A musical doorway to infinite mementos
It is not rare for certain giants of the gaming industry to commemorate the legacy they have built. Commonly, such a thing is achieved through the repackaging of old remarkable classics as a means to please longtime fans and allow new generations of gamers to get in touch with the glorious past. It is an effective and pleasing strategy, but it is not exactly creative: there are far more inventive ways to reach the same goal.
For Final Fantasy, although the series has already engaged in a great share of amazing remakes, Square Enix decided to honor the traditions of the line of titles that is the mother to all JRPGs by celebrating one of its most unforgettable features: its music. Little to no franchises have been able to build a set of soundtracks as consistently impressive as the ones spawned by the long-standing role-playing giant. Therefore, Theatrhythm is a worthy homage to a lengthy history of numerous glories and punctual failures.
Saying that Curtain Call, the second installment of the Theatrhythm series and certainly the very best, is all about music is a fair statement, but not a complete and accurate assessment. The songs are the clear stars here, but they do not shine by themselves. Curtain Call is a rhythm game where players, prompted by icons that appear across the screen, must use either the stylus, or the circle pad and buttons to perform the actions of holding, tapping, or swiping in different directions when those icons reach the cursor.
The gameplay suffers slight alterations according to the type of song that is being played. Battle stages have, in traditional fashion, the command icons moving across the screen in multiple lines to reach the cursor; field stages present just one long sequence of prompts, including a special kind of “holding” movement where players must slide the stylus across the screen; and event stages offer the added twist that it is not the icons that float, but the cursor itself that moves towards them in unpredictable patterns.
That division benefits the game in two distinct ways. First, there is the fact that those different formats add an unexpected deal of a variety to a genre that is generally stiff. Most importantly, though, each kind of stage puts the spotlight on a certain noteworthy aspect of the franchise. And that is exactly the point where Curtain Call manages, through the disguise of a music game, celebrate Final Fantasy as a whole.
Battle stages show, on their background, a combat between a party of four characters and a series of monsters, with each side attacking and suffering damage in accordance to the players’ performance. Hence, they bring forward the franchise’s many heroes, their unique abilities, and their fearsome foes.
Field stages, meanwhile, display that very same party traveling through lengthy scenarios depicting some of Final Fantasy’s iconic locations. Consequently, those songs highlight the immersive settings that have been invaluably important in the construction of the fantastic universe.
Finally, event stages, which are the rarest of the bunch, are always accompanied by gorgeous cutscenes that will undoubtedly take many gamers back to the great moments they have experienced in some of the franchise’s most recent titles. Those levels, therefore, showcase the cinematic qualities the modern Final Fantasy efforts have exhibited.
Underneath all of that, lies a decently solid RPG facet that clearly separates Curtain Call from the many other games with which it shares the rhythm niche. From a huge selection of characters, players must assemble a party of four in order to tackle the nearly endless amount of musical challenges packed within the game.
Each character has its own traits, and – as levels are cleared – they gain experience points that allow them to level up, improve their stats, and unlock new abilities. Additionally, each kind of stage benefits a certain type of character build, with – for example – battle stages favoring those with high attack stats, and field music playing into the hands of those with elevated stamina.
The game’s 221 songs (271 when the DLC is counted), which are extracted from a whopping 28 games, are presented in three different modes. Music Stages plays like a loose jukebox where gamers are free to choose whatever song they feel like playing and tackle them in one of three available levels of difficulty. Meanwhile, Versus Mode pits two players against each other to play the same song and see whose party will come out on top.
By far, though, the most interesting mode is Quest Medleys. It is where the gap between RPG and rhythmic gameplay is nearly completely bridged. Set up as an RPG overworld, these maps – which are divided in small, medium, and long – feature a series of songs, including a few bosses, through which players must navigate with the aid of various items if necessary. In traditionally brutal JRPG fashion, failing a song sends the party all the way back to the last-reached checkpoint.
The greatest twist of Quest Medleys is that the maps are randomly generated, which means that the difficulty of every acquired map is adjusted to the performance the player had on the previously played quest. If one succeeds with ease, the next unlocked map will be a handful of levels higher; at the same time, upon miserable failure, a lower-leveled quest is bound to show up, meaning that – with either sweet victory or sour defeat – players can constantly face new quests.
Curtain Call wraps all of that incredible content with unbelievably charming visuals that make it seem as if the whole experience takes place on a very fancy puppet show set upon a grand stage. The lines used for characters, foes, and scenarios are borderline cartoonish in their excess, making the game a very unique-looking effort and turning even the fiercest battles and most daunting field trips into something delightfully light-hearted.
Ultimately, Curtain Call is completely irresistible to both longtime Final Fantasy fans and enthusiasts of the rhythm genre. While the former group will be motivated into spending loads of hours with the title due to borderline endless amount of Final Fantasy goodies that the game hides, the latter will be overjoyed to find one of the most complete and deep pieces of software to ever hit the niche.
In the grand scheme of things, the RPG elements may be too light – some will rightfully say their effect on the songs is nearly negligible, and an insignificant number of the tunes might be a little on the weak side. However, this is an almost perfectly executed rhythm game on which, in spite of the overwhelming quantity of tracks, it is possible to see that a good deal of care was put into each one of them: the prompts match the songs very well.
More than a celebration of everything Final Fantasy; via its music, Curtain Call is a doorway to infinite mementos to anyone who has ever spent a great deal of their time engaged in Square’s huge RPG saga. To those who haven’t, though, it stands proudly tall as an incredibly solid rhythm game.