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Final Fantasy Music

I didn't originally like game music. I always found it inferior to film music, which was of course my favourite genre (and still is). That was before I heard—or saw, rather—the intro movie to Final Fantasy VIII. For years, games have been trying to match the cinematic qualities found in movies. This was the first clip I've seen from a game whose fusion of visuals and music was so powerful that it gave me the chills—and no other game has ever done that. It didn't matter that I scarcely understood what the images meant. What mattered was that it was powerful, and that the music had a great deal to do with that power.

Since then I have heard many other orchestrated songs, all from the Final Fantasy games. I will attempt to review everything I've heard here. For now, that includes three songs from the FFVII Reunion CD and the entire FFVIII orchestral soundtrack.

Final Fantasy VII: Reunion

Main Theme


Just as there are many classic movie tunes, the main theme for Final Fantasy VII should go down in history as one the greatest classic game themes. To put it simply, this six-minute suite is heartbreakingly nostalgic, yet restrained enough to avoid cheesiness. It is also incredibly evocative. I haven't played the game and I know little about the series, but the theme perfectly conjures the image of a fantasy world, beautiful despite its imperfections. In fact, if a movie is ever made based on Final Fantasy, this piece would make an absolutely gorgeous main titles. Opening with a gentle harp and string figure (which could easily accompany the ‘Paramount Presents' logo with the mountain), the music, at first mysterious, gently segues into the theme, pastoral and innocent. It's not hard to visualize a camera pan of a grassy countryside, with a small village nested in between two hills...and then a close-up shot of the hero sleeping in his bed, followed by a brilliant shot of the village bathed in sunshine. (I hope I don't offend anyone by making this up, since I'm not certain what the music really accompanies.)

And the music grows. It unfolds with each listen, revealing new ideas, nuances that were missed the first time. And what better praise can I bestow upon a piece of music that evolves and matures after each listen, instead of becoming tiresome and familiar?

This the fully orchestrated version - I couldn't imagine the piece any other way. This is truly a testament to the skill of the composer, an accomplishment the game music community should hold proud.

Aerith's Theme


Aerith's theme was actually the first Final Fantasy mp3 I heard. Like the main theme from FF7, I didn't get much out of it upon my first listen. It was only after watching the FF8 intro that I turned back to this theme, and repeated listenings convinced me of just how good it was.

The theme might seem at first to be just an innocent little melody, but I realized after a while just how much anguish is contained within. The pain and loss that the music expresses, even in all its innocent joy, adds another dimension to the piece that's seldom achieved—even in film music. The moments of intensity in the theme seem triumphant, yet filled with grief all at once. It's this kind of material that can induce tears, especially when put into the context of the game.

Like the main theme, Aerith's theme is also lushly orchestrated, mainly for strings and woodwinds but also with touches of brass and piano. It seems a bit of a waste that midi was used in the actual game soundtrack, instead of a real like Aerith's theme just proves that game music could really become a major genre if such high quality stuff was produced regularly.

The One-Winged Angel


The title of this piece refers to the climax of the game—that is, the battle with the ‘final boss,' Sephiroth. This piece could be more accurately termed ‘Sephiroth's Theme'; rather than pure battle music, it feels more like a villain's march, albeit an incredibly evil and twisted one. The composer brings in a massive choir for the final showdown, and the result is a musical scene of enormously operatic—if slightly overblown—proportions.

This is a really fun piece to listen to. It opens with something like a homage to the shrieking strings in Psycho, then proceeds to introduce the fiercely atonal theme for one-winged angel. Midway through the choir comes in, chanting demonically in Latin and periodically screaming "Sephiroth!" The only problem with this piece is that there are some moments that seem to clash oddly with the rest of the music. For instance, there's a section that sounds like some strange carnival music gone hideously awry; then, near the end, there's a bouncy little waltz performed on clarinets and oboes (to be followed by the evil chanting choir again.) But overall, this is an extremely cool piece, and I recommend it to anyone who has an affinity for evil music...

