"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
I have been circling around trying to think of something to do for this monthly musing, and I just couldn't come up with anything. I'm not very focused on audio in games at this point in my life after having a kid. Most of my gaming results in turning the audio off so I won't bother anybody else in the household. I was thinking of running with a We Love Katamari thing, but since its in moon speak I thought I wouldn't be the best person to wax poetic. Since I'm in the middle of Final Fantasy Tactics A2, I remembered the main theme of Final Fantasy and everything kinda clicked.
I've been playing Final Fantasy since 1997. I came across VII like everyone else and became absolutely enamored with Squaresoft. If a Playstation game had Final Fantasy on it, I owned it. These songs below haunt me. They all for some reason or another cause my neck to sub-consciously twitch wanting to send goosebumps up my spine. They aren't terrifying songs in the vein of Silent Hill, but they all seem to linger with me.
Like I had said before, I didn't JRPG until VII. I had dabbled into Chrono Trigger and Mario RPG, but those were only through sporadic rentals and my time spent was hazy at best. Final Fantasy VII for me is the game that we are all ashamed to admit playing. It doesn't embarrass me because of its quality, but because of the extent of which I was immersed into it. I remember after one late Saturday night gaming binge that I just couldn't get the thought of VII out of my head in church. That anxiety of getting back into the world really was something I hadn't experienced in gaming before or even since, but this was an interesting effect I experienced.
This sense of immersion really played with my emotions as the world, the themes and the music came together to present a game that, at the time, was unmatched in its appeal. The way that Anxious Heart haunts a train graveyard or the way that it turns Nibelheim into a truly eery town to visit is an effect that really pounded into me as a teenager.
Shinra Company however is the song that just cemented the first disc as one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever had. It plays only a few times during the raid and isn't as prevalent as Infiltrating Shinra, but its the more interesting song to me, and not just in complexity. The song starts off as you get that iconic scroll of the Shinra building and seems to act as a warning when you break in. It plays again once you come to meet President Shinra. From that second playing, things get pretty messed up as you are jailed, meet Jenova, have to save Aeris from breeding with a dog and then finally you follow this bloody trail back up to your jailer's office and the music plays again.
And there sits Shinra with a big ass sword sticking through his back.
Everyone can complain about Sephiroth and the way he's been handled, but that moment in itself was what truly cemented this guy as a top tier bad guy in my opinion. His charm is that I always had to catch up to him. Even when I got to fight with him, he was still far superior to me in every way. This was how I was first presented with the idea of Sephiroth and it was all cemented with this song.
Liberi Fatali is by all means one of the most terrifying songs in Final Fantasy. When I decided to write this, I was iffy on using the word "haunt" as most people associate it with ghosts and scary stuff instead of just remaining with something. This song can definitely be used with ghosts and scary stuff. The way the Alto is echoed in the beginning leads into a Wizard of Oz-esque nightmare fueled violin set is just perfect for the big bad of VIII.
Edea is introduced to players not as a surprise, but as a mission. She is the key target of assassination in a Deling City uprising. This mission is probably one of the top highlights of Final Fantasy VIII.
The mission begins with a recruiting drive in which you meet up with the cute daughter of the revolution Rinoa and a top shot marksman named Irving. You then head in to the city where a General, unloyal to the newly appointed head of state Edea, walks the party through a fairly elaborate sniper plot similar to JFK's. Meanwhile, Rinoa decides she wants to use a bangle to suppress Edea's sorcery. Everyone tells her she's a fool for thinking that and she pouts for a minute before running off to try and put the bangle on Edea. Turns out she is indeed a fool.
After tossing Rinoa around like a rag doll, Edea walks to her podium with a now mindless Rinoa following her every whim. She then proceeds to get in her parade car and pull into target position. That's when the music starts up. Irving gets in position to fire, and he chokes. Forcing Squall to charge head first into battle against Seifer, his rival, and then his target Edea. This rewards him with an icicle through the heart.
