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Friday, March 8, 2013

Favorite Tunes #50: Final Fantasy Battle Edition

Well, here it is, the 50th installment of Favorite Tunes. Video game music is in my humble opinion some of the greatest music in the history of the medium, so I take great joy in sharing some of my personal favorite video game songs whenever I make one of these posts. I wanted to do something special for the Favorite Tunes #50. Originally, I had planned to go with some Mega Man music, but I settled on Final Fantasy. Besides, if I recall, the last time Square Enix RPG power house had a Favorite Tunes dedicated to it, it was in Favorite Tunes #6.

This series has certainly seen better days. Exactly where the Final Fantasy games started to lose ground varies greatly depending on whom you ask. But like the Sonic games, one thing that has been consistently good with the Final Fantasy series has been the music. I'm highlighting some of my favorite battle themes from the main Final Fantasy franchise. And since this is the fiftieth edition of Favorite Tunes, I'm going beyond the usual ten songs.

Battle Scene - Final Fantasy (NES)

The original Final Fantasy set a lot of series standards. Crystals, airships, and even unexpected plot twists were concepts that debuted in the first game. Even on the NES hardware, the series first battle theme is quite engaging. Given that it's quite easy to lose a few party members in normal encounters, it's rather fitting that this battle theme sounds very intense. Another series staple is the first few seconds of the battle theme. It was used in every normal Final Fantasy battle theme for the first six games and was reintroduced in Final Fantasy IX.

Boss Battle A - Final Fantasy Origins (PS) Final Fantasy

Square has been compiling Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II together since the NES days, though Final Fantasy II wouldn't make it outside of Japan until the 2003 release of Final Fantasy Origins on the PlayStation. A remake of the first two Final  Fantasy games, Origins packs 32-bit like visuals, a more balanced difficulty along with the option to play on the normal settings and an arranged soundtrack. Boss Battle A was first used on the Wonder Swan version of Final Fantasy where is sounded a lot like an NES tune. In the Origins version it's been given the arranged treatment and it sounds glorious. As much as I like the standard battle theme for the first Final Fantasy, it was nice to get a different tune for bosses.

Battle 2 - Final Fantasy III (DS)

While this game originally hit Japan in 1990, it wouldn't hit American shores until the 2006 remake on the DS. Final Fantasy III birthed the famous job system that would be expanded upon further in Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics. The DS remake was given 3D visuals and an arranged soundtrack. I think Battle 2, the game's boss theme benefits greatly from the arranged score.

This is the Last Battle - Final Fantasy III (NES)

I've never played the NES version of Final Fantasy IIII but in the DS remake, the final boss, the Cloud of Darkness was no pushover. You know you're in for a fight when your party members are in the 70s in levels and the boss can still make them drop like flies. As much as I love the DS arranged version of this track, the NES version is all kinds of awesome. Nobou Uematsu knew his stuff even back in the 8-bit days.

The Dreadful Fight - Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

The first Final Fantasy on the SNES, Final Fantasy IV was a giant leap forward for the ever evolving franchise. The world was larger, the characters were far more fleshed out and thanks to the 16-bit hardware, the visuals and sounds were that much greater. Nobuo Uematsu must have had all kinds of fun writing the music for this game. The extra sound channels and Uematsu's knack for composing gave way to some extraordinary battle themes.

The Final Battle - Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Golbez, Cecil's brother was such a cool character and while it was good to see him get some redemption in the end, it kinda sucked that the final boss, Zeromus really came out of nowhere. This guy had zero build up and throughout most of the game, the player is lead to believe that Golbez is the big bad, but instead, Zeromus was pulling the strings. Having said that, the climactic battle with Zeromus kept me on the edge of my seat due to the challenge and the incredible final battle theme he was given.

Battle 2 - Final Fantasy V (SNES)

Final Fantasy V is often underrated when compared to it's predecessor and successor and that's a real shame. While it may not have as strong a story as IV and VI, the story is still interesting enough to see it through to it's conclusion and the job system offers some of the deepest gameplay and combat the series has ever seen. Battle 2, the game's standard boss theme is a bit nerve wrecking. It sounds absolutely terrifying and has one of the sickest change ups at 1:02. This is what awesome boss music sounds like, boys and girls.

