Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Indieszero
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2023


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PS4/PS5 Review - 'Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 15, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a toe-tapping game that celebrates 35 years of amazing Final Fantasy music through fast-paced, endlessly replayable rhythm-action gameplay.

Buy Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line

If you asked me which franchise has the best songs in gaming, I'd answer Final Fantasy in a heartbeat. From the melodic title theme to the absurd mix of styles in Final Fantasy XIV's latest expansion, they all sound great. It's no surprise that Final Fantasy and rhythm games go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The long-running Theatrhythm franchise has long combined the RPG and music elements of Final Fantasy to make something that is difficult to put down. The latest entry, Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is basically the Smash Ultimate of the franchise. Everything is here, and Final Bar Line retains all of the charm of the previous versions with a track list that can't be beat — at least unless they add Endwalker and Final Fantasy XVI in the DLC.

If you've never played Theatrhythm, you choose a stage based on one of the Final Fantasy games, spin-offs or loosely connected titles. It's an addictive but simple rhythm game mixed with some RPG elements. The rhythm game element has colors notes floating across the screen, and you need to tap a button when they reach the correct point. Some require you to hold down the button, hold multiple at once, or various things designed to trip you up. On lower levels, the game is pleasantly breezy and casual, and on higher levels, you can expect to be hitting buttons almost nonstop.

One thing I'm particularly impressed with is how well the controls work. The original Theatrhythm was designed for touch controls, and I worried how it would translate to a gamepad, but the answer is: almost perfectly. The controls feel incredibly accessible and smooth and are probably easier than they were on touch-screens. Most actions involve tapping one or more buttons or holding them in time with the rhythm, with almost every button on the controller serving a purpose and making it incredibly comfy to match even the most intense of beats.

There are only two things that I found to be initially awkward, and I realized after a while that they both had a trick. One is the tracing lines, where you need to follow the path of a hold by moving up and down. However, it turns out that all you need to do is hold the direction the path is going, which made it far simpler than it appeared. The other is the analog stick direction presses, which look intimidating but have a huge dead space. For example, diagonal up-right works even if you press up or right. This takes off a lot of pressure from hitting things precisely during some of the craziest beats.

The RPG elements come into play in the background — quite literally. As you're tapping to the beat, a battle or exploration is going on in the background. The more on beat you are, the more effectively your cast of characters fights. On the other hand, if you miss beats, you start to take damage. You can choose a cast from a huge selection of Final Fantasy's best, including characters from every main game in the series and a selection of side games, like Tactics.

These choices aren't just cosmetic. Each character has stats and gains levels as you use them. More importantly, they also unlock skills that activate under certain conditions. Healing magic may go off if you go below a certain number of hit points, attacks may go off if you get a certain number of hits, and passive buffs can even impact the entire party for the entire song. You can also equip a summon monster that adds passive buffs and the ability to be summoned for a big attack.

As such, you need to consider the level you're going into and what challenges you'll face. For example, if you're going into a stage where you need to fight Ifrit, it's probably not wise to bring Vincent from Final Fantasy VII, who excels at fire damage. On the other hand, ice-based characters will be far more useful, and you can throw Shiva on for extra damage. Trying to find out which characters work best together is a big part of the fun. Y'shtola #2 excels in wind magic and can power up the wind attacks of allies; this makes her a great teammate for Cloud Strife, who has powerful wind-elemental attacks.

Figuring out the best character build for a stage isn't necessary to finish the stage, but it allows you to get higher scores and complete optional objectives. Your stats and skills determine if you can do enough damage to reach the high-scoring boss monsters or finish a stage with a high enough score to unlock bonus items. Likewise, healing and defensive spells can make your life a lot easier in harder stages, as they give you a lot more leeway for mistakes. Obviously, the end goal is to not need help with those mistakes, but the higher-difficulty versions of songs require practice to get that good.

The bulk of the game is based around playing and replaying songs and trying to earn the high score. There are bonus collectibles that contain cute art and fun tchotchkes, like various outfits for your moogle companion or different-looking airships to zoom into battle. There are also various ways to play, including a multiplayer option, with one player taking the top set of notes and the other taking the bottom set. You'll mostly be playing the game for its songs.

I only have the smallest of complaints about the game, and they're mainly cosmetic. The character roster is weird in who it decides to use. Final Fantasy XIV only features Alphinaud, Thancred, Yda and Y'shtola, all their A Realm Reborn versions, and then a second Y'shtola from later in the game. There are other notable absences, which is a minor complaint, but it's disappointing from a fan service perspective. When the biggest complaint I can level at a game is that it doesn't have some obscure favorites, it's doing something right.

Visually, Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line maintains the same charming cartoony art style used in the rest of the franchise, with characters and enemies portrayed as cute paper doll cutouts. You get a number of notable backgrounds and environments re-created with the art style. It's largely adorable, but you won't be watching much except the notes. Do I need to say that the music is excellent? It's a celebration of a franchise, where even the weakest entries still have amazing songs, and the addition of other Square Enix titles only makes it better. It's an audio delight and a wonderful excuse to listen to all of the iconic songs again.

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is exactly what it promises to be in the best possible way. It's a simple, addictive and incredibly delightful rhythm game set to some of the best songs in gaming. The RPG elements add some nice customization and Final Fantasy feel, but the real star of the show is the songs. With enough customization and options to make even the rhythmically inept feel comfortable, it's a game for anyone who has ever hummed "Locke's Theme or Answers" without realizing it. Just be prepared to lose hours upon hours trying to master it.

Score: 9.5/10

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