A good pair of headphones and a strategic plan are suggested but not necessary to play the latest spin-off from the Final Fantasy franchise, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call.
At its core, Curtain Call—the sequel to the 2012 rhythm game built around the worlds and music of the Final Fantasy series—retains its Theatrhythm Final Fantasy roots in its basic gameplay. When using the stylus, players tap the screen, hold down or swipe as directed as notes hit a designated marker (more on the new use of the circle pad and buttons later). If you're familiar with the previous installment, the three distinct stages return for Curtain Call:
- FMS: Field Music Sequences where the lead member in your party starts the journey in the field to a string of prompts that come your way.
- BMS: Battle Mode Sequences where four party members tackle incoming notes in Theatrhythm's version of Turn-Based type fighting against a wave of various FF series enemies and bosses. In this mode, players can use Summons for completing a Feature Zone of notes successfully (if unsuccessfully, there's a surprise visit which I won't spoil).
- EMS: Event Mode Sequences (unlike FMS which can be described as a sort of stream of consciousness and almost linear flowing onslaught of notes) have notes at a starting point that travel all over the screen and are tied to a track in a non linear type, ongoing prompt.
So why the headphones and the plan then?
The headphones, of course, for the enhanced enjoyment of listening to the rightly lauded music of the Final Fantasy series while you play.
The plan to deal with just how overwhelming this rhythm game can be. Be prepared to question just where to begin, and be prepared for the subsequent time sink. These may sound like bad things but that's not even close as Curtain Call has been improved and fleshed out in every way imaginable from its predecessor.
And it's amazing.
Starting with the obvious, there's the soundtrack to talk about which boasts 221 songs in its library (and that's not including weekly DLC). Some songs will unlock during the course of the game depending on how many points you make to contribute to an overall score count or rhythmia— which will help restore balance to the world in the fight between Harmony and Chaos (look, it's not as though you're actually playing for a story here). For a game series that recently celebrated its 25th year anniversary encompassing 14 main games and no shortage of spin-offs across all gaming platforms, 221 might represent just a drop in a bucket.
But when it comes to quality, many of the songs are the cream of the crop. Not all of the best ones are here mind you but some of the more praised and familiar ones are. Many of the songs used in the first game are back in addition to new ones resulting in a fair amount of selection for each individual game. That's more music to love and that's always a good thing.
Although it is my duty to still complain (if even a little!) for the lack of an extensive Final Fantasy Tactics selection.
Alright, maybe not everyone but the character selection is hardly limited. There are over 60+ playable characters (included, with even more available via DLC) from each series in this game. You'll start from a small selection where you choose four to make up your party. As you get more of those Rhythmia points or defeat bosses in the Quest Medleys mode, you'll get crystal shards that help unlock more characters. Surely there's some one of your favourite main FF characters to choose from. Maybe. Probably.
But really, what's not adorable about their sprite, chibi, vacant eyed counterparts? They fit nicely into the storybook aesthetics of the game too, like little cutouts in a paper puppet theater. Enemies and heroes alike move with a playful charm. They're so cute in Curtain Call that it's just precious. And yep, the heroes say ridiculous catch phrases before heading to battle and after finishing a music stage. Their personalities shine in their two word quips, and make no sense as rally and victory cries thereby creating some really funny one liners.
Curtain Call allows players to use the buttons and circle pad on the 3DS to input commands now, as previously mentioned. The game will track which play style you used to complete a level —stylus or button— and give you your score. I had a hard time coordinating buttons to circle pad commands because I generally just have terrible coordination. However, I can say that the use of the buttons and circle pad feel smooth. I enjoyed using the circle pad on the FMS stages when it came to the holding down prompt. If you can master the button use, it's a welcome play style.
Almost immediately, in the music stages mode — where you select songs from each of the FF games available—you can select the difficulty level at which you are most comfortable. Wanted to play on easy? There's basic. Feeling a bit more advanced and didn't want to sit through a forced scale in difficulty? There's Expert Mode. Feeling like a superstar looking for a super challenge? Ultimate mode is there for your cursing and frustration needs.
You're not bound to sitting through playing a game series on basic before unlocking higher difficulties, and there's not much hand holding going on.
As challenges are met and rhythmia points accumulated, those points start unlocking a variety of other game modes. Sure, this means you cannot actually start anywhere other than at the Music Stages but it does not take long to get those other modes unlocked and that is where Curtain Call gets really interesting.
Like any good Final Fantasy, Curtain Call allows for your characters to level up after successfully completing any given song. Not only do characters' stats level up but abilities unlock for use in the BMS and FMS stages. Some abilities will boost parties' strengths or buffs for missing notes, for instance. Players can use these abilities to outfit each character within a set number of CP points. Parameters on each character may also be boosted through use of collectable in-game cards or CollectaCards using the CollectaCard Crystarium. Cards are given as rewards for completing stages and meeting certain requirements, much like crystal shards (used to unlock more characters) and items ( which can be equipped to your party and used to assist in BMS and FMS stages. Things such as potions, for example, restore HP to your party if they drop below a certain HP etc).
