Even if you're a casual observer of Final Fantasy, this isn’t one to miss. Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line collects 385 songs (or 402 if you own the Deluxe Edition) across countless Final Fantasy games, spin-offs, movies, and concerts to create the ultimate celebration of the 35 year old franchise. Final Bar Line is the fourth Theatrhythm Final Fantasy game after two 3DS entries in 2012 and 2014, and an arcade entry in 2016 (there was also a Dragon Quest one that stayed exclusive to Japan — boo!). But this marks the series’ debut on PlayStation consoles, and it’s first entry without a touch screen, which, sadly, isn’t the most elegant transition.
Controls wise, you have four separate marker types. First off is just a single red circle; press literally any button on the beat to hit these. Second are the directional markers, and for these, you flick either stick in the direction it's facing, or sometimes both sticks in separate directions. Third are the long notes: hit the button, hold the note — fairly simple. You either let go of this note to the beat at the end, or there will be an arrow prompt to flick the stick.
These three make for a simple, yet elegant core of a rhythm game. It’s the fourth marker that’s the issue. Exclusive to Field Music Stages (more on those below) are long notes that travel up and down the screen. Now, on the 3DS, this made sense; you hold the note as you drag the stylus alongside it. On a controller, instead of following the line, you just hold the stick up or down depending on which direction it's going - there's no skill or care needed. At best, it’s boring. At worst, it feels awkward.
The game is divided up into three separate modes of play. Battle Music Stages are the most common (and frankly, best) and consist of four separate lanes. Don’t worry, these lanes are all controlled by the same button presses; it’s merely a stylistic choice based on the battle layout of the original Final Fantasy with your party battling enemies in the background of them. Expect to play these during the more fast-paced tunes like Airbuster from Final Fantasy VII Remake. Meanwhile, Field Music Stages see your party stroll through an area, tackling foes along the way. This mode only has one lane to worry about, but it's the only one to feature the aforementioned moving long notes. Expect to find chill themes like Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI here.
Lastly, Event Music Stages are basically the same as BMS, but the notes come vertical instead of horizontal, and an movie plays in the background (like the original Final Fantasy opening, or an Advent Children supercut). Honestly, though, we weren't the biggest fans of these. We didn’t play too many, but the videos can look a bit choppy. Luckily, they’re entirely optional.
Moving on, it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game without RPG elements. Theatrhythm lets you unlock classic characters from franchise history, each with their own unique skills and classes. You level these characters up through simply playing songs with them. During the songs your party will fight enemies in the background, with how much damage you do being tied to how well you play. It’s a neat addition that keeps in line with the series’ roots, while adding some extra depth — but if you want to just ignore it and focus on the rhythm side of things, that’s also a completely valid option.
The game has three modes available. Series Quest — which is open from the start — is the game's story mode equivalent. In this mode you relive titles in the series by playing their tunes, and you start off being able to unlock one of six categories. This soon opens up to 28 (with a final 29th being unlocked after six titles are beaten). These include the 15 core Final Fantasy games, obviously, with some extras like Final Fantasy VII Remake, the Dissidia series, and Final Fantasy Tactics. There's even some weirder ones like Mystic Quest and Chocobo's Dungeon.
Each song has a quest attached to it to unlock some goodies, too (like artwork for the gallery or costumes for your Moogle follower). Some even have modifiers that can change up the gameplay, like enemies doing extra damage or notes moving faster. Series Quest is likely where you’ll spend the majority of your time with the game, and for good reason. Not only is it a great structure, it serves as a fun trip through the series’ history.
The other two modes are Music Stages — a free play mode for songs you’ve unlocked in Series Quest — and finally, Multi Battle. This is an online mode where up to four players can compete in a high-score battle. You can play fair, or you can play a mode reminiscent of Guitar Hero III’s battle mode, where you send traps to your opponent to mess them up, like Fat Chocobo covering half the screen, or extra notes being added. We didn’t get too much time online during the review period, but it’s a surprisingly fun addition to the game, and one we can see ourselves going back to.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is an impressive feat. We hit credits on it, but we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of its colossal 400+ song list. The love and passion for the series is apparent throughout every inch of this project, and we'd recommend it to anyone interested in rhythm games. Packed with absolute bangers, Final Bar Line will keep you busy for a long time.