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Theatrhythm Final Bar Line (Switch) Review

March 18, 2023 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line Image Credit: Square Enix
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Theatrhythm Final Bar Line (Switch) Review  

I’ll admit I came to Theatrhythm in a pretty odd way. I never played the two 3DS games or the iOS port. In fact, I’ve largely ignored the series altogether, except for going to a far-away arcade and finding the Japanese arcade version there, All-Star Carnival. I played that machine for almost an hour and grew to really like it. Naturally, when I went back to the arcade two months later, it was gone, having been sold to someone else. So I was really excited to try a home console release of Theatrhythm and it largely met my expectations but one or two issues left me a bit confused.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is a rhythm game from Square Enix that is like 95% centered on Final Fantasy music. There are some songs from other franchises like Live a Live, Xenogears, Nier: Automata and so on, but these are usually relegated to DLC song packs. The basic game has 385 songs ALL from various Final Fantasy games, from Final Fantasy 1 to Final Fantasy 15. There are a ton of other ancillary titles included though, with songs from Crisis Core, World of Final Fantasy, Dissidia, and some others.

At it’s core, Theatrhythm is actually a pretty simple game, it just involves you pressing the button as the notes pass along the highway, with timing being an element. Ideally, you want to press the button as the note just enters the circle to get a rainbow critical point. There are also regular critical, great, and good rankings, depending on how early or late you are to hitting the button. There is also a “bad” and a “miss” ranking, for if you just kind of blow it entirely.

There’s only three main types of note varieties but they can chain together in interesting ways. The most basic notes are the red ones, they literally just involve you pressing the button, really any face button or trigger works for these, as it passes through the score zone.

The green notes are “hold” notes, meaning you have to hold the button or buttons down for as long as the note tells you to, pressing/holding at the start of the note then releasing it when it goes through the score zone.

Lastly, the yellow notes are directional notes. Unlike the other two, these don’t involve you pressing a button but involve you moving the analog stick in the direction that it wants you two. You can have direction notes indicating up, down, left and right, or even diagonal directions like up+right, or down+left. Sometimes these note can involve both analog sticks also, so you might have to press up on both sticks, or left on one stick and right on another, you get the idea.

The hold notes can incorporate direction notes however, like if holding a note and at the end of it, pressing a direction on the stick as you let off the button. Or the hold notes can kind of chain together, while there is 4 lanes on the screen only two will ever be active and you can use any button on them. Like holding two buttons down for a hold note. What I mean by chain though is that you’ll be holding one button down and then have to press another down, right as the first note ends, or even pressing a second button down during the first note hold. It sounds complicated and it looks weird when you first encounter it in the game but you’ll eventually get used to it.

There are two main types of stages you’ll play on and while they are like 95% the same, there are small differences between them.

Battle Music Stages are the more “action” stages between the two. These songs tend to be more beat driven with more notes and slightly faster. Enemies come at you from the left, and after you defeat one enemy group another one will immediately pop into place.

Field Music Stages, on the other hand, are the more tranquil of the two. These involve songs that are generally more melodic and serene and involves your characters battling enemies but then walking on a field for a bit until the encounter more foes. These stages also introduce a new note/trigger type, which are basically directional holds. Basically, you’ll see a long green hold note trail that will have a path that goes up or down vertically. You are meant to hold the button down and then move the analog stick in time with the note direction. It’s not really meant for quick movements, it’s generally to denote slower parts of a song, but on higher difficulties it can get really quick and you need fast reflexes to deal with these note patterns.

There is one last stage type but it’s almost an afterthought: Event Stages. Unlike with the other two, these stages don’t involve your characters at all, and instead just play a background video of the game, during pivotal moments during the game. The real interesting parts of these stages is that it’s not a horizontal, left to right, note highway. Instead, it’s a vertical one, with the notes falling from the top to the bottom, like in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. You only unlock these types of stages after you clear a franchise entry in the series (story) mode though.

The series mode is an odd thing. At the start, you are given one unlock key, with all the franchise entries locked. You pick the one you want to start with, and progress through song after song. At around the 1/3rd point, you’ll come across a treasure chest with another unlock key in it, which lets you unlock another franchise in the 29 that are available. Sone franchises only have 5 or 6 songs in them, most have around between 7-14, while Final Fantasy 14, given that it’s a fairly long running MMO has 32 songs to play.

