome in a spinoff game in this style, at long last.

In conclusion Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call is a massive improvement over the original, which was a good game, yet suffered from some problems that only became apparent to me by sinking hours in the sequel. Awareness of these things has defined my appreciation for Curtain Call‘s design decisions. Again, the music is the star here, but there’s also much to be had for anyone who can play for minutes or hours at a time. The RPG elements and collectibles that accompany are simple and elegant, and most importantly, don’t feel tacked on.

Don’t bother with the original game, Curtain Call is very much the definitive edition Square Enix touts. If you’re in any way, shape, or form a fan of Final Fantasy series music, this game is definitely for you. Curtain Call is addictive, charming, and employs a much better strategy than its predecessor in presenting its catalog of treasures: Final Fantasy’s revered musical legacy.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call is now available for the 3DS in all regions.

Editor’s Note: A copy of the standard edition of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call was provided to Final Fantasy Network by Square Enix post-launch at no expense for reviewing purposes.

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