Video game music has always been a driving passion of mine, and so it’s easy to see why events such as Classic FM’s Hall of Fame interest me so much when they come around. It’s a chance for people who love the music in the games they play to be recognised in a different environment and for us to share our passion with the wider world. Ever since 2012, Final Fantasy has always done well in these surveys and to date the series has never been outside the top 20. However, most outlets tend to choose the same piece (Aerith’s Theme) each time to represent the series and while this is fine, it got me thinking as to what actually *is* the fan’s favourite piece of music in the series.
Considering the diversity of the music in the series – all the way from the NES sound chip, through synthetic instruments leading to full, sweeping orchestral scores – and the wide ranging opinions of the fanbase as to which game did it best, it’s actually a harder question to answer than you may think at first glance.
And so back in May I ran my own poll on the Final Fantasy UK Fan group to try and get some kind of consensus. All participants were given three votes (weighted 1st-3rd) to pick their favourite pieces of music from the full repertoire of soundtracks for every single Final Fantasy game. To keep duplicates at bay, only pieces from the games themselves were allowed; this meant no music from Spirits Within, Advent Children or numerous alternate versions from concerts or Youtube.
Now onto the results: I’m only going to list the top 10 below and bring up some selected stats, but if you’re interested in the full results, click here
10 – Aerith’s Theme (FF VII – Nobuo Uematsu)
Perhaps surprisingly, Aerith’s theme only just scraped into the top 10 – the piece is one of the most memorable in the series and is still well-loved today and despite the poor in-game instrumentation, the beautifully simple melody more than makes up for it
=8 – Eternity: Memories of Lightwaves (FF X-2 – Noriko Matsueda, Takahito Eguchi, Kazuhiro Hara)
Highest placed piece from a non-main series entry
Overall, X-2’s score was very different than what came before it, but it’s one of it’s a more traditional slower piece led by some excellent solo piano work that comes in at joint 8th.
=8 – Blinded by Light (FF XIII – Masashi Hamauzu)
Highest placed non-Uematsu piece
Whatever your feelings on XIII, it can’t be denied that Hamauzu did a great job on the soundtrack, which is underlined by a great battle theme. The consistent six note staccato provides tension, underlying a melody which manages to stay fresh each time you hear it, especially when the solo violin kicks in.
7 – Clash on the Big Bridge (FF V – Nobuo Uematsu)
Fast paced and intense, Clash on the Big Bridge fits in really well with its bespoke boss battle with a lighter edge to it to compliment the humour of Gilgamesh’s encounter, as well as sinister undertones to mark the seriousness of the scenario you’re in
6 – Liberi Fatali (FF VIII – Nobuo Uematsu)
My personal number 1, Liberi Fatali cemented its place as a fan favourite thanks to its epic choir, sumptuous strings and Uematsu’s superb instrumentation, all leading to an edge of the seat crescendo – and you haven’t even started the game yet!
5 – Dancing Mad (FF VI – Nobuo Uematsu)
Highest placed NES/SNES entry
I’ve spoken many times about how Uematsu was a master of pushing the NES and SNES sound chip as far as it could go, and all four movements Dancing Mad showcase this. Both riveting and foreboding, Dancing Mad remains one of the series’ most complex and ambitious pieces, and perfectly represents your battle with Kefka
4 – One Winged-Angel (FF VII – Nobuo Uematsu)
The advent of CDs in gaming meant that real voices were now an option for composers, and Uematsu waited for just the right moment to introduce them into VII. There’s a distinct gothic feel to the piece, while the thick textures and striking melodies only add to the drama
3 – Rose of May (FF IX – Nobuo Uematsu)
While Beatrix may only be a minor character in the world of IX, her theme is one of the most beautiful of the series. You’re able to feel Beatrix’s sense of duty come to the fore during this simple but crisp piano piece, but also a hint of longing for something better, and not specifically a romantic desire.
2 – You’re Not Alone (FF IX – Nobuo Uematsu)
Played at a pivotal moment in Zidane’s story, You’re Not Alone conveys the character’s raw emotion wonderfully with an affecting melody, and utilises a range of diverse musical styles which still manage to compliment each other as the piece flows.
1 – Zanarkand (FF X – Nobuo Uematsu)
Most 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences
In the end, it wasn’t even close. Despite an early lead for Liberi Fatali, the delicate melody of Zanarkand ran away with the poll and it’s easy to see why. Not only is it played during a few significant story moments, but it also stands well on its own, perhaps better than any other Final Fantasy song. Once heard, you can’t forget its haunting melody and emotional undertones.
So that’s the top 10, which for me is both expected and unexpected at the same time. Most of the major players are there, but slightly lower than I’d have thought – I was expecting pieces like Aerith’s Theme. Dancing Mad and One Winged Angel to be higher than where they polled, while other traditionally popular pieces didn’t fare well in voting at all; Terra’s Theme only placed 16th, while JENOVA and the Bombing Mission received just a single vote each.
Of all the games, IX’s representation surprised me the most – not only did it manage to get two games in the top 3, but tracks from IX received the most overall votes in the poll, even more than VII. While all main series games were present and correct in some form (although only just in the case of II and III), it was also heartening to see non-main series games present when collating the results, with Type-0, Crisis Core, the remaining parts of the XIII trilogy and even Before Crisis receiving votes.
So over to you – do you think the right piece of music won? What should have been higher or lower? Do you have any tips for a future poll? Let me know in the comments below!