THEATRHYTHM THURSDAY: Designing the rhythm action gameplay

THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE Series Director Suzui Masanobu looks at the evolution of the gameplay across the series, and how they built on the past to create this new game.
By Suzui Masanobu

Hello everyone! This is Suzui Masanobu, THEATRHYTHM Series Director at indieszero! I oversaw the whole development process of THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE and was point of contact for all work on the game.

  • Favourite FF game: FFX (I felt an overwhelming sense of drama in the story)
  • Favourite FF music: Veiled in Black from FFXV (I am really drawn to the melancholy and the power of the piano sections in the main melody)

In this article, I’d like to talk about how we designed the rhythm gameplay system for THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, looking at the evolution from the previous games in the series!

The rhythm game system has changed and evolved gradually since the first title. I touched on this briefly in my first blog, but the big condition that we set for ourselves was that the gameplay had to recreate the memorable scenes from FINAL FANTASY that the music originally accompanied.

Here’s a quick rundown of the ideas behind the different music stage types.

Battle Music Stage (BMS)

We designed the system for the BMS stages in FINAL BAR LINE to use the best aspects from both CURTAIN CALL (3DS) and ALL-STAR CARNIVAL (Arcade). The screen layout uses the same design from CURTAIN CALL, with monsters standing in a fixed position like they do in FINAL FANTASY battles so you can enjoy a similar feeling… but through a rhythm game.

Although resources were limited, we used all of our knowledge, experience and a lot of effort to make each individual stage conjure memories of famous scenes from FINAL FANTASY games.

We also tried to make it more fun for the player to recreate those original scenes themselves - as by allowing the use of one-man parties for the first time in the series, for example.

When designing the different type of Trigger inputs, we used our experience of making ALL-STAR CARNIVAL to include elements like the need to push two Touch Triggers at once, Twin-Slide Triggers etc. However, we made efforts to ensure that it would be familiar and easy to learn for CURTAIN CALL players too.

One example of how we did this is through “hold mid-points” - the points that indicate where the beat plays appear during the Hold Triggers, despite not requiring input from the player.

Field Music Stages (FMS)

The FMS in FINAL BAR LINE were based on those featured in ALL-STAR CARNIVAL, but the controls were adapted to feel closer to those from the CURTAIN CALL era, with the satisfying feeling of sliding the position of the Hold Trigger up and down to mimic the rising and falling of the song’s tone.

I plan on talking more about the RPG elements in a future blog entry, but the biggest difference from CURTAIN CALL is probably how monsters will occasionally appear and engage the player in battle during the FMS. We took great care to construct these music stages and backdrops in a way that would be reminiscent of the areas in the original games where the music played.

Event Music Stages (EMS)

The EMS in FINAL BAR LINE differ from those in CURTAIN CALL in that they use the same basic mechanics and controls as the BMS.

The previous system used up to CURTAIN CALL asked the player to follow exact inputs around a circular path. That was definitely a fun system, but FINAL BAR LINE was designed to be enjoyed on a large screen, so we changed it to a system where the Trigger movements are easier for the eye to follow while enjoying the amazing videos in the background.

The difficulty of these stages has also been adjusted to take into account that the player will be watching the video as they play.


I’ll now talk about the controls and how they have changed over the history of the series.

The mechanics of the first THEATRHYTHM were optimized to play using a stylus. We aimed to create a control system where it felt fun and satisfying to move your hand around the screen, and touch, slide and hold down the stylus according to the different phrases and sounds in the music.

In the second game, CURTAIN CALL, we kept the touch controls but were able to use button inputs as well. We also constructed the music stages to ensure that finger movements on the 3DS Circle Pad controls felt fun.

Offering all of these different input options meant that the game could to be enjoyed in various different places - for example, played on the train or while lazing about - and support individual play styles.

For the THEATRHYTHM arcade game ALL-STAR CARNIVAL, we created music stages that used a combination of two sliders that could be pushed to different directions and two buttons that could be tapped vigorously.

In FINAL BAR LINE, we expanded out the button controls from CURTAIN CALL. Our aim was to make moving your hands around the controller an enjoyable experience, using a combination of simultaneous button presses and sliding that includes use of L/R button controls.

We were also able to make great use of the technical knowhow we had gained from our experience of developing ALL-STAR CARNIVAL when creating the music stages in FINAL BAR LINE to map how they would be played. The editing tool we use to create the stage data has also become more and more convenient and easier to use with each new entry in the series!

It was not possible to have the player make two inputs simultaneously with a stylus. However, our experience with button controls means the player can now enjoy playing along to the music and feel that their inputs are synchronized with it in a satisfying way.

I think this has helped us to create a rhythm game that appeals to an even wider demographic of players than before. Personally, I like the “Expert” difficulty level the best. Our producer, Mr. Hazama, also says that he finds it the most fun at his skill level.

We set detailed rules and regulations about specific Trigger combinations that should be avoided as much as possible at the ”Expert”. I believe that this also makes the game accessible and fun for a wide range of players, just like CURTAIN CALL was.

Incidentally, as you have probably noticed, the “Supreme” difficulty level is very much aimed at elite rhythm game players!

If you’re just starting out, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the “Expert” level stages for players such as myself who love FINAL FANTASY music and just want to enjoy playing along to the music without having to concentrate excessively! Once you have gotten used to these, it can feel nice to gradually try out the lower difficulty “Ultimate” stages and feel yourself improving!

In FINAL BAR LINE we have also added in various information that helps you measure and improve your performance - for example, there’s a feature you can toggle from the config menu that shows if your inputs were too early or not, and another to show the trends in your input timing.

FINAL FANTASY started out as a completely menu-based RPG with no action elements in the gameplay at all.

Now the series is celebrating its 35th anniversary and boasts fans of all ages. THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE was developed on the understanding that not all of these fans would be skilled rhythm game players and we wanted to make it something that as many people as possible can enjoy. Anyone who loves (or has loved) FINAL FANTASY and its music can easily pick up and have fun with it.

Even if you find it difficult at first, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you improve after playing through a couple of songs. So, I’d be overjoyed if anyone who has a fondness towards FINAL FANTASY gives FINAL BAR LINE a go!

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