The curtains are open and the decor is set. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line marks the return of the Final Fantasy rhythm series to Nintendo consoles after a 10-year hiatus. We’ve had the chance to get our hands dirty with an upcoming demo for the game, which will be available February 1st, and if the first few steps continue, then this sequel is shaping up to be as much of a delight as the 3DS inputs.
In the demo, we got to try out two modes – Series Quests, which is open from the start, and Music Stages, which you unlock after beating your first song in Series Quests. Music Stages is pretty much exactly the same as in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call: once you’ve unlocked the song, you can play it anytime on any difficulty. The demo lets you unlock 30 songs, 30 characters, and upgrade your collection of cute characters up to level 30 – and you can continue your progress to the full game.
So we jumped straight into Series Quests, a brand new mode for the Theatrhythm series. Expanding on the series mode of the first game and taking note of Curtain Call’s mix of quests, series quests allow you to play through the music of a particular game (or category). But first you need to get a key to unlock a new series quest. Using the key on a game unlocks that quest and also lets you access a handful of characters from that particular entrance, and you get more keys by playing those quests.
We could only unlock songs and characters from six main games in the demo – Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV, and Final Fantasy XV. All unlockable songs are throwback tracks from previous Theatrhythm games, including the arcade exclusive Star Carnival. All of Curtain Call’s party building mechanics return, with the ability to create five separate parties of four and level up very quickly – you’ll get a party of four to level 30 in less than a few hours if you stick with it. them.
In Series Quests, you essentially have to “play” your chosen Final Fantasy title in musical form. So if you choose Final Fantasy II first, for example, your first port of call is the game’s battle theme – a callback to how the NES entry begins. Or, with Final Fantasy XIV, you can choose one of three starter songs, all of which represent one of three main regions you can choose to start in when beginning your MMORPG adventure. The demo only lets you play the opening songs of each quest in the series – between three and six of them – but it was the perfect appetizer for a mode we can see ourselves having a lot of fun with.
What’s most interesting about Final Bar Line, however, are the controls. Final Bar Line, unlike the two 3DS games, has no touch controls at all – at least not in the demo version. Instead, Notes can be activated using any of the buttons on your Switch, including the shoulder buttons and the left and right thumbsticks. All of the same notes – like the simple red hits and the green notes where you have to hold the button down and then release at the right time – return, but there are notes where you have to use both sticks and push them in different (or the same) direction, and sometimes you will have to hold down two buttons at the same time for a while, but let go of one of them sooner than the other. Fortunately, there are a handful of control schemes you can play around with, including a mode where only button presses are required (so no analog sticks required).
Here we have the pen controls baked into our musical brains, so it only took us some getting used to. However, you could still just use the buttons in previous games, so depending on your preferred playstyle, it may take you more (or less) time to get used to this new playstyle. However, even in the demo, you have access to some accessibility options that can help adjust the timing of triggers if you keep hitting them too early or too late. You can also play each song on one of four difficulty options, and practice makes perfect, so you don’t need to jump from Basic to Expert until you’re ready to do so.
The demo is the perfect opener for what’s shaping up to be a loving tribute to the musical legacy of Final Fantasy (and Square Enix in general)
Otherwise, it’s the same Thearythm you all know and love. Just minutes into the demo, as we played through FFV’s “Four Hearts,” we had a stupidly huge grin on our face as the adorable cardboard cutout characters raced across the terrain, attacking monsters as that we strike the notes in time with the music. And we replayed many songs, from ‘Fight On!’ to ‘The Rebel Army’ multiple times, chasing the elusive Perfect Chain score and trying to get as many Rainbow Criticals as possible. It’s the kind of addictive arcade-style gameplay we loved on the 3DS, just on a bigger screen.
There are additional challenges in the series quests which unlock items, maps and all kinds. These require you to do more than just beat a stage – sometimes you have to use a number of abilities, while other times you have to find a treasure chest. It keeps you coming back and playing the same quests over and over again, sometimes on a higher difficulty, and even with the 30 songs we currently have, we can’t help but keep racking up the rewards and scores until until we get the best Numbers.
Both docked and undocked, the demo ran perfectly – but we actually preferred to play this undocked version. The smaller screen made it easier for us to focus on the notes, especially with Final Bar Line’s much busier backgrounds. Again, this is another feature you can tweak by dimming the backgrounds, and TV and handheld modes have separate trigger input settings so you can try everything out before the game launches. .
If you’re thinking of picking up Theatrhtyhm Final Bar Line, there’s really no reason not to grab the demo beforehand. Any CollectaCards, up to 2000 Rhythmia (points that act like currency), Summons, and Airships you acquire can carry over into the full game, so you can be stocked up and ready to rock. The demo is the perfect opener for what’s shaping up to be a loving tribute to the musical legacy of Final Fantasy (and Square Enix in general) – as long as we can get those control knobs under control.
The game will launch on February 16, 2023, and the base game includes 385 songs. The Digital Deluxe version has all of that plus 27 additional songs and Season Pass 1, while the Premium Digital Deluxe edition has all of the above plus all three Season Passes. You will also be able to purchase all songs and DLC packs separately.
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