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Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line Review

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2085335459_TheatrhythmFinalBarLineboxart.thumb.jpg.dc1355ce4386de7028d9a5012c066b78.jpgThe original Theatrhythm game on the 3DS came out of nowhere as an unexpectedly delightful celebration of Final Fantasy's musical history, and now Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line on the Switch has done the exact same thing. I never would've expected to see a third entry in this series, not least because switching to a fully button-oriented control scheme (that's right, even on the Switch Final Bar Line does not have touch controls) seemed like a significant issue. There are definitely growing pains when adjusting to this latest rhythmic RPG adventure, but the fun, charm, and yes the unabashed nostalgia of one of gaming's most storied franchises is still perfectly in tune.
The core rhythm mechanics are relatively simple. You press buttons in time with the music, swipe the control sticks in the indicated direction, and occasionally do both at the same time. Songs are divided up into either Field, Battle, or Event songs, but the basics are the same in each, and remain pretty simple to pick up even for brand new players. The loss of touch controls is a bit disappointing—although button controls were an option in Theatrhythm: Curtain Call I almost exclusively used the stylus—but after a bit of practice the controller also feels pretty natural. More importantly, the focus on button controls means the developers can now throw even more complex and tricky notes at you, like pressing two, three or even four buttons simultaneously. Arrow notes now sometimes have double triggers, meaning you need to push both control sticks at the same time, which can be fiendishly tricky if you're not ready for it. On top of all this, Final Bar Line introduces a fourth level of difficulty, Supreme, which is, even as a veteran of the previous Theatrhythm games, downright frightening. Without touch controls the skill floor of the game might be a little higher, but the skill ceiling is now also significantly higher, especially with Supreme difficulty, meaning there's a lot more opportunity here for dedicated players to perfect their skills and practice/enjoy these songs over and over.
Of course, even playing every song once and unlocking every song in the base game is a pretty huge task. Final Bar Line features 385 songs in the base game, taken from Final Fantasies I–XV, plus spin-offs, alternate versions like the Dissidia or Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtracks, and original remixes from the Theatrhythm games. Curtain Call launched with what I would describe as an overwhelming amount of content, and Final Bar Line manages to take things a step further. This doesn't even get into all of the paid DLC available, some of which has already been released or already announced, nor the Digital Deluxe version that adds more exclusive tracks (although it's quite obnoxious that a few songs that were in the last game are now exclusive to the Deluxe version). Rest assured though, even with just the base game you will have a seemingly endless supply of musical content.
Like the previous games, there are light RPG elements here as well, because c'mon, it's Final Fantasy, you gotta have it. You can select up to four characters for your party and level them up to increase stats and unlock abilities. Abilities could be attacks, healing magic, or other special effects that make it easier to clear stages and kill enemies—killing enemies rewards you with more EXP and the chance for treasure, including usable items or collectible cards. This time you can only equip three abilities per character, so you need to be a little more picky about what you give each character. Basically every character will learn a unique ability or two, which are almost always worth using, but otherwise you can try to customize your approach to each song. You can also save up to five parties which is handy if, for example, you want one team that excels at physical attacks and another with all thief abilities to increase the odds of earning treasure.
Most importantly, party compositions and abilities have an impact on Series Quest, which takes you through every song in a game's catalogue. Not only is this the main way to unlock more songs, each song has an optional side quest tied to it. Some are as simple as using a specific character, but others can be as complex as beating the boss with a specific elemental attack, in which case you'll want to craft a specific party that makes that possible. Series Quest songs will even sometimes have special effects to further help or hinder you, like making the notes move extra slowly or giving the boss extra HP. These effects and the side quests are great ways to encourage a little more replay value and push you toward putting some thought into your party composition. Of course, if you just want to use your favorite characters and ignore everything else you can, but it's nice to have a little extra incentive at times.
The side quest system also ties into Endless Quest mode, a feature that opens up after you "beat" the game by completing the Theatrhythm remix Series Quest and rolling credits. As the name suggests, Endless Quest gives you an endless supply of randomly chosen songs from the entire game catalog (not just the ones you've unlocked). The catch is that, to keep going, you have to finish a song's side quest. Fail three side quests and your Endless Quest is over, you'll have to start from the beginning. Endless Quest is a neat randomizer mode—rather than selecting songs you want to play you can let the game give you a couple of options and an extra challenge with side quests. It is perhaps not quite as robust or satisfying as the Chaos Shrines from previous Theatrhythm games, but it suits Final Bar Line's emphasis on party compositions and abilities nicely.
Speaking of side or optional content, Final Bar Line also has an online competitive multiplayer mode if you want to flex your rhythm skills. Win or lose, multiplayer is a great way to collect summon stones, which you can equip to your party (summons are no longer tied to your lead character and can also be summoned multiple times during a song given the right part comp/stats). More importantly, summon stones can come with a variety of effects: increased EXP, increased magic damage, increased chance for treasure chests, etc. It's another worthwhile customization feature and being able to trade summon stones in multiplayer is a great way to collect useful stones. There is also technically a local co-op mode with Pair Mode, which has two players working together on the same song (each one is responsible for certain notes). It's a convenient way of introducing new players to the game, and a couch co-op feature is always a nice option. Finally, there's Simple Mode which reduces the complexity of notes, perfect for anyone that wants to play through these songs but needs a little extra help.
Presentation-wise, Final Bar Line's style hasn't changed much from the previous games, but it is cool to see it on an HD screen. The doll-like character designs kind of ride a line between cute and creepy, but the game's tireless sense of enthusiasm and charm makes up for it, especially when you see your favorite characters on screen (although the developers have once again, confoundingly, ignored the perfect character for Theatrhythm, Edward from FFIV). The music is also obviously fantastic—that's kind of the whole point of the game! From the chiptune origins of the Final Fantasy series to the dramatic, orchestral songs of the more recent games, the music is just magical, and transports you back to the days you played these games. And even if you haven't played every title, the songs are well worth listening to. Now, even with such a massive song library I can think of a few minor complaints—some games are frankly underrepresented, there should be more remixes, and the fact that they cut down the length of FFVI's Dancing Mad is just criminal—but as a whole it's easy to love the soundtrack here and to appreciate how much these iconic songs contributed to the success of their origin games.
The Theatrhythm series remains an absolutely delightful love letter to one of the biggest video game franchises ever, and is truly made to bring tears to fans' eyes. Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line ups the ante with even more songs, and although the button-only controls might be an adjustment for some, the songs themselves still shine, no matter what difficulty you play on. You might assume this game is only for Final Fantasy fans, but if you enjoy rhythm games this can be a fantastic introduction to these RPGs and may even encourage you to give them a try. Either way though, if you pick up Final Bar Line you can expect nigh endless hours of harmonious nostalgia and entertainment.
Rating: 9 out of 10 Notes
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385 songs!? And I never finished Curtain Call's 221. At $60, that's like 36 cents per new song. Feels like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe--a high price tag for the same gameplay, but FAR more content than these kinds of deals usually offer.


I tried Final Bar Line's demo and couldn't get into it. Curtain Call was a bit too intense at times, but here the whole thing just felt like finger olympics.

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In fact, the MSRP is $50 for the base game, so it's even less per new song than that!


It's definitely a big adjustment going to the controller-only controls in Final Bar Line and the more complicated multi-button notes. I can play any song on Ultimate in Curtain Call, but in Final Bar Line I was fumbling through Expert level songs. But with practice I've gotten better and I just kind of have to accept that I'm not going to be perfecting songs on Ultimate (and definitely not on Supreme) the way I did in Curtain Call. It's still fun to play these songs even on the lower difficulty levels.

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