Music really does make a video game. There are some titles out there that are absolutely brilliant: They’re exciting, they’re engaging, they’re simply fun to play BUT they’re also missing something fatal…music. A good soundtrack could turn an ‘OK’ game into a ‘great’ game but I feel as though it is a video game aspect that is sometimes overlooked.
I’ve seen plenty of games fail due to a boring or badly composed soundtrack but one series that doesn’t fall victim to this is ‘Final Fantasy’. Back in 2012 we saw the first culmination of the great series’ music. It came in the form of a spin-off title called ‘Theatrhythm Final Fantasy’. Playing like a typical rhythm game, ‘Theatrhythm Final Fantasy’ featured an abundance of songs from many of the different ‘Final Fantasy’ games and also played host to odd but interesting gameplay mechanic that made it feel more like an RPG. Well the game did very well and Square Enix decided that maybe they should go ahead and develop another one. This game is called ‘Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call’ and, in my opinion, it serves as a fantastic example of what video game sequels should be.
Much like the original game, ‘Curtain Call’ tells the story of two cosmic forces at war. As a result of the ethereal clash, a rift in time and space opens up and, once again, introduces the universe to ‘Rhythm’. That was not metaphorical, the space between spaces is called ‘Rhythm’ and it happens to house an incredibly powerful crystal that gives birth to music.
This is terrible though! Because of the forces of evil, the crystal’s power begins to diminish and the universe slowly starts to lose it’s ‘rhythm’. Cosmos, the benevolent of the two fighting deities, summons powerful warriors who exist throughout time in the hopes that they can return the crystal to it’s former glory and save existence itself. These time-traveling fighters happen to be characters from all of our favorite ‘Final Fantasy’ games.
Now the game doesn’t really need a story but the fact that there is one doesn’t make it any less enjoyable because it is barely explored and, in my opinion, it didn’t need to have been. It gets explained to you at the very start of the tutorial which, all in all, only takes up about five minutes of your time so you can see just how quickly the game’s lore is passed over.
Having the information of the story floating somewhere in the back of your mind only serves to justify why it is that you’re continuing to play the game. That is, for people who didn’t buy it for the sake of just enjoying a rhythm title…which is exactly what it is. The story does indeed bleed into actual gameplay. There are a couple of different modes you can choose from: The first is ‘Music Selection’ which allows you to play through individual tracks and try to reach a personal best. ‘Versus BMS’ is exactly how it sounds; it allows you and a friend to go ‘head-to-head’ in a musical battle.
‘Quest Medley’, the final but most enjoyable game mode, has you take your team of four on actual quests. You’re placed on a game board and you advance by playing through different songs. Some are battle tracks and some a travel tracks, both of which have you play slightly differently. ‘Quest Medley’ gives you purpose. You know that you need to make your way to a boss and defeat it. Along the way you can earn new items, new characters, you can level up and, much like every other mode, you can continue to add to the strength of the rhythm crystal.
You can actually play the songs in a couple of different ways: Using the buttons and the thumbstick, using the stylus and touch controls, and you can also use a combination of both. What makes this such an intelligent little gameplay feature is that, first of all, different people will feel comfortable playing in different ways and, second of all, the game doesn’t have you change settings. Simply playing the way you want will tell ‘Curtain Call’ that you’re using a certain style to play. This means if your hand gets tired or you’re better at completing certain commands a certain way, you can do it without being restricted by a ‘play style’ option.
‘Curtain Call’, as mentioned, plays quite similar to your typical rhythm game. The title I most liken it to is ‘Elite Beat Agents’, originally released on the Nintendo DS back in the early 2000s. Put simply; you click and flick to the beat of the chosen song. Each track features three difficulties and you’re given bonus points depending on which you choose. You’re asked to form a team of four of your favorite ‘Final Fantasy’ characters. These characters can level up, learn new skills, equip items and be upgraded to help you perform better.
The RPG elements utilized in-game make it so much more like a ‘Final Fantasy’ title rather than just your average rhythm game which just so happens to feature ‘Final Fantasy’ songs. There’s a reason why this game’s predecessor was so highly received: When you have years and years of wonderful music taken from their respective games and placed into one, big, lovely rhythm title…you can’t help but be overwhelmed by it’s brilliance. ‘Curtain Call’ features over two hundred songs which not only means there’s plenty to play through in the game, it also means there’s a great chance your favorite titles’ songs will be featured. As a fan of ‘Final Fantasy VII’ and it’s offshoots, I was very pleased.
Now it goes without saying but audio is clearly the main focus of this game. It is a rhythm title after all. Something odd I found while playing through is that I was highly impressed by the way the it actually looks. Character and enemy models are designed in very basic ways but that doesn’t exactly mean they looked bad or that the development team came across lazy.
I couldn’t help but obsess over just how well the 3D feature of the console was used to not only give depth to the upper screen but to allow players to clearly see the commands they have to input without being distracted by the battle scene going on behind it. It also just looked really polished: Animation was fluid, icons and symbols looked sharp, and overall the game looked nice. There were even some throwbacks to older ‘Final Fantasy’ titles that made my heart skip a beat a few times. The most notable is the style of the menu after you finish a song and obtain items, it looks exactly like the menus from the first games.
I think the reason I truly liked ‘Curtain Call’ was because it lived up to expectations. For the months before the game was released, Square Enix continually gave the world trailers and images about their upcoming game. Usually trailers tend to be a bit grandiose, promising things they often do not follow through with and the like. ‘Curtain Call’ did exactly what it’s trailer said it would do. Nothing more, nothing less. It lived up to what had been boasted and, in my opinion, there’s no better sign of a video game than that.
Take away graphics, sounds, gameplay style, if a game promises you something than it should deliver. Even if the thing it delivers is not that great, at least it didn’t lie to you. What makes ‘Curtain Call’ more impressive of a video game title than that of, let’s say, ‘Watch_Dogs’ is honesty. Simple, pure honesty. Within the first hour of playing the game I knew that this is exactly what I expected. This is exactly what I was told it was going to be like, and I was happy. No, ‘Curtain Call’ isn’t the game for everyone, but no game is. If you love the series and/or you love rhythm games, than it actually gets no better than this. What else is there to say?