So what's cool about this? This time around, the abilities actually do more to assist in fighting bosses in Battle Mode or traversing in FMS modes. They particularly come in handy when engaging in Quest Medleys mode—maps that contain various paths riddled with BMS and FMS stages to get through represented as waypoints on the map as you quest your way to a final dungeon and a final boss. The Final boss of each of these mini adventures usually holds a certain number of crystal shards used in unlocking more characters, while mini bosses can have awesome consumable items.
This mode allows for a lot of variety in what songs you'll have to tackle and they all come as surprises. The waypoint will show which series the song comes from but not the song itself and with multiple forks on the road, you can choose which series to play. But that's not all there is to it, nor is it that simple. What makes it even more fun is that waypoints have special treasure chests that fat chocobos carry, or airships that will take you straight to the final dungeon, keys to unlock chests or save points to help you if you lose a battle. In other words, while you may be thinking to go down the path that has a song from FFVI because you love FFVI's music, the path with the FFXII song might have treasure you want. Oh, and you don't get to choose the difficulty either. The songs at each waypoint could be either basic, expert or ultimate (and you won't have a clue until you start playing!) which spices things up further. There are a lot of incentives to do these fun maps which keeps the game interesting by blending RPG and rhythm elements together, while also keeping you on your toes.
Modes don't stop at Music Stages or Quest Medleys. There's a Versus Mode now that allows players to challenge the computer or go online to recruit friends or strangers, either domestic or international.
While in single player vs AI, Versus Mode is comprised of battle stages where you challenge opponents in a battle rankings showdown. While playing against friends or strangers, your victories are displayed and you are given a score number that increases or decreases depending on whether you win or lose.
What's cool about Versus Mode is also a bit of a double-edged sword: When each players' EX Burst gauge is filled, one of 9 special attacks is released at random. Some of the attacks are great in that they really mess with your opponent and can throw them (or you!) for a loop (things like altering time which mess with how fast or slow notes come at you, or hidden notes that unveil themselves right before the marker, notes that only count if you get a critical score, for instance). Others are just easy to navigate and don't do much to thwart you.
Then there's the matter of the attacks chosen at random and out of your control. In this way, matches can sometimes boil down to luck. That's not necessarily a great or even fair, balanced thing but it definitely makes things interesting. Skill at playing the game does play a big factor in just how well you're going to do. So while I can see how this mode would be frustrating at times if given a bad luck of the draw repeatedly, there's something to be said about just how unpredictable and fun this mode can be too.
It should be noted that the use of EX Bursts can be shut off when playing with friends should you so choose. I played a few rounds with a couple of strangers and a friend. I found the mode really easy to get lost in, although searching for recruits can sometimes take a while to load—even when I had a designated meet up time with my friend.
All these Rhythmia points also unlock a Museum (familiar to fans of the first game) where you can view trophies, the music player (as if we didn't all have these songs on our iPods and music libraries, right?), the CollectaCards —which give little write ups of characters and enemies and card rarity like a virtual baseball card collection, while also allowing you to view their various moves and expressions animations, and a Theatre to watch movies from previous FF titles. Though why I'd want to watch any movie clips from Crisis Core is beyond me...who wants to relive that trauma?
What's really sweet though is that during game play, you will also unlock chimes. These are the chimes that you hear when you hit the triggers. The default chimes are really cute but you know what's cuter? The cure sound from FFX as the sound for the hold trigger. Yes, I'm telling you that you can unlock famous sounds across the FF series and customize your trigger chimes such as save points or Cecil's slash. It's madness! All may proceed to squee as I did! ...you would squee too, right? Not just me? Okay, moving along...
In the 13 hours or so I spent playing this game, I unlocked very few EMS stages. That's okay with me, honestly because maybe it's just me, but I never felt as though the EMS stages were mapped out well enough for the mechanics. They're difficult in a frustrating way where the game just never seems to register the commands accurately. [update]Rather, this could be due to precision and just how strict the game is when hitting notes with little to no room for error while in this mode. [thanks to reader Solio for this perspective] It's a mode that requires some patience.
The staggering amount of content means this will be a game that will have you singing a melody for life... Okay, perhaps not. But now that I've gotten that FF pun out of the way, I have not even played every song from the initial selection on the music stages even after 13 hours of gameplay. With so many ways to enjoy this game with its brilliant music, challenging stages, engaging modes and characters to unlock, rhythm game fans and Final Fantasy fans should heed the siren call of Theathrythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call.
You're reading TAY, Kotaku's community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in.