I was pleasantly surprised at how Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call got its hooks into me, but the more I think about the sum of the game’s parts it make total sense why. Square’s soundtrack catalogue is second to none in the video game space and the Final Fantasy series boasts some of the most iconic themes the medium has ever produced. It’s consistently brought us themes that have quite literally defined generations despite the many changes the series has seen in its 27 year history. Combine that with some light RPG elements by a company that arguably knows RPGs better than anyone in the business and it’s no wonder the formula is so successful. Curtain Call has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game, from solid mechanics to terrible naming conventions and though a little easy compared to other titles in the rhythm game genre, the formula is delivered almost flawlessly making it a 3DS game I’ll gladly return to again and again for some time to come.
First and foremost, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is a rhythm game and a mechanically sound one at that. The two main input methods are ‘touch style’, which draws inputs from the 3DS’s touch screen and the ‘button style’, a button / Circle Pad hybrid. Both are incredibly easy to pick up and the thing I found most interesting about them is how the community is split down the middle as to what they prefer. I gravitated towards the button style due to my natural sitting / lying position when I play my handhelds but I’ve spoken to a number of people that swear by the touch style. It was a bit ambitious of Square to try and get both control schemes right (granted it all boils down to a series of taps and swipes), but mechanically the game embodies the ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ philosophy which is exactly what you want with this style of game. What’s even better is you’re not locked into one style in a song, changing styles is as simple as pressing buttons or tapping with your stylus whenever you see fit.
As a package, this game is ridiculous value. 220 songs including all the songs and DLC from the first title means that you’re never at a loss of new content to try. Songs are broken up into FMS or Field Music Style, tracks taken from various town and overworld areas and have your party exploring the various overworlds from the series, BMS or Battle Music Style, typically enemy and boss encounter themes that emulate the setting of an in-game battle and EMS or Event Music Style which are typically reserved for the flagship compositions of each game and feature cinematic backgrounds from the series. There are minor gameplay differences between the modes, but ultimately it’s just a nice way to break up what you’re Chibi explorers are doing while you’re off tapping away. The way the game presents it all to you is quite clever too; You’re given an overwhelming number of tracks to start with and as you play more you’ll acquire Rhythmia, the game’s global currency which is constantly giving you new tracks and characters to play around with. You’re always progressing through the game just by playing songs, it never feels like a grind and the constant carrot on the stick makes it hard to put down.
There are 3 modes of play in Curtain Call, Music Stages, Quest Medleys and Verses Mode. Music Stages are your standard free play option, allowing you to pick whatever song you’ve unlocked under whatever conditions you see fit and is most likely where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time. Versus Mode is your competitive multiplayer option for both local and online and while generally pretty enjoyable, being overly mismatched with someone on the RPG front can sometimes take away from the core gameplay experience as it sometimes devolves into a stat race rather than a test of skill. Quest Medleys have players progress through a set series of songs to defeat bosses and acquire more loot to upgrade characters. The concept is a lot of fun, but the inability to pick difficulties early on mean you’re brainlessly grinding through easy scenarios before you’re able to play the more challenging ones and I can see players getting tired of it before even reaching that point. It’s a shame because as an idea, Quest Medleys are the perfect sweet spot between the rhythm gameplay and the RPG elements, it’s just bogged down by weak pacing.
The RPG elements are a lot of fun to mess around with in between tracks, but ultimately it’s just there to scratch that progression itch associated with the series RPG roots. There are a tonne of characters to choose from, expanding from all of the main series and beyond. Your Chibi warriors are constantly battling enemies and exploring the worlds of the various games while you’re busy jamming away, which will ultimately grant them loot and experience to upgrade. In single player this progression means being able to kill more enemies / run faster through the field stages to hopefully unlock more items, but the real drive to progress comes in the multiplayer. Having a stronger party than your opponent means your characters can take more hits, which essentially means there’s a larger margin for error should there be a disparity between the two players. While the progression definitely feels good to go through, it’s also my one big criticism with the multiplayer. It’s a faithful homage to the series, but it cheapens the experience a little when you beat an underleveled opponent who clearly outplayed you or vice versa. It’s definitely a fun little distraction and there’s an option to ignore it in the multiplayer completely, so it doesn’t get in the way too much if all you want to do is focus on getting the best possible score.
The 3 game modes on offer are incredibly robust, but there’s little in the way of extra features. In what is probably the only scenario I’ll ever consider using my 3DS as a dedicated music player, players can also unlock the ability to listen to tracks in sleep mode, a function only Square could get away with given the amazing pedigree of their music. Similarly, the video footage in the Event tracks can also be viewed in isolation though the 3DS screen isn’t exactly the best for that. There’s also additional DLC characters and songs available and while a little pricey, it’s not the biggest deal with such a fantastic core package, and I could see myself dropping a few dollars for a few more of my favourite Final Fantasy tunes.
If Final Fantasy games are your thing but you’re generally not a rhythm gamer, there might just be enough fan service here to hook you in. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call isn’t the toughest rhythm game on offer, but if you have even a passing interest in the music of the Final Fantasy series it’s hard not to get lost in the game for hours. Solid mechanics, an amazing library of songs to choose from and robust but ultimately forgettable RPG mechanics make this game an incredible package that could serve as both a springboard into this dearly beloved franchise or an entertaining romp down memory lane.