Theatrhythm Final Bar Line Review - Greatest Hits

  • First Released Feb 16, 2023
  • PS4
Jason Fanelli on Google+

Endless content and tight rhythm-based gameplay make Final Bar Line the best Theatrhythm yet.

Since the franchise's introduction in 2012, the Theatrhythm games have masterfully capitalized on the Final Fantasy series' incredible soundtracks. Using a gameplay system that's approachable yet deceptively challenging, while also mixing iconic scenes from past games in the background, the games act as a playable portfolio of FF's most memorable moments. Final Bar Line is speculated to be the final game in the Theatrhythm series, at least for a while, and if that's true, it's an incredible final act.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line presents 385 music tracks from across the Final Fantasy spectrum, with a healthy mixture of fan favorites and deep cuts spread out across 29 different categories. After selecting a song, players will press buttons along to its rhythm via three types of notes: red, which requires a single button press; yellow, where a button press is paired with flicking the joystick in a designated direction; and green, which must be held for as long as the green bar is present.

This traffic light-esque system sounds simple, but it can be downright devilish in practice, especially on higher difficulty levels. Keying in on which parts of the song the notes are corresponding to can be tough, especially with compositions as complex as what longtime composer Nobuo Uematsu and his peers have devised over the years. That said, it's still immensely fun being able to interact with these iconic songs in this way, as I found my whole body moving to the beat while I tapped along on the controller.

There's one small foible about these notes that I must mention, as it's easily what's given me the most trouble--not only in the game, but throughout the entire franchise. During a green note, when the end of the strip is reached, the button must be released in rhythm with the song as well, and the timing of the release affects your note streak. I've lost more streaks to this than anything else, simply because my brain is tricked into thinking I'm supposed to hold the note until the next note hits. It's a novel little mechanic that ups the challenge, but also ups the frustration until it starts to feel more natural.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

To say that the 385-song library of Final Bar Line is extensive is an understatement. The greatest hits from the series are here--Zanarkand, multiple versions of One Winged Angel, Melodies Of Life, etc.--but there are some unexpected tracks that do a wonderful job of exploring the full breadth of Final Fantasy's portfolio. There's a track from The Star Onions, a band created by composer Naoshi Mizuta that strictly covers FFXI music. There are also a few songs from the electronica remix albums SQ Chips and More SQ. Even a pair of FFVII arrangements featured in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate--Cosmo Canyon by Yoko Shimomura and Aerith's Theme from Keichii Okabe--are here. This is an anthology of music rarely seen in one place, and having all of these great tracks together is much appreciated.

Each song fits into one of three different formats, or what the game refers to as "Music Sequences." The first is Battle, where each note appears in one of four different static rows on-screen. I found Battles to be the easiest of the three sets, as even though notes were coming quickly from left to right, I was able to focus on the target area and time my presses to them more efficiently than the other Sequences. For veterans of rhythm-based games, Battle Music Sequences felt like Guitar Hero or Rock Band to me, and that familiarity helped out in the long run.

Event Music Sequences flip the rows from horizontal to vertical, with notes approaching from the top of the screen while scenes ripped right from the source material play in the background. Where Battle felt like Guitar Hero, Event's new format looks the most like those classic rhythm games. This is a change from previous Theatrhythm games, where the notes used to scatter around the screen so I could tap and watch at the same time. I can still watch the scene as the notes fall, however, the vertical movement felt off despite how familiar it looked, and I found myself missing notes more often here than in Battle. I understand the idea behind the change, but I wish Event Music Sequences had kept the unique scattered notes motif of previous games.

Field Music Sequences go back to horizontal notes, but this mode also incorporates sliding green notes, where players must hold the joystick up or down to hit the little dots inside the green strip. I suspect many will develop a love/hate relationship with this format, as the sliding can turn even the slowest and most melodically simple track into a challenge. Of all three formats, this was the one that caused the most restarts, as the sliding target caused more confusion for me than the other modes' static rows. I did eventually wrap my head around it, and when that happened it was marvelous, but the learning curve is higher than the other modes.

Most of Theatrhythm's songs need to be unlocked, and that happens in the Series Quest mode. Here, a party of four characters will walk through each game's story via its music, while also showcasing the important moments in each game. As more games are unlocked via Series Keys earned during the playthrough, more characters can be unlocked for the party. Completing songs earns experience points for each member of the party, and leveling up earns new abilities for those characters as well. Completing a special objective in each song also unlocks a CollectaCard, which gives access to screenshots and other items in the Museum mode.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

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.

Jason Fanelli on Google+
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The Good

  • A gigantic library of music spanning the entire history of Final Fantasy
  • Tight rhythm-based gameplay with iconic scenes playing in the background
  • Party-building and other RPG mechanics add a personal touch

The Bad

  • Inconsistent learning curve can lead to frustration
  • Background animations can sometimes be too distracting

About the Author

Jason Fanelli tapped along to the beat of Final Bar Line for a dozen hours, with multiple Series Quest completed and playlists created. He wants everyone who reads this to make sure to play The Black Mages' The Skies Above because it's amazing.