Music is one of the most powerful components of any good video game, yet it’s often sadly overlooked.
Topics of conversation around frame rate are usually deemed more important or how many hours the game takes to complete.
Yet a good piece of music can stay in the memory for much longer and bring out some of the best memories you had with a product. That’s absolutely been the case as far as Final Fantasy is concerned.
Theatrhythm is a celebration of Square Enix’s musical lineup if you get the complete package, but the centerpiece of that is absolutely the Final Fantasy series. From 1 to 7 and right through to Chocobo Dungeon. It genuinely is all here.
Through a wide variety of Series Quests, you can gradually explore every game, completing a series of stages and quests with its original cast. So, yes, that does mean you can play as Cloud, Yuna, Tifa, Y’shtola, Aerith, and just about anyone else you ever loved from the franchise.
In fact, once you unlock them they can be played in any Final Fantasy game, so you can imagine some unlikely crossovers like Barrett jamming out to Zanarkand or if you own the DLC, Lightning vibing with Romancing SaGa’s Ardent Rhythm.
At a time when the very games releasing are attracting anger, resentment, and tearing friendships and communities apart, Theatrhythm feels like a soul-cleansing, affirming celebration of the reason we get absorbed into incredible, fantastical worlds and leave a piece of ourselves within them.
The music of Final Fantasy is iconic, there’s no getting around that. Aerith’s theme may even be the most well-known gaming theme of all time. It’s a debatable point, perhaps, but it’s one that stirs a ton of memories for millions of people all over the world.
You remember your own feelings in the game’s crunch moments, where you were when you were playing it, what was happening in your life, and how it all affected you. If nothing else, games like this remind us how affecting these pieces of music are and how they can transport us back decades.
That’s the magic of Final Bar Line and the way it respects its license and its fanbase. But it’s surprising hook has to be the gameplay. And yes, on the surface it may just seem like a glorified Guitar Hero without the fancy plastic peripheral but there is substance here that feels so appropriate to the source material.
The characters you unlock from each Final Fantasy game also feel appropriate to their counterparts and are categorised into a series of classes. Physical types are specialists in strength and HP, for instance, and suit characters like Sephiroth and Tidus.
You also have magic types like Vincent and Alphinaud, Summoners, Hunters, Healers, and Defenders. Each play a different role and have specialities which can benefit your wider party, with unique buffs to go along with their stats.
Red XIII for instance can actually boost the strength of the entire party, but that does come at the cost of increasing the damage he takes.
Characters will also gradually gain access to specialist abilities over time to suit their class, so healers will be able to unlock the likes of Cura and Regen, and Physical fighters can even get fire blade to burn through enemies.
You can even summon allies, like Shiva, Ifrit, Alexander, Odin and everyone who is anyone in this series.
Why is all this relevant? Because while you’re tapping away to the notes of the music, these characters will be fighting iconic Final Fantasy monsters in the background. And defeating these in any number of ways are relevant to completing quests and earning unique rewards, experience and building your song score.
It’s a refreshing way to iterate upon and do something different with an established structure, but it also feels suitably Final Fantasy, encourages more replayability – especially with increased difficulty – and you can also tackle the content in any way you want.
You’re not forced to finish all of Final Fantasy 1’s songs first before you can dive into 13. If the Lightning saga is where your good memories are, then you can dive right into it and play through tracks. And as you progress through each game, you will also find chests with keys which let you unlock another game.
Final Bar Line is set up to keep you playing and playing. It never wants you to put the controller down, even if you’re not entirely familiar with the tracks or source material.
And, of course, this is best suited on Switch and is the perfect handheld game, but reliving my favourite scenes on the big screen, headphones on was just as much of a blast.
For the hours I spent playing, I felt refreshed, calm, relaxed and immersed. It’s the most content I’ve been playing a game in years and possibly the happiest. This game is a real treasure.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is full of joy and an enjoyable experience whether you dip into it for ten minutes or ten hours. It reminds us how many incredible moments the Final Fantasy franchise has given us over the years and it encapsulates them beautifully in one package. Mechanically sound with wonderful content, this may yet prove to be among my favourite games this year.
+ Tons of songs and character variety to choose from
+ Lovely scenes reminiscent of their main game counterparts
+ Replayability among tracks with difficulty and quests
+ Interesting character development and leveling up system
– Lack of accessibility options to open it up for more players
– Some note combinations are frustrating to manage
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is out now on PC, PlayStation and Switch
Played on PlayStation 5
Code Kindly Provided by Square Enix