With a wide array of memorable music, adorable characters, and easy to pick up and play gameplay, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call strikes the perfect chord between accessibility and challenge in a genre where complexity and uneven difficulty too often dictate the tempo.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their entrances and exits and one person in his time plays many parts.” – Attributed to William Shakespeare, that quote may describe the characters that take the stage in Theatrhythm: Curtain Call, to a T. The many characters, spanning a plethora of different worlds that have been explored in Final Fantasy lore, some familiar, some less so, but all play multiple roles in this sequel, whether its a supporting or leading role.
The original game, which released back in 2012, featured some of the most iconic music from the once venerable Final Fantasy series, and Curtain Call, while not as big of a refinement to the genre as its predecessor, expands and improves on the original in a multitude of ways.
The gameplay still revolves around the three trigger system that made its debut in the original. You have touch triggers by tapping the screen at the right time during a song, as well as performing a quick slides of the stylus to activate and holding the stylus for a period of time.While it may not seem like it on paper, the combination of these three triggers, along with the fast and furious gameplay that can occur at the higher difficulty levels result in some of the most intense and difficult action seen in a rhythm game to date.
Once again, the stages involve battle music stages (BMS), which revolve around classic to modern interpretations of the battle themes featured in Final Fantasy games. These stages feature your party facing a number of enemies in battles and your performance on a song by effectively dealing with the appropriate triggers determines how many enemies you finish off by the time the song ends, as well as your rewards, both in experience and items. The battles themselves are little more than simulations of actual battles, however, as your performance on a song is actually what determines the outcome, miss too many triggers and your hp bar will drop to zero, indicating you failed the song. Like its predecessor, the battle stages emphasize quick reflexes and timing and offer a sharp contrast and refreshing change of pace to the slower paced stages.
The field music stages (FMS) are also back and have been expanded more than ever before. Most of the new music in the game involves the field music stages and these simulate a relaxing walk in the overworld in many of the Final Fantasy titles. Whereas the battle music stages emphasize timing and reflexes, the field music stages are a more intimate, relaxed atmosphere, and feature your party members strolling through a familiar backdrop, while you tap frequent hold triggers, with other triggers scattered in between. This doesn’t mean that the field music stages can’t get difficult however, as on the higher difficulties, the tempo increases dramatically, and what was a luxurious stroll on easier difficulties, can become a mind numbing tap a thon on the harder difficulties.
Finally, the last type of stage is the event music stage (EMS), these make a return from the original as well, and test your patience more than anything else. A circle traces a path around the screen, against a cinematic backdrop playing out from one of the key scenes from a specific title and when the circle passes over a trigger, you have to deal with it, by tapping, sliding, or holding. This may be the most challenging type of stage, as the speed at which you need to perform each trigger can vary depending on the music and difficulty. These are also the rarest types of stages, and while the original featured one from every one of the core games, from the original Final Fantasy to its latest entry, XIII, they are in much shorter supply this time around and are featured as a reward much of the time.
The biggest change comes with the removal of the often too difficult Chaos Shrine mode, and inclusion of Quest Medley mode. In this mode, you select quests which place you on randomized maps, along with random songs placed at certain points in the map. The object is to overcome each song on your way to the final boss of the map, the defeating of which, rewards you with rare items, new characters, or both. Each map has a number of paths you can choose from, some featuring optional bosses as well. Short maps typically contain an overland map and a dungeon themed map, both featuring BMS and FMS stages along the way. Medium sized maps are slightly longer and feature a boss at the mid point. Long Maps are quite large and feature multiple, diverging paths and 2 mini bosses before the final boss. Acquiring quest maps is easy enough, however, and only require you to attempt a map, not necessarily finishing it, to award you a new map. New maps vary in level and difficulty. You can also obtain new maps from street passing other players, who give you their profile cards, and can attach any map they have cleared to their card, just as you can with yours. There’s also a versus battle mode, playable in local wireless or against the computer. These involve you competing on stages to see who can rack up the most points. These work about as well as you’d expect but aren’t the main focus of the game.
Graphically, everything looks gorgeous. The once static backdrops have been replaced with dynamic, moving backgrounds, and these add a much livelier atmosphere to the various levels. In battle music stages, smoke curls up and rises from fiery structures in the background, while field music stages feature flickering torches, and ambient lit crystals. Some of the field music stages seem to show off a flair for the dramatic as well, as you may find yourself patrolling the halls of Balamb Garden at twilight, watching fireworks explode in the distance, out the window.
You’ll also delight in seeing snow blowing in from the mountains of Narshe while performing Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI, or watch objects flicker and fall against a sun kissed sky in Zanarkand from X. Also included are new airship stages, where the normal field music stage is replaced by an airship that flies at an angle at certain points, representing the feel of movement. With the 3D effect turned on in these cases it actually looks quite nice. Even the semi obtrusive blue status bar that once invaded most of the screen in field music stages has been upgraded to a translucent prism colored bar. This lets you see the entirety of the field music stages, in all their glory.
The real star of the show is the music, however, and Curtain Call still manages to offer up quite an array of songs. Each of the 13 core titles repertoire’s has been expanded, from the lovely “Roses of May” from Final Fantasy IX, to III’s evocative “The Boundless Ocean”. Many of the new songs were available in the previous game as paid DLC (which this game has an expanded section of, as well, not just songs, but also new characters). You’ll also experience music from additional games as well, such as A Realm Reborn, Mystic Quest, Tactics, X-2. Crystal Chronicles, Advent Children, Crisis Core, Dissidia and Dissidia 012, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Type 0, XIII-2, Lightning Returns, and several compilations. It really is a complete package, musically speaking, and hard to wonder what, if anything else, could be included.
Even the original game’s bare bones story mode has been expanded. Oh its basically the same non-story, but instead of “ending” at the same point in the original, or when you collect approximately 10,000 rhythmia (the currency used in the game), Curtain Call has you fighting a final boss at 20,000 rhythmia, and an even tougher final boss at 40,000.
The last area that has received an upgrade are the controls themselves, letting you utilize both the stylus and the face buttons to perform songs, however using the buttons isn’t nearly as intuitive as the touch screen input.
With its awe aspiring amount of content, in the form of music, ranging from the simple to the soulful, to the masterful, and back again, Curtain Call is the exception to rule that says sequels fail to live up to their originals. If the original Theatrhythm was an opening act, and Theatrhythm: Curtain Call is the main performance, then Square should have us all excited and clamoring for an encore.