The Theatrhythm Final Bar Line demo is extraordinarily generous

With 30 songs to enjoy, covering Final Fantasy II, V, VII, XIII, XIV and XV between them, the recently released demo for Theatrhythm Final Bar Line features more included playable material than some other full-price rhythm games. Although with 385 tracks in the base game, 27 “special tracks” available in the deluxe edition and three volumes of Season Pass additions taking the total well over 500, one suspects that Square Enix could afford to be a bit generous with this interactive preview.

For the uninitiated, the Theatrhythm series is a Final Fantasy spinoff that focuses on the grandiose music that its source material has always been known for. That’s not to say that it completely abandons the RPG trappings of Final Fantasy, mind; as you play through the game, you can recruit characters from the series, add them to your party and make use of them at the appropriate times when you need to defeat tough enemies.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

Yes, enemies; although you don’t interact directly with the battle sequences in Theatrhythm games, some meta-objectives often require that your party deal a certain amount of damage, defeat a certain number of enemies or fell a particular boss in order to obtain various bonuses. While to a certain degree your characters’ fighting effectiveness is determined by how well you play the rhythm game, they also have levels, abilities, elemental affinities and all that RPG stuff, too, meaning that if you really want to get into the game, you can take the time to optimise your party for each and every encounter ahead of you.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line doesn’t deviate significantly from the core Theatrhythm formula; it’s simply “more” to an absurd degree — as well as finally making the jump from the pathetic volume-limited sound output of the 3DS to consoles than can properly rock the room if you hook them up to a suitable sound system. And, given some of the tracks on offer even in just Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s demo, you’ll want to play this one loud.

As a series that originated on 3DS, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line’s controls were clearly originally designed with a touchscreen in mind; indeed, the terminology used such as “touch” and “slide” remains unchanged from the 3DS originals. The control scheme has translated well to a control pad, though, with the game being very playable using a combination of buttons and analogue sticks.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

Like the somewhat similar Groove Coaster, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line isn’t fussy about which buttons or sticks you use, as long as you do vaguely the right thing at the right time. For “touch” or “hold” notes, you can use any of the face buttons or shoulder buttons on a modern controller, while “slide” notes can be performed using either of the analogue sticks. You don’t even have to stick to one; if, for example, you find it easier to play single touch notes on a face button but double ones on the triggers, you’re free to do that.

In a nice nod to accessibility, there is an optional Simple Mode that makes the controls a little easier for beginners to figure out, and each track also offers an Auto mode that shows you how it’s done. At the other end of the spectrum, veteran music game players can enjoy multiple difficulty levels of each song, with higher levels increasing the complexity considerably, requiring considerable dexterity to clear accurately.

I’ve always personally said that the best music games are the ones that make you feel like you’re a participant in the performance rather than just tapping along to something that is happening without you. To put it another way, the best music games feel like your controller has become a musical instrument in your hands, and the rhythms you’re tapping often complement what you’re hearing rather than just recreating it. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line absolutely nails this aspect even on its easier difficulty levels; as soon as you loosen up a little and start to play by ear rather than by sight, it’s hard not to find yourself completely immersed in the performance.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

The demo version gives you a good taste of what the full version of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line offers, with a selection of characters to recruit from the available games, each of whom can be levelled up to 30, and rewards and unlocks to obtain that can be carried across into the full game. Some of the rewards, such as the collectible cards, can’t actually be accessed in the demo itself, but when the full game releases, they’ll be there waiting for you so long as you still have your save data.

The full version promises 4-player simultaneous online play as well as social features where you can trade cards and exchange profiles with other players. The demo does feature several frequently recurring splash screens that give a brief outline of these features, but right now it’s a little hard to picture how some of them work. It sounds potentially interesting, though; the online following a rhythm game develops over time often determines whether it’s an enduring classic or something that people enjoy for a while, then set aside.

Even if it doesn’t catch on with the online competitive rhythm game community, though, the sheer number of playable tracks in the full version of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line looks set to keep Final Fantasy fans busy for a long time indeed. And with the downloadable content paying tribute to other popular Square Enix franchises such as SaGa, Mana and Nier, this could well end up being one of the most formidable interactive celebrations of video game music that we’ve ever seen.

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

Not long to wait until we can see how the final product ends up, either; Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is set for release on February 16, 2023. A physical release of the base game will be available. Meanwhile, three digital options are available for Switch and PS4: one that simply includes the base game; a Deluxe package that includes 27 additional tracks plus the first of three Season Passes; and a Premium Deluxe edition that includes the 27 bonus tracks and all three Season Passes. Potentially pricy, but you are getting a lot of game for your money.

In the meantime, the demo is available for free on both Switch and PS4 right now, so check it out if you’re even a little bit curious — and enjoy some great music while you tap away!

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Pete Davison
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