Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call review: dancing mad

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 3DS
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Square Enix Product Development Division 1
Release Date Sep 14, 2014

A "curtain call" is when actors return to the stage after a performance to take a bow; it's also the perfect phrase to describe the seemingly unending amount of content packed into Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call.

Curtain Call is the sequel to 2012's Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and it expands on its predecessor's offerings in every way. On top of a collection of songs vastly expanded from the first game, Curtain Call kept my attention with a meaty character leveling system and additions that made the high score chase more meaningful.

Whether I was doing a quest that strung a dozen tunes together, trying to earn rare items and unlock new characters or just playing "one more song," I got pulled into Curtain Call and couldn't put it down. The glut of songs and buckets of collectibles scratched my nostalgic Final Fantasy itch and never felt like too much of a good thing.

I kept going back to master the hardest setting for higher-level songs

Curtain Call's core mechanics haven't changed from the first Theatrhythm. On the 3DS' bottom screen, players can hold, tap and swipe the stylus to correspond with song notes. These commands are strung together in various ways depending on the song and type of stage. If you miss or enter the wrong commands too many times, your health bar depletes and it's game over. This gameplay sounds simple, but it allowed me to sink into the rhythm of each level and find my footing more quickly. In turn, I was able to really push for high scores.

At the end of each song, the game rates your performance. As a perfectionist, I kept going back to master the hardest setting for higher-level songs like Final Fantasy 6's "Dancing Mad" and "Lightning Returns" from, well, Lightning Returns. By giving detailed breakdowns of exactly where I faltered, Theatrhythm encouraged me to try again and again.

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Curtain Call relies on players' nostalgia for Final Fantasy's enormous library of music, but it's not just the love of tunes that propelled me through the game. Progression mechanics have been further developed from the first game to include more role-playing game elements. Special items can be obtained through enemy loot drops and used in combat stages. High scores are rewarded with rare treasure and additional playable heroes.

Characters even level up by completing songs and boost their stats through a card-collecting mechanic. As someone who loves spending hours digging into multifaceted RPG progression systems, having these options in Curtain Call made it feel like I was working towards more than just mastering strings of commands. Customizing character abilities and items like you would in a main Final Fantasy game made me feel right at home.

Heroes also learn new abilities with rare scroll items or naturally through levelling up. These abilities have a meaningful impact on gameplay. I loaded up Celes from Final Fantasy 6 with healing abilities that slowly regenerated health and prevented me from outright losing harder songs, while I kept Vivi and Eiko from Final Fantasy 9 stocked with magic abilities that blasted bosses when their HP got low. This additional layer of strategy made Curtain Call feel like more like an RPG rather than just a rhythm game. Having so many options to grow my character added to the sense of accomplishment when I finished melodies.

When I grew tired of tapping through tracklists, I tried Quest Medleys. These are strings of randomly-chosen songs chained together and placed on points on a map. Some maps are longer and include a miniboss or two along the way, but all of them end with a final boss. These challenging opponents guard rare items that can unlock new characters and stages.

While the rewards can be nice, Quest Medleys became monotonous quickly. Certain songs show up way too often; when "The Price of Freedom" from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 came up three or four times in one quest, I got bored. Curtain Call thankfully includes special items that allowed me to skip some songs and do the bare minimum of work to reach the final boss. I took these shortcuts every chance I could get; Medleys came off more like chores necessary for unlocking the good stuff that I was actually interested in.

Quest Medleys often bored me, but only one part of Curtain Call actively infuriated me: Versus Mode. In Versus Mode, opponents — either AI-controlled or other players via online or local Wi-Fi — go through one song side by side, with the highest score determining the winner. Versus Mode offers the one thing I feel Theatrhythm didn't need in terms of making content challenging: sabotages.

When you successfully chain notes together in Versus Mode, you're rewarded by inflicting a randomly selected sabotage on your opponent. Sabotages include speeding up the display or causing arrow triggers to spin — generally anything that can make commands harder to read, ruin chains and drag down scores. Against AI opponents in the harder challenges, this is brutal; sabotages become more common, sometimes triggering back to back. I spent the least amount of time in this mode because struggling against these opponents yielded no worthwhile rewards no items or unlocks of significance. The new tricks in Versus Mode seemed designed to make me fail, and they distracted from the real purpose of Theatrhythm.

That purpose, of course, is a celebration of the beloved music of the Final Fantasy franchise. Curtain Call has a generous library of songs — over 200! spanning both main-line Final Fantasy games and spin-offs like Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy X-2, Chocobo Dungeon and the Dissidia games. The whole series is given a chance to shine. With its expertly pieced together soundtrack, Curtain Call became a haven for the memories I have of the series, all those three a.m. sessions of motoring through Final Fantasy games and working afternoons with tracks from Final Fantasy 10 or Final Fantasy 13 playing in the background.

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The whole series is given a chance to shine

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Wrap Up:

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call adds depth to the best parts of its predecessor

In true Final Fantasy spirit, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call doesn't know when to stop. It's not a forgettable side project; it's packed full of the optional quests, bosses and items I'd expect from any one of the series' 30-plus hour games. Though the multiplayer content doesn't mesh well with the other ways the game celebrates Final Fantasy's music, it also doesn't detract from the overwhelming amount of quality content offered. Curtain Call turns what could be empty nostalgia into a meaningful challenge that I still can't stop playing.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call was reviewed using a final downloadable code for 3DS provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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