Over the years Square Enix has established its Final Fantasy franchise into one of the most dependable role-playing game series out there.  There may have been some ups and downs, but the company has largely maintained a proper form when delivering new adventures in the Final Fantasy universe.  

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, the latest project from the team, takes a different approach.  It’s still got familiar adventure to spare and it’s likely to stir up nostalgia amongst hardcore fans of the ongoing series, but it plays an entirely different way.

The game follows the events of the gods Chaos and Cosmos, something fans might be familiar with if they’ve gone through Dissidia Final Fantasy over on the PlayStation Portable.  Somewhere in the midst of their friction is a crystal that manages to control the music, but when Chaos’ actions cause this crystal to become interrupted, it’s up to Cosmos and other characters from the series to return it to normal using an increase in a music wave known as “Rhythpo.”  

Helping create an epic scope are familiar faces that make an appearance throughout the game, including Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, the Onion Knight from Final Fantasy III, Bartz Klauser from Final Fantasy V, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, and the Warrior of Light from the game that started it all, Final Fantasy on the original NES.  Others make appearances as well, including the all-too-familiar Chocobo.

Even though it has a huge storyline, Theatrhythm is vastly different from all other Final Fantasy games.  Rather than plotting battle tactics and using items in traditional turn-based battles, you guiding an on-screen cursor through three types of musical segments.  Square Enix recently demonstrated these to us through a hands-on event.

The first style of gameplay comes with Field (Overworld) Music.  In this type of stage, your character moves along through an open area traveling from place to place as they keep the storyline moving along.  Your job isn’t to guide the character but rather keep their pace going by following on-screen prompts that play in time with music – in this case, Final Fantasy themes that span the entire generation of the series, including “One Battle Angel” from Final Fantasy Vii among others.  You’ll tap and drag along to the beat, and the better you do, the higher your combo gets, and the more your character strengthens.

Next up is the Event Music stage.  Here you won’t move around so much.  Instead, the cursor will stay in one section of the screen, as you move along with it and a scene from one of the Final Fantasy games plays in the background.  You’ll still need to guide the cursor along on-screen and make sure that the rhythm is followed along properly, lest the battle doesn’t go in your favor.

Finally, there’s the Battle Music stage where you battle enemies on-screen.  Again, since this is a music/rhythm game, you won’t be using the traditional approach of picking items and casting spells.  The battles play out through segmented pieces for each of your four characters so you can successfully complete each rhythm to execute the attacks and defeat the enemies.  It gets hectic, especially in later battles, but once you get used to the style of gameplay it becomes second nature.

Square Enix went with this approach to bring in fans of the music/rhythm genre but at the same time packed it with enough memorable content from previous games to keep fans pleased with it.  There are dozens of songs packed in from previously released games over the years, and the graphics have that nostalgic flavor, from the original Final Fantasy designs to stuff you’ve probably come across in Final Fantasy XIII.  With a variety of scenarios and themes to choose from, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Replay value comes through in spades with Theatrhythm.  There are 99 levels to go through along with a new Chaos Tower challenge withnew songs to try out and a number of items and characters to unlock.  More features are expected to be revealed for the game in just a few weeks’ time at E3.  Perhaps we’ll see Aerith make a return from the dead?

Though Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy isn’t your typical game in the series (and certainly not as epicly-sized as Final Fantasy XIII-2), it’s sure to be a hit for 3DS owners with its gorgeous visuals and theme-packed soundtrack.  Be sure to keep an eye out for it when it arrives this July.