Rather than beefing up the a Series mode, Curtain Call drops that mode completely. Being honest, I miss it. I loved the idea of playing a mix just from a single game and having a feeling of a beginning and an end. It's gone, as are the EMS video stages from those orginal games and I miss those too.
While I too appreciated the "going on a musical journey by title" feel that the first game's SERIES mode offered, I do think the selection of tracks has gotten, for lack of a better word, too "unwieldy" for it to be effectively portrayed in a similar manner. From a utilitarian standpoint, I appreciate the new open-ended nature of MUSIC STAGES.
And while I'm also a bit saddened about the exclusion of EMS stages from earlier titles, re-outfitting them into more challenging and interesting FMS/BMS levels was definitely a good call. The likes of Theme of Love, Waltz for the Moon and Aerith's Theme are much more enjoyable now.
But the game adds a lot to make up for it. It has video EMS stages from most of the new games represented and some are excellent, even from games I wasn't fond of (Crisis Core jumps to mind) and one extra little video I was happy to play through.
The thing I like about the EMS levels now is just how much more fluid the cursor movement is; chalk it up to a potentially more powerful engine under the hood, but there's none of the framerate judder that used to throw off my timing like in the original. (And yes, that "Special Arrangement Medley" is three-plus minutes of FF music magic.)
The main music select mode is much better with previews of even the DLC tracks, which is great (although no preview while purchasing them), and the option to arrange them in different ways.
As someone who's already purchased a substantial number of Curtain Call's DLC tracks, can I just throw out how utterly antiquated the in-game e-Shop is? Like the first game, having to go through *NINE* different menu confirmations in order to buy a single track, one by one (if you're using the 'Add Funds as needed' option) is an exercise in tedium.
The great addition for me is the Quest mode that replaces the Chaos Shrine. The new Quest mode adds a little map with multiple routes and turns it into a mini adventure, stringing stages together and breaking it up with boss battles. In reality, it's dressing on top of just stringing a bunch of stages together but it is dressing that works for me. It feels like progress and they seem to start to get challenging enough that I have to properly equip characters, which is good as the RPG elements could pretty much be ignored in the first game. I really like this new mode, although I do wish there were premade series specific Quests so featuring only music from a particular game. That would have eased my loss of the Series mode.
I love the uber-randomness of QUEST MEDLEY. The variety is already much, much better than what the Chaos Shrine had to offer, and I like how playing songs via Quest also counts toward your official grade rankings in MUSIC STAGES. What I *DON'T* love are the higher 80+ level quests that throw those obnoxious spinning arrows out at you. A more dexterous player may be able to handle these, but to me, they feel like cheap, artificial padding masquerading as a challenge. I was really hoping they would do away with these from the first game.
The RPG elements are a healthy supplement for getting the most spoils for your victories. Given the right payouts with your character setups, you can see a significant increase in the acquiring of rare items and crystal shards per stage. (And yes, they're also a helpful crutch for when you need to rely on Quest Medley's single life bar; calculating when your healing spells kick in can be a godsend when you're partaking in a particularly lengthy quest.)
There is also a vs mode that can be played online I think but I haven't tried that yet.
And here we come to what I feel is the game's best new mode. VERSUS seemed like an afterthought given the extraordinary amount of single-player content on display, but after playing a good many rounds with live players, I find myself utterly addicted to it. It's gratifying going one-on-one, doling out your best BMS and trying to one-up each other for rhythm precision. I'm ambivalent toward the EX Bursts that can help or hinder your chances of victory; the "Judgment" burst has accurately been called "the Blue Shell of Curtain Call," and if you've ever been on the receiving end of one, you'll see why. I do enjoy the Ultimate Score mode without EX Bursts more, which emphasizes raw skill over handicaps-by-chance. (That being said, I find myself greatly humbled whenever I come across Japanese players who can nail all Criticals on something like Force Your Way Ultimate. Those folks are MACHINES.)
So that leaves the music. Well as mentioned, it contains all the music from the first game (which is a lot) and a load of new music from a bunch of other games. Generally, the music selection is excellent. There are tracks here from games I haven't played and the tracks are good enough that having no nostalgic attachment is no handicap to enjoyment.
The Type-0 tracks were the biggest surprise for me. Curtain Call is my first real exposure to the music, and I've since sought out the entire Original Soundtrack. I'm likely in the minority since I dug the hell out of the Crisis Core soundtrack, but Takeharu Ishimoto's work for Type-0 is stellar stuff. (I'm impatiently counting down the weeks for when the "We Have Come" BMS DLC becomes available.)
Other things of note:
- I've quickly warmed up to the 'Button' configuration. It's a bit tougher to nail diagonals on the Circle Pad, but the FMS levels' up and down phase bars are more natural to pull off.
- I love the greater variety of BMS/FMS backgrounds based on famous Final Fantasy landmarks. Though it's obviously not the case, it's easy to believe that every stage has its own designated background. Hell, Shuffle or Boogie has you dueling on a Triple Triad board!
- I mentioned Stoic Bonus from the first game earlier in this thread, which they've gotten rid of completely. While this means there's a Feature Zone/Extended Versions for all EMS songs now, I miss the harder difficulty notes offered when doing away with the BMS Summon phases. On the plus side, several songs do appear to have minor alterations to the note charts from the first game, which makes that a challenge in and of itself.
- It's great that several songs are no longer truncated in length. The likes of "One Winged Angel" can now be played in full.
- For what it's worth, every DLC track I've bought has been well worth the price of admission. They've put some real thought into these note charts: fun, challenging, and fulfilling.
- The 5-track bonus Remix CD that came with the game has a handful of the Curtain Call-specific menu arrangements, but it's a shame we didn't get the magnificent "Main Theme of FF5 ~ Ahead on Our Way" or FF3's "Crystal Tower."