Nintendo 3DS

2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the Japanese release of the original Final Fantasy. Once considered a make-it-or-break-it game for Square, its surprise success inspired numerous sequels and spinoffs, including Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a Nintendo 3DS rhythm game where the player taps and slides the screen with their stylus to dozens of songs from the mainline entries in the series (from the first game all the way up to Final Fantasy XIII; XIV wasn't included in the compilation because it was in the process of being reworked into what would later become Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn after the heavy criticism of the original version).

By most accounts (including this author), Theatrhythm was a pretty solid game - easy to pick up and play, and plenty of content to keep players engaged. A sequel was inevitable, and surely enough, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call arrived two years later. At its core, Curtain Call is largely the same game as its predecessor. You guide your doll-like Final Fantasy characters of choice (in a party of four) through your song of choice as colored markers fly across the screen from left to right, and you have to tap, slide, or drag your stylus along the bottom screen once they hit the circle. When the song is finished, you're given a letter grade based on your performance, from "F" if you completely fail the song, all the way up to "SSS" for a near-perfect performance. There are three basic types of song stages: Battle Music, where you play a song to help your party attack a sequence of monsters; Field Music, where you spur your party's leader on toward the end of the stage, and eventually ride a Chocobo or airship depending on the song; and Event Music, where you do the same while a full-motion video of key scenes from the games play.

There are several key differences and improvements that Curtain Call makes over the original Theatrhythm. The first and most obvious is the greatly expanded selection of songs and characters, which are both more than twice as big as the original. All of the games that appeared in the first Theatrhythm get lots of new tracks, and some of the spinoff and sequel games are represented as well (Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, Crisis Core, etc.) There's also a much heavier emphasis on the Field and Battle songs, and less on the Event songs, whereas the main mode of the original Theatrhythm made you play at least once of each type.

The main "random song" mode has also been completely changed. Instead of Dark Notes, which gave you a Field song and a Battle song from a small pool of ten songs each, you can play through "Quest Medleys", which are structured similarly to the multi-path maps from Dissidia and its prequel, and allow for greater rewards and replayability. This is where you'll do the bulk of your character unlocking, as you're guaranteed to earn a few Crystals for completing the map successfully. The previous game gave you one Crystal at most for finishing a Dark Note, but it wasn't always guaranteed.

Curtain Call also adds a Versus Mode, where you can play a song offline or online against another player to see who can score the most points. Party composition doesn't seem to be a factor in this mode; the only variables are each player's skills and the "EX Attacks" that appear when you hit enough notes correctly. Fortunately, you still earn experience and Rhythmia points toward unlocking features in your own game, even if you don't win.

For those of you who don't want to put too much wear and tear on your bottom screen, Curtain Call offers a few alternate control schemes. You can use the traditional stylus control method, use the Circle Pad and buttons, or even a combination of the two. If you're feeling especially daring, you can even try playing one-handed with just the Circle Pad and the L button. Although it's not an ideal setup for all stages, the button controls are very smooth and responsive.

The music is the star of the package, of course, with nearly every playable song in the game being a note-for-note translation of their original versions (the only exceptions are from the original Final Fantasy, which features an arrangement of the Gurgu Volcano area as heard in the PlayStation compilation Final Fantasy Origins and two boss themes that were also in Origins but not the NES or Famicom versions). While the cutesy doll-like graphics for the characters and monsters may turn some away, they fit just fine with Theatrhythm's "the world is a stage" motif.

It's clear that the designers of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call weren't content with taking the easy way out by simply adding a few songs to the base game and shipping it as a sequel. It may look familiar on its surface, but there are plenty of pleasant surprises for old Theatrhythm players, and more than enough fanservice for Final Fantasy fans who may have missed out on the first game. Both are definitely worth playing, but if you have to choose one over the other, Curtain Call is the way to go.