THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2016|
Posted by: Don Saas
I've been playing Final Fantasy games since I was in elementary school. I clearly remember seeing a trailer for Final Fantasy VII on TV when I was in the third or fourth grade, and I got it for Christmas, and I've been playing that game off and on for the last twenty years (and will play it more when the remake is finally released in the next year or so). The older I get the less patience I have for elements of the older games: the stilted localization for the dialogue, the abysmal voice acting in Final Fantasy X (which is my favorite game in the series), the antiquated combat systems and JRPG mechanics that we've moved past over the last twenty years. But if there's one thing that I've never grown tired of in regards to what is either my favorite or second favorite video game franchise of all time, it's the music.
I can't hear "Aerith's Theme" from Final Fantasy VII without getting emotional. The melancholic strings and understated piano lines evoke the tragedy and lost love and heartache that runs through the core of that part of VII's story. I can't hear the horns and fanfare of "Terra's Theme" from Final Fantasy VI without imaging a world of lost magic and mixtures of sci-fi technology with wizards and rogues and monks. The second the opening choral treatment of "Liberi Fatali" from Final Fantasy VII without having intense flashbacks to opening that game's case back in the day (back when PS1 RPGs would come with multiple discs; I'm pretty sure Final Fantasy VIII had four which blew my mind as a kid) and watching its opening cinematic for the first time.
Almost all of these memories are thanks to the series' longtime composer, Nobuo Uematsu, who left the franchise after Final Fantasy XII (though the series' music never ceased to be an integral part of the experience). If you talk about the great composers of the 20th/21st century and you don't include Nobuo Uematsu, you're wrong. This is a man with a body of work that rivals John Williams, Danny Elfman, or Ennio Morricone. And I say this with a complete face and as a man that adores the scores of Williams, Elfman, and Morricone. He's created a body of music that has aged significantly better than the games they were written for, and even if you have no interest in playing in the games (which I get; they haven't aged well), I highly recommend diving into either of the Distant Worlds records that are available to stream on Spotify. If you have any interest in neo-classical composition in the slightest, they are worth your time.
Of course, the franchise had to soldier on even after Uematsu's departure. We're talking about one of the most visible franchises in all of gaming. And the series' latest iteration, Final Fantasy XV, is releasing September 30th of this year. They shared a new trailer for the game yesterday evening and it features Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine doing a very Florence Welch cover of Ben E. King's classic track, "Stand By Me." And it represents the latest in a long line of Square Enix collaborations (the company that publishes the Final Fantasy games) with pop stars with powerhouse vocals.
Final Fantasy XIII, the last main, non-MMO entry in the franchise (it's had two sequels which you're probably wondering how a game with XIII in its title has sequels...it's complicated and revolves around the fact that each numbered entry in the series takes place in a new universe with new characters), featured a stunning number from Leona Lewis. Kingdom Hearts II (a game that fuses Disney characters with Final Fantasy heroes...it's also complicated) features a showstopping opening/closing track from Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru). And I have no idea if Florence Welch's version of "Stand by Me" will wind up in Final Fantasy XV itself, but it fits perfectly into the franchise's musical legacy.
JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) aren't what they used to be although last year's Xenoblade Chronicles X was a fun return to form for the genre in some ways (but a regression in others), and I'll wait to see what the reviews for Final Fantasy XV look like (which would make it the first main entry in the series for me to not buy since I started playing the games), but if its musical promises can live up to that stunning performance from Florence Welch, I can guarantee that I'll at least be buying its soundtrack.