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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Bringing a new meaning to 'grindcore'

Hands-on opinions with the finished game...

The new issue of Nintendo Gamer is on sale now.

Final Fantasy introduced rhythm to role-playing with its Active Time Battle System. Now, with this, it's returning the favour by introducing role-playing to rhythm action.

The awkwardly named Theatrhythm is similar in execution to the Elite Beat Agents/Ouendan games, except instead of tapping along to cheesy pop songs and thus solving babysitting crises, you're ploughing through abridged versions of classic Final Fantasy storylines while orchestral scores boom from the 3DS's diddy speakers. Before you can tippity-tap along with Mambo De Chocobo, however, things get a little RPGy.

Your first task is to assemble a party of four from a hero selection including FFVII's Cloud, FFXIII's Lightning and - everybody's favourite - the Warrior of Light from Final Fantasy. This appears to be cosmetic fluff at first glance, but further prodding of the Japanese menus reveals the party system's hidden depths.

Each hero boasts three inventory slots that can be filled with character-specific skills that alter the conditions. For example, you can activate a modifier that lessens the chance of tripping when you miss a note during the Field phase (of which more later).

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It's handy if you're a klutz, but more confident players may prefer to use the slot on a skill that offers bonuses in lieu of cheats - one that improves the chance of finding rare items such as Crystal Fragments, for example, as they can unlock the likes of FFVII's Aerith Gainsborough (Deceased).

Each successful note hit increases your 'Rhythmpo' score, which is the Square Enix Random Word Generator's way of saying 'Experience Points'. As your party members level up their stats rise in turn, meaning they learn new skills, deal more damage and just generally get a little more bad-ass.

One Hitpoint Wonder

Once you're finally all tinkered-out with the customisation menus, your first port of call will be Series mode, where you can play through plot outlines of the first 13 'core' games in any order you fancy. As we alluded to earlier, each story is split into three distinct sections; Event, Field and Battle.

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Event is by far the least involved of the three (so much so there's an option to skip it), as all you do is tap a crystal in time with the music while a melodramatic cutscene plays out. The remaining two segments make up the meat of the game, and it's here where the Ouendan influence is most keenly felt.

Field takes place in the Overworld, where the aim is to encourage your squad to cover as much distance as possible by tapping and tracing over markers as they pass above your head. And the further you travel, the greater the chance of bumping into bonus characters bearing gifts. The Battle segment works on a similar basis, except this time you're racing to polish off as many monsters as possible before the song ends.

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