Isn't it Wonderful? It's great to think that when I think of "Final Fantasy", the first thing to come to mind is the music of the franchise. And somehow, this isn't a knock to the rest of the franchise's often stellar storytelling, tactical gameplay, and stunning visuals. Not many names in the gaming industry resonate with music as much as Square's famous series. After purchasing a physical copy of the FFVII 4 disc soundtrack and the giant sheet music book back in my teen years, I soon found myself obsessed with the music of other Final Fantasy games that I had played. I'll be the first to admit that I haven't played nearly all of these games, but the ones I have experienced will stick with me via my ipod if anything. My experiences revolve around FFI, FFIII, FFIV, FFVI, FFVII, FFVIII, FFX, FFXIII, and Dissidia & Crisis Core & Advent Children. However, being a fan it's impossible to have not heard (via the net) some of the more infamous tunes from FF games I haven't played.
I have no shame in saying that the controversial Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite FF game so far. Something about the game just seemed righteously different from the series that would've become stagnant had it kept following the formulas established by the SNES entries. FFVIII, for me, holds the position of being the most impressive FF from an audiovisual perspective (considering the time) and it truly showed me how much presentation matters in enhancing the single-player experience. Aside from the hugely improved visuals, the soundtrack represented Uematsu at his peak. The synth in FFVIII sounded much more authentic and realized, while the orchestral tracks acted like their own aural FMVs...moments that technologically highlighted chosen story sequences. The game's music was even played at the 2004 Olympics during American Synchronized Swimming. "Liberi Fatali" remains my favorite videogame track of all time after all these years, creating a stunning opening cinematic that has never been matched. The "Eyes on Me" motif is heard throughout the game, from Julia's gentle piano performance to the "Love Grows" instrumental rendition. The actual vocal song, in my opinion, is romantic without being cheesy. It is enhanced by the fact that the character Julia wrote it for Laguna, and Faye Wong brings her voice to life while applying it to the former couple's respective offspring: Squall & Rinoa. "The Extreme", in another brilliant twist, triumphantly brings back the classic FF battle motif after an extensive intro.
Oddly enough, my favoritism of FF games seems to align with my favoritism of their respective soundtracks. Final Fantasy VIII, then VI, then VII, then X, etc. If I were to make a list of my favorite overall videogame soundtracks, FFVIII and FFVI would be number 1 and number 2 respectively, with FFVII somewhere behind the Chrono scores in the top ten. In my downtime, I listen to many game songs including Final Fantasy OSTs (of the games I did play), Final Fantasy remixes, and official rearrangements. When I find that I have free time, I usually decide to take up a videogame song on piano. Despite my slow learning abilities, One of Jeremy Parish's blogs on 1up regarding Final Fantasy music had me desperate to learn another FF theme on the instrument. This particular song, Beatrix's theme, was from a game I never even finished (nor did I get very far). I'm intentionally holding off on FFIX until the day when I'm older and truly start missing the classic Final Fantasy journey - the place I'll return to someday. As my friend put it, I'm probably just waiting until I become FFIX's target audience.
A) Rose of May
Often called "Loss of Me", which is probably a mistranslation that stuck, this song is a character motif for Beatrix in FFIX. While the piano collections version sounds nice, the original is faster and catchier at least to my ear, so I stuck closely to that. Still, the definitive version of this song for me is katethegreat19's cover titled "The Rose General".
B) Life Stream
I'm truly not the best piano player, but back when I recorded this I tried to capture the gentle mystique as best I could. This particular FFVII tune represents the planet, giving off a simple mystique that adds sympathy to something the party is ultimately trying to protect. It may not translate as well to piano, but with the right touch the tune still sounds calming to me.
C) Aerith's Theme
One of the most memorable character themes of all time, Aerith's theme has been played many times in orchestral, synth, and solo arrangements. It was the first FF song I ever learned on piano, but I'm betting I'm not alone in that regard. The tune made #16 in the 2012 Classic FM Hall of Fame (I voted for it!) which brought Uematsu to the attention of many "classical" music fans. Whether or not you consider a song like this "classical", Aerith's theme still stirs emotions that will be eternally tied to sacrifice and flowers. Also, there are noticeable nods to the opera song from FFVI!
D) Tifa's Theme
The theme to one of my favorite characters in FFVII! While Tifa kicks major ass as a fighter, her theme never forgets her humble roots in Nibelheim and 7th Heaven. This tune gives off a nice home-sweet-home feeling, especially when the piano collections version plays briefly in Advent Children.
E) Cid's Theme
A short theme, but one with a lot of depth. Cid Highwind's greater objectives and personality are heard by players when this theme begins. He's definitely the best Cid in the FF series, and his strength truly shows through this tune and the song "Sending a Dream into the Universe" (a calmer rendition on the same motif).
F) Listen to the Cries of the Planet
This song caught me off-guard, but it remains one of the most underappreciated pieces in FFVII. Also known as "You can Hear the Cry of the Planet". An unsettling masterpice, this atmospheric track truly haunted me through the Forgotten City areas. The uneasiness was well-placed, as the shock of Aerith's death afterwards resulted in a greatly effective climax of emotions.
G) Mark of a Traitor
It's essentially Barret's theme, but for some reason I always favored this rendition of the motif. It plays in North Corel while the story reveals unfortunate events in Barret's past. Not the most popular tune, but quite catchy in my opinion.
H) Desert Wasteland
Often called "Sandy Badlands", this slow tune is one of the best examples of Uematsu's scoring abilities. It plays in the Corel Desert Prison, setting the mood that FFVII does so well with junky areas. Now I just need to learn this on my ocarina someday.
I) Aria di Mezzo Carattere
The main opera piece from FFVI's delightfully memorable scene. I love how this song and "Celes' Theme" carry the same motifs, even though one track is diegetic and the other isn't. It goes to show how significant the performance was to Celes' overall character arc. My favorite part of this song has to be the end, after the main melody wraps up.
These videos don't represent my absolute favorite FF tunes, but they are still fun to play and hum along to. I'll eventually get to more tunes from this wonderful series in the future, since youtube is a more reliable archive than my hard drive. In fact, my all-time favorite song to play on piano is the FFX Ending Theme, as the song has incredible buildup while bringing back memories of FFX's best scene. I'll have to find time to make a worthy recording of that song and all the FFVIII tracks I want to learn.
Final Fantasy titles, even the games without Uematsu's presence, have always made sure to delight the ears with expertly composed videogame background music - and in some cases diegetic music. I hope this remains a priority in future titles as well as in any spinoffs/remakes that come along. Nobuo Uematsu, the man responsible for some of the best soundtracks I've ever heard, stands with (and above) other top composers like Koji Kondo, David Wise, and Yasunori Mitsuda. I wish I could learn to be a Black Mage like him and conjure up so many awesome compositions. When asked about his inspiration for his music, Uematsu replied in an interview with Asia Pacific Arts "Rather than getting inspiration from listening to other music, I get inspiration while I'm walking my dog".