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Old 07-04-2012   #1
Don Chipotle
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Ten Hours of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

In the great encyclopedia of video game history, the Final Fantasy series would have its own volume. In the 25 years since the series' inception, it has influenced gaming, earned diehard loyal fans, sat atop the JRPG world, and then kind of lost all its established credibility by jaded gamers or something. But say what you will about the more recent entries in the franchise, one thing you cannot deny is that the music in each has had at least a few songs that have been downright good. In a series where the games are divisive, the music remains consistently decent throughout the years.

And what better way to emphasize this AND pay homage to the entire mainline franchise than by making a Final Fantasy themed rhythm game with RPG elements?

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a game whose primary function is to get you smiling and it does so fairly easily. When you first start the game your options are limited. You have to play the 'Series' mode which is, ironically, the least exciting. But before that you get to pick four characters to make up your party. This may just seem like a "Pick your favorite Final Fantasy heroes!" thing since you have 13 characters to choose from (and 16 to unlock). But each character has a different stat pool to take into consideration. Why do stats matter in a rhythm game, you ask?

Well, it is because the game has three different types of rhythm stages.

The first is Field Music Screen or 'FMS'. The FMS is generally the world map song from the games and consists of your party leader walking in a little rendition of the world map. So if you play Blue Fields from FF8, you will see Balamb Garden and the prison in the background while Terra's Theme from FF6 will have Figaro Castle and such.

The second is Battle Music Screen or 'BMS'. This is where the various battle themes from the franchise come into play. It is also the one where stats matter most, but I am getting there. During the BMS your four characters (and a summon, if you're good) do battle against various monsters and bosses from the franchise. The bosses tend to be skewed a bit towards the song in question (though this is not always the case) so if you play Battle With the Four Fiends, in addition to fighting regular FF enemies, you will most likely run into the Fiends. And the better you do in the BMS, the more enemies you fight. Likewise if you play Battle With Seymour, you will most likely come across some incarnation of Seymour or Anima.

But then I also fought Kefka and Ultros during a round of The Man With the Machine Gun so who knows what the fuck.

The final type and, in my opinion, least interesting is the Event Music Screen or 'EMS'. There are 13 EMS in the game and they are the more 'slow paced' songs (except in FF13's case because instead of putting in Lightning's Theme or something that makes sense they put in Defiers of Fate for the EMS). While you play these songs, the game will show a montage of events from the game in question (FF8 being the sole exception to this.) So if you play Eria, The Maiden of Water you will get some weird collection of scenes from FF3. It is kind of cool to see the series progress from the 8 bit era to the cinematics of 13 (or it could be sad, depending on your views) but the EMS is the least interesting batch of songs largely because the slower paced songs suck to play. Though playing 'Waltz For The Moon' is awesome because it plays the whole waltz sequence from FF8 in my hand.

And I love that waltz, so fuck you.

Most of your playtime will be spent in FMS and BMS and those two are where stats come into play. In FMS, your Luck stat will determine how...lucky you are in finding Moogles/getting items. Your agility will also determine how far you get in the FMS (this only matters in one game mode, which I will touch on).

In the BMS your stats matter more. Strength determines how quickly you dispatch enemies, Magic determines the effectiveness of magical abilities and how powerful summons are, HP is code for 'how many times you can fuck up a song before failing', Agility and Luck determine 'if you fuck up, do you take damage'. But really, if you are good at rhythm games you may never really care about stats. But one cool thing about stats and thus your party, is that no one character will excel at all the stats. My party leader, Terra, is level 43. My other party members (Zidane, Lightning, Squall) are also level 43. At level 43, Terra is still rank D in Strength. But she has the most magic abilities at her disposal because her magic stat is so high. Likewise Zidane may not be much of a heavy hitter, but his insanely high agility stat means I never have a problem in longer FMS stages.

So while you could easily get through the stages with any party, the game encourages you to swap out. There are bonuses awarded for playing a stage with a title character or even playing with an all female/male party. The bonuses come in the form of Rhythmia which is code for 'arbitrary points that unlock things every time you get 500 of them but it is useless to use this to unlock characters because another mode does it faster'. Rhythmia is the stupid thing they drummed up as 'motivation' for the characters. There's some silly story about the heroes going on a musical journey to bring Rhythmia back to the rhythm crystal but who cares. 10,000 Rhythmia (which I got in about hours) finishes the story and credits roll. So yes, you can 'beat' the game in 6 hours but you would not have 'finished' the game.

Series mode is you playing three songs (FMS, BMS, EMS) from the 13 mainline games. Upon beating any one game, you unlock Challenge Mode which is how you get to play songs on higher difficulties. The real meat of the game is Chaos Shrine where you play Dark Notes. Dark Notes are generally more difficult to boot. Dark Notes are randomly chosen FMS and BMS tracks and it is this mode where your agility and skill matter. In Dark Notes, the distance you travel in FMS will determine which boss you face in BMS. And when I say random, I mean random. I got Sunleth Waterscape and Man With the Machine Gun four times in a row. FOUR TIMES. I like those songs, but god damn. The Dark Notes also bring in boss encounters that matter. Bosses appear in BMS and they drop items such as colored crystals which is how you unlock characters. So when you find a boss that drops a certain type of crystal, you might find yourself grinding out that boss to unlock a character. Or you won't. Whatever.

I haven't mentioned how the game plays, have I? It's like Elite Beat Agents but easier. Sort of. In EBA you had to move the stylus around the screen. In Thea-whatever you can tap anywhere on the lower screen. Doesn't matter. All that matters is how good you are at matching the beat of the song. It is because of this that I did worse at FF2 and 12 songs compared to, say, FF4 or FF13 songs because I know nothing about 2 or 12 musically. There are three kinds of notes. Simply 'Tap' notes which are self explanatory, 'Hold' notes where you hold the stylus and move it very gently in an up or down motion, and 'Slide' notes which are MOTHERFUCKERS. Obviously you have to slide them in one of the 8 directions but they are the most fucking finicky to match up with the beat. I've been fucked out of Perfects by slide notes all the fucking time. And when slide notes come at the end of hold notes it is a MOTHERFUCKER.

Your enjoyment of the game will largely be determined by how much you like Final Fantasy music. As a rhythm game it is totally fine. The folks what made the game also had the smarts not to remix the songs. The old 8bit songs sound just like they did back in the day. Which is what you want. I have spent 10 hours with the game and I can see myself playing it for many, many more. The game is just a fucking delight to play and I love it.

That's all.
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How dreamlike to see my x-sisters, outside the context of a Papa Song dome. They sang Papa Song’s Psalm, over and over; background hydraulics underbassed that sickening melody. But how jubilant they sounded! Their Investment was paid off. The voyage to Hawaii was under way, and their new life on Xultation would shortly begin... Watching them from the hangway, I envied their certainty about the future.
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