Saturday, July 14, 2012

Best of... Final Fantasy Music

Yesterday I posted my Theatrhythm Final Fantasy review. It was a game to commemorate the twenty-five years the Final Fantasy franchise has been in existence. Today I bring back my "Best of..." segment to provide you with my favorite Final Fantasy tracks from the mainline games, I-XIII. We have a swath of categories from Best World Map Theme to Best Final Boss Theme to get to, and after you have read my picks, feel free to discuss them in the comments section below.


[Best World Map Theme]

Runner-Up: Terra (Final Fantasy VI)
 

The pan flute gives a nice western vibe to this world map theme as it has a march-like tone to it. Then at 1:18 the piece changes to something more hopeful, something that seems fit the world that Terra and friends are currently trying to fight for. The limitations of the Super Nintendo sound card did not stop Nobuo Uematsu from creating some of his most magical and brilliant music in his storied career.

Winner: Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII (Final Fantasy VII)


Starting on a somewhat forlorn note, the world map theme of Final Fantasy VII also just so happens to be the theme of the entire game. The main theme kicks in at 0:50 and doesn't attract heaps of attention to itself. However, it soon picks up steam and is followed by a gentle piano interlude at 1:55. Then we reach the boiling point where the synth flares and the main theme blares at 2:41. Truly a dramatic and emphatic piece that defines the Final Fantasy VII experience.

Honorable Mention: Main Theme (FFI)

[Best Town Theme]

Runner-Up: Troian Beauty (Final Fantasy IV) 
 

The theme of Troia, a kingdom of women to the west of the world map, it is an easygoing piece that is punctuated by the gorgeous harp synth accompaniment. An arranged version with real life instruments would be released on the Final Fantasy IV - Celtic Moon album. If you'd like a taste of it, feel free to follow this link.

Winner: Kids Run Through the City Corner (Final Fantasy VI)


The soft and warm synths make you feel at home, no matter if you're on the opposite ends of the Final Fantasy VI world or not. Even when the world enters a state of ruin, you can return to a town with this heartfelt theme and feel relaxed. This isn't just my favorite town theme from a Final Fantasy game, it's simply one of my favorite town themes for any game period.

Honorable Mention: Town (FFI)

[Best Chocobo Theme]

Runner-Up: Electric de Chocobo (Final Fantasy VII)


Wipe out, dude! Nobuo Uematsu takes us to the beach with this version of Chocobo theme, a piece from Final Fantasy VII. The surf guitar accompanies the synth melody. We even get an interlude featuring a motif similar to that of the 1963 instrumental hit, Wipe Out. Well, actually it is pretty much a straight copy with a variation here and there.

Winner: Pulse de Chocobo (Final Fantasy XIII)


Nothing to kick up your Chocobo ride a few notches than a pure, fast-paced jazz piece. One of the mainstays of the Final Fantasy series since the second installment is that of Chocobos, bipedal birds that you can ride to and fro to get to your destination much faster than on foot alone. Besides being exceptionally catchy with the percussive beats and uptempo rhythm, Pulse de Chocobo is just a feel-good theme, and you'll need it after playing extended sessions of Final Fantasy XIII.

Honorable Mentions: Chocobo Jam (FFX), Ukelele de Chocobo (FFIX)

[Best Airship Theme]

Runner-Up: Ride On (Final Fantasy VIII)


Final Fantasy's airship themes are generally highly triumphant-sounding and give you a strong sense of satisfaction, piloting a juggernaut of a flying machine. Final Fantasy VIII's Ride On is no exception to this line of thinking. Starting off with a fluttery series of notes from the flute, we soon kick into overdrive with the percussion and the main theme. Ride On even has some electronica thrown in for good measure.

Winner: Highwind Takes to the Skies (Final Fantasy VII)


Once you gain Cid's airship, the Highwind, and enter into the air for the first time, you feel victorious. Of course, your adventure is far from over. Weapons still ravage the world, and some momma's boy named Sephiroth wants to cause you nothing but grief. A more boastful version of Final Fantasy VII's main theme, Highwind Takes to the Skies is a glorious airship theme, my personal favorite.