When you unlock a game, you are given a few of the characters from that game, usually the main heroes involved. Each character has a specific archetype, Cloud Strife is a physical character, while Yuna from FFX is a Summoner type, for example. There a half dozen different categories out there from support, defensive, healer, magic, etc. Ideally, you’ll want to build a party that has at least one physical type and one healer type and the other two are kind of up to you, though I generally rolled with a summoner (Yuna) and magic type (Vincent).

The goal of each stage is just to make it to the end with the best score, which is pretty normal for a rhythm game. However, each stage has a quest associated with it that can wildly. Some of them are simple like “Have (X) character in your party” or, “Clear without using items”, while other goals are much harder like “Defeat the boss within 25 seconds” or “Defeat the boss by dealing slashing damage”. For that last one, I’m still not sure how to actually do it, I assume you need a specific character and/or build that I haven’t unlocked yet. These quests aren’t mandatory but they do provide you with items, which can be useful.

Once you beat a stage, you’ll earn “Rhythmia”, which is kind of a game-wide score system. Clear a song, get some Rhythmia, clear a song with a perfect chain, gain more Rhytmia, etc. Rhytmia unlocks bonuses at certain intervals, which are usually just “CollectaCards” which is basically concept art, which bestows small bonuses to you or your characters.

The main thrust of the story mode is just to progress through a series of songs until you hit the end, unlock the Event Music Stage, then unlock a new game and begin again. Rinse & repeat. There’s not really a larger story or narrative here, you just kind of see what you get.

There are really two kind of fundamental problems with Theatrhythm but neither is game breaking, however if you think about either one, you might get annoyed. This’ll take a minute, so strap in.

The first real problem with the game is the unlocking of new characters when you unlock a new game in the story mode. The first game I unlocked was, naturally, Final Fantasy 7, so I unlocked Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Aerith, Red XIII, Yuffie and Vincent. Sorry, no Cid here. When you beat a game in the franchise, you’ll typically unlock one or two characters at the end, which are usually that game’s bosses. So I beat FF7, my party accrued some experience, then I hit up Final Fantasy 15, unlocked Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto, but…why would I ever change my party? My Cloud was a level 20 physical type, so why would I ever change to having Noctis in my party, a level 1 physical type, when I already have a level 20? There is a noticeable power difference between leveled characters vs. un-leveled ones, especially when it comes to the abilities you can set. Like, if you want to make your dream team of Sephiroth, Kefka, Seymour and Xande, you obviously can but they will vary wildly in terms of actual level.

The second real problem in Theatrhythm is that I felt pretty disconnected from the action going on. I think this is by design, to an extent, but it is somewhat off-putting to have goals that you can’t accomplish, or don’t even know HOW to accomplish, for example. Like, there is a goal in a level of “Activate 10 or more abilities”, but you don’t have any actual control for when most abilities activate. You can see them in the party menu, some have clear conditions like “When the song Is ¼, 2/4 and ¾ over”, that’s understandable and plain. An activation condition of “When enough Hold Triggers a hit”, along with a note chart underneath it, not so much. Same goes for summons, like there is a bar that just fills up as you go along and occasionally you’ll unleash your summon but there’s no rhyme or reason to it really happening. It just seems awkward to have this Final Fantasy action happening in the background of a song and it not really being important to the rhythm game part. You can pretty much turn off the Final Fantasy bit in the options menu if it gets too annoying, if you really want.

Honestly though, the above complaints are pretty minor and can generally just be ignored if you just want to mash out buttons to a rhythm game using Square Enix music. That’s what most fans want in a game like this and with a soundtrack that is almost pushing 400 tracks, that balloons up to at just over 500 if you get the Premium Digital Deluxe Edition, if you like Final Fantasy music at all, this is an easy purchase.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The only people I wouldn’t recommend this game to are people that either hate rhythm games or hate Final Fantasy music. If you have a passing interest in either one though, this game is worth a pick up. I’m just glad this game is now on non-handheld consoles so I can play it for hours at a time.