Never has a word lost its meaning more than 'final'. Actors, sportsmen, alcoholics and their female counterparts have been using the word for centuries. Only to go back on their words for just one more game, one more disappointing sequel, one more drink. Although it has been a Western tradition to go back on your word, the Japanese too have started to catch on. For over eighteen years now, the Japanese have been utilizing the word 'final' with as little meaning as an apology from a five year old. There have been over fifteen Final Fantasies in the series, with each one taking the series in a new direction. The producers of the series have rarely rested upon their laurels, often willing to venture in totally new directions in order to improve upon their prior games. This constant pursuit of perfection has helped the Final Fantasy series to become one of the biggest names in the business.
A key part of any successful video game series is its music. It is an area that is often overlooked by the Western market, and yet can add vivid depth to a game. For a game like Final Fantasy, which has such a heavy emphasis on the storyline, vibe and atmosphere of the game; the music in the game takes on an even more important role. The man behind almost every musical note in the series is Nobuo Uematsu. Despite being almost unheard of in the Western market, Nobuo Uematsu has built up a very strong and loyal fan base in Japan. It is easy to see why.
Nobuo Uematsu has been the main composer for every Final Fantasy game to date. He began working for Square (the producers of Final Fantasy) in the mid 80s. Despite being limited to only three non-stereo, non-dynamic instruments at once, Uematsu managed to create unique tunes that were well-regarded by fans of the series. "The NES only had three tracks, and each of their sounds were very unique. I struggled to produce originality in the same three tones, just like any composer from that period." Nobuo Uematsu.
As the series has evolved, so has Uematsu's music. The primary reason for this is the increase of resources available to Uematsu. Although he may have been limited to what modern artists would now call impossible to work with; he now has only his creativity limiting him. With the Sony Playstation, a whole new world of musical possibilities was opened up to Uematsu. Final Fantasy VII may have shown signs of Uematsu's talent. However it was a speck on the wall compared with its sequel, Final Fantasy VIII.
At the time of its release, Final Fantasy VIII was quite easily the most hyped video game of all time. The size of the hype was comparable to that of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which was also released in 1999. It can be argued that neither The Phantom Menace nor Final Fantasy VIII lived up to their hype. But the one area where both productions excelled was their music.
The sheer scale of what Final Fantasy VIII did for the gaming world in terms of music is hard to put into words. Games like Super Mario Bros, Tony Hawks Pro Skater and Wipeout may have left an imprint in the musical landscape. Final Fantasy VIII however bulldozed it with an unparalleled size, complexity and sheer quality that had not been seen before in the modern gaming music world. The music for Final Fantasy VIII totals in at a whopping four hours and ten minutes long, spread out over four disks (74 tracks). The game itself can take anywhere up to 100 hours to complete, so for Final Fantasy VIII one of Uematsu's main challenges was avoiding repetitiveness; something that many artists fall victim to, despite only producing albums a quarter the size of Nobuo Uematsu's work. Another trapping that Nobuo Uematsu had to avoid with Final Fantasy VIII, was keeping to the games themes, which are prevalent throughout the game.
The main themes in Final Fantasy VIII are quite common themes of hope, fate and love overcoming extreme adversity. Yet despite this the developers have not fallen victim to over-simplicity or becoming melodramatic. Like any good soundtrack, Nobuo Uematsu has tried to match these themes and their nature. Uematsu's prowess in showing this is highlighted from the get-go. The introduction to any media product has to be powerful, and they don't come much more powerful and jaw-dropping than Final Fantasy VIII. The opening sequence combines (what was) state-of-the-art CGI, lush detailed scenery, a titanic duel and most of all spectacular sweeping orchestral music. The introduction feels very movie like, especially in terms of scale. The imagery could easily be analyzed by movie analysts, with numerous instances of visual metaphors, creative camera techniques, imagery and several hints at the themes of the game.
is the song that features in the opening sequence of Final Fantasy VIII. It is a dramatic and decisive orchestral piece that feels very reminiscent of Duel of the Fates
by John Williams. The song utilises a haunting string section, with choral voices chanting chilling Latin phrases in the background. The end result is a mesmerising effect that leaves the audience awestruck. Like with many primarily instrumental artists using vocals in a song, the lyrics are surprisingly intricate. The lyrics are primarily in Latin and although it makes the lyrics less easily interpretable, it does add to the overall sound, with the Latin language suiting the lavish sound to perfection. When translated to English the lyrics reveal a number of references to the main themes and plot of the game. 'Arise from your sleep, my children. Your cradles shall no longer exist.' As a standalone track, Liberi Fatali
is quite easily one of the most epic songs in modern Classical music.
