I’m a huge fan of rhythm games, but I have to admit that a lot of the time the music doesn’t really appeal. I’m not really a very musical person to be honest, generally just listening to podcasts as I go about my daily business. If anything, the only music I really care about is video game music. Soundtracks from old school Rare games and classic JRPGs will always have a special place in my heart, and if I could somehow play Guitar Hero with those songs exclusively I’d have an infinitely better time. Because of this Theatrhythm Final Bar Line feels like it was made for my tastes specifically, and I adore it.
So the elevator pitch for the Theatrhythm series is that it’s a rhythm game filled exclusively with songs from the Final Fantasy series, but because this is technically the fourth game in the series it can’t just be a collection of all the standard fan favourites. The number of tracks has gone up from the 221 in Curtain Call to a whopping 385, featuring songs from all the mainline Final Fantasy games (from 1-15) and almost every obscure spinoff title you could think of. Games represented include Mobius, Record Keeper, Type-0 and even the Chocobo pop up card game on the Nintendo DS. If there’s a song that you like from a Final Fantasy game, it’s almost guaranteed to be in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line.
The actual rhythm gameplay is fantastic too. Stages have four lanes of notes for you to hit in time to the music, but what’s interesting in this game is that beats in each lane can be hit with any button on the controller. This means you can just press one button for a whole song sometimes, although if you need to hit two notes at the same time you’ll need to press two buttons. It takes a bit of practice to figure out the best input method since you can press anything, but in the end I settled for a face button as my main button and the shoulder buttons for any combinations I might need to push.
As well as normal notes, there are also notes that require you to push a stick in any direction, notes that require you to press and release a button at the right time, and even long notes where you have to guide your cursor along them as you play them. When all of these different elements are combined the magic really shines, and the different ways they can be combined are actually very varied and keep the rhythm action fresh. Even 200 songs deep I was getting caught off guard on the medium difficulty and having to really think about how to beat a tough stage.
Outside of hitting notes and listening to incredible songs, there’s also an RPG component Theatrhythm Final Bar Line. Each game you unlock gives you access to its chibi style characters, and you’ll need to put a team of four together to take on the Final Fantasy bad guys in the background of the music you’re nailing the beats of. Hitting beats with perfect timing will deal more damage to the enemies and activate special abilities, but missing them altogether will allow them to take a chunk out of your health bar. It’s an interesting idea, but one I really don’t think adds much to the game as a whole.
You see no matter how much you level your characters up and no matter how many enemies they kill while you’re grooving your ranking in the stage isn’t effected. Similarly as long as you don’t miss more than a few beats in a single level, a team of level 1 characters will make it to the end of even the toughest song without an issue. The only thing that’s really affected by your stats and character setup is your ability to complete the side quests, which often ask you to deal a certain amount of damage or beat a boss in an incredibly short amount of time. Not enough was explained about the RPG side of the game for me to really understand how to do this effectively early on, and because of that I just picked my favourite characters from the series and ignored most of the side quests. It’s just a good job you don’t need to pay attention to them to have a great musical time.
Once you’ve played enough of the game to finally see the end credits, you’ll unlock the Endless mode that does expect you to understand the battling side a little more. This survival challenge throws random songs at you and tasks you with completing a specific objective during the song, which are not dissimilar to the side quests in the main game. By this point you’ll thankfully have unlocked and levelled up enough characters to make this manageable, and it’s a fun way to enjoy a session without having to think too hard about what music you want to listen to today.
Even if you somehow master every song, get a ludicrously high score on expert and level everyone up to the max level, there will still be more content added to the game in the form of some pretty exciting upcoming DLC. Most of these new song packs have already been announced, and are from other fantastic Square Enix JRPGs. Octopath Traveler, the Chrono series and The World Ends With You will all be represented and I couldn’t be more excited to try all the stages associated with them. Some might be a little disappointed that these songs aren’t a part of the main game, but with 385 tracks available already I think there’s more than enough content to be getting on with.
Outside of the somewhat superfluous RPG elements, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line. Having to unlock each game individually to play the songs from it could frustrate some, but it gives you some structure in how you play. Also there are also a few duds in the tracklist (the Final Fantasy X-2 songs for example) but with so many songs it feels unfair to expect them all to be five star bangers.
My time with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line might be the most fun I’ve ever had with a rhythm game. The soundtrack is exceptional (especially for a JRPG lover like myself) and the different types of notes you have to hit blend together beautifully. The RPG elements aren’t well explained and feel a bit unnecessary, but don’t manage to detract from this wonderful musical experience.
The rhythm gameplay is sensational
Fantastic music from every corner of the Final Fantasy franchise
A ridiculous amount of content
Different beat types keep the game fresh for hours
The RPG elements are poorly explained and not really needed
A few slightly less exciting songs