By the time your favorite band’s fourth album comes out, you might know what to expect from them – they’ve got all that experimental stuff out of their system, they know what their strengths are, they know how to write more happily, and there’s still plenty of creative fuel in the tank to surprise you.
But maybe, just maybe, your favorite pop-rockers have used all their tricks at this point, and what’s left is a sonically pleasing, perfectly functional release: safe, predictable and risk-free. That’s pretty much what Square Enix has done Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Final Bar Line.
And that’s not a bad thing, of course. To save you scrolling down to check, this game gets a 4/5 here on VG247 – that’s better than average, well, a recommendation from me. It’s a great package, featuring some incredible songs, buckets of love for the core series, and some really pleasing aesthetic presentations. The Rhythm Action RPG somehow crams over 385 playable songs and 104 playable characters into the Switch cart or PS4 hard drive, and gives you multiple ways to play through the symphony catalog.
Whether you want to participate in “events” (FMV sequences where you play together), “battles” (RPG-style battles where your team of heroes and villains piles damage on various rows of enemies), or “fields” (journeys where you have the mission to cross as far as you can in a limited time), Theatrhythm Final Bar Line has a lot to offer you. “Fields” and “battles” now have an amalgamation of gameplay features from previous installments if you’ve played them, and “events” have been simplified so you can see that movie behind the note map – that’s the point , despite all these. The Feature Drive mechanic from the 3DS games has been removed, as have all swiping and haptic inputs. More on that later.
Say Final Fantasy 9 is your favorite – good taste, by the way. You will be given a key at the start of the game that will unlock the series and its 18 songs. You’ll also unlock his characters, a bunch of favorites from the game (in this case it’s Zidane, Vivi, Garnet, Eiko, and Kujo). You will then need to play the songs in some way to unlock them afterwards in free play. Along the way, you’ll level up your heroes and need to solve some light RPG-style puzzles to clear the missions.
A boss, say the Silver Dragon, may require you to have Garnet in your party when you defeat it. Is it easy? Take Squall out of FF8 and, boom, Cid is your uncle. Done. Others are more difficult – having to walk away from a boss after defeating nine enemies, for example, is difficult. You’ll need to fight your way through more games and more stories, unlock more wizards who know ice magic, and level them up enough to take down multiple enemies before the battle music ends. It’s good brain food and low-key enough that the grind doesn’t really become too taxing.
It’s just that the intros and note mapping aren’t good enough to keep you interested in all 400+ tracks. And that’s fair enough, really: making One-Winged Angel as good as that once random piece from Final Fantasy X-2 was always going to be a tough ask. But there’s a big difference between tracks that feel good to play and ones that feel like stuff. Going back to that analogy at the top, it’s like sitting through your favorite band’s latest album to get to the singles. It’s worth it as a package, but you know that in a few listens you’ll skip tracks four through seven.
Then there are the inputs themselves. it plays pretty well on both Switch and PS4, but I miss the stylus sorely. Drag notes away or break out of holding a note with a big swipe up, as if you were a mini conductor, commanding troops while summoning the swells and highs in the music. Relegating it to a little flick of the thumb is less satisfying, more frivolous, and not as big.
However, holding two notes and quickly swapping them as the tunes play out is pretty good. Like doing two little nudges with your drumsticks for a big final note to really wrap things up. So while you’ll find yourself wishing for a ghost stylus as you play Man With A Machine Gun, going Dancing Mad with the new introductions is just fine. But maybe that’s just me, doing the Theatrhythm version of “I liked it before it was cool.”
This is a top-notch rhythm action game presented as a love letter to the Final Fantasy series, full of content and full of love and care. But – like some of the more ambitious double albums out there – it sometimes feels like quantity over quality, as you wade through some of the less well-thought-out note maps to get to the ones you know will inspire you. Some will have more patience for this than others. Since I’ve already played Blue Fields about 20 times, I’ll let you figure out where I go on this one.
Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Final Bar Line releases for Nintendo Switch and PS4 on February 16, 2023. This review is for the Switch version of the game, with a code provided by the publisher.