Theatrhythm games have expertly embraced the magnificent soundtracks of the Final Fantasy series ever since the franchise’s launch in 2012. The games serve as a playable gallery of the most famous FF moments by utilizing a gameplay concept that is easy yet deceptively difficult and blending iconic visuals from previous games in the backdrop. It’s rumored that Final Bar Line will be the last game in the Theatrhythm series, at least for a while. If that’s the case, it would be an amazing finale.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line offers 385 songs from various Final Fantasy albums, with a good balance of fan favorites and unreleased material divided into 29 categories. After choosing a song, players will press buttons in time with its rhythm using one of three different notes: red, yellow, or green. Red requires a single button press, yellow requires flicking the joystick in a specific direction, and green requires holding the button down for the entire duration of the green bar.
This mechanism, which resembles a traffic light, seems straightforward, but in use, particularly at higher difficulty levels, it may be plain tricky. It can be challenging to determine which sections of the song the notes belong to, especially when the works that veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu and his contemporaries have created over the years are so intricate. Yet, being able to interact with these well-known tunes in this way is still a lot of fun; I noticed that as I tapped along on the joystick, my entire body was moving to the music.
One little flaw in these remarks must be brought out, since it has undoubtedly caused me the greatest difficulty over the entire franchise as well as in the game. The button must be pressed in time with the song when the end of the strip is reached during a green note, and the timing of the release impacts your note streak. Simply because my mind is misled into believing I should hold the note until the following note hits, I’ve lost more streaks to this than anything else. It’s a clever little mechanism that increases the difficulty while also increasing the level of annoyance until it begins to feel more natural.
It would be an understatement to say that Final Bar Line’s 385 song catalog is substantial. The series’ best successes are included here—Zanarkand, several renditions of One Winged Angel, Melodies of Life, etc.—but there are also some unanticipated tunes that do an excellent job of showcasing the range of Final Fantasy’s discography. There is a song by The Star Onions, a band that only performs FFXI-related music, which was founded by composer Naoshi Mizuta. A few tracks from the electronica remix albums SQ Chips and More SQ are also included. Aerith’s Theme by Keichii Okabe and Cosmo Canyon by Yoko Shimomura, two FFVII arrangements that appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, are also included. Having all of these excellent tunes collected in one collection is really appreciated because this is an anthology of music that is rarely heard.
Each song can be arranged into one of three “Music Sequences,” as the game calls them. The first is Battle, where each note is displayed on-screen in one of four distinct static rows. Despite notes arriving swiftly from left to right, I was able to concentrate on the target area and time my presses to them more well than with the other Sequences, making Battles the easiest of the three sets for me. Battle Music Sequences reminded me of Guitar Hero or Rock Band for rhythm game veterans, and that familiarity proved beneficial over time.
Event Music Sequences reverse the rows’ orientation from horizontal to vertical while playing scenes that have been directly lifted from the source material. The notes move in from the top of the screen. The new concept for Event most closely resembles the vintage rhythm games, whilst Battle had a Guitar Hero-like feel. The notes used to disperse around the screen in earlier Theatrhythm games so I could tap and observe at the same time. Although it looked familiar, the vertical movement seemed strange, and I missed notes more frequently here than in Battle. I can still observe the scene as the notes fall. Although I get the rationale behind the change, I wish Event Music Sequences had retained the distinctive dispersed notes motif from earlier games.
Returning to horizontal notes, Field Music Sequences also includes sliding green notes, which require players to hold the joystick up or down in order to strike the tiny dots inside the green strip. I predict that many people will grow to love and detest this format because the sliding may make even the slowest and most straightforward melody track difficult. This format required the most restarts out of the three since the sliding target confused me more than the static rows in the other two layouts did. The learning curve is steeper than with the other modes, but I did eventually get it, and when I did, it was wonderful.
The Series Quest mode is where the majority of Theatrhythm’s tracks must be unlocked. Here, a group of four actors will play through the plot of each game using its music while also highlighting its key events. Further characters can be unlocked for the party as more games are made available via Series Keys acquired during the playthrough. Each party member gains experience points for completing songs, and as they level up, their characters also get new skills. A CollectaCard, which provides access to screenshots and other artifacts in the Museum mode, can be unlocked by completing a particular objective in each song.
While customizing a party and outfitting them with special abilities is cool, it doesn’t add much to the overall experience. My focus is on tapping notes and listening to music, so the party traveling through a town and fighting the occasional monster is ancillary at best and flat-out distracting at worst. Sure, the damage my party deals increases as I do better in the song, and my misses cause damage to be dealt to the team, but with the fights happening away from the targets I can’t really pay attention to the action. I get that something has to be going on in the background, and I appreciate the light RPG elements both hearkening back to the source material, but don’t expect the impact on overall gameplay to be more than helping you complete optional quests. That being said, watching Squall, Auron, Sephiroth, and Ramza from Final Fantasy Tactics team up is neat in any context.
When Series Quests are finished, every unlocked song can be played again in the Music Stages list. Custom playlists can be created and played without pause from start to finish, which opens up even more ways to challenge yourself. The other main gameplay mode is Multi Battles, where up to four players play through a song and compete for high scores, but the core gameplay doesn’t see any major changes. These modes, while enjoyable, involve playing the same songs as those in the Series Quests, so they don’t add much to the game outside of different ways to experience the same music.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the apex of the Theatrhythm spin-off franchise. Its vast and varied library of music is a nostalgic thrill, the gameplay is approachable while offering plenty of challenge, and the sprinkling of RPG elements like party customization offers a personal touch–even if that touch isn’t super impactful. There’s something here for everyone, from the staunchest Final Fantasy fan to the person who only knows Cloud and Sephiroth from Smash Bros. There are a few minor missteps along the way, but none of them create any major malfunctions in the experience. Simply put, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a master-class symphony of fun and nostalgia, and it is a game worthy of the music library it features.