Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a new iOS release from Square Enix. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of content to use in the game. It requires at least an iPhone 4 to run, though the game will not feature its full level of graphical detail on anything less than an iPhone 4S.
Theatrhythm was originally a standalone retail Nintendo 3DS game with additional paid downloadable content, but Square Enix has completely overhauled the game’s structure and business model for the iOS version. Theatrhythm is now, in effect, a free-to-play game which players may spend as much or as little money on as they desire.
Theatrhythm is, as its full title may suggest, a music-based game based on Square Enix’s popular Final Fantasy series of role-playing games. Players challenge either “field” or “battle” music tracks from the entire 13+ game series, and must tap, slide and hold on their iOS device’s touchscreen in time with both the music and markers that appear on the screen. Battle tracks involve reading incoming markers on four lanes at once in an attempt to defeat monsters with music; field tracks, meanwhile, include a lot more markers where the player must hold on the screen and smoothly move up and down in order to travel as far as possible.
The game may be played in two distinct modes. Music Play mode simply allows the player to pick a track and play it — ideal for a quick, on-the-go play session. Quest mode, meanwhile, challenges the player to complete a particular number of tracks in succession using a single health bar. Between individual parts of the “quest,” the player is able to acquire special items that either restore their health or contribute to their collection of cards depicting various Final Fantasy heroes and villains. Initially, the player may only take on a five-quest challenge, but as they complete each subsequent Quest mode they work their way towards being able to take on an “infinite” mode, where they must simply survive as long as possible. In Quest mode, the music used for each stage is randomly selected from the content the user has purchased and downloaded.
Two tracks are provided to the player for free with their initial download of Theatrhythm — the iconic “One Winged Angel” battle track from Final Fantasy VII, and the melancholy piano field track “Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X. Additional tracks may either be purchased individually for $0.99 each, or in bundles of four tracks from the same game for $2.99 each. This allows the user to build up their own “a la carte” music collection of just music that they like rather than having to pay for everything that is available — somewhat like the popular Rock Band and Guitar Hero games from a few years back. App Store reviewers accustomed to the 3DS version’s structure and business model have been bombing the game with one-star reviews, however, suggesting that Square Enix did not set customer expectations very well with this game. It seems a lot of consumers wish for an option to purchase all of the currently available content in one go — something that costs well over a hundred dollars at the time of writing — rather than the ability to purchase just the pieces they like a bit at a time.
The game features a social component whereby it’s possible for players to create their own “scores” for each of the tracks they have purchased. These custom challenges may then be uploaded to the Internet for other players to download, play and rate. Each player has their own “ProfiCard” that tracks how many scores they have uploaded, their average rating and other information. Players may also connect the game to Twitter to brag about their scores, though this uses a rather clunky method of switching out of the game app, logging into Twitter via the Web, copying an authorization code and then entering this back into the game rather than taking advantage of iOS 5+’s built-in Twitter functionality.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a good game and an eminently fair implementation of the free-to-play model — despite what App Store reviewer naysayers may be criticizing it for. However, at present it’s not without a few issues — there are occasional unpredictable crashes, taking a screenshot while a level is loading sometimes causes the music not to play but the beat markers to appear, and downloading content has been a hit-or-miss affair for some users. The app could do with some sort of “progress bar” to show how long it will take for a bundle of content to download — as it stands, the player is stuck on an almost-blank “please wait” screen while downloading new content, which can lead to some users believing the game has frozen up.
These issues aside — all of which could be easily rectified in an update — Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a solid game. The team behind the conversion to iOS has obviously thought carefully about the different ways people play on the 3DS and iOS platforms and revamped the game accordingly. The result is a fun game for Final Fantasy and music game fans alike, featuring a good, sensible implementation of free-to-play and optional premium content — albeit one it may take a little time for some users to come around to from the look of things.
You can follow Theatrhythm Final Fantasy’s progress through the App Store charts with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.
Proof that a standalone retail title can be successfully converted to free-to-play with a little thought.