Everybody knows that the most important part of an RPG is the music, right? Those who didn’t blink an eye at that question have probably already long since reserved their copies of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, and rightly so, as it massively expands on the original 2012 title. (In musical content alone, it’s at least twice as long, and that’s not including the new modes.) To those who prefer a story, especially those who’ve never picked up a rhythm game like Amplitude or Elite Beat Agents, however, Curtain Call does little more than to provide super-cute, chibi-rendered nostalgia. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intro informs you that you’ve got to collect shards of rhythmia in order to put Chaos in his place, and until you hit 20,000 rhythmia (with an average of 100 earned per completed song), that’s the last you’ll see of any story. The emphasis is entirely on the nearly 26 years of Final Fantasy music.
Speaking as a fan, Theatrhythm delivers on every level: There are 162 detailed CollectaCards to be earned, songs from over 26 different titles to lose yourself in (including less memorable side-stories like Chocobo’s Dungeon, Crystal Chronicles, Mystic Quest, and the as-yet-unreleased-in-America Type 0), and 62 characters to swap in and out of your four-man party. With a mind-boggling 220 songs, the game also ensures that players walk away with a much deeper appreciation for the depth and breadth of the series’s musical history, whether that’s the surprisingly complex arrangement of Final Fantasy’s “Castle Cornelia” or funkier modern works like Final Fantasy X-2’s “We’re the Gullwings.” It’s a bit like carrying around an interactive version of the Distant World concert series, in which live orchestras perform popular tracks.
But while fans will think nothing of earning rhythmia from the basic, expert, and ultimate charts to these songs (it’d be a privilege, really, to listen to “One-Winged Angel,” “Dancing Mad,” and “Battle at the Big Bridge” on repeat), it’s nothing less than a grind to the average gamer. Granted, Theatrhythm isn’t designed to be played for long stretches of time (any more than, say, Destiny is); in fact, it even uses daily bonuses to incentivize players to spread their gaming out over time. But whether the song is pre-selected in the so-called Quest Medley mode or chosen by players/opponents in the Music Stages or Versus modes, there’s never really anything more to the game than tapping, sliding, and holding the stylus. (The game can be played with buttons or a hybrid combination of both, but I don’t recommend it, especially for the more complex songs.)
Versus Mode, new to Curtain Call, attempts to rectify this by throwing in an EX Meter for you and your opponent. As you fill it with “critical” and “great” performances on each note, their tracks become more and more complex. Perhaps their inputs will move at variable speeds or appear only at the last possible second; maybe their slide triggers will begin to disarmingly spin; most unfair, the game may choose only to recognize perfectly timed responses, deducting points for anything less. It’s a great way to kick an opponent while they’re down, leading to some uneven match-ups, but it largely serves only to interfere with the already solid (and difficult) mechanics, and due to the randomness, I wouldn’t be surprised if most online players disable the EX bursts, at which point they’ll essentially just be playing the same songs again, albeit in tandem with Internet strangers.
The other new features seem equally useless: Using the CollectaCard Crystarium to boost the base parameters of each character would be more meaningful if those stats influenced anything other than the amount of (equally meaningless) treasure earned in a stage. Likewise, the Quest Medley mode only provides the illusion of difference to players, as its “map” is nothing more than a way to choose from a more limited number of songs, and its boss encounters are identical to the standard versions of those tracks.
But none of this is the point. Once you crack the 20,000 rhythmia mark, Curtain Call interrupts whatever you’re doing in order to introduce one final medley (and, less importantly, a final boss) that celebrates the history and evolution of the series. The credits roll over a horde of deformed yet fan-familiar sprites jockeying for your attention and affection. (On Ultros, on Sephiroth, on Vaan, on Tidus!) The franchise can afford to toot its own horn, as it has plenty to be proud of. So while there may not be anything new in Curtain Call, there sure is a lot of it. And if you think their games have grown stale, here’s proof that at least their music hasn’t.