Some of the best Final Fantasy experiences aren’t part of the mainline series. I say this as someone who’s waited over a decade for a follow-up to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, a Nintendo DS exclusive that’s one of the best spin-offs ever. This series remixed the familiar RPG elements in a vibrant and colourful way, celebrating the mechanics millions around the world can’t seem to get enough of. There is, of course, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, another subseries created to celebrate the incredible music Final Fantasy is known for.
When I think of the series created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, one of the first things I think of is the music from Nobuo Uematsu. As Final Fantasy has grown over the years, so too does the stable of amazing composers who’ve left their mark on the series including Masashi Hamauzu, Yoko Shimomura, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Masayoshi Soken to name a few of the talented people working on the long-running series.
Between Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and its follow-up sequel Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call the series delivered some memorable, rhythmic moments for me, even if they had some issues. I was there for the music more than anything. Now, Square Enix and indiezero are back with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Final Bar Line launching this week and it has been a surprising return for the series, one that I feel is long overdue.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Final Bar Line Is Constantly Engaging and Rewarding
It’s been nearly a decade since the last entry in the series hit retail. When I say the third entry is overdue, I mean because we’ve had dozens of brilliant tracks added to the Final Fantasy catalogue of music since then. Whether or not you liked Final Fantasy XV, the music alone is memorable and highly regarded, the same can be said for the expansions Final Fantasy XIV has seen or more recently Final Fantasy VII Remake, a bold sequel with even braver music.
At this point, I can’t think of another franchise boasting such a huge library of music filled with memorable songs. And the addition of other Square Enix properties like Nier, Live A Live, Chrono Trigger, and The World Ends with You all feature powerful, evocative music so being able to revisit each series is welcome. While the demo offered a nice sliver of the full game, it wasn’t until I was able to dive into the locked music that the gameplay clicked once again.
One thing that fans will notice deeper into unlocking new music and levels are specific games are given more representation than others. It should come as no surprise that Final Fantasy VII has multiple versions of One Winged Angel while Final Fantasy VI has a dozen songs but no Aria di Mezzo Carattere or Wedding Waltz! Final Fantasy XV’s score is one of my all-time personal favourites and yet it’s missing Somnus Ultima, a song crucial to the story of Noctis — I feel there is a lot of underrepresentation here.
The three modes include Battle Music Stage, Field Music Stage, or Event Music Stage. The three types of Music Stages are as follows — Battle Music Stages see you defeating waves of enemies in time to tempo battle themes, Field Music Stages see your journey out with your party across landscapes with relaxing field music, and Event Music Stages see you revisit unforgettable scenes from the entire franchise.
As you unlock and grow your roster of characters, the ability to mix and match who you use allows for some exciting combinations. You can have up to four characters in your party with each of them having a specific role to focus on. Also, you can set three abilities for each character, each specific to the character you select. Cloud is a physical character, Aerith is a healer, Prompto is a hunter, and Gladiolus is a defender.
Each character can be levelled up to 99 and fit into several classes — Physical, Magic, Defender, Support, Hunter, Healer, and Summon. And because this is a celebration of the series, you can freely add whoever you want to your party from any of the mainline titles to your party. There are skills to unlock for all these characters, too with most having their own designated skill which is exclusive to them.
Dancin’ to the Rhythmia
To keep things fresh in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, Series Quests have been added to the mix. These quests allow you to revisit a specific entry as you battle your way through some of the biggest songs from each respective game. As you advance through the new stages, you’ll need to pay attention to the quests given to you at the start of each level — by unlocking and earning titles, you unlock new characters. It’s a fun spin on the established stages previously introduced to the series and even on the beginner levels I felt I was modestly challenged to keep up with the right commands.
Just like in the previous games, you’ll tap, flick, and press buttons to the rhythm of the music while iconic moments from the entire series unfold. There are also themed stages where your party moves across the landscape to familiar sights and sounds, and even battle stages boasting the hardest-hitting battle themes in existence. The only thing that Final Bar Line does to set itself apart from its predecessors is it moves away from touch controls — a choice that I’m not sure I understand given that the Switch has proven to be a capable machine for this.
If you’re a returning player, then you’ll already know what to expect as the gameplay hasn’t evolved since the last decade. But I’ll be honest and say it doesn’t need to do much else to be fun because it’s exactly the right level of difficulty and it pays off. The same style of graphics return, a stylized, cartoonish take on the familiar heroes and villains across Final Fantasy’s impressive history. On the surface, Final Bar Line (and really the series) feels more simplistic than it is, each Final Fantasy game has a dozen iconic tracks representing the journey players face in that game. Through and through, this is a game made for fans, giving them a fresh take on the games they love and it works because of nostalgia.
I generally played on the Basic level and it’s the best difficulty for those who generally don’t play rhythm-focused titles. I spent as much time in both the Expert and Ultimate modes as I could but those modes are strenuous and honestly, I respect those who can keep up with high difficulties. The button combinations alone begin becoming far more difficult to nail correctly on Ultimate which often leads to me seeing my entire party faint. I can see where someone who can keep up might see this as a fun obstacle but for me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’m sure some of you will enjoy it.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a celebration of the composers and artists who have added their souls to the Final Fantasy series. While some numbered entries receive more time in the spotlight, the overall track list spans 35 years of history and are presented in a beautiful, vibrant package. The lack of touch controls might be a deterrent for some players but this entry is filled with easter eggs and callbacks fans of all ages will appreciate.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Switch