The original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a game that’s always been near and dear to my heart. Upon release I was captivated by the charming character design and the breadth of songs available that spanned the length of the Final Fantasy series available at the time. Then came Curtain Call and I got to experience the whimsical formula all over again, albeit with even more tracks to choose from including Final Fantasy XIV, which was just finding its feet at the time.
Then came Theatrhythm Dragon Quest and even an arcade version of the Final Fantasy one. It seemed like Square Enix was keen on carving out their own little niche in this genre – even if those titles never left Japan. The latter came out in 2016 and after that? Well, there really was nothing. The Kingdom Hearts-themed Melody of Memory doesn’t really count as it’s a different format for the most part. The question then remained – was there till a place for the Theatrhythm series?
Nearly a decade after the release of Curtain Call, the last proper “Theatrhythm Final Fantasy” title, we finally have our answer. Square Enix returned to the stage with an announcement last year heralding the return of the series with the goal of bringing it beyond Final Fantasy and its previous handheld platforms. Armed with high-definition visuals and a wealth of tracks from a wide selection of Square Enix RPGs, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is here to make a big splash on both PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch for long-time fans and newcomers alike.
At first glance, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line might seem like it’s just more of the same, but fortunately that is not the case. There’s quite a lot to unpack here aside from the core rhythm gameplay and it’s these additional features that really make Final Bar Line worth playing. Not only do they give you more things to do but they really highlight Square Enix’s RPG making roots and as a celebration of sorts for Final Fantasy and others like NieR and SaGa in upcoming downloadable content, it’s especially important.
The main gameplay loop in Final Bar Line will have you playing through a large selection of songs through three difficulty modes and unlockable content as you press buttons to match up with triggers throughout each track stage. These triggers are all framed by different inputs including pressing a button, moving the analogue stick in a certain direction, holding a button and letting go after its duration, and then a combination of that with the analogue stick at the end. Whilst similar to previous outings, Final Bar Line does take some getting used to on the controller – I found myself having to take some time to really get into the right groove for the slide triggers to work with me on certain stages. It took a little more finesse compared to the more precise control I felt was present on the 3DS touch screen in the older games.
These triggers will be your main barrier when it comes to the difficulty levels. Starting with Basic is there for newcomers and as you get more comfortable you can ratchet it up further to Expert or Ultimate. A good chunk of songs even have a Supreme difficulty that’ll really push your buttons, if you enjoy a bit of frustration and tricky button pressing.
Breaking down the gameplay loop further, Final Bar Line brings back the various music stages the Theatrhythm series is known for. These include the Battle, Field, and Event Music Stages – the two former of which will have you battling enemies with your custom party in time with the music. Event stages change the format by utilizing footage from their respective games.
Once you’re past the tutorial, Final Bar Line will open up and you’ll be able to unlock each set of songs with special keys. By selecting the Series Quest game mode, you’ll launch into collecting songs and characters across 29 titles in the base game– gathering both as you open new pathways. Each title, for example, Final Fantasy VII, has a selection of tracks to play through where you’ll venture through a map, satisfy certain quest requirements and eventually have the capacity to unlock more songs by completing each stage including normal enemies and boss fights. The downside to this is you start with only a limited amount at the outset, so choose which game you’d like to dive into first wisely. I thought it was a bit limited in that respect – clearly they want you to spend more time with the game but having at least a small selection of songs available for each title initially would have gone a long way rather than the full-on gating mechanic.
Once you’ve unlocked a collection of tracks, you can go directly to Music Stages off the main menu if you’d rather just play the songs without the added questing. The main menu also offers a Multi Battle mode, in which you can test your rhythm skills online. To play, simply create a room or join one from a friend – it’s relatively simple to get into, which gels with Final Bar Line’s pick-up-and-play aesthetic.
All of this is wrapped up in a colorful package that defines the look of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line. The super deformed stylized characters are back and standout while at the same time creating a uniform look for the massive cast. As you work through unlocking each game track set, you’ll gain more characters for use in your party. Mix and match whoever you please, there’s no limitations to your imagination. Further customization comes by way of adding items, which can be helpful in a pinch if you miss triggers during the rhythm gameplay. These RPG elements are welcome and the level of freedom to have the team I wanted was a game within itself – there’s just so many familiar characters to choose from and you’ll spend a lot of time doing just that.
Of course, these things wouldn’t go anywhere without the real star of the show: the music. Final Bar Line has close to 400 songs – it’s truly massive and is ever growing with the release of downloadable content. Each track plays just as you might remember from their original game, though sometimes in a truncated version. It’s this caveat that has me scratching my head a bit. Surely with the expanded hardware capacity of the PS4 and even the Switch version, we could have gotten a little more leeway on track length. It’s especially jarring with songs like FFXIV’s “Answers” that cuts out the entire first and last verses.
These are all minor things, of course. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is polished to the brim and equally full of aforementioned content. If you’re a music fan of Final Fantasy or even Square Enix’s other games, you’d be more than at home giving this one a go. Even if you’re not the most skilled rhythm game player, the Basic mode is forgiving enough and the breadth of songs and visuals are enough to carry the rest of the weight. The little RPG elements here and there help too – it’s really the perfect package and a grand return to form at long last for those looking to scratch that Theatrhythm itch.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: Review code provided by the publisher Square Enix.