Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line - Hitting High Notes
Fans of the Final Fantasy franchise have for the longest time celebrated the wonderfully composed works that serve as a focal point for any conversation around video game music. While new generations of fans enter the orbit of the IP discover modern classics like Apocalyptis Noctis and then delve back into the archives to uncover classics from the likes of Aerith’s Theme, Festival Of The Hunt, Terra’s Theme or Bombing Mission. Square-Enix knows the immense impact that their premiere franchise’s soundtracks have had not only upon players of the franchise but upon the art of video game music, and have not missed out on opportunities to celebrate their works, through the “Distant Worlds” and “A New World” globe-trotting concerts, but it’s through their celebratory sub-franchise Theatrhythm, where Square-Enix has found a method to keep fans engaged with their beloved music. Now, with several previous Theatrhythm games under their belts, Square-Enix and developer IndiesZero have launched Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line, and it’s their most magical loveletter yet.
For those who are acquainted with the Theatrhythm franchise, Final Bar Line isn’t an enormous departure from the established formula. Players will build a large roster of iconic Final Fantasy characters, from Cloud, to Terra, Vivi to Lightning, and assembling a party of four that will best the most musically inclined, yet still quite villainous entities from the history of the franchise. Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is loaded to the brim with 385 tracks from the 35 year-long history of the Final Fantasy franchise, covering the core fifteen titles, spin-offs, direct sequels, and even deep cuts like Final Fantays Mystic Quest. 29 games are represented in total, and each of the 385 tracks provide players the opportunity to succeed solo in ‘Series Quests’, in the online co-op mode or competitivel in ‘Multi Battle’. For some, rhythm games have always been a challenge, due to the difficulty curve or them, or even on a physical accessibility side, and in this respect, IndiesZero have made Final Bar Line the most accessible Theathrhythm game to date, with a host of accessibility options newly added to make the game more approachable for those in need of support. Simple mode is one of the biggest inclusion which allows you to convert everything into single button inputs which is bound to make a difference to players as they try to navigate some of the game’s most intense tracks. On the more extreme end, a Supreme difficulty has been added, something that is sure to stretch even the most competent of players
With such an enormous line-up of music, completing the game isn’t a brief exercise. Even for players who only play each song once, with each lasting at least two minutes, but often longer, the game clock is going to roar past 35 hours just to complete all that is there. The game lures you into repeat playthroughs as well with a constantly enticing scoring system, and a superbly designed trophy/achievement list that encourages you to explore the many different intricacies nestled within the rhythmic experience. Most series contain a fairly reasonable 10-20 tracks within them, though outliers exist on both ends, from the aforementioned Mystic Quest on the low end to the ever-growing Final Fantasy XIV on the lengthy end of the spectrum, it packed with nearly a tenth of the full cataloge on its own (it has 32 songs in it).
With Final Bar Line departing the Nintendo 3DS platform, some input changes have been forced. With a touch-screen no longer a guaranteed option (present for the Switch but not the PS4), the game changes things up by including dual button prompts that force you to string together your taps, holds, and control stick-guided flicks, and slides in sometimes brain-breaking ways. The game does throw even greater challenges at you with extreme speed songs, as well as some scenarios where 3+ inputs are required, a scenario which quite reasonably might lead the player to consider implementing the dreaded claw-grip, just to handle what’s coming at them. Players wishing to refine their craft have the ability to have a practice run before taking it on properly, or even to focus on a particular segment of the level, but can also play tracks that theyv’e previously completed through the game’s ‘Music Stages’ freeplay area.
Just because Theatrhythm is a rhythm game, that doesn’t prevent it from drawing upon some traditional JRPG troupes. Your party of four can be leveled up and outfitted with a range of magics, summons and abilities that can be activated at specific points during each track to give the player an added advantage. Certain levels or bosses also have elemental or weapon weaknesses that can be exploited to allow for easier progression. All of this is of course linked to the success of your run through a track, but provided you can keep up with the beat, you’ll at least pass, but if you wish to get through in flying colours, or to tick off each level’s optional objectives, you’ll want to apply some degree of strategic character, ability, magic, or summon selection prior to beginning a level.
Disappointingly the single-player ‘Series Quests’ which certainly imply the existence of some kind of background plot, are deceiving you, with no threads at all connecting the experience in a cohesive way, but with a bulging roster of tracks that will already consume dozens of your hours, it’s perhaps a blessing in disguise that more doesn’t exist to push the game clock out further. While the music is the centrepiece of the Theatrhythm experience, the Final Fantasy franchise is long known for its visual fidelity as well, and so it’s a shame that despite leaving the low-spec 3DS, that a Switch/PS4 take on the franchise couldn’t evolve beyond the stylistic, but a little too simplistic looks that the characters have retained from past games. The game can also throw a lot of visual background noise at you, which can actually making picking the input prompts up quite difficult at times – this can be scaled back in the options screen, but should really have never been a problem to begin with.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is without any doubt one of the greatest love letters that this industry has seen. The music of Final Fantasy has long been acclaimed, and much celebrated but it’s. It always been within the means of all to simply attend a live show – now this definitive Theatrhythm experience ensures that fans can celebrate the best out industry has to offer with ease, every day between now and when we inevitably need a new game to account for the dozens of superb new titles that raise the bar again.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line was reviewed on a PS5 using a PS4 code kindly provided by Bandai-Namco Australia