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The music of Final Fantasy has become the life work of Japanese composer Uematsu Nobuo. Between Final Fantasy I – IX, Uematsu was the main creative force behind the music of the series, and he created benchmarks and broke ground that few other game series have lived up to musically. Here are the top ten most important musical moments in the Final Fantasy franchise.
10. Final Fantasy – Preludes and Victory Themes
Little connects the various worlds and stories of Final Fantasy games but one familiar recurrent element is the title screen music known as preludes, the battle music, and the victory fanfares. The preludes are always a form a light harp music of crystalline delicateness, winding up and down like the never-ending tale of the Final Fantasy worlds. The battle music is dark and exciting, reminding you of your struggle against whatever forces of evil are at work in that world.
The victory fanfare is, as one would expect, a cheerful horn-blast followed by a sort of marching melody. The value of these is that for a series with precious little to tie it together, these melodies provide the necessary familiarity for the player to stir up those feelings of anticipation and achievement from previous titles. Without them, it just wouldn’t be Final Fantasy.
9. Final Fantasy II – Overworld
An odd choice, perhaps, but the overworld theme for Final Fantasy II is where Uematsu began writing music based on elements of the story rather than simply the generic MIDI music of the original Final Fantasy. FFII is one of the first RPGs to have more than a perfunctory story, with dark undertones, twists, character deaths, and betrayal. It remains one of the few truly dark overworld themes within the series.
8. Final Fantasy V – Clash on the Big Bridge
A variation of this song (also known as Battle with Gilgamesh) also features in FFXII when fighting against Gilgamesh, the only truly recurring character in the Final Fantasy franchise. Gilgamesh travels through the Rift between Final Fantasy worlds, popping up in many of the games between V and XII.
As the only recurring character (“Cid” is a different person each time and chocobos aren’t really characters per se), he holds a special place in the heart of fans of the series. This music has become his theme, and is well suited to his somewhat goofy, bumbling personality.
7. Final Fantasy IV – Dreadful Fight
This song spans all the feelings you might have had while playing through the “dreadful fight” towards the end of FFIV–it’s energetic, intimidating, climactic, hopeful. Memorable music for a memorable battle, Uematsu’s work really speaks for itself here.
6. Final Fantasy VI – Dancing Mad
A piece fitting of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (an influence, by Uematsu’s own admission), this sprawling, epic tune sets the mood for the final boss fight in Final Fantasy VI, one of the most highly regarded entries in the entire franchise. The opponent is Kefka, a psychotic jester-mage come god bent on destroying the world. One of the most familiar, memorable, and defining moments of the franchise, this music is a perfect fit for the four-part final battle against an unhinged god.
5. Final Fantasy VI – Aria di Mezzo Carattere
This song is part of a full, actual opera written for Final Fantasy VI by Uematsu. It has been performed live several times, with lyrics sung in Japanese, English, or Italian. This is one of the first songs written for a video game intended for live dramatic performance, and shows Uematsu’s seriousness about the music of Final Fantasy. The four-part opera scene in FFVI is one of the most iconic, memorable moments in Final Fantasy history, accompanied by some of Uematsu’s best work.
4. Final Fantasy VII – One Winged Angel
There’s a good chance this is the most epic final boss battle music there has ever been. Psychotic, megalomaniacal, and lumbering with power, this song plays all through the final boss fight of FFVII (in which, at one dramatic moment, a comet plows through each planet in the solar system and then lands on your team… wow). There are many reasons for the fervent group of Final Fantasy fans claiming FFVII is the best in the series; the epic final boss fight and its music is one of them.
3. Final Fantasy VIII – Liberi Fatali
This orchestrated opening cinematic was an awesome spectacle to those awaiting the sequel to FFVII. Square had clearly learned from their success with VII, and wanted to make the cinematic sequences look even better, and make the music even more powerful. While VII felt like an experiment into the third dimension, VIII and its music have a more self-certain air to them, which shows through in this composition.
2. Final Fantasy VII – Aerith’s Theme
A beautiful and tragic song for a beautiful and tragic character, this is one of the most memorable pieces of music from Final Fantasy VII. Aerith’s Theme is played at multiple points throughout the story, deepening the emotional connection between the player and the characters. This is a great example of Uematsu’s music truly enhancing the gaming experience in a way dialogue cannot.
1. Final Fantasy IV – Theme of Love
A wonderful piece of music to match the moving and layered story of Final Fantasy IV. One of the subplots of FFIV is the development of a love relationship between Rosa, the white mage, Cecil, the lead character (who undergoes a transformation from black knight to paladin), and his friend Cain, the dragoon.
Cain watches from a distance as the relationship between Rosa and Cecil develops, keeping his peace out of respect for his friend and shame for his actions during the game. Theme of Love serves as a leitmotif for this developing relationship throughout the game, and it is so well-loved that it is actually taught to children in Japanese elementary school music classes.
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