Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nintendo 3DS Recommendations: Final Fantasy Theatrhythm

My second 3DS Recommendation is the music title "Final Fantasy Theatrhythm". The Final Fantasy series has a long and rich musical history, due in large part to Nobuo Uematsu. His foundation of classically based music bleed through the limitations of the NES sound capabilities - creating some wonderfully memorable themes. His music has been featured in several live orchestral concerts around the world. This video, of an old G4TV series "Icons" - gives a nice biography of Uematsu's history and work.

Even though Uematsu has since left Square Enix, to write and develop songs for his new company Mistwalker - and though missed, the series has proceeded excellently in his absence. Final Fantasy 12, the first game to not feature his music, other than the initial opening theme, continued the series' strong musical tradition. Final Fantasy 13, being a very different game in-of-itself, branched out more into new territory with lots so techno-inspired themes -- but likewise never lost the core of what the music does for the series.

I personally have enjoyed the music of Final Fantasy for many years, long ago having bought the CD Collections for Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy Tactics - with additional CDs included with the games, like a sampling of FFV and FFVI music, and the entire soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIII-2. It has simply been a remarkable series, from far back to my childhood, to today.

I initially, though, would never have thought to buy Final Fantasy Theatrhythm - mainly due to my lack of experience or success with music-based gameplay, or even worse with the likes of Dance Dance Revolution, of other similar titles. What convinced me to pick the game up was a demo Nintendo offered for download through the Nintendo 3DS. Only two songs where available to try - but I immediately found myself both doing well, and having fun, with the music-based gameplay.

The gameplay of the series is pretty structured, but has nice elements buried underneath to make repeat gameplay engaging. You play exclusively using the stylus and touch screen - which actually works quite naturally, tapping, holding, and slashing to notes, or "triggers", as they are called.

There are three different types of music stages -- you first play through the songs series-by-series. There is an opening and ending theme, which has a minor tapping mini-game. Inbetween each series features a Field Music Stage (FMS), for themes when you are walking around, Battle Music Stage (BMS), which treats the four-fighter slots, battling monsters, like a music sheet, and Emotion Music Stage (EMS), which shows a montage video of scenes from the series.

The series does have a story - something silly involving a music crystal, and you collecting special Rythmia (points, or your score), to revive said crystal. It is merely a framing device, and really has no bearing on the gameplay -- but it does give motivation to the activity.

There are several unlockable elements - like a challenge mode, where you can play each song individually (which varying degrees of challenge), and a special "Chaos Shrine" mode, where randomly generated song-match ups are presented to you, which can also be shared with other users through Street Pass, or multiplayer.

I've been pleasantly surprised how well I've taken to the gameplay -- but there is a wall, in terms of challenge, where the gameplay becomes either too difficult, or nearly impossible. The Chaos Shrine is a fine example of this, with notes flying at you faster than you can execute - making it a mad dash to the end of the song. Stat-boosting items help mitigate that - but they do not let your soar through a track without your consistent participation. I've particularly been stuck on the third Chaos Shrine level (called "Dark Notes") - and to eventually pass it, I've resigned to simply building up my character's levels higher and higher, to a point where I can complete the song track before failing.

As you collect more Rythmia, you get more bonuses every 500 points. The bonuses, though, are very drawn out - a profile card for Street Pass far too often being what you get. You also obtain different colored crystals, leading up to unlocking new playable characters; this too, is very slow going - I haven't unlocked a single new character. Eventually, though, you'll unlock more bonus songs - and there are now 40 Downloadable songs for purchase. (I elected to buy $10 worth; a dollar apiece).

As for the 3D, for this 3DS title? It really isn't a necessary feature, and can be played exactly the same with it turned off -- but it does give a nice sense of depth - even to non-3D movies, like with the Emotion Music Stages.

Despite my gripes about all of that, this is simply a wonderful game - for both old and new fans alike. For those unfamiliar with the Final Fantasy series, the songs are very enjoyable even if you've never played the games. (Music is, after all, universal.) For people who have played the various games - a wealth of memories can come  flooding back, for this beloved franchise.

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