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How RPG Rhythm Games Tug on Our Heartstrings

 With the fresh release of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, it’s imperative to take a look at the mesmerizing fun of rhythm games. In a way, rhythm games are almost like dancing, each player taking action at perfect tempo and feeling the deep satisfaction that comes with nailing each move. While most rhythm games offer a similarly-gratifying experience, rhythm games spun off from RPG series are especially noteworthy in their emotionally evocative capability. (Warning! Further writing contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VII!)

Image Courtesy of Square Enix

Many can agree that most video games we play will create some sort of emotional memory, whether it be anxiety-ridden level-grind fests to defeat those ridiculous bosses or hours of distaste spent on hilariously poor game mechanics. More than other genres however, RPGs depend on their immersive narratives to stand out. Most RPGs are literally a journey through which players can truly experience the development of the characters they play. This entails a pseudo-experience of the atmosphere and emotions rampant within the world of the game. For example, a tragic moment such as Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII was felt heavily by many players after spending so much time with this character and watching her grow throughout the story. Narrative media elicits emotional responses from their audiences, and the same can be said about RPGs. That being said, one of the most important frames for these narratives is music. When we watch a sad scene in a movie, the music playing in the background will seek to intensify those somber emotions. This is the same for games, namely RPGs, in that players are living in the moment with the characters; this makes their respective video game soundtracks that much more evocative and memorable in nature.

Image Courtesy of Nintendo

Music has an interesting effect on our memories: when listening to songs we’ve heard in the past, the same emotions experienced on first listen can resurface. This is what makes RPG rhythm game spin-offs so nostalgic. Some great examples of this are Square Enix’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and its sequel Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, rhythm games directly created from the Final Fantasy series for the Nintendo 3DS and iOS. As a dedicated fan of the series, the entire game from its presentation to its structure was a beautiful blast from the past. The game features a slew of nostalgic music (The Final Fantasy Prelude, One-Winged Angel, etc.) from the original titles, including battle themes, character themes and field music. It also featured a cinematic mode in which players would play through an iconic song to cutscenes from the original games. For example, Final Fantasy VII’s cinematic song was Aerith’s Theme, which is incredibly befitting considering the emotional impact her character and death had on fans. Famous Square Enix composer Nobuo Uematsu even commented on the game’s nostalgia in a tweet:

Uematsu’s tweet translates:

I played Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for the first time today. Not too shabby! As I remembered various things from the past 20 years, I was reduced to tears. FF music fans should definitely play it. Won’t you cry with me?

The game certainly had me bleary-eyed. All of those memories of hours spent running through places like the Dalmasca Estersand in Final Fantasy XII or the thrilling boss fight with Trance Kuja in Final Fantasy IX came back to life through the musical gameplay.

Atlus’ RPG series Shin Megami Tensei: Persona also spun off three rhythm games corresponding to their three latest title installments: Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight (PS4 and PS Vita), Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PS4 and PS Vita), and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight (PS4 and PS Vita). These respective rhythm spin-offs also celebrate the Persona games and memories via music, albeit in a slightly different way than Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy does for Final Fantasy. The Persona dancing games are almost like a high school reunion of sorts, with the characters from the original games donning fun dance apparel and quite literally getting down on the dance floor.

Images Courtesy of PlayStation Store

Compared to the cute, abridged RPG quests of the characters from Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, this felt more like one big after-party for the Persona series. Much of the music from the Persona dance series are remixed versions of songs from the original soundtracks, creating a different kind of nostalgia. Playing through disco versions of boss battle songs or jazzy takes on field music elicited memories in a celebratory way, as if commemorating the hours put into the original game. Considering the heavy themes present in the mainstream Persona series, it was truly an enjoyable experience getting to see and play with the characters in such a jovial and upbeat setting. I found that the nostalgia from the Persona rhythm games reminded me of the following quote by Dr. Suess:

“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” And indeed, the Persona dancing games motivate you to look back with gratitude.

Rhythm games from RPG series are a heartfelt experience because they allow us to relive the memories and emotions we felt from their original series’ through the music that played during those moments. A fun way to pay tribute to the stories, characters and interactive gameplay we connected to, RPG rhythm games are the homage we all need. 

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