Review Summary: Nobuo continues from where he left off on Final Fantasy VIII and creates a masterpiece which sounds unlike anything else in existence.
The Final Fantasy series began with a simple RPG released during a period in which Square nearly went bankrupt. The game got Square back in good financial shape though and more were released. Over time, the games drifted further and further from the first game. By Final Fantasy VII's release, most elements of the original Final Fantasy had been gotten rid of. Final Fantasy VIII and IX followed this trend as well. However, one thing remained a constant amongst all of the changes - the music. At the release of Final Fantasy IX, Nobuo Uematsu already had 13 years experience making music for the Final Fantasy games and his music had always been remarkably good. This is no exception.
Like most soundtracks, this won't be of as much interest to people who aren't fans as the people who are. And in many cases, the fans would already have this soundtrack. Also, there is probably little I can say that will make non-fans of the game appreciate this as much, but every ounce of effort will go into doing so. To begin with, if I described the plot of Final Fantasy IX, it would probably seem to people who hadn't played the game like a typical good-evil conflict. However, there's much more to it than that; perhaps because of the depth the game delves into. Much thought went into the plot's creation and many classic scenarios and emotions were showcased. Betrayal, romance, war, loss, despair, corruption, greed, finding purpose in life, pursuit of happiness, desire to belong, desperation against impossible odds, fear, and a sense of impending doom all add to the level of feeling and range of emotions in the game. All in all, the plot of Final Fantasy IX provides everything that a person could want and is nothing short of a work of art. It's inspirational. To complement this work of art, the soundtrack must do everything in its power to be another work of art. This is where piano master Nobuo Uematsu comes in.
The music here all represents some sort of feeling - and there's pretty much ANYTHING in you could think of. Much unlike the soundtrack to the previous game, Final Fantasy VIII, which seemed full of dark music, uplifting tracks like The Airship, Hildagaldy and Tetra Master take the forefront on about half of this soundtrack. There are fear-filled tracks like Dark Messenger, sad ones like Mistaken Love and Burmecian Kingdom, foreboding ones like The Evil Mist's Rebirth, etc. This list could go on and on, but the point is that no matter what you want it's somewhere among the mass quantity of music. Of course, this doesn't matter if the music isn't done right.
Nobuo decided to take a somewhat classical approach which had worked greatly for him in the FFVIII soundtrack. Synthesizers, still a somewhat common instrument in video games of FFIX's era, are mostly absent with the exceptions of the Battle themes, late game tracks such as Final Battle, and new versions on tracks from old games including Game Over. Stringed instruments and piano are the most common here, but sometimes there are different instruments - for example, the xylophone in Ice Caverns. Given the combination of instruments, much was possible for this soundtrack; not a single track sounds too similar to another, so the variety here is good, as it had to be for a game of FFIX's magnitude. The talent it takes to do this with over 100 tracks of music is quite a high amount, but Nobuo wasn't done with just that - he didn't make a single "dud." Every piece of music is bursting with creativity and flavor.
When I said that he "took a somewhat classical approach," that doesn't mean he confined himself to it either. The music sounds so different that it is pretty much impossible to find a genre that perfectly suits it. For example, in the only vocalized tracks Song of Memories and the two versions of Melodies of Life there are elements of pop music. Quite a few tracks on here sound like they could be some form of electronic music with a few small changes. Tantulus' Theme almost sounds like jazz in parts of it. Immoral Melody and Pandemonium sound like they came straight out of an old horror film. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that Nobuo's music transcends musical classification; it is a genre of its own. That being said, however, there are some things that tie together the music. Most of the stuff is pretty low tempo. Final Fantasy IX did not a huge portion of high-paced action. Most locations within the game were in a somewhat peaceful environment and music had to fit into peaceful situations. And of course, for the sadder or doomier themes, a high tempo probably wouldn't have worked. Some tracks like City Under Siege and Assault of the White Dragons are full of energy though. Tracks like these are spread around well through the soundtrack, so anyone who would want to take up the daunting task of listening to the soundtrack all at once would not be bored with the multitude of slower tracks; however, most people would probably only listen to a disk or a few tracks at a time. For this it helps that there are standout tracks.
The disks all have an overall high quality, but some have more standouts than others. On the first disk, there is Jesters of the Moon, an excellent, happy piano track. It is perhaps the only standout among the first disk, though that doesn't make the disk sub-par. On the second disk there is Song of Memories, Burmecian Kingdom, Kuja's Theme, and Immoral Melody. Song of Memories is a short and simple track characterized by beautiful female vocals; lyrics are non-existent, it's just a series of la's. Burmecian Kingdom is a track that invokes sadness and worked perfectly for the destroyed kingdom of Burmecia in the game. Kuja's Theme is the theme for the biggest enemy in FFIX, sort of similar to Ultimecia in VIII and Sephiroth in VII. The amazing, evil and dark-sounding piano work was perfect for him. Immoral Melody sounds even darker and more amazing than Kuja's Theme. Disk three begins with City Under Siege and the music suits its title well. Further into the disk is Master of Time, which makes extensive use of dark organ music. Disk four is probably the best in this collection and contains many of the late game tracks. Pandemonium is a great piece, which draws similarities to Master of Time. You're Not Alone! is an short, upbeat, and happy track with an epic buildup that brings tears to my eyes. Assault of the White Dragons gets the adrenaline flowing long enough to make it to Dark Messenger, the second best track, which mixes up piano and synthesizer parts. The follow-up is another track of epic proportions, Final Battle, which also uses synthesizers. Near the end of the soundtrack is Melodies of Life, an outstanding pop song sung in Japanese and the longest track on here. The last track is a shorter version with singing in English and is just as good.
Though it's a behemoth, clocking in at over four-and-a-half hours, Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack sounds great both in and out of the video game. It is a very solid and unique collection of music that is highly recommended for fans of Final Fantasy IX, fans of Nobuo Uematsu's other work, and for fans of music in general. Nobuo Uematsu does a great job here and at the time it was a new pinnacle for him, thus warranting a rating of classic. Fans of this will probably also appreciate The Black Mages.