There aren't many video game series with music as memorable as Final Fantasy, and there's no game with as much of that great music as Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call. As a follow up to 2012's Theatrhythm, Curtain Call trumps its predecessor in every way. That's not to say that the last game was a poor experience, but Curtain Call collects the lot of the original's music, adds a heap of new tracks from the library of classic and contemporary Final Fantasy games, and nestles them between both familiar and new gameplay modes.
Of course, anyone who's interested in Final Fantasy and its fantastic soundtracks may have already played the original Theatrhythm, and the fact that the core gameplay hasn't evolved in a drastic fashion for Curtain Call might make it seem like it's not worth the repeat trip down memory lane. Yet, with new soundtracks, multiplayer modes, and the addition of every DLC track from the first game, there are plenty of reasons to jump back into the realm of Theatrhythm.
Curtain Call's rhythm-based gameplay is easy to pick-up, fun to play, and is as challenging as you want it to be thanks to a generous range of difficulty levels. The control scheme is also flexible--you can play with just the 3DS stylus, or with buttons and the analog stick. The actions you perform are as simple as tapping a button or the 3DS touchscreen, swiping the stylus or analog stick in a specific direction, or holding down an input for a few seconds. Sometimes these actions are combined. For example: you might hold down a button and move the analog stick to follow a winding path of notes on screen. It's necessary to follow the tutorial to recognize when you're expected to perform certain actions, but after a few songs, tapping and swiping along to the music becomes second nature. Curtain Call is only really challenging when you ramp up the difficulty to the highest level.
Depending on the song you choose, you'll play one of three types of stages: battle music stages, field music stages, or event music stages. Battle stages put a team of four characters against a series of monsters in a manner reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy battle scenarios. Each character has their own stream of inputs, and though this sounds like it can get complicated, it doesn't. Despite the fact that you control four characters, their actions never overlap.
When you aren't facing behemoths and cactuars during rousing battle stages, you can play through event and field stages for a bit of a respite. The peaceful sight of a character traveling through the wilderness during a field stage is relaxing compared to the frantic pace of most battle stages, and event stages give you the chance to watch classic Final Fantasy cutscenes as you tap and swipe along with the music.
Before venturing out into the game, you create a party of four adventurers from a small selections of characters, but there are over 50 that you can unlock as you play through collections of stages known as quest medleys. In medleys and other stages, you earn items, abilities, and experience points that will bolster the strength and capabilities of your team, too. Equipping an item to your team may restore a bit of your "health" meter after a series of missed notes and cues, or it might guarantee that your favorite magical being is summoned during combat. You also earn CollectaCards, which give you the chance to apply permanent stat boosts to characters. The rarer the card, the better the chance that its stat boosts will stick. Toying with customization options for your party is a nice distraction between stages, imparting an additional bit of Final Fantasy flare, but it's easy to ignore these elements and succeed just the same.
Competitive multiplayer makes its debut in Curtain Call, allowing you to challenge opponents both local and online. Essentially, two players do their best to complete the same song, which the computer chooses randomly after you each pick a candidate. Do well during the match and you'll build up a meter that will ultimately allow you to inflict hazards upon your opponent. The winner of the match is the person who ends up with the highest score, and the reward is a CollectaCard of your choosing. It's good to see competitive play make its debut in Curtain Call and it's a handy option to have when you want to measure your skills, but given that you're constantly doing that within the single player game anyway, it's not a game changing feature. It's merely a nice addition to an already solid experience.
Curtain Call's engrossing gameplay and its wealth of music make it easy to recommend to anyone with fond memories of Final Fantasy. That said, it's difficult to recommend to anyone without those ties. Everything within is a tip of the hat to the series at large, and without the experience and context to know what you're looking at, it may be one of the most baffling mixes of characters, creatures, and events ever assembled. That doesn't detract from the high-quality music and gameplay within, but for a game grounded in nostalgia, it's hard to deny that it might not excite people who aren't fans of the series. But, for those who are, Curtain Call is a heartfelt walk down memory lane. As someone who played the first Theatrhythm a lot, I'm still enthusiastic for Curtain Call due to the large amount of new content. It's hard to imagine fans of Final Fantasy not leaping at the chance to reconnect with their memories and some of the most beautiful music from the history of Final Fantasy, and playing Curtain Call is the perfect way to do so.