Well we all knew it was coming in some form or another. When you embark on a voyage to discover the mysterious lands of video game music, it’s pretty much inevitable that Final Fantasy will be one, or several, or all of your destinations at some point. Easily the most popular, most internationally recognized and most culturally influential video game scores ever, Final Fantasy is a musical monolith that becomes ever more unclimbable the closer you get to it. How the hell do you talk about 14 core titles in one column? What about the orchestral performances and the piano collections? What about the bizarre, but bizarrely brilliant, album of folk arrangements that somehow escaped into the world (I promise you this is a real thing and it is amazing)? Where the hell do you even begin?
For that reason I have, despite my everlasting love for the franchise and its music, avoided dealing with Final Fantasy on High Score. Until now. See, I’m knee-deep in the pretty spectacular Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (no, I did not get the title wrong) and as a result, have found myself addicted once again to its incredible music. Unfortunately, the volume-of-variety issue still persists, so I’m going to go with my gut and pick the pieces and performances that really had an impact on me. Feel free to hate on me in the comments for leaving out your favorites, I’ll probably be hating myself right along with you.
To Zanarkand (From More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy)
The only thing harder than choosing which arrangement of this astonishingly beautiful piece to feature would be having to leave it out altogether. To Zanarkand is the first piece of music you hear in Final Fantasy X and as I’ve written before, as soon as I heard that melody ascending I knew I was about to experience something special. Nobuo Uematsu has a tremendous pop sensibility and even in this heavily orchestrated, filmic arrangement, it’s his melody that captivates you.
Battle Theme (From Final Fantasy X HD Remaster)
Final Fantasy battle themes are always spectacles in and of themselves and X is no exception. Battle Theme is a perfect example of Uematsu’s inexplicable passion for slamming instrumentation ideas together regardless of whether or not they like each other. Here, what is ostensibly an orchestral piece is pushed along with some light metal/blues drumming and crunchy, squealing guitars. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s some really subtle, but really psychedelic, rock organ whispering away underneath it all. It gets my blood pumping for battle every time.
Hymn of the Fayth (From Voices: Music From Final Fantasy)
As incredible as all of the Final Fantasy orchestral shows are, anyone who has seen Voices knows there was something in the air that night that just sets it apart from the others. This performance of Hymn of the Fayth is a testament to that. It’s slower to arrive than the recorded version, beginning only in the male voices and weaving the others in as it goes. It’s a spectacular arrangement of an already haunting piece of music.
Via Purifico (From Final Fantasy X Piano Collections)
Every Final Fantasy piano collection is a stunning piece of work. In the case of X, it’s next to impossible to start it and not listen to it all the way through. Via Purifico is just one example of the delicate, respectful arrangements found on the album but it’s one that grabs my attention every single time I hear it.
Suteki Da Ne (From Voices: Music From Final Fantasy)
Final Fantasy VIII, as much as I loathe it, is responsible for beginning what is now a pretty important Final Fantasy tradition; the theme song. Eyes on Me (VIII) was good. Melodies of Life (IX) was good too. Distant Worlds (XI) and Kiss Me Goodbye (XII) are both fantastic and even My Hands (XIII) managed to work in context. But none of that matters. Because Final Fantasy X delivered the best Final Fantasy theme song, possibly the best video game theme song ever and easily one of the greatest pieces of video game music ever composed in Suteki Da Ne. So much about what makes X so special can be summed up with Suteki Da Ne and the scene it accompanies in the game that there’s very little I could say to do it justice. Just listen to this mesmerizing performance from Voices and try to remember that all that magic is being produced live, by human hands and voices, right before your eyes.
I get emotional when I talk about Final Fantasy X. I’m a total wimp and I have no shame in admitting that FFX’s ending brought me to tears when I finally reached it all those years ago. As most who’ve played it will attest, it was a landmark moment for JRPG’s and video game storytelling and was one of the earliest games I played to make me regard the medium as highly as I do now. I once read an article that claimed video game music didn’t matter; that it was window dressing and had no real effect on the experience. There was a time when I argued against that notion. Now, I’m content to just listen to the work that Uematsu, Hamauzu and Nakano delivered on Final Fantasy X and live in the knowledge that sometimes, music really can make all the difference.