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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call - Review
Following on from the rather curious success that was Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Curtain Call is essentially an expansion to those that enjoyed the original game. Players start off by choosing from a selection of characters that span the gamut of Final Fantasy titles. There's the obvious inclusions, such as Cloud and Squall, as well as some of the lesser known characters from the series' MMO installments.
For those that never played the original Theatrhythm game two years ago, it's basically a rhythm-action game, but one that also layers over some perfunctory RPG elements as well. All of the game's "levels" are musical tracks from various Final Fantasy titles that come in three different varieties. Battle stages have you line up like in a typical turn-based battle and tap the stylus to the corresponding button presses that fly across on-screen. The more accurate you are, the more damage you do to the enemy. Miss an input and your HP pool will take a hit.
Field stages have you travel across the screen and try to reach the end as quickly as possible, gaining bonuses for how fast you are and the number of prompts you hit correctly, event stages work in a similar fashion but follow a short video clip on-screen.
Characters level up as you successfully complete stages, and this is where the RPG elements come in. Depending on your party, you'll have different abilities that can be equipped in order to improve your efficiency, by increasing damage output, say, or by equipping abilities that minimize the effects of failed button prompts. Different stats are necessary in different levels too, ensuring that there's some strategy involved in party composition. Battle stages, for example require characters with high strength or magic in order to kill more enemies, whilst field stages benefit someone with high agility who can travel faster.
It's an incredibly charming game. Characters hop along with weird bobble heads and buttons for eyes but are still instantly recognizable. Much like Final Fantasy Dissidia, Curtain Call is very much fan service to the series' long-term followers. The thrill of switching on seven's "Fight On" or four's remix of the classic battle theme are likely to trigger waves of nostalgia. The collection of just over two hundred songs is, for the most part, a huge tribute to Nobuo Uematsu who composed the majority of the series' music.
If there's one slight disadvantage to having Final Fantasy's aural history all shoved into one game it's that it also highlights some of the game's weaker music. This is most notable in the series' more recent output, with Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel in particular reaching for more generic-sounding classical and metal influences, rather than the more quirky and off-beat sensibilities of the earlier games.
Given that a campaign-like mode is rather difficult to create in this kind of game, Square Enix have instead opted to give you so we different ways to play that you won't question the lack of a concrete beginning and end, so to speak. Curtain Call is incredibly open-ended, allowing you to constantly dip in and out of it whenever you want, which definitely fits in well with its portable aspect.
Quests are perhaps the game's meatiest portion of gameplay, as you travel from stage-to-stage in order to eventually defeat a boss level. Healing doesn't occur between levels without the use of items, encouraging players to actually get to grips with the game's systems in order to succeed. Likewise, the quests are tiered at different levels, meaning some of the later ones will require some grinding in order to play effectively.
Online play is the other mode on offer and it's also handled relatively well. The aim here is to take on another player (or A.I.) in a one-on-one battle with the winner being the one who scores more points by the end of the song. In order to mix things up a little, there's also an additional meter that fills that will have a negative impact on your rival. This can include making prompts travel faster, or forcing their timing to be more precise. Some of the handicaps here can be pretty cruel and, whilst they are a pretty decent way of ensuring that even weaker players have a shot at winning against someone much better than them, some of the effects (namely HP swap) do come across as a little cheap.
The bigger question with Curtain Call is just how long you'll be willing to play it. Once the nostalgia has been wiped away there's little here that hasn't been achieved by other rhythm games in the past. Perhaps the biggest sour note however goes to the game's DLC, which locks away some of the tracks, and a few characters, behind a pay wall. It's a shameless cash-grab, there's nothing "new" being developed here, given that the audio is lifted from other games. Quite why people will want to download additional music, that can already be experienced on the internet, just to have a few button prompts layered over it, is something of a mystery.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is more a collector's curio than it is a genuinely good game. It certainly works as a portable title, with its pick-up-and-play aspect gelling well with the 3DS, but doesn't fare well with longer play sessions. It's arguably a better celebration of the series' past than Dissidia ever was, simply by bringing to the fore the music that has played an incredibly important role in the game's since the original.
Square Enix have been banking on the series' nostalgia factor for several years now and perhaps with Curtain Call we've seen the grand finale of those efforts. Now they just need to get back to making a good game...
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call was released, in the UK, on September 19th, exclusively for the 3DS.
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