Designing the stages of THEATRHYTHM part 2: Ultimate and Supreme

Been brave enough to take on THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE at its highest difficulty levels? Making these stages was no easy task either, as Score Editor Naoe Watabe explains…
By Duncan Heaney

My name is Naoe Watabe from sAs and I worked as a score editor on THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE. I’ve worked on the series together with indieszero since the first THEATRHYTHM game, mainly designing the music stages.

  • Favourite FF games: FINAL FANTASY II, VIII, X, XII, XIV and XV (I just couldn’t narrow it down!)
  • Favourite FF music: Main Theme (FINAL FANTASY II) Eyes On Me (FINAL FANTASY VIII), Kuon -Memories of Waves and Light- (FINAL FANTASY X-2), A Long Fall (FINAL FANTASY XIV)

In this article I’d like to share my personal perspective on the Ultimate and Supreme difficulty level stages. It may be a little clumsy, but please bear with me.

My first memories of working on THEATRHYTHM

The first music stage I ever created for a THEATRHYTHM game was Battle Theme 2 from FINAL FANTASY II.

Getting the tuplet at the end of the piece to work entirely with touch controls was pretty hard back then - I remember that when I unveiled the demo to Square Enix, they were very surprised that I’d managed it.

I had played rhythm games before but never made one, so it was around this time that I grasped the important tricks to constructing music stages. I would go on to make many music stages, but this one left a big impression on me as the first I did.

How music stages are made

We touched on this a bit in our previous blog article on the Basic and Expert levels, but I would now like to go deeper and discuss how we approach making stages that are a satisfying challenge to play, looking at a few examples of different trends in the music tracks.

1. Tracks with a prominent four-beat drum rhythm and main melody

If you put in 4 beat touch triggers to mark the rhythm while having the player tap out the melody, it makes for a satisfying and enjoyable way to follow that melody at a good tempo. As a result, this pattern is used a lot on the higher level music stages.

It requires the player to tap out different rhythms with the left and right hands, so it’s a more difficult to input correctly and is not used on the Basic and Expert levels.

I think you can see this in action most clearly in tracks like Shuffle or Boogie from FINAL FANTASY VIII (Ultimate), The Savior - LIGHTNING RETURNS:FINAL FANTASY XIII - (Supreme) or A Long Fall from FINAL FANTASY XIV (Supreme). So, go and take a look to see what I mean!

2. Tracks with an irregular meter or where complex sounds are prominent

For tracks like this, just placing triggers in line with the main melody will make a stage suitably difficult, so these kinds of stages are comparatively quick and straightforward to make.

Most of the time, just having single touches makes a stage difficult enough, but to make tapping along feel even better, and to bring all the parts of the music closer together, I like to add in slide trigger placements that make the player aware of the pitch of the sounds as well.

For example, the direction of a slider will go up when the pitch of the sound rises and down when it falls.

This phenomenon can probably be seen best in tracks like Battle with the Four Fiends from FINAL FANTASY IV (Ultimate), Dancing Mad from FINAL FANTASY VI (Ultimate) and Hill of Destiny from FINAL FANTASY MYSTIC QUEST (Supreme).

Tracks with lots of accents packed in

One thing that we do with the controls to give players a sense of satisfaction is to finish on a double tap or with a twin slider at the end of a track, to bring out that “yes, finished!” feeling. However, we also put the same kinds of triggers in the trademark “accent” moments during the track as well.

Having a complex trigger that requires four simultaneous inputs to overlap with the main accent of the piece really boosts the player’s feeling of achievement if they can perform the input successfully. It makes the stage more satisfying.

However, if you overdo this then the stage just feels difficult throughout, so you need to be aware of striking a good balance.

The brass section melody that comes in during the intervals of Metal - Brute Justice Mode from FINAL FANTASY XIV (Supreme) has just that kind of rhythm where you go “This is it! right here!”, so we decided it would feel more fun and exhilarating to have players tap it out themselves!

To sum up, my personal philosophy is that the creation of a music stage will generally go well if you approach it with the idea of “chiselling the stage out from under the original music”.

My personal recommendations

FINAL FANTASY XV - Valse di Fantastica

When I’m putting together a music stage, I always have the track in question playing on an endless loop during my commute into work. The sheer elegance of the melody in Valse di Fantastica and the way that it increases in pitch by a whole octave is incredibly distinctive, so I felt that I had to use that in the stage construction somehow.

I wanted to place double touch triggers to follow the pitch increase on the piano and tried to imagine how it would work, spending an hour or so putting a rough draft together. The speed at which I was able to get to that stage was thrilling if I do say so myself and is the reason why this track has special memories for me!

I hope players can feel the same enjoyment as smartly playing through a whole octave on the piano from the trigger inputs!


This stage was said to be the hardest of the Ultimate level stages in the first THEATRHYTHM game, but it actually worked out being that difficult due to using a slide, touch, touch trigger placement aligned with the synthesiser melody. It was also the first time I became aware of the concept of “chiselling the stage out from under the original music”.

Of course, the number of Supreme level stages has increased in the time between the original THEATHRYTHM and All-Star Carnival, and for FINAL BAR LINE we needed to consider how to add in even more triggers to raise it above the Ultimate level. That caused the stage designers some headaches alright, but I feel that all the experience we have gained over the series really helped to round out the design for this stage!

Once you’re able to keep pulling off the slide and touch trigger combinations at a good tempo, you will have mastered the fundamentals needed to move up to the Supreme stages, so I thoroughly recommend Force Your Way to players who want to take on the top difficulty level!

FINAL FANTASY X - Thunder Plains

For THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, we added in a Supreme level version of this stage.

The Thunder Plains is well known as the location of a mini game where you have to dodge 200 lightning bolts in a row, and I have fond memories of the music that played there as I struggled to achieve that feat and earn an ultimate weapon.

When I re-listened to the original music as preparation to work on the stage, it brought back some painful memories of missing the input and getting struck because the ticking sound messed up my timing. However, I was also touched by how distinctive Mr. Hamauzu’s clear and beautiful music was and how I could listen to it again and again.

The rhythm of the piano is very clear and easy to follow in this track, so I wondered how best to express that in the music stage construction. The Supreme level stage came out of these musings, and I think it was pretty close to how I had originally imagined it would be.

I also experimented with the idea of placing triggers that move up and down in line with the sound of the clock, which I am confident makes this quite an emotional stage. It was well received among the other members of the team and is one of the stages I can personally recommend… but I would advise you to listen closely to the clattering sound of needles as you play!

Final thoughts

The team put their hearts and souls into making THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE and managed to squeeze in the highest number of music tracks from any game in the series. We would be delighted if fans can find all the stages that appeal to them and enjoy playing the game for a long time to come.

THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE is out now for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Three editions are available:

  • Standard Edition: Available physically and digitally, this contains 385 songs from across the FINAL FANTASY series

  • Digital Deluxe Edition: Contains all songs from the standard edition, plus 27 additional tracks, and Season Pass 1.

  • Premium Digital Deluxe Edition: Contains all songs from the standard edition, plus 27 additional tracks, and Season Passes 1-3.

All these editions are available to purchase now.

There’s also a free demo available that lets you play through 30 tracks from the game, including some beloved songs from FINAL FANTASY II, FINAL FANTASY V, FINAL FANTASY VII, FINAL FANTASY XIII, FINAL FANTASY XIV and FINAL FANTASY XV!

Your progress even carries over to the full game!

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