For my first game-specific VGM playlist I’m not sure there’s a better place to start than with the soundtracks to Final Fantasy, a series well known and highly celebrated for the calibre of its scores. Any fan of the series will be able to rattle off the big-hitters; the iconic Prelude Aerith’s Theme, Dancing Mad, One-Winged Angel and Liberi Fatali to name just a few. Well, you won’t be seeing any of them today; instead, we’ll be focusing on pieces that have been generally overlooked since their initial soundtrack release. I believe that any of the tracks on this playlist has the potential to be arranged for similar concerts, though if not they can definitely be enjoyed on their own away from the game.
The hard and fast rule I’ve tried to stick by for this playlist is for the music to not have been featured in a Distant Worlds, New World or Piano Opera release or concert, not featured at all in either Final Symphony event. However, my complete scientific method of memory and the internet is not yet 100% efficient so please forgive any incursions on my own rule-set.
The best place to start is of course at the beginning with the NES-era titles (the music on the playlist may be from remasters or remakes). The early Final Fantasys don’t tend to get a lot of attention for their short but eloquent melodies partially due to the limitations of the NES but also due to the fact that two of the games were only released in the West in the 2000s, some 10+ years after their initial release. It’s a shame really as II and III especially have some lovely themes, with the third game pushing the NES to its limits when it came to the music. Looking at examples from the first three games, you have Mount Gulug and Castle Pandemonium which are iconic but underutilised pieces (only reappearing as cameos in FF IX), while Final Fantasy III brought more nuanced and interesting pieces for its story and temples, while also maintaining the FF tradition of upbeat airship themes
A type of music that tends to be overlooked when it comes to rearranging pieces for piano or orchestra are secondary character themes. Final Fantasy VI is a great example of this, with both Gau and Shadow’s theme standing out along side stalwarts Terra and Celes, but the best example comes from IX with Freya’s Theme. Freya is not a major character, instead acting as a support with her own minor story which is disappointingly concluded too early in the game. But her theme captures her character magnificently, combining despair with an undertone of hope which works fantastically well in tandem with her story.
Late game pieces are also sometimes overlooked; this is the case when it comes to The Castle in FFVIII, which contains the second best use of organ sounds in the Final Fantasy series after Dancing Mad underscoring a dangerous environment, as well as Esto Gaza in IX which at first comes across as a low key track in the score but contains a great melody and atmosphere for the surroundings. Late games are also at a disadvantage given the use of composers other than Uemtasu but their scores should be neglected at your peril, with the varied styles and sounds found in Hamazu’s XIII score and the very intricate, film soundtrack inspired work on the series’ MMOs including exceptional pieces by Kumi Tanioka, Naoshi Mizuta and Masayoshi Soken.
So have a listen to the playlist and let me know what you think – is there anything I should have added? Is there anything I shouldn’t? Leave a comment, tweet or similar.