Theatrhythm Final Fantasy might be the perfect Final Fantasy game. It also, however, is something that grinds my gears a bit. It has a lot of baggage attached to it if you want to scrape the surface away and peek a bit deeper. Where Xenoblade was both a fantastic game and a terrible game, Theatrhythm is just a great game. Its other gear-grinding half stems from the very idea of what it is.
But, let’s take a step back before I lose you. You’re probably here for the game review itself, not the half-cogent ramblings of an only-partially-aware grump. The game is wonderful. It’s a nice, little rhythm game set in the many universes of the Final Fantasy chronology. As my wife reductively put it, “So, like, it’s Guitar Hero with Final Fantasy music, without the guitar?” Aghast, I had to agree. The premise is simple but effective. Take a rhythm game and take away the crappy, faux-nostalgic ’80s singles and replace them with honest-to-goodness musical masterpieces.
Instead of Aerosmith, Uematsu.
Yuna, you’re going to need to tip-tap-tap.
Aside, the man is a true genius. And I mean that. The way his music bores deeply into you, striking your bosom and cleaving your heart, is unmatched. The underlying darkness and sorrow that pervades much of his work is genuine and never overdone. Without him, Final Fantasy would cease. Nobuo Uematsu’s catalogue is as large as it is varied, with Theatrhythmonly skimming the surface. There is truly, honestly no equal regarding musical emotional resonance. No review of the game would be complete without acknowledging the man behind it all.
The game itself, though, is divided into four parts: field, movie, intro/outro and battle sequences, each playing only a bit differently. To a slight fault, while these are cosmetically different, they are essentially identical; time your tap, hold or swipe with the prompt on-screen. It’s not a big deal being so light on gameplay, honestly. I mean, did GH have anything different within it at all?
There is a lot of content though, but only in that DS sort of way where it all seems recycled and a bit hollow. There are three modes, Series, Challenge and Dark Note, but they all use the same 70-ish songs. So, what seems like a ton is really not. And while you can collect achievements, cards, movies and songs to listen to (why anyone would rather listen to the song then play it is beyond me…), it’s all too passive. I never felt a thrust to get it.
That’s not to say I wasn’t motivated. I plowed through the entire catalogue on Basic (easy) in a weekend of marathon playing and loved it. And this is where I say it’s the perfect Final Fantasy game. It’s perfect because there’s no real commitment from SquareEnix and no real risk. It’s free from disappointing you because it’s only loosely related to the series, functioning solely on nostalgia. Why ruin your palate with playing Final Fantasy when you can remember the good times you had while playing Final Fantasy? Sure, I disliked FFX, but I loved its section in Theatrhythm.
And here we are; The Issue. There’s always an issue (nobody’s perfect). If you are only in it for the game, move on. The number’s right there if that’s what you’re here for. But at GA we like to over-analyze everything until there’s nothing but a smoking swell of ash, rapidly depleting in the wind.
Why is there always an issue?!
Yeah, Theatrhythm is a good game. In fact, this is how spin-offs should be done, if you ask me. But Sqeenix, listen to me. This might be how you make this specific good game, but this is not how you make good games. It seems your new game development mode is to smoosh a bunch of nostalgia into a game, wrap it up and ship it out. Kingdon Hearts, Dissidia, and nowTheatrhythm. I know, I know, all of these are good games. It’s hard work to make a good game from scratch and all, and you haven’t in a long time. But this feels quick and easy. And now it also feels like you’re not even trying.
The thin line between labor of love and cash-grab has been crossed. I am guilty of it too, right along with everyone who dove in. I want to give you my money, Sqeenix, but I don’t want you to think this is how it should work. If anything, rekindling the immense, eye-watering connection I have with your most-beloved series this way has made me realize just how far from the tree you fell. And you planted that tree! Theatrhythm is a great game built on a foundation of brittle, brittle glass. It won’t hold for long and we can all see right through it.
I want to feel what I’ve felt so many times with your games. I want to be swept away down roads I have never been, not old ones. In the end, what you’ve got is a great game that holds no water and moves no roadmarks. It’s a cunning product that, while attempting to throw the wool over your eyes, succeeds only in pulling back the curtain to something else entirely. I enjoyed it, but I want to be rid of it too. Instead of a celebration it is more like a white flag.