Clash on the Big Bridge - Final Fantasy V (SNES)

After Galuf infiltrates Exdeath's castle to free his imprisoned comrades, he and the party must make a mad dash to freedom across a long bridge, which is aptly named, The Big Bridge. The party faces many foes on this long trek, but none of them compare to Gilgamesh, Exdeath's transforming, weapon wielding right hand man who has one of the greatest pieces of music to ever grace the Final Fantasy series. Gilgamesh is a remarkable character in his own right but his battle theme makes him that much better.

Decisive Battle - Final Fantasy V (SNES)

I've always had a fondness for Exdeath even though he comes off as a but cliche when compared to the other villains in the series. Sure, he's basically sealed evil in a tree that breaks free to destroy the world, but his design is one of my favorites and he's so hammy about being evil. His hamminess was taken to even higher levels in Dissidia: Final Fantasy when Gerald C. Rivers lent his voice to the character. From my understanding, Exdeath's appearance in Dissidia did a lot for the character and he's since been seen in a better light.

Battle Theme - Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

Throngs of fans champion this as the best Final Fantasy. It's my personal favorite for many reasons like the story, complex characters and the wonderful, wonderful music. Getting into random battles again and again can be quite tiresome but the battle theme of Final Fantasy VI never once wore on my nerves.

The Fierce Battle - Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

There are two types of Ultima Weapons in Final Fantasy VI. One is a powerful blade that's damage dealt depends greatly on the users HP. The other is a bestial creature that craves destruction and the he awaits players on the Floating Continent. If you don't hear the standard boss battle them in a boss fight that's a sure sign that you've got a serious battle on your hands. The Fierce Battle is a far more quickly paced battle theme than the The Decisive Battle, Final Fantasy VI's regular boss theme. It's generally reserved for Ultima Weapon and other tough costumers like the Warring Triad statues. Kinda of a pity that you don't get to hear it more often but every time you do, it's a real treat.

Those Who Fight - Final Fantasy VII (PS, PC)

Square's first Final Fantasy entry in the 32-bit gaming era, Final Fantasy VII made both Square and Sony truckloads of money. Many gamers picked up a PlayStation just so they could play this game, even those that never touched an RPG. This is the game that is largely credited to breaking RPGs out of the niche genre and into the mainstream. While years were spent on Final Fantasy VII's development, veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu only had one year to write the game's score. I personally believe that due to these harsh time constraints that his work suffered. VII's score isn't up to the same standards of previous games or later installments, but it's still a good soundtrack with some noteworthy fighting themes. Those Who Fight, also simply called Fighing, is VII's usual battle music and it makes the countless random battles you engage in far more bearable.

Those Who Fight Further - Final Fantasy VII (PS, PC)

Also know as Still More Fighting, this is VII's regular boss theme. Uematsu really cuts loose and lets his inner rock and roll fiend run wild in this course.

Jenova Absolute - Final Fantasy VII (PS, PC)

The calamity known as Jenova fell to the planet many years before the events of Final Fantasy VII took place. Sephiroth believes Jenova to be his mother due to the lies he was fed and that he is the rightful ruler of the planet. Cloud and company fight different versions of Jenova a total of four times through the course of the game. Jenova Absolute is Jenova's final form and gets it's own distinct boss theme.

Force Your Way - Final Fantasy VIII (PS, PC)

War with teens caught in the battlefield, sorceresses, time compression and love? Yeah, that sounds like a recipe for another Final Fantasy to me. Set in more modern times, Final Fantasy VIII used a Junction system that took a bit of time to grasp and this made the game cumbersome for more than a few players. But it could easily be exploited to turn your party members into an army if you knew just what to do. I fell in love with Final Fantasy VIII's main boss theme, Force Your Way, the minute I heard it as I battled Ifrit. This theme was the main reason I looked so forward to boss fights in VIII. It's probably my favorite standard FF boss theme.

The Man with the Machine Gun - Final Fantasy VIII (PS, PC)

Squall and company are knocked unconscious and find themselves in the minds of Laguna and company years before the events of Final Fantasy VIII took place. I was just as befuddled as Squall but when I entered my first random battle as Laguna, I was quite surprised and pleased that Don't Be Afraid was replaced with The Man with the Machine Gun, the battle theme that plays for Laguna and his buddies. Don't Be Afraid is a good standard battle theme, but The Man with the Machine Gun gets me so much more stoked for a battle and was one of the many reasons I loved playing as Laguna.

