Review: Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

I found myself wondering exactly how Theatrhythm could possibly work without the stylus. The sliding notes, you know? How could they possibly work with the buttons? I started with the fabled Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, you see, which had my attention all the way back in - blimey - 2014. Nearly 300 songs, including a buttload of DLC, all of which I purchased. It was, and still is, a brilliant video game, and one so complete that releasing a further sequel almost feels a little bit... well.. chancing.

And yet, here we are - Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Final Bar Line, to give its full unwieldy title, is the apex of Theatrhythm and it's not even close. Taking into account the game's "Deluxe" edition, plus the season pass promising many more upcoming pieces of music, the total list throbs at somewhere in the region of 500 tracks; that's five hundred. It's an absolutely ridiculous package that honestly starts to look good value even at its hefty $99.99 price point for the complete experience.

Even without this DLC, mind, you've got close to 400 songs here, and they're presented in a way that draws from me the only real criticism I can level at the package; playing through the game's "Series Quest" mode has you unlocking songs in a piecemeal fashion, playing through each Final Fantasy's soundtrack as you unlock it. While this is a compelling way to present the content for single-player sessions, drip-feeding plenty of unlockable items, "collectacards" and characters for your squad, it does mean that you're not able to simple boot up the game and jump into your favourite song as you could in Curtain Call.

That, though, is the sum total of my problems with Final Bar Line, which is quite frankly an essential purchase. The song charts themselves have been adapted from the arcade version of Theatrhythm (All-Star Carnival), making for more complex inputs that sometimes require tapping or holding up to four buttons at a time, also incorporating movements of the twin analogue sticks. Four difficulty modes per song are available, and anything above the second one is borderline impossible to me. Seriously, this stuff is nails hard.

RPG elements are incorporated with you picking a squad of beloved Final Fantasy characters and decking them out with items, magic and the like. This can all be automated with a tap of the X button to "optimise", but it's more fun to arse around and figure it out for yourself. Having a better party means you can survive for longer in the advanced difficulties, which is good because they don't screw around. The whole structure lends itself to both long sessions and bite-size dipping in and out to play a song here and there. In Series Quest mode every stage/track has an additional mission to clear in order to obtain extra items, so you'll be busy for a good while, especially if you want to beat every song on every difficulty, which I do not recommend attempting.

It's visually excellent, with no clutter to deal with as you laser-focus on the game elements themselves. Your party will do battle against monsters behind the tracks, but pop-up visuals to denote the usage of abilities, spells and summons get the job done without obstructing your play or focus in the slightest. It's as you'd expect from a fourth - maybe fifth? - game in the series. This team has the formula nailed down and everything feels awesome.

Overall, Final Bar Line really is the last word in Square Enix's JRPG music library; DLC here covers games such as Live-A-Live, Xenogears and more to come - I'm assuming Final Fantasy XVI will play a role in the game's final content update, but that's pure speculation. This is brilliant and exhaustive and quite frankly you need to play it right away. Unless you've got stuff to do, in which case you probably don't want Final Bar Line's hooks in your brain. Pun intended.