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Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

by January 23, 2013

Don’t let the cutesy art style and simple rhythm-based gameplay fool you – Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a deceivingly complex game. Although it can be enjoyed as a basic rhythm game, Theatrhythm has several layers of depth that will keep a more dedicated player busy for dozens of hours.

Classic Final Fantasy with a rhythmic twist

At its core, Theatrhythm is a touch-based rhythm game featuring unremixed songs from each of the thirteen numbered Final Fantasy games. The bottom screen is used to tap, hold and slide the stylus in rhythm to the scrolling icons on the top screen. The rhythm controls are responsive and fun, especially on the harder difficulties. One thing I need to point out, though, is that I spent much of the time at the beginning thinking that the game wasn’t registering slides all of the time. But once sliding the stylus at the correct angles at the correct time became more of a habit, that problem completely disappeared.

The RPG elements are what set Theatrhythm apart from any other game in its genre. Although there’s no exploration and basically no story, many of the character-building aspects of a traditional RPG are present. Before playing a single song, you have to create a party of four from a collection of classic Final Fantasy characters and equip them with abilities and an item. These characters will level up as they gain EXP from playing songs, which grants bonuses to their attributes and allows them to equip more powerful abilities.

The RPG elements are what set Theatrhythm apart from any other game in its genre.

Stats and abilities only make a real difference in one of the game’s three modes, though, which I’ll get to later. Because of this, the RPG elements may seem pretty useless at first, but it isn’t a problem because your characters level up automatically. If you prefer, you can play through the first two modes of the game without ever changing anything about your characters after the initial party selection process. In other words, anyone who wants to play Theatrhythm as a simple rhythm game without messing with the RPG elements can do so without any real penalty.

The game begins with only one mode unlocked, Series Mode, which takes you through each of the numbered console Final Fantasy games from I-XIII with five songs from each game. The first and last song in each game are short, skippable sequences of tapping notes with no failure state. The only reason to play these songs is to build up Rhythmia points, which are earned after every song in every mode based on your performance and accumulate into an overall score that periodically unlocks various things. The other three songs in each game take place in three different stages – Field Music, Battle Music, and Event Music. I’ll explain Field and Battle Music stages later, as the specifics of those are more pertinent in another mode. The Event stage usually contains a slower or more emotional song from the game, and the notes play out over a video of that game. For example, in the Final Fantasy VII Event stage, Aeris’ Theme plays while the notes dance in a pattern on the screen over some of the more memorable CG scenes from that game. This can be one of the harder modes of the game, since the songs tend to be more orchestral and emotional, and the timing is less methodical than in a more beat-driven song like a battle theme.

Stats are the key to success in the Chaos Shrine

Once you’ve completed a game on Basic difficulty in Series Mode, those songs will be available in Challenge Mode to be played individually on Basic and Expert difficulties. Once you’ve completed a game’s songs in Challenge Mode on Expert, that game will be unlocked in Series Mode on that difficulty level, and the process is repeated for Ultimate difficulty. This method of forcefully bouncing you back and forth between modes and difficulties works as a grinding stone for your skills that feels a bit unnecessary at first since the songs are so easy on the earlier difficulties. But you’ll welcome the extra practice once you delve into the third mode, the Chaos Shrine, which is unlocked after collecting a fairly small number of Rhythmia points.

The Chaos Shrine is where the bulk of Theatrhythm’s complexity and replayability come into play. Each selection in the Chaos Shrine, referred to as a Dark Note, is a random pairing of two songs from the game. The first song is always a Field Music song, in which your character runs in a Final Fantasy overworld setting as the notes scroll from left to right. Chains of successful notes will spur your character on, but each time you miss a note, your character will slow down or stumble. The goal of this song is to get your character to run as far as possible. Your party’s collective Agility stats will determine the overall pace, so a combination of good rhythm, good stats, and appropriate abilities are necessary for a good run. If you get far enough before the song ends, you’ll pass a sign in the background that indicates which boss you’ll encounter in the next song, which is always a Battle Music song.

