If you’ve read this blog before, it will be apparent that I’m a massive Final Fantasy fan. I’ve also mentioned that I’m frothing at the mouth while waiting for the Western release of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Square-Enix’s FF-themed rhythm-action prod-and-swipe-’em-up, and there’s now a demo available to try out on the store.

The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the demo is limited to thirty uses. Quite why Nintendo feels the need to do this I don’t know, but there you have it. When you get into the demo proper, you’ll find two songs available to try out, one each across two different modes. These two modes are Battle Music Stage (BMS) and Field Music Stage (FMS).

In BMS mode, your party of four chibi Final Fantasy heroes, standing on the right of the screen as is customary, do battle against a succession of iconic enemies from across the Final Fantasy series. Your enemy appears on the left of the screen, and so far I’ve seen Tonberries, Behemoths, and even the scorpion-like Manasvin Warmech from the early hours of Final Fantasy XIII.

Each of your characters has a note lane, upon which certain ‘triggers’ (notes) fly toward your heroes. There are three different types of trigger, and despite the lanes, it doesn’t matter where on the screen you tap to activate them. The first trigger is simply called a ‘touch trigger’, and it’s activation is pretty self-explanatory – simply tap in time as it arrives at the circle in front of the character. The second type is the ‘slide trigger’. These triggers have an arrow in their centre, and must be activated by swiping your stylus in the desired direction when it reaches the circle. You’ll often find these combined with the third type, ‘hold triggers’. As the name suggests, for these you must tap at the first note, and hold until the second, releasing the stylus if it’s a normal trigger, or swiping off if it’s a slide trigger.

In BMS, hitting these notes results in an attack upon the enemy, who will be defeated and replaced by the next if you’re doing well. Miss, and the enemy will lash out and deal damage to your HP bar, residing in the upper-right corner. Lose all HP and you’ll fail the stage. The piece of music offered in battle mode is ‘The Man with the Machine Gun’, which fans will recognise as Laguna’s battle theme in Final Fantasy VIII, and it’s certainly the more difficult of the two songs on offer, owing mainly to its tempo. There are three difficulty modes on offer – Basic, Expert and Ultimate. Expert took me two attempts to get through. Ultimate destroyed me in under ten seconds. I’m yet to manage an S-rank on either stage, so there’s plenty of scope for replayability.

The second mode available in the demo, Field Music Stage, is essentially your world map traversal. One character at a time takes turn in walking across a location (rather charmingly swinging their sword as they go), and the gameplay is essentially the same, with one slight difference; hold triggers here aren’t straight lines but wavy, with extra notes along the curves which you have to slide your stylus up and down to hit. Missing triggers here causes your hero to stumble and fall, chipping away at your HP until another character takes their place. The stage and music for FMS is FFXIII’s Sunleth Waterscape, and it’s a bit more sedate than Laguna’s battle music – I even managed to get through it on Ultimate.

There’s one more feature to mention which appears in both modes, though with a different effect in each. From time to time, a string of silver triggers will appear, and this is called the Feature Zone. Hitting all notes in these sequences will result in something that helps you out; for instance, a summon attack in BMS or a golden chocobo to speed you along in FMS. The full game will also have a third mode, called Event Music Stage, which consists of a cutscene with trigger commands overlaid – we’ve previously seen the ballroom scene from Final Fantasy VIII in a trailer, and it should serve as a nice new way to enjoy those iconic scenes.

The demo is beautifully presented throughout, and while not a technical triumph, it’s a gorgeous-looking game. The super-deformed heroes are adorable, and the recreation of the Sunleth Waterscape is very nice indeed, with a pleasing amount of depth in the scrolling background with 3D engaged. The game does of course suffer from the same issue as similar games though, meaning you can’t really appreciate the backgrounds and character actions as you’re so focused on your note chart. This is a minor gripe however.

Another nice touch is the nonsensical, though generally humourous sentences concocted by your party before stages.

The full game is out in less than two weeks, and promises to feature over 70 songs from across the Final Fantasy canon to get to grips with. I’ve had my pre-order in place for quite some time, and now I’m looking forward to it even more. Something tells me I’ll be going through those 30 demo activations in a matter of days!

If you’ve seen little of this game and passed it off as some bizarre Japanese-focused curio, make sure to at least check out the demo. After all, it’s free. If you’re a fan of both Final Fantasy and rhythm-action games, well, it’s a no-brainer.

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