Final Fantasy has some of the best music in gaming history. From the first Final Fantasy entry back in 1987, right up to the most recent Final Fantasy VII remake, it’s honestly been wall-to-wall bangers. For me, the Final Fantasy series is most appealing for its stories, but the music has always been close second. The Theatrhythm series flips Final Fantasy on its head, putting the music first, with RPG mechanics to complement the rhythm-based gameplay. 

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line aims to be the final entry in the IndiesZero and Square Enix-developed Theatrhythm series, hence the title. I’ve had some experience with the series before, but always struggled from an accessibility perspective with the handheld controls of its past 3DS entries. Available now on home consoles for the first time with the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, I’ve finally been able to take a deep dive into a Theatrhythm game after more than a decade of waiting. After all that, I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot score screen
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line allowed me to hit some high scores.

Before even getting into the gameplay, I was captivated by the animated intro sequence. Graphically, the Theatrhythm series really does it for me. It’s tough to do Final Fantasy’s intricately designed characters in a simplified chibi art style. One step too far and you’re in bland Funko Pop! figure territory, one step too short and you’re in uncanny valley levels of detail. Theatrhythm exists in that Goldilocks zone where it’s all just right. Sephiroth of Final Fantasy VII has all the depth his magnificent, gravity-defying hair needs, whilst his big face and tiny body is made as cute as a Moogle. Even Final Fantasy VI’s Statue of the Gods keeps every figure in its monstrous, Frankenstein form, yet somehow becomes slightly cute with its vibrant colors and shorter stature. 

The UI keeps this easily readable but detailed aesthetic going. Bright and flashy menus are easy to navigate and intuitive to use, with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s three main gameplay modes taking center stage from the game’s home screen. There’s always something new to read on the home screen too, as chibified Final Fantasy legends walk on screen and spout completely out of context dialog, to hilarious effect.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot statue of the gods
The balance of cute and detailed make for a great visual.

Navigating through those menus, we get to the main event of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line – the music. I’m happy to say the selection here is enormous, with a whopping 385 tracks in the base game. These range from obvious numbers like ‘One Winged Angel’ from Final Fantasy VII or ‘Apocalypsis Noctis’ from Final Fantasy XV, to obscure deep-cuts like ‘The Glittering City of Yusnaan’ from Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII or even Theatrhythm’s own menu music from past entries. No matter what your preferred style of Final Fantasy tune is, it’s guaranteed to be represented in the game somewhere.

Once you select a song, the rhythm gameplay begins. Red buttons require a button to be tapped, green buttons require a hold, whilst orange buttons with an arrow need an analogue stick to be flicked. It’s really that simple, making the game easy to pick up on Basic difficulty levels as you play along to a main melody, and completely mind-melting on Supreme difficulty as you seemingly play along to every instrument in an entire orchestra. 

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot beach level
From beaches to airships, I travelled the wide universe of Final Fantasy.

That classic combination of easy to learn and hard to master makes the game addicting from the first track. I started Theatrhythm Final Bar Line on Basic, and kicked it up to Expert once I realized the lower difficulty didn’t have me hitting my favorite beats in a track. I got pretty good at Expert and got cocky, bumping it up once more to Ultimate. Wow, did I get humbled very quickly. Despite the repeated Game Over screens, I never wanted to stop playing, and I never wanted to back down. 

This is an entirely new feeling for me in a rhythm game. As a disabled gamer, I’m not used to difficult games with complicated maneuvers being remotely playable, yet Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the most accessible I’ve played yet. The control scheme is really of your own making – the game doesn’t tell you which buttons to press, it just tells you when to press them. If your fingers feel good on the controller triggers, you can blast the notes that way. Prefer face buttons like me? The D-pad and face buttons all do the same thing in the same way, it’s really up to you.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot song list
Hundreds of songs in up to four difficulty modes makes for enough content to feed a Behemoth.

The game also has menus that allows you to tweak button timings to suit your rhythm. If you’re a little slow, the game can be adjusted to recognise inputs a little later, and vice versa for those of us who are too eager and press it early. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line does what no rhythm game ever has for me, as it adjusts itself to my playstyle, rather than making me bend to conform to its designated controls and timing. 

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line can also be made easier, or harder, with its RPG mechanics. You create your own party of four, using any character from the large roster spread across Final Fantasy history that you’ve unlocked. There are also a bunch of summons with different abilities that can join your party. Your party levels up as you complete songs, and learn new abilities and spells in classic Final Fantasy style. These abilities can range from simple damage spells like Fire or Thunder, to game-changing abilities like Arise, bringing your entire party back to life if you fumble a song too hard and run out of HP.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot party editor.
Create the party of your dreams, like this party full of girls with cute hair.

