Theatrhythm Final Bar Line (Nintendo Switch) Review
As the Final Fantasy series observes its 35th anniversary, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line makes a perfect tribute game—zeroing in on one of its most recognizable and beloved aspects, its music. The series owes as much credit for its success to its scores as to its boundary-breaking, trendsetting visuals. Returning to this rhythm game subseries is a smart call on Square Enix’s part, especially considering how much love and nostalgia went into this final product.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line (pronounced theatre-rhythm) is a combination rhythm game and RPG, featuring tracks from the Final Fantasy series’ history, from main numbered games to sequels and spinoffs, to rearrangements, and even other Square Enix titles. As a successor to both 2014’s Theathrythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call on 3DS and All-Star Carnival, a popular Japan-only arcade game, it carries on its track lists and traditions but also sets itself apart.
The basic premise is simple rhythm game material: press buttons and/or flick thumbsticks in time with on-screen prompts; the closer you are to perfect timing, the better your score. In the 3DS installments, this was typically handled with a stylus, but Theatrhythm Final Bar Line only offers controller inputs. This was an adjustment for me after hundreds of hours across both 3DS games. Luckily, you’re relatively free to press whatever button is most comfortable for you.
Stages (and songs) are broken down into three kinds: Battle, Field, and rare Event Stages, each evoking a different aspect of Final Fantasy games. Battle Stages are a little more intense overall, with inputs displayed across four scrolling bars. Field Stages switch things up by requiring you to move the thumbstick during sustained presses (the biggest adjustment from stylus controls).
This is where Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s RPG elements come into play. Instead of just jamming buttons while you rock out a la Guitar Hero, this series has you build parties of familiar characters from across Final Fantasy. Miss notes, your team’s HP will decrease (and guess what happens if their HP is depleted). Again, simple, right? But team building is more important than ever in this installment.
The closest thing to a campaign are Series Quests, where you select a Final Fantasy game and play through a musical representation of its story told through Field and Battle Stages. Simply completing one stage will unlock the next stop along the map. Each stage also has a Quest objective, however, like “get 80% Good judgments” or “use x character,” and some add further wrinkles by making the timing judgments harsher or slowing down the bars’ scrolling.
The vast majority of these quests will require some forethought and planning to achieve, above and beyond using a certain hero or even just playing well. Many will require active utilization of the RPG elements under the hood.
There’s more to Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s party building than just picking characters you like, and it’s one of the best improvements overall. Each character from its roster of 104 familiar faces has a personalized skillset, falling into Types: Physical, Magical, Defense, Healing, Summon, Hunter, and Support. Indieszero has categorized these beloved heroes in interesting ways—for instance, Final Fantasy III’s Onion Knight is typically a mixed physical and magical attacker, but here, he’s a Hunter, helping mobility on Field Stages and finding treasure.
Even characters within the same type can have role-bending abilities. Some Healing types revive the party, while others scrub status ailments; some Defense types debuff enemies, while others give as much damage as they take. Given that these abilities need to be fully unlocked and the diverse range of skills and elemental proclivities, it’s worth training up more than just one quartet of characters.
The beauty of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, like its predecessors, is that you set a team of all-star Final Fantasy characters, and they carry out RPG battles as you focus on the rhythm game element of each stage. Like jamming a revolver into a sword’s hilt to make the series’ iconic gunblades, Theatrhythm duct-tapes an idle RPG to Guitar Hero in the best way.
This time around, however, that idle RPG is more compelling than ever. In addition to the rich character development, there are more status effects like Toad and Mini, and richer arrays of Summon spells and effects. Chasing 100% quest completion will be a hefty undertaking, as will unlocking all of the collectible cards in the robust Museum.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line similarly expands its rhythm game aspects. There are four difficulties—Basic, Expert, Ultimate, and Supreme—and each song has a difficulty rating for each of its variations (one special arrangement, for example, is rated a timid 4 on Basic, or a scathing 16 on Supreme). However, there are also three different play modes: Standard, Simple, and Pair. Simple removes some of the more complex triggers, while Pair mode turns any song into a multiplayer affair by splitting the four input lanes between two players.
Coupled with a robust Settings menu that grants the ability to tweak timing sensitivity or remove distracting battle effects, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is remarkably accessible for a rhythm game. The Nintendo Switch version even has options to adjust timing sensitivity differently between handheld and TV modes. Final Fantasy fans who may not usually have the coordination for this genre should still be able to enjoy the experience.“Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is remarkably accessible for a rhythm game…”
Multiplayer goes further with Multi Battles, where players compete for a high score over the internet. Regrettably, I was not able to experience this before publication time, given the limited pool of players, but by all indications, this should be a fun addition that will help the game stay relevant for a while, especially as its DLC continues to trickle out over the coming months.
Social elements extend into the ProfiCard system—a welcome holdover of 3DS StreetPass features. Players can customize the look of their profile and attach their favourite summonstone, then share them with friends to compare scores and achievements.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line boasts an impressive catalogue of songs, with 385 songs in the base game (more than both 3DS entries combined). The Digital Deluxe Edition is a worthy add-on, packing on 27 more songs, including some beloved (and more heavily licensed) vocal themes like Melodies of Life.“Theatrhythm Final Bar Line boasts an impressive catalogue of songs, with 385 songs in the base game”
Some songs are cut criminally short, but there’s still a wealth of content on this front. When I was beginning to grow a little weary of older songs, switching to unusual rearrangements like The Black Mages’ take on Clash on the Big Bridge was revitalizing. The variety of songs on offer is an excellent cross-section of the series’ talents and history, from original composer Nobuo Uematsu to successors like Yoko Shimomura Masayoshi Soken.
Where I’d like to have seen more is the roster of characters. 104 characters are nothing to scoff at, sure, especially when each has a customized skillset. However, this list is carried over directly from All-Star Carnival and sorely missing newer characters introduced since that game’s debut in 2016—like Reyn and Lann from World of Final Fantasy or Jack from Stranger of Paradise.
While Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is clearly intended for various levels of Final Fantasy (or even Square Enix) fans, I’d go so far as to recommend it for curious but uninitiated rhythm game fans. Nostalgia is important but not necessarily required, and Final Bar Line functions as much as a rhythm-based RPG as a tribute game. But of course, the more Final Fantasy you’ve played, the more there is to love here.
* This article was originally published here