Last year, I wrote about how the glut of (otherwise quality) game releases early in the year was a bit overwhelming, leading me to take a much-needed break from gaming.
This year, I’ve started to feel that again after a really busy January and February consisting of the likes of Forspoken, Season and the PlayStation VR2, as well as features on The Last of Us, Black History Month, International Women’s Day and more. As always, I’m beyond grateful to have these opportunities and am constantly inspired by the creators I cover, but sometimes, it’s good to step away for a bit. As a result, I’ve primarily been spending my entertainment time watching movies and TV as of late.
That said, there’s one game that I’ve been enjoying on the side, and it couldn’t have come at a better time: February’s Theatrythm Final Bar Line. Now, I’m not necessarily surprised that I enjoy it; a crossover game featuring music and characters from Final Fantasy, my all-time favourite series, was up my alley. However, I generally can’t get into rhythm games (including previous Theatrythm titles) due to their inherently repetitive nature, so I didn’t know how much of Final Bar Line I’d actually play.
As it turns out — quite a few hours. A big part of that has to do with the fact that this game marks the series’ console debut; I far prefer using a controller to a device like a 3DS with smaller buttons. Beyond that, though, Final Bar Line is just a fundamentally easy game to pick up and play. For uncoordinated people like me who don’t often play these kinds of games, developer ‘indieszero’ has graciously included a ‘Simple’ mode that relegates all inputs to a single button. That, alongside four difficulty options for each song, ensures that players of all levels of experience can jump in.
Because really, the highlight here is the music — some of the greatest in the history of gaming. With 385 songs from across 29 different Final Fantasy games, Final Bar Line is full of nothing but straight bangers. That includes the god-tier work of original FF composer Nobuo Uematsu (the first nine numbered entries and contributions to many others), Masashi Hamauzu (XIII), Masayoshi Soken (XIV) and Yoko Shimomura (XV). It’s almost a cliché to use the term “love letter” at this point, but Final Bar Line absolutely earns it thanks to its far-reaching celebration of 35 years’ worth of incredible music.
In terms of fan favourites, there’s everything from the sensational operatic grandeur of VII‘s “One-Winged Angel” and tear-jerking X ballad “Suteki Da Ne” to the beautiful Celtic woodwinds of XIII‘s “The Archylte Steppe” and majestic XV violin piece, “Valse di Fantastica.” But indieszero and Square Enix have commendably picked deeper cuts, too, like the menacing “Jack’s Theme” from the meme-worthy Strangers of Paradise, a slew of songs from mobile titles like Mobius Final Fantasy and tracks from lesser-known spin-offs like Chocobo’s Dungeon and Crystal Chronicles. Hell, my favourite game of all time, FFVII, has multiple sets of tracks from the OG VII, its stellar Remake, Crisis Core prequel and other ‘Compilation’ spin-offs.
Final Bar Line also sports an extensive lineup of DLC tracks from other Square Enix titles with their own stellar music, like Live A Live, Nier Automata, The World Ends With You and Chrono Trigger. Admittedly, I wish some of these included remixes; of the four Live A Live songs, only one is an updated version from last year’s amazing remake, and it isn’t the absolute bop that is “Megalomania.” Nitpick aside, though, the music catalogue is so magnificent and vast — in the base game alone, and only more so with DLC — that there really will be something here for everyone, even if you don’t have a history with some of these games.
That’s to say nothing of the plethora of characters. There’s an undeniable highlight in having parties consisting of, say, VII‘s Cloud and Sephiroth, XIV‘s Alphinaud and Tactics‘ Ramza — characters who would pretty much never meet otherwise. Bringing them together in recreations of iconic FF scenes, like VI’‘s Opera House misadventure, the death of Aerith in VII or XV‘s gargantuan Leviathan encounter only sweetens the deal. While I wish we got an actual narrative to unify them all, there’s enough of a mix here between traditional rhythm stages and FMV-filled ones to serve as a satisfying FF ‘Greatest Hits’ collection.
At the same time, the focus on songs means you’ll generally only be playing for a few minutes at a time. This makes it the perfect game to dabble in here and there, especially if you’ve found yourself a bit burnt out on games like me. The fact that I can just boot up my PS5, run through a few songs at my desired difficulty setting for 20 or 30 minutes and then go on with my day is brilliant. Thankfully, it’s not a time-sink like so many games nowadays. On the flip side, there’s a lot of content here if you want to dig into it, which means it’s worth coming back to over and over. Between Series Quests (an arcade-style campaign that takes you through highlights of each game), Music Stages (free play), co-op (where you and a friend split the notes) and Multi Battle (a surprisingly frenetic four-player competitive match), Final Bar Line is chock full of gameplay modes.
There’s also an RPG-lite element that hearkens back to the FF series’ roots. As you play, you’ll unlock new characters, abilities and summons that can be customized to your party of choice. Each character has their own class (Physical, Magic, Defence, Healing, etc.) to distinguish the types of moves they’ll automatically use as you hit notes. For example, the powerful Ulima Blade can only be used by blade-wielders like Cloud and Sephiroth. On the other hand, V‘s Lenna has a character-specific ‘Arise’ spell that can revive your team when your HP hits zero. Overall, this system feels finely tuned enough that mixing-and-matching configurations will provide benefits in stages but can still largely be ignored — especially on lower difficulties — if you just want to use your favourite characters and focus on the music.
Final Bar Line is easily one of my favourite games of the year so far. With some of the best music in the entire medium, a variety of difficulty options and modes and a structure that makes it easy to pick up and drop, indieszero has created an absolutely delightful experience that I keep coming back to even as I’ve put down other games.
Theatrythm Final Bar Line is now available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
Image credit: Square Enix