The Theatrhythm series has been a standout, if criminally underplayed, example of how to both showcase a series’ excellent set of scores while celebrating a prolific franchise’s history. Since the previous entry’s release on 3DS in 2014, Final Fantasy music has evolved thanks to the releases of Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy XIV expansions, remakes, and more. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line folds these additions into a mix of returning classics and lesser-known tunes to create an amazing catalog of songs to play through in the series’ trademark take on the rhythm genre.
And just like in 2012 and 2014, it remains as quirky and eclectic as ever. I have minor gripes with the game, but they rarely get in the way of what matters: the gameplay. This new Theatrhythm sets a high bar for the entire series, continuing the trend of outdoing what came before it and showcasing just how well a celebratory series compilation can be done.
There’s a lot that’s familiar this time around for returning players. This sequel retains the same chibi art style, the same types of stage formats, and many of the existing songs. It’s a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” situation and one that works. One big difference is that due to the hardware differences between the 3DS, where the last two games resided exclusively, and the PS4 and Switch, is how you hit notes. The 3DS games were more tactile because you’d use the touch screen stylus to tap the notes on screen. Now, you’ll need to hit a note as it scrolls across the screen by pressing a face button, shoulder button, or slashing directionally with an analog stick.
Admittedly, it’s quite awkward at first and I wasn’t a fan of this necessary format change, in part because the game does little to help you determine a fitting control scheme. Because you can hit most notes with almost any button on the controller, it’s initially hard to keep track of where your hands are and where they should be going when things get hectic. After an hour or two, I settled into a scheme that worked for me, but I discovered that all on my own. I would have liked more direction from Final Bar Line, especially in a genre where most games assign specific button presses to specific notes.
After discovering what worked for me, I fiendishly blazed through songs, and my old love of Theatrhythm reignited. Both Field Music Stages and Battle Music Stages begin by selecting one of your five party loadouts. Each loadout can contain up to four characters from various Final Fantasy games. I enjoyed mixing and matching some of my favorites, like Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII and Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, to create offense-heavy builds. And when boss fights, for example, gave me particular challenges, I equipped magic-focused characters to target the enemy’s weakness alongside more defensive heroes. It’s a new element of strategy that adds a deeper level of engagement for players chasing down the highest possible scores and treasure yield in each stage.
This was especially important to complete Series Quests, which are optional objectives attached to each song. Completing these quests ranges from defeating challenging boss enemies, necessitating that you hit “critical” notes for the duration of the song, or something as simple as completing a stage with a particular character in the party (usually because that character is attached to the song in some way). These quests add a touch of additional challenge if you want it. They’re also completely optional, meaning if you only want your Final Bar Line experience to consist of playing through some great songs and staying on rhythm while doing so, it can be just that.
I do wish the quests were more integrated into the primary progression. While they aren’t necessary to advance, completing them does come with rewards. But sometimes the reward is lousy, like a potion, which is an item I rarely used. Other times, it’s better, such as when you earn a CollectaCard that showcases a key Final Fantasy moment in a trading card style. Regardless, because these extra challenges are optional, I rarely felt compelled to give each more than a couple of tries. If I failed a song enough, I’d just move on because there’s no penalty for doing so. Completing the song is all that’s required to advance.
One of my favorite aspects of Final Bar Line is unlocking special Event Music Stages, which allow you to play through songs while cinematics from the game play behind the notes. It’s a nice touch and adds a premium level of quality to the game’s nostalgia factor. The in-game Museum also helps out on that front, as you can view your CollectaCards anytime. Looking at promotional art I forgot existed for some Final Fantasy games was an especially nice treat, but other cards give a better look at in-game characters or enemies in their chibi design. It’s a great addition for players looking to 100 percent the game and speaks to the Final Bar Line’s celebratory nature well.
Outside of the game’s single-player offerings, there are Multi Battles. Here, you can compete with up to three other players, and I enjoyed how this switches up the gameplay. The success of other players triggers effects on your screen, like a “Fat Chocobo” rush that sends a fleet of large Chocobo to your screen, obscuring incoming notes. Others remove the UI that tells you how well you hit a note, which has a surprisingly negative effect on how I perform. And the most challenging effect sent by an opponent adds fake notes to my scroll. It’s an exciting and stressful way to play through my favorite Theatrhythm songs and a sure way to extend my playtime with the game. The same goes for the Endless World stage, which lets you play track after track until you no longer have HP.
Final Bar Line does little to propel you forward through any of this, though. There’s barely a semblance of a story, and I rolled credits without even realizing I was near the end – I had only completed roughly a third of the 385 tracks. You can earn new Summons, which automatically play during a stage based on your rhythmic action, from other players in Multi Battles, and you can go for high scores by replaying songs, but Final Bar Line doesn’t emphasize why you should be doing this.
Despite that lack of propelling factor, I’m still completely engrossed in this game, playing it during any 15 free minutes I can find throughout my day. Though I’ve technically completed the game, I want to SSS rank all of my favorite songs, dig deeper into the libraries from Final Fantasy games I’m less familiar with, and show off my rhythm prowess against other players. This is a fantastic rhythm game set to the tune of arguably the greatest music catalog in all of games. While I would have liked more guidance in how to proceed, the musical content on offer is so diverse, so nostalgic, and so well done, that I have no problem composing my own fun.