The entire sequence is one of uncertainty all culminating in Edea showcasing what kind of badass she really is. Throughout the entire sequence the act of the assassination is questioned over and over. Morally, just the thought of killing somebody with a silent bang is totally against the idea of a JRPG that it feels completely unnatural. Irving, who is supposed to be the trained sniper, ironically is the one who brings up this argument the most.
This flame of uncertainty gets fanned by the off chance that Rinoa can actually stop this bloodshed by infiltrating Edea's waiting room. Then we finally meet Edea and she goes from brainwashing and beating Rinoa, to killing the President, stopping your bullet midair and then to finally shanking the lead with a Popsicle. Maybe Squall was the only one that was right in just wanting to end her.
Edea from Final Fantasy VIII was a true bad ass and this song is something more than one winged angel. I'm not sure how she ranks in a bout with Sephiroth or Kefka, but she is a worthy villain in her own right. It's almost a shame that she's not the main villain as everything after Disc 2 just seems to go down hill.
I currently have a problem describing why this song has stuck with me. The last two themes have a direct character or event that can be attached to it. Off the top of my head the only two battles I can think of that use this song happen to be the very beginning of chapter 2 with Gafgarion, and the time you meet Rafa and Malak. Neither battle is very interesting as its one of the only moments that Gafgarion isn't stabbing you in the back, and there is absolutely nothing memorable about Malak and Rafa.
I guess this boils down to the music itself. Tactics is filled with great music that varies from happy to mainly somber songs and really makes for a great soundtrack. Run Past Through the Plains however just seems to stick with me. The beat just happens to push my troops forward anxiously. The part that truly sticks out is at around 0:30 where the pitch gets high and bounces forward. It's an audio cue that both stresses and encourages me to move my troops.
One thing that Final Fantasy Tactics did so well is create a looping song that was fun to listen to during your any number of 20 minute battles.
Final Fantasy VI is an issue for me. I've played the game probably about 5 or 6 times. Notice the word played, not completed. For some reason I just can't get far enough in to the game to actually form a real opinion on it. This is not a quality issue either as the game is very good, what little I've played of it. I just never have the time to sit down and fully immerse myself in a game of this pedigree.
So in saying that, the only lasting memory I have of VI is this opening cutscene. The title sequence opens up into an orchestral piece that belongs right along some horror filled opera. A cutscene depicting a girl and two soldiers slowly marching through the snow to awaken an unknown magical being. This scene is ridiculously long in that it could have carried itself very easily without the march.
That wouldn't be very poetic though. As I've said before, I've played through this scene 5 or so times and each time it sticks with me. I'm not sure if it is ever used again in the story, but its the only song I can definitively say will stick with me long after I type this. That slow march makes you focus on what these characters are doing in this town. It's especially poignant how you face wall after wall of guards trying to stop you from what you are doing. It really reminds me of VII's moment where you have to choose to run or fight a wall of guards, yet this seems more powerful in that you are sent there to push through them.
I really have to find time to sit down and burn through this game.
I figured I'd end this on the only note that I can. The prelude to many of the Final Fantasies is this little number. I chose IV's version below because that was the first time I ever actually heard the song without gameplay involved. When I booted up my Anthology disc after beating Chrono Trigger, this tune played and I remember how it truly is a creepy song.
I may be weird about this, but for a franchise built on becoming the last hope for a planet, this song has a somber tone to it. This song feels more suitable in looking back on somebody's life than looking forward to stopping evil. The intro with its rising and falling notes go on a bit long building to a piece that doesn't lend itself to the usual warmth that a series like Dragon Quest presents.
Each iteration is almost unique and is indicative of how the game will treat itself. Final Fantasy VI has a slowed down beat that puts more emphasis on the notes most likely to showcase the darker themes they put in the game. Remember the eery Anxious Heart from above? Yup derived from the very same prelude.
It's also not a song that I feel is always so gloomy as IX can attest to. However, it is one of the most iconic songs I know. On par with Mario and Master Chief's powerful themes.
I ultimately focused on the Playstation era of the series as that was when I finally realized that I was a gamer. I spent most of my focus and time on gaming and I have grown to appreciate it so much more now. Final Fantasy was one of the reasons I still hold on to that today. There are probably many more songs from any one of the other games, so please sound off below about your favorites.