Last week Square Enix, a Japanese game publisher best known for its fantasy role-playing titles, updated its most popular series with a music and rhythm game.
Final Fantasy Theatrythm hit U.S. shores last Tuesday to consumer fanfare and critical praise. Although music games have fallen out of favor with gaming audiences over the years, Theatrythm made the brilliant leap to combine touch-based music gaming, where you strike a node that corresponds to a musical note, with nostalgia.
Final Fantasy games have sold over 100 million units worldwide. My favorite game of all time is the original Final Fantasy, which debuted in all its 8-bit glory on the NES in 1987.
The series hit a critical and commercial peak in the late 90s with Final Fantasy VII, which is one of the best-selling video games of all time and a compliment to how epic storytelling and immersive game-play establish a game’s popularity and legacy—not graphics.
I have played all of the Final Fantasy games (with the exception of the MMORPGs) and it’s true that the series has fallen from grace since FFVII. There are variety of arguments as to why this is the case and there are likely a million URL and comment threads out there debating them. To me, the problem is simple: the series lost its warmth. As the graphics improved Final Fantasy became sterile and calculated. I knew this even as I dedicated 40+ hours of my time to each title.
Theatrythm is a noteworthy reversal of this trend. The game’s execution, which is Final Fantasy bootstrapped to Elite Beat Agents, leads to hours of fun dragging your stylus across the touch screen as cute renditions of Final Fantasy characters bounce around the screen to music you grew up with. I’ve seriously debated getting Final Fantasy tattoos for years and these warm fuzzy guys have renewed my interest.
I’ve played the game for about 7 hours so far. I’ve completed the main quest, where you unlock all 13 Final Fantasy worlds, and am still completing the more challenging sections of the games, called Chaos shrines. (The game ranges from casually relaxing to maddeningly difficult.)
Following the Guitar Hero template, Theathrythm will continue to release downloadable songs for you to play through, a first for the Nintendo 3DS. Perhaps not known to Square, the game acts as an profound advertisement for the series, as I just purchased Final Fantasy 1, 2 and 3 for iOS. Even if it’s costing me a little more than I’d like to admit, I’m happy to see Final Fantasy continue rolling. The series still packs a big punch, even on four-inch screens.