Battle 2 - Final Fantasy IX (PS)

Gone were the modern day settings and angsty central protagonists for the ninth Final Fantasy entry. It was back to mid evil settings that many old-school fans love. Four member parties also returned and character classes felt more distinct for the first time since Final Fantasy VI. Lovable rogue Zidane was a theif, Steiner was a knight, Vivi a black mage and so on. This also meant the return of musical compositions that were more in line with the earlier Final Fantasy titles.

Battle in the Dungeon #2 - Final Fantasy XI (PS2, PC, 360)

The first entry in the series to be a MMORPG. Since I'm not really into this style of RPG, I steered clear of Final Fantasy XI, but it's soundtrack did reach my ears, in particular a few of the battle themes. While Nobuo did contribute to FFXI's score, he didn't write a single battle theme. Naoshi Mizuta took up the reigns for FFXI's numerous battle tracks and I must say, I've been quite pleased with the results. Battle in the Dungeon #2 reminds me of some fight scenes out of Gargoyles.

Awakening - Final Fantasy X (PS2, PC 360)

This battle theme came to my attention thanks to Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. The beginning of the track starts out slow and haunting but at 36 seconds in, the song picks up, making you feel like you're really in for a struggle for survival. Since I never played FFXI, I can only fathom what the final boss was like. Whether the last battle was one of the toughest FF boss fights in history or a total pushover, Awakening will always be a terrific final battle tune.

Esper Battle - Final Fantasy XII (PS2)

Final Fantasy XII went back to the single player RPG formula that the series is more known for. And it's another FF I've yet to play but have had numerous opportunities to pick up. FXII is another FF that gets a lot of criticism but you shouldn't let that stop you from hearing the game's music. Soundtrack contributors for FFXII include Hitoshi Sakimoto, Hayato Matsuo, Masaharu Iwata, Yuji Toriyama, Taro Hakase and of course, Nobuo Uematsu. If that isn't a dream team for a soundtrack, I don't know what is.

Blinded By Light - Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360)

No other game in the series has been so heavily criticized by fans and the gaming press than Final Fantasy XIII. FFXIII is disliked for numerous reasons. Some say it's far to linear. Some will cite the cast as uninteresting. The battle system is a mess. Say what you will about FFXIII but don't you DARE dis this game's soundtrack. The first game in the series not to have any contributions by Nobuo Uematsu, FFXIII's music was handled by Masashi Hamauzu. I've long been a fan of his compositions since SaGa Frontier 2, which has some of greatest battle themes in gaming. Blinded By Light, the standard battle music for FFXIII is quite possibly the best normal music in the history of the FF series. There's plenty of percussion in this theme, but the violin takes center stage in this piece. That may sound unusual, especially for a battle theme but Hamauzu  makes it work so well. Blinded By Light was the first song written for FFXIII, made for the game's E3 2006 debut trailer and went through many rewrites before we got the theme we hear today.

In the Shadow of the Colossus - Final Fantasy XIV (PC)

The series once again goes back online but with less than stellar results. FFXIV was rushed out the door, leaving the game a buggy, glitch filled messed, albeit one with some amazing music, thanks to series composer Nobuo Uematsu. The Battle themes for FFXI were a rocking good time.

Favorite Tunes Database


Voltech said...

"Final Fantasy VIII used a Junction system that took a bit of time to grasp and this made the game cumbersome for more than a few players. But it could easily be exploited to turn your party members into an army if you knew just what to do."

I hear that. There are a lot of things to fault FF8 for, but its junction system isn't one of them if you ask me. It makes becoming overpowered as easy as 1, 2, 100 Ultima spells!

I admit that I didn't get into FF until the seventh game, but after hearing it on YouTube (and in Dissidia) I have a pretty strong fondness for Clash on the Big Bridge. Of course, the same goes for Force Your Way -- especially because of the GODLIKE rendition by The Black Mages.

And yes, I'll admit that FF13 did have some nice music. Shame about the rest of the game, though...

Reggie White Jr. said...

It's crazy how strong you can make your party early on in FFVIII. Junction them right and you won't really need to call out the GFs.

The Black Mages' version of Force Your Way is indeed magnificent. I'd love for them to arrange some more FF battle themes.