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Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line Review (PS4) – A Rhythm Game That Just About Reaches Its Full Potential

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line Review (PS4) – I don’t go out of my way to get every rhythm game that releases, but I always enjoy myself when I get into one.

As a Final Fantasy fan, I naturally expect something more from a game like Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line.

Thankfully, Theatrhythm just about maximizes this opportunity to truly showcase its beloved franchise-wide soundtracks.

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line Review (PS4) – A Rhythm Game That Just About Reaches Its Full Potential

Much like other Final Fantasy side projects, the premise is simple. With Theatrhythm, it’s even moreso: Unlock mainline entries and play through their songs. For a game like this, simplicity goes a long way.

It doesn’t have the spinoff overarching story like in World of Final Fantasy. Honestly, Theatrhythm doesn’t need it.

With so many different lists of fantastic tracks from so many games, why get in the way of the music with anything else?

Instead, you unlock each track list one by one, earning you new characters to play with. Each list ultimately rewards you with a new key to unlock another list. In a nutshell, this is the game loop.

Passive Combat

You don’t control the characters themselves. Instead, your successful inputs allow your characters to pull off attacks and skills.

You only control the skills the characters use, which you do by equipping the skills between each song.

On paper, all the character-related RPG elements are here. You level each character separately by putting them on your team, improving their stats and making more powerful skills available to them.

You just need to successfully chain musical notes for the characters to contribute in combat.

The true meat of the game remains the music. Whether you beat all the enemies in each level or not doesn’t affect your ability to complete each song or move on to the next track.

However, the game’s combat adds a bit of a side element to gameplay. All missions have quests, and many quests ask you to do certain things, like beating a boss.

Your characters need to be strong enough to beat that boss, but that means you have to come back to that level to complete that quest.

The incentives for clearing every quest don’t force you to come back. They offer either gallery collections or the occasional ability, but most important abilities come naturally as you progress.

To make this side of the game easier to manage, the game provides an auto-optimize button. That way, you don’t need to worry about strengthening your characters.

Again, the game’s focus remains with the music. This side of the game doesn’t draw much attention to itself, but it adds another element for those who want to truly dig into it.

Incentives to max every character don’t draw you in, but they don’t keep you from what the game wants you to see either.

Challenge Through Simplicity

Unlike most rhythm games, Theatrhythm gives you the freedom to use any buttons you wish to hit the notes.

In other words, the four bars are not pinned to any specific face button. This allows you to even use the D-Pad to play the game.

If you wish, you can pin the top two bars to the left side of the controller and pin the bottom two to the right side.

Personally, I couldn’t get used to it, but it works well as a viable option. The default settings just function closer to a general rhythm game experience that revolves around the face buttons, which works better for me personally.

Held notes add a unique and engaging hook to the rhythm formula. These ask you to hold a button while you navigate the green line with a joystick.

The accuracy requirements are welcome as well. If the green line slopes upward, just push the joystick upward. The game doesn’t require you to match the angles, which keeps the experience arcade-y and fun.

To add challenge to this, many of the green lines require a directional flick of the joystick at the end of the line. Pulling these off feels so empowering, like hitting a hard strum on a guitar.

Broken Arrows

Returning to the arrow prompts, these actions create frustration often enough to mention.

At the end of green lines, the arrow flick sometimes points right, which blends its white coloration into the green line. These are hard to spot on the first couple song attempts.

Another aspect of the arrow prompts that frustrate me comes when one prompt asks you to flick both joysticks.

These usually come in the middle of a hard-maintained combo that easily messes up a good run if you miss them.

Nailing these regularly comes with practice, but the challenge they create doesn’t always seem to match the challenges around them. This compounds with harder difficulties.

You already juggle a ton of different demands, and interpreting a double arrow prompt on the fly easily throws you off. They still feel good to pull off in a good run, but they still feel more problematic than they do rewarding.

For single arrow prompts, the game feels great, enthralling even. They force that extra action that drip extra dopamine into your system when your pull them off.

Customize the Rhythm

One of the best offerings in Theatrhythm comes with its customization options. This lets you adjust the beat timer in case of input or refresh lag, put in screen blockers to increase your challenge, and even fade out the background events to reduce distractions.

Control of the background influence is a fantastic addition. Your characters fly all over the screen as they fight and can easily draw your attention.

With the customizations on offer, the fact that you cannot change the direction of the scrolling music is unfortunate. Some songs with CG scenes behind them change the note flow so they fall down the screen instead of flow rightward.

It might be strictly personal, but I processed the downward scrolling notes much quicker. Either way, among all the other wonderful customization options available in Theatrhythm, this missing one feels like a missed opportunity.

Consistency Is Key

At the end of this Theatrhythm review, I need to get something personal out of the way: Out of the entire song list in the game, only a few standout songs include vocal work.

This is great because those songs for many people (myself included) strongly represent the game it comes from.

Real Emotion from Final Fantasy X-2 and Melodies of Life from Final Fantasy IX come in their Japanese vocal work. These are still good songs in this form, but I feel the difference.

I listened to both of these songs over and over unapologetically growing up, so it hits a little differently without the localized version.

In particular, I bring this up because the song “Kiss Me Goodbye” from Final Fantasy XII is in English. It’s also necessary to mention that all three of these songs are part of the DLC package, making this its own talking point altogether.

Either way, these songs are still excellent in their available forms, but the lack of localized versions across the board loses overall consistency in the track list.

It’s neither here nor there, but I would have loved to see 1000 Words make the cut.

Succeed At What You Do Best

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line leans into what it set out to do: Let you play an enjoyable rhythm game centralized around a ton of songs from the Final Fantasy franchise.

Mechanics feel satisfying and offer user friendly options to cater to all levels of skill and interest.

In the great list of customization, it’s unfortunate that you can’t have notes cascade down the screen like some songs allow. Multi-arrow commands take some getting used to, but they still ask too much for the kind of accessibility this game presents from the start.

Either way, the songs rock, the gameplay feels rewarding, and the overall package opens itself up to a wide variety of players.

Flaws aside, this is one of the better rhythm games on offer across the medium.

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is available on PS4 on February 16, 2023.

Review code kindly provided by publisher



The Final Word

Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line takes a great opportunity and make a strong go of it. Gameplay feels good, and customization options give you nice flexibility to cater to your style. A couple things don't mesh nicely, but the game itself is a complete rhythm package of great gameplay and fantastic songs.