I won’t get fooled again
Final Fantasy VII is twenty years old, and I still love it dearly. I remember poring over the game’s early hours in my parent’s basement, entranced by Midgar’s neon lights and cyberpunk stylings. One of the most embarrassing moments in my young life involved my dad walking in on me, red-eyed and crying, after Aeris’ now-infamous death and laughing before he walked back upstairs. In third grade, I lifted parts of FFVII‘s train graveyard sequence and used it for a school assignment. I’m not proud of that last point — plagiarism is lame and all — but you bet your butt my teacher was blown away.
Despite all of those memories, it’s Final Fantasy VII‘s music that sticks with me the most. The game’s soundtrack is a sonic triumph; a collection as varied as it is dynamic. What other game can go from orchestral chanting to mellow, beachy bossa nova tunes with such grace?
But I think there’s a deeper reason that Final Fantasy VII‘s music is so memorable. It’s not just that its soundtrack is the game’s emotional pulse or the connective tissue between story beats. It’s never that simple. After years of suspicion and a few hours of research, I’ve cracked the code between Final Fantasy VII‘s score.
Basically, Final Fantasy VII‘s opening song, “The Prelude,” sounds identical to parts of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open Your Door.” Don’t believe me? That’s fine, listen to “The Prelude” for yourself.
Now follow me down the Townshend rabbit hole.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that “The Prelude” has been a Final Fantasy staple since 1987. Although each game has its own version of the song, composer Nobuo Uematsu’s rendition in Final Fantasy VII sounds the most like Townshend’s 1980 single. Though I can’t say for sure, my theory is that VII’s “Prelude” most closely resembles “Let My Love Open the Door” because of the game’s reliance on neo-’80s aesthetics. Examining “Let My Love’s” sheet music reveals that the opening notes are played “with a bounce” and “optional synth.” Nothing is more ’80s than bouncy, synthy music, so it only makes sense that the first Final Fantasy game to take inspiration from that decade would incorporate the same themes into its iconic tune.
For the last few years, I haven’t been able to shake the Townshend/Uematsu connection without even knowing it. Whenever I’d hear “Let My Love Open the Door” on the radio, I felt a stirring in my bones. After a while, it clicked. I realized that not only did I dig Townshend’s “pop ditty” because it’s a straight-up feel-good jam, but also because it tapped into my fondness for Cloud’s weird, wild journey to save the world.
Now, I fully recognize that spewing a dozen paragraphs about how two songs are sort of similar makes me sound like a nut. That’s the fate of the games blogger. But in the interest of figuring out just how similar the songs are, I spoke with a few musicians to see how far the connection goes.
“Both songs start on the same note, have roughly the same tempo, and share the same eighth-note rhythmic pattern based on the scale’s arpeggio,” Paul Bidanset and Rachel Gaither told me in an email. Bidanset and Gaither make up two-fifths of the Virginia folk band Brackish Water Jamboree and though their music is a far cry from both Uematsu’s orchestral stylings and Townshend’s post-Who pop, their familiarity with composition allowed me to understand how two wildly different songs can sound so damn similar.
“Prelude” and “Let My Love Open the Door” are performed in C Major, a scale common in music because it has no sharp or flat notes. Plenty of well-known compositions are in the same key, including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1.
Bidanset and Gaither also note that the arpeggio mentioned above is what links the songs together. “The twinkling melody,” they wrote, “makes the songs so characteristic of one another.”
Of course, even a hack like me can tell that the two songs aren’t identical. According to Bidanset and Gaither, they diverge after the sixteenth beat, where “Prelude” goes into a minor chord which produces a more ominous sound. “Let My Love Open the Door,” conversely, has “more pizzazz,” because of Townshend’s penchant for taking avant-garde musical liberties, at least by Bidanset and Gaither’s analysis.
After speaking with two musicians, I was happy my suspicion was validated. That validation, however, made me wonder how — or why — something like this happens. Short of asking one of the video game industry’s most well-respected composers if he lifted a riff off of the dude who played guitar in The Who, I’ll probably never know how “Prelude” came to sound so much like Townshend’s jam.
But, perhaps most perplexing of all, is the fact that it could be a happy accident. In a 2014 interview with the Red Bull Music Academy, Uematsu relayed his version of how “Prelude” came to be.
“Around the time I worked on that, I’d just finished making all the music and thought everything was complete. Then my boss Hironobu Sakaguchi suddenly came into the room and told me to make one more song for the opening screen. He gave me 30 minutes. I remember rushing to make it right there.”
So maybe, just maybe, the secret to Final Fantasy‘s “Prelude” and its enduring success might have something to do with an overworked composer who was jamming to Pete Townshend sometime before his boss asked him to write one last song. Stranger things have happened, but either way, Final Fantasy VII‘s music rules.