Final Fantasy VIII (Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec)

1. Liberi Fatali (3:08)


(The title of this intro, by the way, translates from Latin into 'Children of Fate.' Cool, huh?) The experience of seeing the FF8 intro for the very first time should be a moment to treasure. It's almost (though not quite) the equivalent of seeing the Phantom Menace trailer for the first time.

The video awed me to shivers and, as I said earlier, a large part of that had to do with the music. I could never have imagined that a piece so thrilling as Nobuo Vematsu's awesome score would make it into a game, but it has. Liberi Fatali continues the long thread of Carmina-Burana-inspired music (which, for those of you who don't know, involves a rhythmic series of chords backed by a chanting choir).

Liberi Fatali begins with a single note punctured by the choir. As the camera soars over an ocean, the strings pick up with a rhythmic beat, followed by a complex fluttering of woodwinds that signal the entrance of the male voices enter. The rest of the piece is pure glory. Underscoring the shifting images of a beautiful woman, a fierce duel, and a sorceress clad in goth is a raging musical tempest, chock full of crashing timpani and brass fanfares. The sound from the choir is absolutely massive, and again one gets the feeling of listening to something overwhelmingly epic.

This is basically everything a fan of game OR film music could wish for. Get the music; or, better yet, get the game, since it's reported to be amazing.

Download Clip!

2. Blue Fields (3:38)


Delicate orchestration opens this evocative track, slow and beautifully expressive in its seductive string passages and mournful oboe melody. The piece flowers as the theme is passed to the strings, creating a very picturesque effect. In the game, the music underscores the Overworld map scenes. Although nothing particularly special, the piece is still very pretty and makes a great break from the supercharged intensity of the previous track, Liberi Fatali.

3. Don't Be Afraid (3:49)


The first in-game action track on the CD. This is a very enjoyable piece, even though—of all the tracks on the Final Fantasy 8 album—this one most resembles game music. The piece opens with a pounding ostinato for snare drums and percussion, punctuated by tense strings, and then goes on to introduce the battle theme, a soaring string motif followed by a more reflective, gather-your-powers brass one that perfectly conveys the sleek, yet spectacular face-offs which define the game. Both themes are so catchy that after a couple listens, it's hard not to hum along. Sweeping piccolo runs and wind effects add a mystical element to the action cue.

There are only a couple problems with this track. One is that it is sort of repetitive—the same syncopated beat underlies the entire track. (And part of the reason why the themes are so memorable is because they are repeated seemingly over and over again.) Another is that it is sort of neutral in terms of tone, neither heroic or dark, thus lacking the personality of some of the other songs. This is an inherent problem in many game music cues, particularly battle cues, which have to loop constantly when underscoring the player's actions. You can't well score a battle with something overly dramatic dramatic or emotional—either it'll seem out of place or intrusive. But, Nobuo Uematsu's talent enables him to dampen most of these problems by creating such catchy cues as this.

4. Balamb Garden (5:16)


A very sweet, soothing track. Like Blue Fields, this also serves as a balm from the previous action cue. Although it is mere underscore compared to some of the other tracks, the piece is in fact quite melodic. It opens with gentle pizzicato in the strings, and overhead a tapestry of little motifs build, creating the effect of a peaceful tide washing away the dirt and grime of everyday worries. (Hmm...) Midway through a charming clarinet theme is introduced, which is later passed to various sections of the orchestra. Uematsu's trademark flute trills are very tastefully executed here, endowing the piece with a beautiful waterfall-like impression. Some parts of the piece tend to sound a little too pop-friendly for my liking (yes, this is one of the many gushy parts of a generally fabulous orchestral score) but overall it's still an excellent track.

5. Fisherman's Horizon (4:02)


This piece really piqued my curiosity. Following a surprising, whimsical introduction by chorus (with lots of oohing) the piece sets off with a graceful flute theme that is then passed to the oboe. The piece takes on a slightly jazzy quality in the second half, till the chorus starts up again, this time singing in pseudo-glorious, hymn-like celebration. The overall result is quite funny, in a warm, comforting sort of way. Generally a very nice piece. (Though the chorus can be a tad annoying sometimes.) Compared to the other FF8 pieces, however, this one is skippable.

More to come....

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