Sadly, whilst Theatrhythm Final Bar Line does let you play through songs in order from their respective game’s soundtracks in Series Quests mode, there is no real narrative tying any of it together. It would’ve been nice to even just get an introductory cutscene, telling us the world of Final Fantasy has fallen silent and we need to restore music to the world. The game just starts, letting you pick a game, dive in and start playing music. The game offers some progression still, as each song has a quest assigned to it that offers a reward for completion. Finishing a song for the first time in Series Quests mode enables you to to play it at any time in the free-play Music Stages mode, without any level-alterations or quests attached to it so you can just shoot for the highest score possible with your best party. 

Another issue that I had with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the lengths of some songs. Some classic tunes from the likes of Final Fantasy II seriously overstay their welcome, as you play the same melody over and over in an extended mix. The controls don’t constantly repeat, so there is some variation in gameplay at least, but it can get a little boring to play the same 25 seconds of music over and over for two minutes.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot midgar train
Some of the epic, longer songs sadly get cut short.

The problem is made worse for me as some of my most anticipated songs get cut short. I know having ‘The Airbuster’ from the Final Fantasy VII remake would be a little out of hand with its seven and a half minute runtime, but that is a tune worth destroying my finger muscles over. The same can be said of One-Winged Angel – Rebirth’, losing its ten minute run in favor of just a couple minutes from the final phase of the fight. I understand the reasoning here, and we might venture into accessibility issues if we’re getting into ten minute tunes, but the option would’ve been nice. These songs have epic builds and grand climaxes, and would serve as an excellent final challenge for those of us willing to commit the time to it.

The enemies can also be a tad repetitive. Sometimes enemies encountered in a run feel out of place, like seeing a boss from Final Fantasy VI appear on an airship level of Final Fantasy XII. It’s not a huge issue, but it does feel a teensy bit like a cost-cutting measure, perhaps even understandably so. There are a lot of enemies in the Final Fantasy series, and making a model for each one from each game would be overwhelming for a rhythm game. It still felt a bit jarring to me at points as a series fanatic, so it’s worth a mention.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot ProfiCard
Customize a ProfiCard to share with friends online.

While you’re playing levels and defeating enemies, you’ll unlock treasure chests containing items. These items can be simple things that offer a variety of buffs such as HP from potions or bonus XP from eggs, but can also come in the form of CollectaCards. CollectaCards can be anything from characters and summons to enemies and key art from past Final Fantasy games. These are great for replayability, as each character and summon card can come in four different rarities, with different poses, card designs and even gameplay buffs.

As you’ve probably deduced by now, there’s a lot to do in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, and a lot of reasons to replay it. If that’s still not enough, there’s also the DLC. The DLC comes in Season Passes, three in total, each of which is packed with five games worth of bonus songs. These can be purchased as individual packs per game, bunched together in Season Passes, or buy it all in the Premium Digital Deluxe version of the game for a full $100. 

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot Aerith CollectaCard
I would pay a million Gil to have a set of these adorable CollectaCards physically.

The pricing does get a little insane as you add on the DLCs, but honestly, it’s worth it. The DLC music reaches far beyond the Final Fantasy series and grabs songs from the best in Square Enix’s vast catalog. Whether you want to blast Chrono Trigger or rock out to Live-A-Live’s ‘MEGALOMANIA’, there’s plenty to pick and choose from in the DLC selection. The pricing is flexible too, being about $4 for one game pack. I’m yet to make a purchase of any of these DLC tracks so can’t judge them yet, but I’ll be picking up the Live A Live pack when it drops on March 1.

There’s not much more to say about Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, as the music speaks for itself. It had me in its hooks, replaying levels on increasing difficulties and the songs dug into my brain. Even the ‘tshh!’ sounds of a Critical note hit stays echoing in my head long after I stop playing.

Despite all it does well, and it does a lot, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s greatest achievement might just be reminding us exactly how good the music of Final Fantasy really is. I’m writing this review from a cold kitchen in England, but I’m still tapping my feet along to the beat of some of gaming’s best battle music from Final Fantasy. For that, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line lives on long after I turn the game off.

Bobby purchased Theatrhythm Final Bar Line on PlayStation 5 for the purposes of this review. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is also available on Nintendo Switch.

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