Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line Review – A Big Score

Rhythm and blue mages

For as long as I’ve been a devout fan of the Final Fantasy franchise (and it’s been a while) I’ve been in love with the soundtracks – as I’m sure just about every other fan is. So when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was first introduced to the world via the 3DS in 2012, I was in heaven. One of my fondest memories is rocking up way too early to one of the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy symphony orchestra productions with a group of my friends and all sitting around in a circle with our 3DSes jamming out to song after song.

Now, nearly a decade after the last entry, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is bringing the music back in a big way in both handheld and home console form via the Nintendo Switch and PS4.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

For a series that has no shame in flirting with excess, it’s no surprise that the third major entry in its rhythm spin-off series blows the wheels off what the previous games had to offer in terms of content. Curtain Call was already impressive with over 200 tracks to play in the base game, but Final Bar Line ups that number to a ridiculous 385 songs – and again that’s before including any of its already-exhaustive list of DLC tracks.

Oddly enough, to accommodate this swelling setlist Final Bar Line actually trims some of the fat of the previous titles by keeping things somewhat simple in the mode selection. You get the Series Quest mode, a free play Music Stage mode, online Multi Battles and that’s it. 

The first, Series Quest, does away with any kind of story or overworld map stuff in lieu of just letting you pick the Final Fantasy game of your choice and playing through its included songs in a general order. It’s the meat and potatoes of the game, being the main driver of progression and also the core way to unlock songs to play at your leisure in Music Stages. That detail did rub me the wrong way a little, not just for the inconvenience of having to play through 385 songs to unlock them all but because you’re initially locked out of the majority of the Final Fantasy titles and have to play far enough through others to earn “keys” to open the rest. I can appreciate that a sense of progressing through something is important, but not being able to dive straight into the Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack from the get-go was a frustration.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

Luckily, the Theatrhythm series has the distinct advantage of being packed to the rafters with fantastic music, so even when you’re engaging with a game in the series that ranks low on a personal level it’s almost never a bad time. If a rhythm game lives or dies by its soundtrack then Final Bar Line is immortal. Not only has the team curated some iconic bangers from the mainling games I through XV, but there’s stuff here from spin-off games, remix and special event albums and other neat, deep cuts. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Final Fantasy game or soundtrack, you’ll absolutely find some gold here among the stacked playlist.


Bargain Guide – Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

There’s also a ton of DLC in the pipeline, from another 27 bonus tracks in the game’s Digital Deluxe Edition (which can be upgraded to from the standard digital or physical copy, thankfully) to a planned calendar of added tracks from other notable Square Enix franchises. Normally I’d scoff at the thought of a litany of paid DLC being laid out so emphatically at a game’s launch but given the sheer volume of content already included and the fact that the extra stuff will be coming from franchises like NieR, LIVE A LIVE, Chrono Trigger, Octopath Traveler, The World Ends With You and more I’m completely on board with the idea.

One of the big questions hanging over this new Theatrhythm game has been that of the controls. After all, the previous two titles have existed solely on platforms with some form of touchscreen and took full advantage of that by having players tap and swipe along to their music. On the PS4 where I played the game for review, there isn’t that facility, so everything has been moved to button presses and analog stick pushes. I wasn’t sure at first if it was going to work as well this way, but I’ve happily been proven wrong. 

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

Whichever specific “mode” of song gameplay you’re in, be it battle, field or event, the idea is still to follow along with rhythm prompts scrolling across the screen and hit them at the correct time. Instead of tapping or swiping, your standard “notes” can be activated with just about any button on the controller and the directional ones require a quick flick of either of the analogue sticks at the correct angle. Variations come in the form of button holds and double-ups that task you to use both sticks or press (again, basically any) two buttons, but that’s about as deep as it goes. That doesn’t mean you won’t be challenged, with varying difficulty levels offering up some absolutely cursed charts at the high end that I don’t think I could ever hope of nailing, but the barrier of entry even for non-rhythm savvy fans is nice and low.

Square Enix and indieszero clearly understand that their audience is comprised largely of JRPG nerds, so there are a ton of systems built-in to make this feel like a bit of a genre crossover. Anyone who’s played these games in the past will know generally what to expect – you’ll build your party of characters as you unlock them from across the many games, level them up by playing to unlock new abilities and give yourself an edge in stages, and collect “Rhythmia” and CollectaCards among other things.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

Like Curtain Call before it, the RPG/character progression systems are fun but largely superfluous. It certainly helps to have some extra HP or saving grace abilities to fall back on if you’re doing particularly badly in a music stage, but as long as you’re doing the rhythm game thing of pressing the right buttons at the right time then you don’t really need to worry about your character builds or party make-up.

Still, there’s a giddy compulsion to boosting your party, calling on familiar summons, picking up collectible tat and movies/music to enjoy in the game’s Museum, and watching a bunch of different numbers continuously tick over as you play. I’ve already pumped decent hours into Final Bar Line in the short time I’ve had it and I can imagine I’ll spend so many more in the months to come. Sure, the formula is maybe starting to wear thin at this point but things were so bright to begin with that even a little lost shine can’t bring the experience down.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review

On the visual front, what you’re getting here isn’t all that different from the 3DS entries with your party of cute, chibi-fied Final Fantasy protagonists squaring off against equally adorable monsters and villains from the games. It all suits the big screen surprisingly well with bright, sharp art and plenty of real estate to work with. The only real issue I have here is that, more than likely just due to the massive number of tracks included, the stage backgrounds and enemies that you’ll encounter in a lot of songs don’t match their source material. It’s by no means a deal-breaker but playing along to the Balamb Garden theme song while walking through a high fantasy castle interior, for example, can feel like a bit of a let-down.

The only thing I haven’t been able to try out yet, but one that I doubt will have affected my enjoyment of the game in either direction, is the Multi Battle mode which pits you against up to three other players online in a point-scoring competition that features no fail state but awards each competitor an increasing shot at rewards as they score above their opponents. Head-to-head rhythm gaming can be a great time and I appreciate that everyone will technically walk away a winner, but I have doubts about the longevity or even initial popularity of the mode.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line releases on February 16th for PS4 and Switch. Amazon currently has the cheapest price at $74 with free shipping.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line review
Final Bar Line is another fantastic entry in a great rhythm series, propped up by an enormous catalog of essential video game music and a variety of fun and engaging (if slightly superfluous) systems. Whether you enjoyed the 3DS entries or you're a Final Fantasy fan ready to dive in for the first time, there's a lot to love here even with some minor frustrations.
An enormous number of incredible tracks to play
Unlockables and RPG progression are addictive
Chibi-esque visuals look big and vibrant on a TV
Controls have been translated nicely
Plenty of potential longevity with added content
Not much of an evolution on prior games
Unlocking songs one-by-one can feel tedious
Stage environments/enemies aren't as curated as they could be