A wonderful musical tribute to 35 blistering years of Final Fantasy
One game that fans of RPGs will immediately be synonymous with is Final Fantasy. Originally released back on the NES, this wildly popular series started at humble beginnings before eventually becoming one of the biggest household RPG names.
With the release of Final Fantasy XVI on the horizon, Developer Indieszero has gone all out to produce a love letter to the series many of us have grown up with. Part of the nostalgia hit comes from the music, which has always been a massively influential part of the games. It’s clear that SquareEnix recognize that too, in what can only be described as the perfect love letter for fans of the series.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line brings together a staggering 385 songs from the history of Final Fantasy, throws in some light RPG mechanics and a fun rhythm game to boot. There’s a lot to do here and the sheer amount of content – not to mention fan service – will likely make many giddy with joy.
The game itself is broken up into three different sections. The main part of this comes in the form of Series Quests, which break up each individual Final Fantasy title into between 6 and 34 of the most iconic tracks from that game that you can play through.
Music Stages allows you to individually select any song you’ve unlocked through Series Quests, which can be played freely to acquire high scores. Finally, there’s Multi Battle, where up to four players can take part in online battles, as well as local co-op, duking it out for the bragging rights of achieving the top score. Finally, the game features a smattering of collectables and unlockables too (more on that shortly) which can be viewed in the Museum and subsequently used to boost character stats.
Most of your time will be spent in Series Quests though, which features a very loose overarching story to tie everything together. You basically need to complete stages to build up enough energy for a large crystal to fill and unlock the special Theatrhythm remix editions of various songs. Completing all of these (and the final boss) presents you with a beautiful Outro which I’m not about to spoil here. However, there’s so much to do beyond that, that you’ll almost certainly continue playing after reaching this point.
Each of the different Final Fantasy titles remain locked to start, with “Keys” needed to progress into the other Final Fantasy title’s music. After choosing your first title to start with, new playable characters show up, allowing you to select those to form your party and tackle the songs ahead. These characters aren’t just quirky, cute avatars though. Each serve a specific function while playing , adding a lovely light bit of strategy and RPG tweaking to the fold.
Characters are broken up into four different types – Healing, Fighter, Support and Magic. As you continue through the game, you gain experience points from successful track completions, which feed into your overarching Rhythmia count, and allow your characters to unlock new skills.
As with previous entries in the series, the gameplay involves timed input of triggers that appear onscreen. These little icons, which move from left to right, are broken up into red circles for simple button presses, orange for analogue stick direction taps, green circles with lines for holding triggers and a combination of green circles and lines that require you to hold the trigger and move the directional pad up and down. There are also double button inputs and several tricky combinations on the harder difficulty levels to keep things fresh.
Hitting the triggers exactly as they show up at the right location rewards you with a Critical Hit (rainbow is best) while missing or hitting a “Bad” will result in your party losing HP. If that HP ends up fully depleted, you hit a Game Over screen and will need to repeat the song again.
There are four different difficulties to tackle too, along with a smattering of accessibility options too. The ability to speed up or slow down the time-bar is a very welcome addition, while you can choose between “Simple”, “Standard” or “Paired” button inputs for extra (or less) difficulty.
The game UI is aesthetically pleasing too, with the bars kept to the top half of the screen, while your party moves from right to left across various different expanses, battling monsters. The more input triggers you hit in time, the more damage you do and the faster you move through the land, defeating enemies and collecting treasure chests from their defeated corpses.
Each title has a unique group of enemies to battle, for the most part, while staying true to that title. Expect plenty more goblins to show up in Final Fantasy while a cutesy version of Sephiroth and JENOVA await you in FFVII. As an added bonus, completing all the songs in any given Final Fantasy title will reward you with an extra playable character or two, incentivizing you to continue on and mix up your party.
Each individual music stage features a “mission” too, which ranges from completing the entire stage without missing a note, to inflicting specific status ailments on different enemies. Some of these can be very tricky to pull off, especially when you first start playing, but they reward you with one of the game’s biggest collectibles – CollectaCards. These little cards come in all different forms and mostly depict different enemies or characters, which are all stored in the Museum.
I mentioned earlier about Rhythmia and this essentially works as the overarching currency that brings everything together and shows how much you’ve progressed. This increasing stat will reward you with a steady flurry of collectables after every 500 point milestone is hit too. Generally that can be achieved after 2-4 tracks have been completed so there’s a nice trickle of bonuses rewarded throughout. These range from simple aesthetics like airships and Moogles, to summon stones. One summon can be equipped to your party and in doing so, will unlock over time to do some serious damage in battle.
While the game features a smattering of tracks and goodies, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the gripes and hang-ups this title has. Some of the backgrounds for various Final Fantasy titles are a little repetitive, with most relying on a simple castle, field or town to work through. Not seeing Balamb Garden in Final Fantasy VIII, for example, is one of the more disappointing aspects. Furthermore, those aforementioned Summons can sometimes be a little distracting, especially as they tend to slide up into where you’re hitting the triggers. It’s not a deal breaker, but at times the flashy visuals can distract you from hitting notes and notch your attention slightly. On Simple difficult that’s fine but whilst tackling the most challenging difficulty in the game, it’s a definite problem.
Theatrhythm does remedy its background situation slightly by including a surprising stage here and there (like the Blitzball arena in Final Fantasy X, among others) and the little effects (like lightning crackling while going over the field map or fireworks blasting in the background) add a nice touch.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s super easy to max out your party to a beefed out maxed Level 99 as well. It’s clear the devs want you to mix and match various combinations of characters, given the five different party slots able to be chosen, but to be honest there’s more incentive to use the same characters and run with that through the duration of the game, especially if you intend to unlock everything.
With all that being said, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a wonderful rhythm game; a love letter to an ongoing series that continues to defy its “Final” title. With over 300 tracks to play, plenty of unlockables and some excellent Easter eggs along the way, Final Fantasy fans will be in their element here. It’s not perfect, and a few hang-ups like the repetitive backgrounds hold this back from being a perfect rhythm game, but there’s no denying this is an absolute blast to play through.
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Verdict - 8.5/10