Having been gaming for nearly four decades now, I’ve played a TON of games. Hell, I was lucky enough to be at the birth of some genres. I was there, when the rhythm based music games like Parappa, Beatmani and …Spice World were born. Out of the ones I’ve played though, I’ve only ever been hooked to one series; Square Enix’s Theatrhythm! I was incredibly looking forward to Theatrhythm Final Bar Line ever since I noticed its trailer at TGS 2022.
Unfortunately, the game wasn’t playable there…which was one of my biggest disappointments.
Square Enix made up for that by releasing the demo last month (with which you can carry progress over), but it barely scratched the itch, with only 30 songs available.
Now that the full game’s out, how does it fare?
What is Theatrhythm Final Bar Line?
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a music rhythm game where you need to hit targets in tune with the music, or a variety of other motions shown on-screen. It’s developed by indieszero and published by Square Enix.
The game’s available right now on the Playstation 4 (and on the Playstation 5 via backwards compatibility) and the Nintendo Switch. PC and Xbox gamers are sadly out of luck.
Our copy of the game was awesomely provided by the folks over at Square Enix.
A little history for folks unfamiliar; Theatrhythm started life as a compilation of Final Fantasy tunes, on the 3DS. It was so well received on the handheld that Square Enix struggled to produce enough cartridges to meet demand.
It’s not hard to see why.
The addicting rhythm based gameplay coupled with memorable Final Fantasy music practically guaranteed a hit.
As the number of sequels in the series grew, so did Square Enix’s ambition and the series’ song list. By Curtain Call (the second game in the series on the 3DS), the company had slowly dabbled in adding tracks from outside of the Final Fantasy series. That too proved to be a hit.
Songs aside, the reason’s why the series is so beloved also has to go with its gameplay.
Songs are broken into 3 gameplay styles, Battle Music Stages (BMS), Field Music Stages (FMS) and Event Music Stages (EMS). BMS have four bars with which you need to hit the buttons and commands in time with. FMS only has one single bar, but there are different commands when compared to BMS. EMS is like BMS, but the buttons are horizontal (instead of vertical like in BMS) with FMV playing in the background.
EMS stages are the most epic, because the music combined with the FMV just hits all the right triggers. I particularly love the Suteki da ne EMS because the FMV of pivotal FFX scenes (especially Yuna’s sending of the dead in Kilika) simply goes really well with it.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line continues that with songs from Square Enix’s huge library of titles. A couple of songs from the Romancing SaGa and Final Fantasy Legend games are already available, with more series coming in the future as DLC.
Even if you just buy the base game, you have 380 tracks at your disposal. That’s honestly a lot of songs to play through.
If you were a gamer during the 90s though, you’d notice a weird omission.
That’s right, I’m speaking of Square Enix’s epic Xenogears and its stellar soundtrack.
Controversy about the game aside, it had some of the best music I’ve ever heard from an RPG. That’s a statement I’ll proudly stand behind to this day.
Yet, not one single song has made it into any of the Theatrhythm games. It sadly looks to be the same in this case too.
Thankfully, Square Enix’s has a huge library of songs to choose from and most of them are represented in the game. It does suck very, very, very, very (I cannot emphasize just how much it does) much however, that certain iconic Final Fantasy songs are gated behind the Theatrhythm Final Bar Line Deluxe Edition.
That means if you bought the base game, you’ll be missing out on iconic tunes like Eyes on Me (FFVIII), Zanarkand (FFX) and Melodies of Life (FFIX). I understand that perhaps Faye Wong’s royalties for Eyes on Me made it impractical for it to be free (I’m just guessing though)…but what about Zanarkand?
It has no vocals and it’s THE ultimate Final Fantasy X song, featured so prominently throughout the game and trailers. Yet, it’s a Deluxe Edition-only song (or if you upgrade via the Deluxe Edition add-on DLC).
The kicker is that even if you paid for the upgrade (which I did, as Square Enix only gave us the base game), the songs in the Deluxe Edition add-on aren’t even the full versions.
Both Eyes on Me and Melodies of Life are missing their second parts, which I feel is a major letdown. They’re not alone though. The Black Mages’ The Skies Above (another awesome piece of music exclusive to the Deluxe Edition) is cut in half, as is the majority of other vocal songs in the game.
Why? I have no idea.
The Black Mages’ The Skies Above is not only missing the second part of the song, it’s also missing the Zanarkand intro that segues into the song.
It’s not like song length is an issue given today’s consoles and their copious amounts of storage. It’s also made stranger that some songs (like Advent: One-Winged Angel, which clocks in at 6 minutes) is included in its entirety.
So why the cut length for the rest of the songs?
Despite it all, do I regret buying the DLC?
I love the Deluxe Edition songs (and will definitely buy Season Pass 2 and 3 when they come out), but it does sting that we’re not getting the full experience, even after having to shell out extra for it.
It also hurts that the songs (especially for theme songs like Eyes on Me or Melodies of Life) are FMS and not EMS, with all the fancy FMV trappings.
Also…where’s the English version of Melodies of Life and FFX’s Hymn of the Fayth?
Come on Square Enix! Surely these theme songs deserve more love right?
Songs aside, there’s actually some strategy present in the game.
The characters you pick actually matter, because each of them have different types of skills that unlock as they level up. They’re also grouped into different types, so you can have a well rounded team or just one that’s sole focused on physical or magic attacks.
Enemies you encounter in the FMS and BMS stages can sometimes drop treasure when defeated so it’s always to your benefit to kill as many as possible. Some stages also have objectives where you need to kill a certain number of baddies or a certain boss.
It’s for times like these that you’ll want a party that can deal damage or summon Aeons to kill off baddies. Since each character has different skills unlocks, you’ll want to level up a ton of characters so you can mix and match the best skills for the stages.
Honestly, it actually gives you an incentive to keep playing. Some of the stage objectives are impossible to achieve if you don’t have the correct party. While casuals can just play through the game and enjoy it, completionists really need to synergize and plan out what skills and characters to use and when.
It’s honestly one of the charms of the game, because honestly, what other rhythm title has such depth?
The Bottom Line.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line has nearly got it all. It’s got great music, fun gameplay and cutesy (but very awesome) visuals. There’s even a hardcore element with the character levelling and skill planning.
However, it’s not perfect. The shortened song length (a carryover from the game’s Curtain Call days) is really an issue that should’ve been fixed for the console releases. Yes, it’s excusable when the game was on a cartridge and space was an issue. Now? It’s not. We really should be getting the full songs instead of the cut versions.
Other than that, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line really needs more songs from different series. I’d kill for Xenogears tunes or even songs from Front Mission.
Still, at the end of the day, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is still the best game in the series simply because of the huge number of songs and the incredibly amount of content to unlock. It could be better, but it could also be much, much worse.
Great gameplay and lots of songs but some issues keep the game from being perfect.
- Tons of incredible music.
- Cutesy visuals.
- Lots of stuff to unlock.
- Great Theatrhythm gameplay.
- EMS songs are awesome!
- More songs are coming as DLC!
- Xenogears. Parasite Eve. Brave Fencer Musashi. Tobal. Front Mission. All unrepresented.
- Some iconic tracks locked behind Deluxe Edition DLC.
- Some songs are cut in half.
- Not enough EMS songs.