Honorable Mention: The Big Whale (FFIV)
 
[Best Dungeon Theme]

Runner-Up: Into the Darkness (Final Fantasy IV)

A song that really sounds like you're venturing deep into the unknown or one that would be perfect for an opera, Into the Darkness accompanies players through the Mist Cave, Damcyan Cave, and Underground Passage, among other places, in Final Fantasy IV. Just like the Troian Beauty track before it, Into the Darkness also has a Celtic Moon counterpart heard here.

Winner: The Phantom Forest (Final Fantasy VI)

A hauntingly beautiful track, The Phantom Forest sends shivers down my spine. Everything from the chord progressions to the instrumentation choices add to the dynamic of despair of this theme, yet at the same time there appears to be some hope around the 1:23 mark. Journeying through the mines of Narshe and other cavernous dungeons with this theme is a welcomed blessing, in my eyes.

Honorable Mention: Dungeon (FFIII)

[Best Character Theme]

Runner-Up: Aerith's Theme (Final Fantasy VII)


I am using the official name of the track here, so that is why it is Aerith and not the western Aeris. Regardless, I digress. A poignant piece for a character who suffers a tragic fate, Aerith's Theme tugs at the heartstrings, especially if you had a deep invested and emotional attachment to the character. I couldn't bear to sit through Final Fantasy VII as I thought it was incredibly boring, but great music is great music. Even without any attachment to the character, Aerith's Theme is a riveting piece.

Winner: Celes (Final Fantasy VI)


A gentle and moving track for a character who has suffered enough tragedy to write twelve memoirs on the subject, Celes is one of the most memorable character themes from a Final Fantasy game. I listen to it and immediately get taken to the famous opera scene, one of the most impressive scenes in the history of the 16-bit and prior Final Fantasies - nay, the Final Fantasy series as a whole. For an even more touching version of the song, listen to this piano collections take.

Honorable Mentions: Serah's Theme (FFXIII), Descendant of the Shinobi (FFVII)

[Best Villain Theme]

Runner-Up: Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)


A theme perfect for a sinister man who wears white makeup and looks like a jester, Kefka is the type of song that escalates. It is a perfect dynamic to his role in Final Fantasy VI. From what he appears to be a lowly follower to becoming the essential king of a new world (with his own cult of followers), Kefka demands respect for actually succeeding in his nefarious plans and ruining the world. Sure, he gets bested by Terra, Locke, Celes, and others, but you have to give the villain props.

Winner: Kuja's Theme (Final Fantasy IX)


Kuja is a theatrical character who resembles someone who should be in some form of Broadway production. Kuja's Theme is solely a piano number. The second to last battle of Final Fantasy IX's song, Dark Messenger, uses plenty of motifs from Kuja's Theme. While the villain's normal theme is desolate and saddening, his battle theme is much more uptempo and sounds like a rock anthem.

Honorable Mention: Golbez, Clad in Darkness (FFIV)

[Best Battle Theme]

Runner-Up: Battle Scene I (Final Fantasy I)


When I say "Best Battle Theme" I mean a theme that plays during most regular battles throughout a Final Fantasy game, not boss, special battle, or final boss themes. With that out of the way, we're going old school with the battle theme from the very first Final Fantasy game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It says something to the staying power of the original Final Fantasy's music as it still holds up to this very day. A jaunty tune that plays as you vanquish goblins and goons is always appreciated.

Winner: Blinded By Light (Final Fantasy XIII)


One of the saving graces of Final Fantasy XIII was the superb soundtrack that invited players to sit down, unwind, and listen to it. Blinded By Light is one of those songs that doesn't grate on you after repeated listening, and you WILL be listening to it a bunch while you grind for items and play through the game normally. When the chorus strikes at 0:58, you're locked, loaded, primed, and energized. The fight is on, and you definitely feel the need to kick some adamantoise shell.

