Title: Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: February 16, 2023
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Reviewed on: PS4
I was never that interested in the Final Fantasy series as a kid. I was on the Nintendo 64 side of things and the best we had was Quest 64, which is like the dollar store copyright-infringing ripoff. But even without a PlayStation, I always saw coverage of the newest Final Fantasy games in magazine subscriptions and whatnot. Fast forward to today, where Final Fantasy X is considered old enough to drink. Once your series gets specialty logos made for anniversaries like it’s an old married couple, strange things start to happen. Someone must have cast the fan service spell, as every spinoff becomes a high school reunion, bringing all the characters together, fighting monsters, using potions, and generally remembering the good times. Such is the case from the newest release from its rhythm series, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line serves as a nostalgic walkthrough of the Final Fantasy series, focusing on the soundtrack for each game. You form a party with all your favorite characters from the games, going through each entry, completing songs and mini-goals, unlocking items, collectables, characters, and more playable songs. Everything from the popular Final Fantasy VII to the completely obscure Final Fantasy Record Keeper. While it’s a good look back at history, the game really doesn’t describe the events within the series. It really depends on your play history, so if you’ve never played Final Fantasy VI, you’ll never know why the creepy clown got into body horror.
When describing the visuals, I’m going to have to use technical terms, as this game is very “cutesy-wutesy”. Imagine your favorite Final Fantasy characters getting the ice cream bar treatment, complete with gumball eyes. They still have their entire bodies, so you can easily tell the difference between everyone. It’s like if your Funko Pop collection started having adventures. The only time you see any in-game footage from a previous entry is when you clear an entire series, getting a finale song that plays back major story scenes to the most emotional song piece. Aside from those epilogue songs, it’s a very cartoony style, with a very “safe for children” level of softness to it. Yes, I am ignoring the body horror from the previous image.
The layout of stages is acceptable, leaving the top of the screen to the rhythm section and the bottom of the screen to the faux RPG events. And while the battles are very lively, complete with your entire crew doing giant jump attacks to enemies on critical hits, they’re very difficult to see when you’re focusing on a nonstop rhythm icon assault, trying to keep track of the beat and separating the correct actions flying to the end of the screen. And even then, it’s not like the enemies have health bars or certain staples that the genre always has. You’ll see some numbers pop up on hits right out of the corner of your eye, but it never really tells you how close you are to defeating the creature.
The most important thing for a rhythm game is its library of songs, which Theatrhythm Final Bar Line loads up on like a mixtape for that special someone. With 385 songs available, it covers the entire emotional spectrum. From whimsical exploring to intense final battles, the library does a great job of bringing back memories of those in-game moments when those songs first appeared. And with more songs coming in DLC, including other games from Square Enix, like Live A Live and The World Ends With You, there’s no shortage of content to go through.
The one admittedly strange critique I have for the music selection mostly deals with the early 8- and 16-bit era games. A lot of songs are very similar to one another, just by nature of the tools they had available. A lot of the “Fight!” or “Battle!” songs tend to run together and get really hard to tell the difference between the games they came from. Put it like this, the Chocobo song appears 3 times. It gets a little more advanced each time, but it is technically the same song three times.
With the focus of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line being the music and the rhythm, this is one of the friendlier entries to the rhythm genre. A lot of these games will make the gameplay very structured, putting the entire controller in play, asking for a specific button press. In Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, you can use any button, or any stick direction, and it’s completely acceptable. You only have three input actions to worry about, a basic button press, a button hold and release, and a stick direction. While simple enough for everyone to understand, the amount of variety created with just these basic rules make it so that even a non-musical person can jam like a Las Vegas DJ.
While the main focus of the gameplay lands on rhythm, it is being supported by light RPG elements. Whenever you unlock a title, you unlock the playable characters from that entry, each with their own specific abilities. As you unlock more titles, the pool of characters you can choose gets bigger, so you can mix and match your party however you like, such as having all magic users, or all emotionally distraught hero boys. So as you’re playing with these characters, wandering through stages and defeating enemies, they’re gaining EXP, leveling up, gaining new skills, improving their stats, and basically going through the traditional RPG experience, or at least the fun part of seeing improvements in your characters.
The only real issue seems to be the paper thin difference between music choices. Stages are separated into Battle Music Stages, which are a lot of the intense, get-hyped-bro, fight scene songs, and Field Music Stages, which tend to be the calm, relaxing, exploring the world music pieces. In the Battle Music Stages, it’s exactly what it sounds like, you’re fighting monsters, trying to make it to the end boss. But in Field Music Stages, you’re wandering through the world of that game. And then you’re fighting monsters trying to make it to the end boss. There’s a slight difference in the layout of how the rhythm plays, but it’s basically identical in terms of what your little group is doing.
With the understanding that the rhythm genre is not for everyone, there is a hearty amount of content to go through. As previously mentioned, you have 385 songs, and more with DLC, but even just in the base game, there’s something for everyone. There are multiple difficulties for each song, except it didn’t seem to change the mini-goal for songs or offer more EXP. It was just to make the gameplay more difficult, without anything gained in the process, other than bragging rights. There is a multiplayer option, both co-op and versus, but it’s still the same core gameplay.
The longest process in the game is the Collectacards. There are A LOT of Collectacards. These serve as the main collectable and cover different facets. You have your character cards, which boost the stats of your characters, summon cards that strengthen the summon characters like Ifrit and Shiva, and enemy cards that will increase the EXP by defeating that enemy. There are also moment cards and memory cards, which are usually given as mission rewards and only serve as viewing key art from the games. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad. At least, until I tell you there are four levels of Collectcards to collect, increasing in rarity, for every single character, summon, and enemy. That is a whole lot of button tapping.
Even though I’m not the biggest RPG fan, I’m having a really good time with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line. The mixture between the setting of the Final Fantasy series mixed with the fast and frantic gameplay of the rhythm genre hits a good blend of fan service without engulfing a person into the lore or the history. This is great for long sessions, with most series taking about a half hour to complete, or even for short breaks, where you play a handful of songs and get going with your day. The only issue may be trying to pull RPG fans into rhythm games. Even with the RPG elements of skills and leveling up, rhythm games are about paper thin in terms of gameplay, which is usually not what those hardcore gamers are looking for. But if you’ve played some Final Fantasy games throughout your history, this fun side quest is worth a playthrough.
Featured Image: Square Enix
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