Remember when Final Fantasy 7’s Aerith and Sephiroth teamed up with Final Fantasy X’s Yuna and Seymour Guado to fight Gilgamesh and Kefka from Final Fantasy 5 and 6? While that might sound ridiculous, you can make it happen in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line thanks to the power of music. The latest in Square Enix’s rhythm series had me tapping both my feet and fingers as I matched the beat alongside 35 years of my favorite Final Fantasy songs with some very light RPG gameplay. It's a colorful and enjoyable journey, and one I had a hard time putting down.
The Theatrhythm series has always been about assembling a party of four recognizable RPG characters to tap, slide, and hold buttons to the music, leveling them up as you go. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the first time it’s jumped from handheld to home console, and its impressive 385 songs from across 29 different Final Fantasy games sets a new bar that will be challenging to top in the future. Every song can be completed on your own, against other players, or in the co-op Pair mode, where each player is responsible for half the notes. There’s also Simple mode, which converts everything to single button inputs, making it the most accessible game in the series to jump into yet.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line Review Slideshow
Including the two to three hours I spent upgrading or customizing my party and retrying failed songs, it took me roughly 40 hours to clear all the songs. Those are broken up by game into 29 different series, some of which take far longer than others, with most having somewhere between 10 and 20 songs to unlock while one outlier had 32 – I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy XIV. That said, they are all worth completing, as the soundtrack is fantastic and has plenty of custom medleys and new special arrangements that encompass the most notable songs in the Final Fantasy catalog. That comprehensive approach means it’s also great to see lesser-known characters like Benjamin from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Wol from Mobius Final Fantasy get a chance to shine, although I was bummed my favorite, Ronso Kimahri from Final Fantasy X, didn’t make the cut.
Every song was a delight to jump into.
Every song was a delight to jump into and see how the developers arranged the various button prompts. Tapping the right buttons to the beat of Final Fantasy X's Blitzball or sliding the analog sticks to match the rhythm of Final Fantasy 7's One Winged Angel is immensely satisfying when you manage to chain your inputs together. The 3DS versions of Theatrhythm were limited to single prompts due to the nature of their touch controls, but the jump to consoles allows for another layer of complexity: Final Bar Line adds new dual button prompts or combinations between holds, taps, and slides to nicely ramp up the difficulty. Certain combinations were initially challenging to figure out as I had to adjust which buttons I would press based on the variation. Still, once I did, later stages caught me off guard again by adding triple and quadruple combination prompts, or modifications like extremely quick prompts, to keep things interesting.
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Final Bar Line contains three main modes: Series Quests, which are the closest thing it has to a campaign, Music Stages, which is just a free-play mode, and Multi Battle, which houses the multiplayer options. Finishing a song for the first time in the Series Quest mode will add it to your ever-growing list of Music Stages to revisit or use in Multi Battle, while completing quests attached to each song will earn your party rewards such as potions, stat- and exp-boosting items, and Collectacards that boost various stats.
Theatrhythm has always incorporated RPG mechanics to help get you across the finish line.
Theatrhythm has always incorporated RPG mechanics to help get you across the finish line, even if your rhythm skills are lacking. Building a party of your favorite Final Fantasy heroes and villains with the right abilities can be the difference between success and failure. Characters fall into various classes, each with unique mid-song benefits. Some will help you defeat enemies in the stages, others will reduce damage when missing notes or restore your HP, and some will help you gather more rewards or strengthen other characters. Leveling up characters is critical as it will improve their stats and drastically enhance your odds of success. For example, clearing a difficult song is significantly easier with the 2700 HP Lightning gives you at level 99 versus 550 HP when she is level 18.
Physical and Magical types like FF7’s Sephiroth and FF 6’s Terra (respectively) will help you defeat enemies in battles, Defense types like the FF1 Warrior of Light will reduce damage taken when missing notes, and Healing types like FF13’s Vanille will restore lost HP. Meanwhile, Hunter types like FF 9’s Zidane will improve your odds for item drops from defeated enemies, Summon types like FFX’s Yuna will boost the benefit of summoning Phoenix and all the other summons, and Support types like Chocobo will boost stats or reduce the requirements for allies to activate their abilities.
There isn't a story or anything beyond the music itself to keep you hooked.
The only letdown of the Series Quest mode is that besides unlocking songs and characters for other modes, there isn't a story or anything beyond the music itself to keep you hooked. Chasing higher scores can be a lot of fun, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. There is an Endless mode that unlocks after completing all 29 series, but it's ultimately more of the same, with the only difference being that you are challenged to complete as many songs in a row before losing your three lives from failing a song or its quest.
After wrapping up all the Series Quests, I spent some time in the Multi Battle mode competing with my favorite characters for the highest score against a friend online – though the low pre-launch server population means I haven’t been able to thoroughly playtest multiplayer as much as I would have liked. That said, the returning burst mechanic helped keep every match interesting, and should allow new players to compete with more seasoned ones by enabling them to unleash disadvantages on their opponents. I saw my button prompts shrink to half-size, requiring more precise timing, fake button prompts appear to obscure what button I was supposed to press, and fat chocobos that covered 75% of my screen, giving me less time to react. It reminded me of the chaos that ensues when clearing multiple lines in Tetris or unleashing special attacks in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Unlike single-player mode, running out of health in multiplayer smartly isn't game over; you'll just lose a large number of points, which can quickly change a match's outcome without driving it to an abrupt halt.
The returning burst mechanic helped keep every match interesting.
This is where the party dynamic comes into play; learning what each character can do and customizing your party will have a profound effect on whether you win or lose. Having a character like Final Fantasy V’s Lenna, who can cast the spell Arise to revive you with 70% HP without a penalty, is sure to make her and other healers a popular pick. Competing with opponents earns your character's exp and all the items you earn during the song, you also get rewarded with valuable Collectacards after each match to help strengthen your team.
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In addition, after each battle, you will exchange profile cards with an opponent, which gifts a copy of the summon stone you have equipped. It’s hard to tell if the multiplayer will capture the hearts of online rhythm fans for years to come like Rock Band or fizzle out like Fuser based on my limited time with it, but it certainly has potential.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is full of charm and nostalgia alike, with cutesy versions of my favorite Final Fantasy characters and excellent remixes of the iconic songs that accompanied them. The light RPG mechanics, coupled with traditional rhythm mechanics, is easy enough to get into and deep enough to entertain fans of both. It’s a little bit of a letdown that there isn’t any storyline for your party of heroes to follow or another hook to keep me playing beyond beating my own scores in Endless mode, but its impressive tracklist makes Theatrhythm Final Bar Line an enjoyable way to listen to and play along with the most memorable songs from the Final Fantasy series.