Honorable Mentions: Battle Scene I (FFII), Battle (FFX)

[Best Boss Theme]

Runner-Up: Battle 2 (Final Fantasy IV)


"Best Boss Theme" pertains to the normal boss themes of the Final Fantasy games and not special boss themes such as J-E-N-O-V-A (FFVII) or The Fierce Battle (FFVI). Battle 2 from Final Fantasy IV, the first Final Fantasy entry on the Super Nintendo, features extreme tension throughout its high octane theme. The theme would return on the Super Nintendo in arranged form in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in a special and secret boss battle in Monstro Town.

Winner: The Decisive Battle (Final Fantasy VI)


Whether you're fending off Ultros or punishing Deathgaze, you will no doubt hear this boss theme plenty of times along your journey to stop the empire and then later on restore balance to the world. The Decisive Battle simply seems to get better with age year after year. I talked earlier about how I was impressed with how Nobuo Uematsu worked with the limitations of the SNES hardware to create some magnificent soundtracks. Well, he really had to work with the limitations on every platform he worked on, and I think his work was better for it.

Honorable Mention: Battle 2 (FFIX)

[Best Final Boss Theme]

Runner-Up: One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII)


A cliche choice, but it is not my number one favorite final boss battle theme. It was extraordinary then, and it is extraordinary now. When you're Sephiroth and you want to appear mighty intimidating, you turn into a heavenly body, summon a meteor to wipe out the entire solar system, and have a theme featuring a choir chanting in Latin as well as your name. It's a fairly lengthy piece, too, and one that makes you get into serious mode as the one man or being that is standing in your way of completing your quest to save the world is Sephiroth.

Winner: Dancing Mad (Final Fantasy VI)


Not just my favorite final boss theme from a Final Fantasy game, but from any game in history, Dancing Mad is marvel of a piece. As you defeat the tower of espers that lead up to the final confrontation with Kefka, the song is set to shift and flow into the next movement, four in all. Like One-Winged Angel, it was extraordinary then, and it is extraordinary now - perhaps more so. But don't take it from me. Listen to the full grandiosity of this final boss theme for yourself. And after you have finished with that, scope out this sensational Distant Worlds orchestrated version complete with chilling choir.

Honorable Mentions: The Final Battle (FFIX), The Extreme (FFVIII)

[Best Overall Soundtrack]

Runner-Up: Final Fantasy IX 


While Final Fantasy IX didn't receive many top candidates in the form of winning categories, the soundtrack as a whole remains my second favorite of all Final Fantasy scores. With songs like Zidane's Theme, Freija's Theme, Hunter's Chance, You're Not Alone!, Vamo' Alla Flamenco, Dark Messenger, Battle 1, The Airship, Hildagardy, and The Final Battle, you really can't complain about the variety and quality of this soundtrack. Nearly every track is a keeper, and all have their special moments that equate to one unforgettable video game music score.

Winner: Final Fantasy VI


Simply one of the most tremendous soundtracks in gaming to have ever existed, Final Fantasy VI features incredibly moving, exciting, and touching pieces. There's pieces like Aria Di Mezzo Carattere, Battle, Searching for Friends, Setzer, Mt. Koltz, Troops March On, Forever Rachel, and songs I have already mentioned in this article like The Decisive Battle, Kefka, Dancing Mad, Terra, Celes, The Phantom Forest, and Kids Run Through the City Corner. Nobuo Uematsu said of the soundtrack that he wanted the listener to feel the music as opposed to thinking about the music. Well, this soundtrack certainly feels like it is without a doubt one of the greatest regardless of not using authentic instruments and high quality sound.

Honorable Mention: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IV

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That about wraps up this installment of Best of. I hope you enjoyed seeing my thoughts on what my favorite pieces of Final Fantasy music are in the various categories provided. What would your choices be, and if you're not familiar with Final Fantasy and its music, what songs appealed to you?

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