A completionist’s heaven (or hell?)

Battle Music songs are visually identical to a classic Final Fantasy battle scene. Your party is lined up on the right side of the screen, facing an enemy on the left side. Notes come at you from the left, and each successfully hit note results in damage to the enemy, while each missed note damages your party’s HP. Higher Strength and Magic stats will help you kill more enemies to get more loot and have a better chance of reaching one of the song’s bosses before the song is over. Each Dark Note contains three bosses with three specific item drops each, so in order to get all of the items from a single Dark Note, you’ll need to defeat at least nine bosses in total. This may sound tedious, but the amount of strategy involved in facing and defeating the desired bosses is fun and rewarding.

In addition, the Chaos Shrine can hold up to 99 Dark Notes, with each new one being slightly more difficult than the last, until the songs become more difficult than even the hardest difficulty in the other modes, so this mode is full of replayability. Acquiring each item requires a fair bit of strategy, since the Strength and Agility stats are diametrically opposed. You want to be fast enough to go far in the Field song, but you also want to be strong enough to actually defeat the boss in the Battle song, so there can be some trial and error in figuring out which combinations work best for each song. For completionists, the Chaos Shrine is an amazing thing.

In fact, Theatrhythm as a whole is a masterpiece of addictive game design. The sheer number of hooks to keep you playing is impressive. Each completed song in any mode nets around 125 Rhythmia points on average, depending on your performance, which accumulate to unlock something at intervals of 500, such as new songs in Challenge mode, shards that unlock the many playable characters, new options for your StreetPass profile card, songs in the Music Player, collectable cards of Final Fantasy characters that can also level up, and more. Each game in Series Mode and each song in Challenge mode can be completed for a ranking on each difficulty from F to SSS, with the highest resulting from a perfect run with no abilities or items equipped. There are also 64 achievement trophies to be unlocked. I’ve played for over 35 hours and still have several characters to unlock and more than half of the trophies to earn.

In fact, Theatrhythm as a whole is a masterpiece of addictive game design.

And if you still want something fresh after playing through the over 50 songs on the game card, the DLC store has a growing selection of songs for $0.99 each. The store interface is surprisingly elegant for a Nintendo system, never requiring you to leave the game to access Nintendo’s eShop architecture. The only downsides are that you can’t preview a song before purchasing it and that the DLC songs won’t show up in the Chaos Shrine since you can trade Dark Notes via Streetpass.

Although it does provide a healthy dose of nostalgia for Final Fantasy fans, Theatrhythm is also a unique, amazingly fun, addictive rhythm game, even for those not very familiar with the franchise as a whole. There’s a ton of content here, especially for completionists, but even non-OCD gamers can spend plenty of time playing through the basics.

Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety

  • Requires intense focus on harder difficulty levels
  • Perfect for short play sessions
  • Lots of unlockables

Why it may be unhelpful for people with anxiety

  • Precision and speed are required for the stylus controls, which may be difficult with cold or numb hands

Why you should be playing this game

Theatrhythm is incredibly addictive. You’ll always want to play just one more song in order to unlock this character or that song or reach this level of Rhythmia points or that level of ranking. If you like rhythm games, this one could keep you busy for as long as an RPG could.

If you’re not interested in unlockables or collectables, Theatrhythm still offers a solid amount of content in its basic modes.

And if you’re just a Final Fantasy fan, then play this game simply for the nostalgia trip. It made me buy Final Fantasy XIII and the remake of the first Final Fantasy, and I’m loving them both… in between sessions of Theatrhythm.

This review was based on the 3DS version that was provided by the reviewer.

Release Date

July 3, 2012

Digital or Retail





Square Enix


Square Enix

AwardsBest of it's genrePlay it no matter whatConsistently good games from developer

Great selection of over 50 Final Fantasy tracks, fun and responsive touch controls, tons of unlockables, unique RPG spin on the rhythm genre


Lower difficulties are too easy

An unpronouncable game of unexpected awesome.

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