My once whimsical excitement for video games has long been worn away by the relentless cynicism of adulthood. As someone who works in games media, my job is not only about the praise of this medium and its many hallmarks, but also taking it to task for shortcomings and looking at the bigger picture from a nuanced perspective. It’s serious business I tell you.
But sometimes a game comes around that turns me into a blubbering fangirl with the critical capacity of a rock, and for over a decade that honour has belonged to Theatrhythm. Square Enix’s humble series of rhythm game spin-offs transform the likes of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Dragon Quest into nostalgic trips down memory lane with a love for music that few games are able to match. Despite its chibi visuals and casual distillation of once grand stories and characters, they allow me to relive memories with added value and freshness.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call launched for the Nintendo 3DS back in 2012 and was my most played game on the platform alongside Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I must have put over 50 hours into its comprehensive collection of songs and stages, so eager to master higher difficulty settings and help all of my mascot characters hit their max level.
On the surface, it’s a very simple game – each title in the series has a few songs representing it, and the campaign mode allows the player to experience each story in fragments, every song representing a major moment or reveal long committed to history. It’s fan service, but curated in such a way where it never feels lazy or unearned. Familiar characters and locales are recreated in a wondrously basic manner with cutesy mascots and basic yet vibrant geometry. They’re imbued with just enough heart to pass a squint test as you skip through the open worlds of specific titles to their field tracks or do battle with iconic villains as a boss theme soars past you. It gives me goosebumps like the loser I am.
Final Bar Line is Curtain Call taken to its most delightful extreme. A demo is now available on PS4 and Nintendo Switch ahead of the full launch next week and gives players a chance to unlock thirty of the many hundreds of songs found in the finished game. You can select an assortment of songs from different entries and progress through stage-based campaigns all touching on familiar ditties and locales with new unlockable characters to boot.
Songs are a bit longer and more challenging this time around too, requiring faster reflexes and a greater memory of each tune in order to master higher difficulties. Even in the demo – where progress carries over to the full release – there is a ludicrous amount of content here. Obviously it’s fueled by mountains of nostalgia, but that has always been the entire point of Theatrhythm. I want to relive decades of JRPG history decorated with gorgeous modern trimmings, all while perhaps discovering gems I wasn’t at all familiar with before.
It’s a comforting blanket of a video game, one I can jump into for equal parts familiarity and satisfaction as I lose hours to a gauntlet of different stages. Chasing high scores, finding new characters, and earning extra materials in the generous bonus gallery is going to take up so much of my time, and I cannot wait. Cynicism might have long ground me down into a pulp of hot takes and misery, but sometimes a gem like this comes along and reminds me why I fell in love with the medium in the first place.
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