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Despite sharing the name and much of the content from one of the year's most prominent Nintendo 3DS games, the iOS version of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is not quite the same experience. Rather than serve up a smattering of classic songs from the entire core Final Fantasy role-playing series, complete with story elements and familiar cinematic clips, the App Store release pairs the tap-and-swipe rhythm formula with a free-to-play shell that lets you pick and pay for exactly the tracks and characters your want. But trying to compare the two directly proves a losing proposition both for players and creator Square Enix.
Most of Theatrhythm's strong core remains intact on iPhone and iPad, with its sweeping orchestral anthems and dizzying battle tunes translated into two styles of rhythmic gameplay. Both rely on taps, directional swipes, and sustained finger presses to execute the notes that appear on screen. During slower-paced tracks, you'll see a cartoonish version of a classic series hero wandering against an iconic backdrop; up the tempo, however, and the track takes the form of a battle sequence from the RPG franchise, letting you tap notes to have your party send attacks to various monsters.
In some ways, the iOS version improves on the original, with the game looking remarkably sharp on Retina displays (an improvement over the muddled 3DS screen), while having just one screen for visuals and input removes the disconnect between two displays on Nintendo's platform. And while not better than the story content from the cartridge release, the Quest Medleys here make sense for this version, utilizing the tracks you own to create little series of missions that unlock colorful cards.
But the à la carte structure strips a sense of cohesion from the title; it's no longer geared towards fans who want to take in the wide musical history of Final Fantasy, but rather those who simply want to relive the memories of a handful of favorites. Anything more proves prohibitively expensive. While the free download serves as a handy demo (with two included tracks), the app sells nearly $100 worth of songs -- many strictly within game-specific bundles, with others only available individually. And if you want bonus playable characters beyond the stock heroes, the full set of those adds up to about $50.
Many of the songs were already sold separately in the 3DS game, while some content here is currently exclusive to iOS. But without an option to take in a wide array of content aside from mass individual purchases, plus one of the gameplay styles from the original release missing here (alongside story content), it's difficult to recommend this version to series aficionados seeking serious investment. It's the dabblers and casual fans who will find the most value in this universal app, though the entertaining note-tapping and winning presentation sure can make those in-app purchases seem tempting.
The bottom line. Theatrhythm captures the glory of Final Fantasy soundtracks via rhythmic gameplay, though its unfriendly pricing model punishes the series' biggest fans.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Great use of classic Final Fantasy songs with adorable presentation. Rhythm-based gameplay is engaging and scales well across difficulties. Improves on the 3DS version in a couple notable ways.
Brutal pricing model feels downright predatory, with serious players sure to feel taken advantage of. Lacks story and gameplay content from the original release.