Second verse, better than the first
When crafting a new project for the diverse world of music/rhythm gaming, there?s some amount of leeway that?s always given by fans. The song count will never be as high as it could be; gameplay won?t be as perfected and polished as it should be; something, somewhere, will go wrong. It?s a very tough genre to get right the first time, so what?s important is that you create a solid foundation for your new franchise and then concern yourself with really getting things right the next time around.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy wasn?t a terrible game by any means?I, and many others, grew to become quite fond of it. Its gameplay mixed in familiar genre elements of tapping, sliding, or moving the stylus on the 3DS? touchscreen in order to hit notes in time to the music?and it weaved those actions into role-playing staples like exploring an overworld of fighting monsters in battle, producing a game that felt both nostalgic and fresh.
Still, it was easy to tell that Square Enix?s tribute to the tunes of one of gaming?s most beloved Japanese RPG brands was indeed a first attempt. The game?s tutorial mode was brutally boring to get through, the overall song selection was rather anemic (unless you invested extra money into DLC), and too many Final Fantasy cast members were missing when it came time to deck out your four-person party with your favorite faces.
A possible sequel would be a much better experience, I hoped?and my wishes have come true. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is exactly what a follow-up title should be: It?s better, it?s bigger, and it adds new elements while keeping what made the original as enjoyable as it was.
Right away, the changes hit me. After only a quick handful of introductory messages, I was let loose in the game?s track listings. No unskippable tutorial; no playing through a whole roster of songs on Easy before I could actually have fun. While Curtain Call?s full selection of available songs aren?t unlocked at the beginning, you?ll still see a greatly expanded game in terms of track choices. Even better, it?s not just the core Final Fantasy games that benefit from much longer songlists?related games such as Mystic Quest, Final Fantasy Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, Crisis Core, the two Dissidia titles, and even the FFVII?related CG movie Advent Children are represented. Curtain Call offers three times the song selections of the original Theatrhythm (before DLC), and even if that were the only change, it might actually be enough to recommend this release to fans.
There?s more that?s new here, however, beyond songs. Of course, the character roster has also been beefed up. Not only does each main Final Fantasy see one or two additional characters joining the fray, but even games like Type-0 are represented. Unlocking those party members is now much easier, as the currency for doing so (?shards?) can also be obtained simply by playing Curtain Call in any mode?and you can choose who to receive next from their color-coded grouping instead of just being handed characters one at a time in a predetermined order.
Really, though, all that matters is the addition of Fran from Final Fantasy XII?everyone else is gravy.
Which characters you put on your team will still give you specific benefits as you play through the game?s three different song types?Battle, Field, and Event?but Curtain Call takes things one step further by introducing the CollectaCard Crystarium. In the original Theatrhythm, you?d unlock virtual Final Fantasy trading cards as you played, but now you can use those cards to improve key stats or abilities for one of your party members. The Crystarium helps add a new layer of customization and personalization to Curtain Call, and it?s a welcome feature that I hadn?t been expecting.
The king of pleasant surprises here, however, was something that truly shocked me: the ability to play Curtain Call not only in the traditional way (with a stylus), but also with the slide pad and buttons, or a combination of the two. This is a major, major change to how the game plays, and with the first Theatrhythm being so focused on its touchscreen interface, I?d never have thought we?d be given a more traditional control scheme?but we have, and Curtain Call is the better for it. While some will still prefer the more immersive feel that touch controls provide, I?m not sure I can ever go back from what I find to be the far more accurate button-based inputs.
Curtain Call?s single-player experience gets a huge bump in content from the first game, as a previous mode that I loved?the Chaos Shrine?now becomes Chaos Maps. Instead of playing a small grouping of songs, you?re now presented with a more robust quest of sorts, where you can pick different paths to take, find keys, unlock doors, reach save points, and finally confront a main boss at the end. These Chaos Maps can still be traded between players, and they?re definitely more RPG-like in nature than the Chaos Shrine was.
This is the one portion of Curtain Call, however, that I wasn?t totally pleased with. I liked the shorter, easier-to-digest nature of the Chaos Shrine; in comparison, Chaos Maps can be quite a drawn-out affair at times, and the rewards, considering how long they take, don?t always feel balanced. The change was a sensible and understandable one, though?and for a majority of players, I?m sure they?ll appreciate how much more fleshed out this portion of the game now is.
Any disappointment I may have felt with the Chaos Maps was pretty much negated by what may become the new point of addiction in Curtain Call: Versus mode. In this full-blown competitive addition to the Theatrhythm formula, players can go head-to-head with either an AI opponent or another human foe (locally or online) and compete for the highest score. Most of the time, you?ll just be doing your own thing on your own screen, but at key moments, you?ll perform EX Bursts, which can speed up or slow down your opponent?s note markers, greatly increase their need to be accurate for a short time, or other various penalties. During my time with the first Theatrhythm, I?m not sure I ever would have said that I wanted a mode like this; now, I could see Curtain Call becoming one of the 3DS? go-to options for multiplayer showdowns.
It?s hard to do anything but heap praise upon Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, but it?s praise that is absolutely warranted and earned. I wanted Square Enix and indieszero to build what they?d started in the first Theatrhythm into something special, and that?s exactly what they?ve done. Every complaint I had before has been addressed, and I?ve been given totally worthwhile new elements that I didn?t even think to ask for.
Given the sheer size and scope of the Final Fantasy brand, sure?there?s still plenty that can come a few years from now in a Theatrhythm 3. Until that day, Curtain Call is one of the best releases from Square Enix?s Japanese division in years.
|Developer: Square Enix, indieszero ? Publisher: Square Enix ? ESRB: T- Teen ? Release Date: 09.16.2014|
Square Enix did exactly what they should have done when preparing a sequel to their RPG rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy?they made every one of its elements better. Curtain Call not only builds upon what made the original great and makes it even better, but also brings additions that take the series in an exciting new direction.
|The Good||A fantastic mix of strengthening the good of the original Theatrhythm and adding worthwhile new features.|
|The Bad||With a franchise like Final Fantasy, even with 200-plus songs, some of your favorites will still be missing.|
|The Ugly||How nasty EX Bursts can make matches in Versus mode.|
|Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is available exclusively on Nintendo 3DS.Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.|