Theatrhythm Final Fantasy quickly became one of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games when it hit the system in 2012, as did the Curtain Call sequel two years later. These weren’t perfect rhythm games, but they were unique and utilized one of the best compilations of video game scores in music history. The Final Fantasy series is special to me for many reasons, and perhaps chief among those is its music. That I ended up adoring the Theatrhythm series on 3DS was no surprise. I was surprised, though, to see publisher Square Enix and developer indieszero announce Theatrhythm Final Bar Line last September, with a release date just a few months later, no less.
I didn’t expect this series to make a return, but I had always hoped it would, given its predecessor only covered the franchise through 2014. There are hundreds of new, beloved tracks in the series between Final Fantasy XIV’s expansions, Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and other games released since the last Theatrhythm. Final Bar Line is adding tracks from those titles and more, including other Square Enix games via DLC like Live A Live (and its recent remake), the Nier series, The World Ends With You, and Chrono Trigger. And after playing through 30 of the game’s songs in an advance preview of the demo that’s available for everyone starting February 1, I can safely say Final Bar Line is a must-play for me next month.
In the nearly 10 years between the last game and Final Bar Line, not much has changed. The sequel retains the cute, chibi art style of the first, the same types of stage formats, and many of the same songs, which is great; it worked in 2012 (and 2014) and it works here, too. One big difference, though, is the way you play Final Bar Line. Theatrhythm’s horizontal music scroll that dictated when to hit beats was strange, especially given how popular vertical music scrolls were thanks to the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But since the games utilized the 3DS’ sturdy touch screen and stylus, the horizontal scroll worked well, giving players a nice view of the battles and adventures taking place to the tune of your beats. That horizontal scroll returns in Final Bar Line, though it was more awkward, at first, without the same touch screen mechanics to get used to.
In my first few songs, I wasn’t sure I liked it. You can hit the triggers or any of the four face buttons to “tap” a beat on screen, regardless of note color or placement on the scroll’s four lines. When a beat with an arrow appears, though, you need to use one of the analog sticks and slash it in the direction shown. I quickly got into a rhythm of using my left hand to handle directional slashes and my right hand to hit buttons for standard notes. Then the difficulty advanced, and I had to hit two notes at the same time quickly followed by directional slashes. I had to reconfigure my playstyle as a result, settling into using my right hand (and a face button) to handle standard beats, my left hand on the left trigger for dual standard beats, and my left thumb for directional slashes. And when a note has two directions on it, I’d use my right thumb at the same time to handle the second direction. If this sounds odd, it is. By the time I hit the one-hour mark in my 30-track preview, though, this felt natural, and I was even able to start tackling songs on the next highest difficulty.
The presentation of field tracks and battle music stages are similar to the first game – your four selected characters, of which there are dozens to choose from spanning most of the included games, either waltz through a simple chibi-esque landscape or fight a chibi enemy from the selected game. It’s simple, and while I initially wanted more out of these scenes, I was soon reminded that my focus would be on the horizontal scroll 99 percent of the song and that I’d be watching the battles happen in my peripherals; which is to say the scenes that play out didn’t affect my enjoyment much in either direction. I’m excited to play through the special music video tracks in the final game, which screen iconic cinematics from Final Fantasy titles, as I think those will feature the visual flare I was missing from the standard tracks.
When you boot up the game, a flashy Final Fantasy 35th Anniversary logo appears on screen, and for good reason; Final Bar Line is a rhythm game first, but also a celebratory museum for the series’ iconic music, characters, and stories. As you tackle quests in the new Series Quests mode, which tasks you with completing objectives like defeating a specific amount of enemies or finishing a level without taking a certain percentage of damage, you earn special rewards. It can be an item like a healing potion or a Phoenix Down, but it can also be a CollectaCard, which is added to your museum collection. These cards depict concept art, in-game screens, enemies, characters, and more, and there are more than one thousand to collect. It’s a nice touch that adds some premium nostalgia to Final Bar Line’s Final Fantasy celebration.
In the Museum, you can view your CollectaCard collection, rewatch videos, listen to tracks you’ve unlocked, and view the feats you’ve completed. There’s a lot of Final Fantasy history to consume here, and completionists are likely in for dozens of hours of play to unlock everything.
This iteration of Theatrhythm, like the ones before it, is nowhere near the best rhythm game, and amidst the ones out there, it certainly plays as one of the weirdest. But what Final Bar Line has that other rhythm games don’t is access to, for my money, one of the best catalogs of music in all of games. Playing through more than a dozen of Masashi Hamauzu’s brilliant Final Fantasy XIII tracks is a treat enough; throw in the other 370-something tracks that will be in the final game, and I can’t wait for February 16.
You can play the Theatrhythm Final Bar Line demo, which features 30 songs and progress that carries over into the final game, on February 1.