For an industry that’s so quick to flaunt its commercial successes, it feels like so many video game developers and publishers don’t take the time to stop and celebrate their important anniversaries. Nintendo’s guilty of this, delivering pretty meager responses or fleeting ports whenever a big milestone for Mario or Zelda pops up. And given the rights limbo that so many classic games find themselves in nowadays, a Twitter post is oftentimes as much as we can expect when a big birthday comes around. This is a far cry from the film industry, where we have movies like Titanic returning to theaters in 3D to celebrate 25 years since its initial release.
That’s part of what makes Theatrhythm Final Bar Line feel so incredibly special. The musical adventure is a festival of the storied Final Fantasy franchise’s past, present, and future. It’s simultaneously a celebration of the series’s 35th anniversary and a museum piece chronicling dozens of games across seven generations of consoles. And to top it all off, it’s a wildly entertaining adventure as well.
As soon as you start Theatrhythm, the space before the title screen begins with the rising din of an orchestra tuning up. The transportive sound acts as a prelude to celebration, because from here, we immediately jump into one of my favorite opening videos of any game in recent memory.
Set to a version of the series’s iconic theme song from the Final Fantasy Tribute ~ Thanks album that was released 10 years ago for the franchise’s 25th anniversary, the video acts as a statement of intent. It tosses dozens of heroes, party members, and villains at us in rapid succession. From the original four Warriors of Light to Noctis’ pals from Final Fantasy XV, it transports us across four decades in the span of a single moment, which is pretty much Theatrhythm Final Bar Line in a nutshell.
I have such a deep sensory memory for so many of the songs throughout the series’s history. Even if I’ve forgotten large portions of the games themselves, hearing “To Zanarkand,” “Cosmo Canyon,” “Battle at the Big Bridge,” or “Terra’s Theme” immediately transports me back to those worlds, their characters, and the feelings I had while embarking on those adventures.
It’s hard to think of another franchise where the music alone could support the weight of such a game. On a recent episode of Breakout, KC pointed out to me that Nintendo shows this kind of love and affection in the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate soundtrack, but a game like Ultimate is pulling from dozens of iconic gaming franchises, not just one. In this respect, Final Fantasy seems singularly suited for a game like this.
For the past week since release, I’ve been spending an hour or so each morning through one or two full-game campaigns in Theatrhythm. Each one of these mini adventures is composed of about 5-20 songs that take you across the general arc of their respective games. Aside from the 15 core entries in the franchise, Theatrhythm also contains a bunch of other tangential campaigns, including Tactics, Type-0, and Stranger of Paradise.
I’m finding so much enjoyment in mixing and matching party members from across the entirety of the series. Having Vivi, Balthier, Mog, and Ramza leap out of the Highwind and trek off on an adventure set to “Eyes on Me” is a sentence that will either make zero sense to you or completely sell you on this game.
It’s also one of those rare games where I’m eagerly looking forward to its DLC, which expands beyond the walls of Final Fantasy and into other iconic Square Enix RPGs including Chrono Trigger, Live-A-Live, and Nier. So not only is Theatrhythm a celebration of everything Final Fantasy, but it even shines a light on the games that were directly inspired by the franchise as well.
It’s a strange and exciting time to be a Square Enix fan. Though there are plenty of recent stumbles, the JRPG powerhouse has been doing a great job of paying tribute to the past, while simultaneously keeping its eye on the future. The Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters should be coming soon to consoles, joining the likes of Chrono Cross and Live A Live as classics given new life, which keeps the hope alive for similar treatment of games like Parasite Eve and Xenogears. The Final Fantasy VII Remake project kicked off on an incredible note, and I can’t wait to see what Rebirth has in store for the deconstruction. And of course, Final Fantasy XVI has planted its flag in the sand for June, making it one of my most anticipated games of 2023.
Final Fantasy has been an important part of video games for a large chunk of the medium’s existence, which is something few other franchises outside of Nintendo can say. And honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way for Square Enix to celebrate that than with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line.