Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line PS5 review - A stellar, rhythm-based trip through Final Fantasy's history
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line might have a peculiar name, but it has what it needs most: incredible gameplay. The 3DS iteration of this franchise quickly became the most-played game I would boot up on the handheld console. I wasn't the only one to hope that this would come back. So naturally, the reveal was met on my part with utter delight.
Though, I was a little worried. A rhythm game on a wireless controller? There was worry it would have an obnoxious input delay. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, and Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line delivers on all fronts.
I don't play rhythm games as much, but the Theatrhythm games never made me feel like I couldn't pick them up and enjoy them, even as a casual rhythm game player.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line brings back memorable music and gameplay
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is precisely what fans hope it will be. A ton of music from a wealth of Final Fantasy games, both familiar and unfamiliar. I played every game on this list, but that will not be the case for everyone.
The main gameplay loop is straightforward. When you start the game, it will teach you the basics of Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line for those who haven't played the previous games. Gameplay is essentially the same - press the buttons on your controller to either tap or hold, aligning with the rhythm of the game. For directional arrows, use the sticks.
However, this is where the game gets interesting. There are several button layouts you can use and various strategies for gameplay. The "Basic" difficulty is for everyone. It's not super challenging but it lets you feel like you're getting into rhythm-based gameplay.
The complications and pace pick up in Expert and Ultimate difficulties, though. I found Expert the difficulty I wanted to play on the most. Some of these were too difficult upon first attempt, but I felt, for the most part, that the balance of my skill versus difficulty was outstanding.
Some songs also have the most difficult option of all - Supreme. I didn't see this on every song, however. A good example is Final Fantasy 1 Final Battle.
When I said there are different strategies for gameplay, though, I meant it. You can use the face buttons like Circle to do your button inputs, and then press another face button for double presses.
Or, you could do what some of the other skilled players do and use the trigger buttons for your button inputs. There's variety in how you can approach it, and I love that.
In Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line, I could play all the game modes but online versus, but I have to admit: I was hoping for some co-op. That wasn't the case, but it's okay.
Another useful feature for new players is letting the game show you the button inputs so that you can get a feel for the rhythm, and you have a Practice Mode. That way, you can play a stage without potentially failing out.
As you play through the stages, your party will travel and do battle, conjure powerful Summons, and deliver incredible attacks. Succeeding in your button presses helps you in combat, and failure only harms you. Don't worry, though - the Basic difficulty is pretty easy to get through.
The stage types of Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line
First, there are Series Quests. This is the main gameplay mode, where you have a list of 29 series to play through. You need a Key to unlock a series to play, and the game will provide you with one at the start. Though these keys are straightforward to get in Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line.
You'll typically get another key a few stages into a game's storyline. Unlocking a game gives you all the heroes you would unlock for that game, so you don't have to stress about that. Completing a game also unlocks that game's villain, like Sephiroth in FFVII.
As you progress through a game, you'll be given a song to play through in one of the two main styles: BMS (Battle Music Stage) or FMS (Field Music Stage). You can also see EMS (Event Music Stages), but I unlocked those because they play through other stages.
Battle Music Stages, you'll overcome waves of enemies by keeping in time with the music. The FMS stages are more soothing, overworld music tracks. In these stages, instead of holding a button in one direction, you'll have to hold and move the stick in the direction the green line is going.
Event Music Stages look more like Rock Band, with the four buttons on the bottom, and the gameplay is essentially the same as a Battle Music Stage in button presses. However, you can watch exceptional videos instead of fighting enemies on these.
Each stage in the Series Quest area will have actual quests to complete. They vary from "Defeat the boss with a fire attack" to "Have Ysh'tola in the party." Each has a reward, so it's worth doing them all. You can add whichever party members you have unlocked in your group, but remember their various strengths and weaknesses.
Characters gain exp and level up like in typical Final Fantasy games, and they unlock higher stats and new skills/spells. Even after level 99, they can continue growing further, so it's worth it to work on whomever you want.
There's also the very cool Endless World. This is unlocked by completing a special title, which is exactly what you think it is. You play a random song each time, and the quest difficulty will also increase each time. You can fail three quests, and then it's game over. I love this gameplay; it keeps things fresh and allows me to challenge myself.
You also have the Music Stages menu! Here you can play any song you've unlocked in Series Quests and all of your DLC. You can play with Simple Style (single button) or Pair Style (two players on one screen).
Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to work online, which is what I was hoping for. If I want to play Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line with my best friend, I have to play Multi Battle, which is a versus mode. I have not played that yet, but it sounds like it will be fun. You can also go through the Museum and see the various things you've unlocked.
How's the Music Library, though?
The base game comes with 385 songs and a massive amount of music. There are 167 new songs, with the rest coming from Theatrhythm: Curtain Call.
The Digital Deluxe Edition of the game comes with an extra 27 tracks and the Season 1 Pass. Finally, the Premium Digital Deluxe Edition comes with all of that and the Season Passes 1-3.
The DLC music is supposed to have some wild stuff, too. There's talk of the Mana, SaGa, NieR, and more. LIVE A LIVE, The World Ends With You, and other games will appear in Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line. Frankly, the base game has more than enough music, so I'm not disappointed that there's an extra DLC.
Some of my all-time favorite songs were here - 1000 Words (FFX-2), A Long Fall (FFXIV), a few tracks by the Black Mages, and so many more. They are faithfully reproduced and sound amazing. I spent many hours just going through stages and jamming through the music to the best of my ability.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line has fantastic gameplay and a soundtrack full of bangers. However, one minor qualm is that some games have fewer tracks than others. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, which has one of the most underrated OSTs in the franchise's history, only has a handful of songs.
Final Fantasy IV is also lacking compared to other games. Conversely, Final Fantasy XIV, which I love, has something like 30 or so songs, which does admittedly make sense. You can, however, see how many songs and quests each game has before you commit to unlocking them.
My fears of input delay were unfounded in Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line, but the game has a setting where you can adjust this if you have problems. That way, you can make sure input triggers when you need it to.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is an incredibly satisfying journey back through time through the rich history of the Final Fantasy universe, and it should not be skipped.
Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5 (Code provided by Square Enix)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: February 16, 2023