While it wasn’t originally planned as a 25th anniversary tribute to the Final Fantasy series, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy fits the bill. The Nintendo 3DS game has songs from almost all of the Final Fantasy games including the still unreleased Fabula Nova Crystallis title Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but no tunes from Final Fantasy XIV. (Producer Ichiro Hazama explains why here.)
When Theatrhythm Final Fantasy begins you only have one option, "series mode" where you can select your favorite numbered Final Fantasy title and tap through three songs. I started with Final Fantasy IV and a prelude abridged the game’s intro, but don’t expect to understand the story at all if this your first time seeing Cecil.
You can tap along to the prelude to earn Rhythmia, music energy that charges a crystal and more importantly unlocks gallery items. The game then switches to field mode where Terra, who I picked as my party leader, walks on the screen while you hit notes with the stylus. Similar to Elite Beat Agents, there are green notes you need to hold and trace plus red notes which you have to tap. Each field has a feature zone and if you get all of the notes here you can ride a chocobo and travel further on the field.
Theatrhythm goes into event mode next which replays scenes from the game in the background while you trace notes. The feature zone here is at the end and completing it extends the song usually to the game’s ending. Since Theatrhythm’s selling point is nostalgia, maybe this isn’t too much of an issue, but for the sprite based Final Fantasy games only have Japanese text during movies. Yeah, I realize there isn’t a NES version of Final Fantasy III to use and the incomplete Final Fantasy II NES translation would be… ridiculous. However, Square Enix could’ve used localized footage from the original Final Fantasy or any of the Super Nintendo games. Since the scenes from Final Fantasy VII and onwards use FMV clips, these titles don’t have the same issue.
Final Fantasy IV‘s scene ended with the "Battle of the Four Fiends" song. In battle mode, notes fly from left to right. Players have to tap, swipe in the direction of arrow or hold to make their four person party attack. Chibi characters slash their sword at the air in classic Final Fantasy style hit the monsters standing far away. Each character has abilities that activate under certain conditions. If you get a chain of notes, Terra can cast Fira and if you’re low on HP Cecil can restore a bit of life with Cure. Defeat a monster and the game rotates a new enemy in. You’ll see familiar enemies like chibi Cagnazzo and super deformed Rubicante. Try to defeat them if you can, but if you don’t the game doesn’t end or anything. Songs are timed and a stage ends if you run out of HP or time runs out.
After you complete a series you can play those three songs in challenge mode where there’s an expert level for each track with more notes to hit. Even though this game uses the Final Fantasy name, there isn’t much of an overarching story. Rhythm exists between Chaos and Cosmos, the gods from the Dissidia games, and you can restore the music crystal’s luster by collecting Rhythmia. Also inspired by the Dissidia series, you get bonuses for playing Theatrhythm everyday and picking say Tidus for Final Fantasy X songs. While there is a sizable selection of Final Fantasy characters to add to your party (like Princess Sarah from Final Fantasy I), you’re better off sticking to one group unless you want to level up each hero from scratch.
To keep players interested beyond mastering "Mambo de Chocobo," Square Enix created Dark Notes, two song courses with a random field and battle song. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy also has a *ton* of downloadable content. Currently, there are eight songs available in North America and Europe (actually the first eight songs in Japan too). As of now, the Japanese track list is up to 48 songs. Each extra song costs a dollar, but there isn’t an option to preview the song before purchasing it. Sure, Square Enix gives a text description and diehard Final Fantasy fans probably know what "Cosmo Canyon" is, but a sample would be nice because not every fan knows what "The Cave Where The Crystal Is" is from. (That’s Final Fantasy III and if you got that reference, well, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is made for you.)