Designing the stages of THEATRHYTHM part 1: Basic and Expert

How were the stages of THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE made? Score Editor Minami Kubota shares some secrets… and a few recommendations on what to play.
By Minami Kubota

Hi - my name is Minami Kubota and I’m Score Editor at indieszero, the developer of THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE.

  • Favourite FF games: FINAL FANTASY VIII, FINAL FANTASY X (I’m a Kimahri Fangirl) and FINAL FANTASY TYPE-0.

  • Favourite FF music: A Fleeting Dream from FINAL FANTASY X (This is one of the tracks I have special memories of and it really conjures the image of Tidus and his friends’ journey).

I was involved in creating the music stage data on THEATHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, reprising the same role from All-Star Carnival.

Today, I’ll be talking about how the different music stages were made, focusing on the Basic and Expert stages!

What we prioritised when making music stages

The very first thing that a creator has to do when working on a new music stage is to understand where the track originated in its original FINAL FANTASY game. For example, was it played during a boss fight or a sorrowful event in the story, or was it the accompaniment to an engrossing mini game?

Only after thoroughly understanding where in the game it was used can we move onto the construction of the rhythm game stage itself.

At this point, we need to take care to make sure that the original atmosphere of the scene and the music isn’t lost while we build the working music stage. It goes without saying, but all the stage designers strived to stay true to these original ideals, and diligently created the music stages with an awareness towards the original games and their music.

We exercised a certain level of playfulness when making many of the music stages, placing and choosing the types of triggers to express a certain concept or recreate an aspect of the original scene.

I’m delighted when players notice these little touches and invite everyone to look closely and use your imaginations to work out what they’re referencing.

Creating Basic and Expert level stages

We strived to make the Basic and Expert stages accessible and easy to play for everyone.

There was a lot of trial and error on each individual stage to work out how to simplify things. For example, when you have numerous subtle sounds from wind instruments and percussion, we didn’t assign triggers to every single sound, but instead just placed one for the start of the sequence and had the player hold down the button for the rest.

We made efforts to ensure that players who were not so familiar with rhythm games would enjoy playing in many other ways too, such as taking care that the directions the slide triggers go in are easy to follow, giving the player a suitable gap before and after simultaneous push triggers, limiting their number overall, and trying to pick up on the melodies that were easiest to hear!

Furthermore, the development team played through each new stage many times during development and compared opinions on whether it was slightly too difficult or was lacking somewhere. We then went on to make the adjustments that we felt were needed over numerous iterative cycles.

To give you a specific example of this approach, there were many different areas where we showed consideration towards novice players in the Basic and Expert versions of “One-Winged Angel - Rebirth“ from FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE.

For the famous section where the vocals sing “Se-phi-roth”, we strived to make the trigger placement comparatively simple, to reduce any possible trepidation and make this section as straightforward as possible to play. Accordingly, we didn’t weave in any sliding triggers and stuck to just double hold triggers for Basic and single touch ones for Expert.

All the sections that use this phrase were constructed in the same way, so it also had the effect of making the stage more memorable overall.

As you can see, the various stage designers spent every day of the development period thinking deeply about how to create music stages that fit with both the music itself and the required difficulty level.

Recommended Basic and Expert stages

Finally, I’d like to introduce some of the music stages that I personally recommend! (Different people find different types of stage easier or harder, so please view these as just a helpful reference!)

FINAL FANTASY: Castle Cornelia (Basic, difficulty level 2, FMS)

I think a lot of people have trouble with the movement of the wavy hold triggers on FMS stages until they get used to them!

The lines for the hold triggers on this stage are quite basic, and closely follow along with the gently main melody, which makes Castle Cornelia a great introductory training stage for the other FMS.

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Wayward Daughter (Basic, difficulty level 2, BMS)

This stage basically picks up on the main vocals throughout the whole song, so there’s comparatively less confusion when playing through it and you won’t get lost.

We’ve also fitted in a nice balance of simultaneous push triggers, so I can thoroughly recommend it as a good choice when you want to play a BMS or a vocal number!

FINAL FANTASY VI: Grand Finale (Expert, difficulty level 5, BMS)

This track is recommended for players who are used to the gameplay in THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE and are comfortable with Expert level stages but looking at trying out the Ultimate difficulty next.

I think it’s a good one for experiencing the basic feel of Ultimate stages, as it has a fairly high speed and density of triggers, as well as using many different trigger types.

FINAL FANTASY XIII: March of the Dreadnoughts (Expert, difficulty level 5, FMS)

This track is very much like Grand Finale in that it’s suitable for players who are used to the Expert level and want to move up into Ultimate. It has quite a high density of triggers for an FMS and the melody shifts between fast and slow, so it might be tricky to familiarise yourself with the nuances of the song.

However, it’s one that I would recommend as a great starting point for players aiming to raise their game with the Ultimate stages and play even more difficult stages in future!

I hope that every single player of THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE finds great music stages that leave a lasting impression on them.

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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