For a RPG series that’s known for its music, Square Enix should have created something like Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy earlier. I tried the Nintendo 3DS game at Tokyo Game Show, and players have to pay attention to three kinds of notes: red notes you tap, yellow notes you swipe (up, down, left, right, and at diagonal angles), and green notes you hold.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy can get tricky and combine notes, so you may hold a note and end with a swipe.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy uses these in different ways depending if you’re on a field or in battle. I started by playing a battle and chose a song from Final Fantasy IX. While Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy spans Final Fantasy I-XIII, the Tokyo Game Show demo did not showcase all titles. A party of chibi-characters were automatically picked for me and Shantotto from Final Fantasy XI was in it.
In traditional Final Fantasy fashion, the heroes waved their weapons in the air on the right and cutesy monsters appeared on the left. Characters attack when you hit notes and deal a critical hit if your timing is perfectly on beat. Miss notes and the HP meter in the top right drops a bit. I noticed Lightning who lead the group was level 21, perhaps you gain more HP as you level up? At the very least, there appears to be some kind of character growth system.
Battles continue until you the song ends or you lose all of your HP. Sounds linear on paper, but songs have branch points. Blue notes appear in the middle of the song, hit these and you summon Ifrit who blasts enemies with Hellfire.
I tried a field scene next and watched Vaan walk through a Final Fantasy III tune. Just like battles, there are notes to hit, but you have to trace the green notes as you hold them. Make a mistake and your character falls on the ground and is replaced by the next member in your party. Get the notes right and you may stumble on a treasure chest. Hit the blue notes on time and you can ride a chocobo for a bit of the song.
I played an event scene from Final Fantasy IX afterwards, which had a mash up of PS1 cutscenes running in the background. A cursor moves around the screen during events, but you only need to trace its path with with the stylus until green notes show up. Near the end of the song, you can "extend" the event by hitting a section of notes. This adds a scene where Dagger jumps and hugs Zidane.
Battles actually have three difficulty levels: easy, medium, and hard. After I felt comfortable with the game I tried a hard battle and picked Final Fantasy VI. The boss battle song, Dancing Mad, played and notes flew by at a ludicrous speed as Ultros taunted my group. I think that song was supposed be taste of how difficult Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy can be.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy draws fans in with nostalgia, but keeps them playing because it’s a score attack game at heart. Easy to get into and hard to put down, I was a bit surprised how much I enjoyed playing it.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is slated for release on Nintendo 3DS this winter.