Review Summary: With a career spanning dozens of soundtracks, this one soundtrack stands out as arguably the greatest of Nobuo Uematsu’s career.
If you want to start a flame war on the Internet, there is no easier way than to simply ask, which is the greatest Final Fantasy game? If you’re lucky, you might get a little bit of intellectual and thoughtful discussion, but soon the angry nerds will flock and try to prove that their personal favorite is the best, usually by saying every other one is crap. They will target every element of the games, from major ones like story, gameplay, and characters, to minor ones like setting, side quests, and glitches (I once saw a person claim that VI possibly couldn’t be better than VII because of a relatively minor glitch that was rarely encountered). But one thing stands out as nearly unimpeachable; nothing not even the most rabid of fanboys would dare criticize: Nobuo Uematsu’s stunning soundtracks. At most I’ve seen people say a certain track is overrated, but never calling it terrible. So with the ability to stop fanboys dead in their tracks, Nobuo is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Nearly all of his work with Final Fantasy is near perfection, helping build the drama and adding tensions to the turn based battles. With that high praise, I bring us to the soundtrack that is arguably the one he succeeds the most with, Final Fantasy VI.
One thing that a listener will immediately notice is that the soundtrack is much gloomier and darker than previous installments in the series. Dungeon themes seem to literally drip with menace and despair, something that previous games didn’t seem to have. And this really fits well with the game, considering that the villain destroys the world halfway through the game. But despite this melancholy, there is still hope. And Nobuo’s tracks work wonders at aiding this feeling. For every song filled with dread, there is a heroic song to lift you up. Nobuo strikes such a wonderful balance with this soundtrack, it really is quite astounding. A great example is the two town themes, placed right next to each other on the track list. Kids Run Through the City
is a standard jolly town theme of the Final Fantasy series, but the ominous and hopeless sounding Under Martial Law
raises such a wonderful counterpoint to that.
However, I feel the real meat of the soundtrack is Nobuo’s experiments with a leitmotif style. Each character has their own specific theme, which really helps define the characters. From the wonderfully spaghetti western styled Shadow’s Theme
to the whimsical yet sinister Kefka’s Theme
, each song seems to perfectly fit the character. Two of the more famous themes from this game are Celes’s Theme
, which is remixed into the famous opera track, Aria de Mezzo Caraterre
, is a very moving track, filled with the perfect mix of despair and hope that I mentioned earlier, and Terra’s Theme
, which serves as the primary overworld music for the game. Oftentimes, Final Fantasy games live or die off the overworld theme, since it is the primary track you hear throughout the game. And Terra’s Theme
might just be the best of them all. It really encapsulates the spirit of adventure and discovery that characterizes the Final Fantasy games as a whole. Whenever I hear that track, I feel the need to pick up some traveling gear and just go out into the wide world to see what I can discover. But the grand culmination of this experiment is the ending theme, Balance is Restored
. It weaves together every character’s theme as we discover what happened to them after the climactic events of the game. It’s quite beautiful and a fitting end to the story.
While these character themes definitely help the plot elements move along, what about the battle segments? With the right tracks, it can transform a turn based battle into something more, a fraught, tension filled encounter where you hope that you can just barely get out of it alive. And this soundtrack has it in spades. From the fast paced The Decisive Battle
or the terrifying Ultima Weapon theme, The Fierce Battle
, this soundtrack has the perfect song for any encounter. And the crown jewel of the battle themes is the 17 minute long epic for the final battle against the god-like Kefka, Dancing Mad
. This track moves through the four parts of the battle, revisiting some past themes to really drive home the idea that this moment is what the whole journey is building up to. The almost church choir like stylings of the track, filled with synthesized chants and organs, make you almost believe you are fighting a god. I once heard this track described as a way of saying, “Rejoice! For Kefka shall bring about a glorious end!” And that is the near perfect way to describe it.
From the dramatic character themes, the doom filled dungeons, to the potent battle tracks, this soundtrack has it all. It manages to be incredibly diverse, yet still retain a unified theme: hope is never lost. Really, any listener could probably find a track or two that they enjoy even if they aren’t fans of video games in general. And that is probably this soundtrack’s greatest ability, to give anyone an enjoyable and dramatic listen. Even if you aren’t a fan of Final Fantasy, give this soundtrack a listen. You might walked away surprised.
A Few Recommended Tracks:
(This part was hard, choosing the best tracks from a 3 disc set, so I choose a few that I thought gave an excellent variety)
Aria de Mezzo Caraterre
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