Any good Meteorologist will tell you after any violent storm there is calm. After the chaotic beginning Liberi Fatali
comes a period of tranquillity. Balamb Garden
and Blue Fields
are all excellent scene music tracks. The two songs share a very similar format; both use simple rhythms with little variation, light melodic instruments like the harp, flute and piano, and both have a constant steady beat. After that the calm starts to fade, Don't Be Afraid
uses blaring trumpets and rolling snare drums to bring the tranquillity to an end. Find Your Way
proceeds afterwards, and although it uses the same soft instruments as in Blue Fields
and Balamb Garden
; Find Your Way
has a much more sinister tone, as if it is a forewarning for the vile happenings later in the game and soundtrack.Find Your Way
shows Nobuo Uematsu's knack at capturing the emotion of a song, and amplifying it tenfold, yet never losing that subtlety that helps him avoid repetitiveness.
follows on, with rolling snare drums creating a militaristic feel. Instead of opting for the more obvious trumpets, trombones and tubas to give SeeD
a marching band like sound. Uematsu has opted for strong flutes and a lingering distorted guitar. The result is a quite depressive and solemn military-fuelled tune, making it an intriguing song. The Landing
comes next with an upped tempo catapulting the listener into a world of action. The same sort of militaristic percussive rhythm mixed in with striking mysterious flute noises found in SeeD
is used, but with an increased tempo. Force Your Way
increases the tempo once again utilising a midi-like keyboard pounding away over a frantic drumbeat. Force Your Way
is quite a catchy piece that once again uses subtle variations to keep the formula fresh.
If asked, most modern musical artists would find it ridiculous to expect them to arrange an original waltz piece in such a short time, as well as 73 other tracks. However Uematsu handles his task with ease, with Waltz On the Moon
. With Waltz On the Moon
Uematsu shows his ability to adapt with ease, creating a song that sticks to the protocols of the genre.. It is by no means a highlight on the album, but still is an interesting listen.
The Man With the Machine Gun
is another high-tempo action packed song, similar to Force Your Way
. Uematsu creates another unique sound, blending addictive synth noises over another striking percussive rhythm. Songs like these are more suited for the hardcore fan than the casual listener, however are still fairly accessible to everyone. Many soundtracks do tend to target themselves too much at the fans of the game/movie, however with Final Fantasy VIII; Uematsu has provided songs for all audiences. Sadly though the humongous track amount does tend to inhibit first time listeners
is a simple, but very beautiful, solo piano piece. The melody to the song is quite heart-warming, and yet at the same time has undercurrents of sadness; provoking thoughts of lost love, which certainly matches the melancholy scenes at that point in the game.
Just like in the first disc, the second disc too has an incredible amount of variety. Premonition
both start off with haunting gothic organ-based introductions. Most of the second disc seems to match this gothic and dark tone, in the build up to the battle against the Sorceress Edea. Succession of Witches
is one song that shares this chilling gothic sound, this time with a sharp spine-tingling piano and a glum chorus chanting 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec.' Which is an anagram for Succession of Witches.
The same chant appears in the opening song Liberi Fatali
, whilst a song of the same name appears later on disc two. This repetition was obviously meant to reinforce the image and message, creating a sense of hope overcoming all odds; or in the case of Final Fantasy VIII, overcoming a never-ending succession of witches.
Unlike the peaceful and harmonious Balamb Garden
, its sister song Galbadia Garden
shares the gothic tone found throughout disc two. Galbadia Garden
feels very held back, with a subdued percussion section and a fairly mysterious keyboard melody. Unrest
follows on from it, with a continuation of the something isn't right feeling. These two songs act as a precursor to the action later in the disc, that can be found in songs like Premonition
and A Sacrifice
. The latter utilises a hair raising string melody over a sharp and high-pitched piano based rhythm, like the short-breathed chilling moments before the storm. The build up is beautifully crafted by Uematsu, slowly rising and falling in tempo; but at the same time continually rising in intensity.
Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec
begins with those familiar foreboding choral voices. The song has a quite mystical nature, lending itself nicely to the fantasy nature of the game. Uematsu often tends to have the main songs in his soundtracks evolve as they go on, however Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec
stays relatively the same, as if it were scene music. Despite appearing to be the apex of the build up, Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec
is only a pretender before the climax. Thus the disc reaches Premonition
with their fittingly gothic organs raising the hairs on even the most rigid souls. Despite it being the vertex of the evil, Wounded
signals with its haunting sustained organ that perhaps the evil is not quashed, perhaps the succession of witches has not come to an end.
After the peak ends, the second disc reverts back to peaceful and pleasant piano melodies mixed in with light string instruments. Fragments of Memories
feels like a baby lullaby, with childish and light tones. Whilst Ami
provides another example of Uematsus prowess at composing for the piano.
With such a large amount of music, giving the overall album a rating becomes increasingly difficult. With any album of this magnitude, there are of course skip button tracks. When judging albums like these, deciding whether to judge by quantity of good music, or average quality of music becomes difficult. Such is the case with Final Fantasy VIII. The third disc is quite easily the weakest of the four, and although it is by no means a weak disc. It does make finding the highlight tracks on this soundtrack a difficult task.
feels as if it was sampled directly out of the hard and rough steel mills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A pounding percussion section drives the song along. Whilst a varied in pace melody keeps the song fresh. Like many others on disc three, it is an interesting song, but not one that can grab the listeners attention like Liberi Fatali
do. A good example of this is The Spy
. Although it has a funky little rhythm and a jazzed up melody, the song ultimately doesn't do enough to incite excitement in the listener.
As a tip of the hat to old Hollywood 1920s films, Uematsu has included Slide Show, Pt. 1
and Slide Show, Pt. 2
. They are filled with projector clicking noises as well as bustling upbeat piano melodies and feel as though they've been taken directly out of a Charlie Chaplin film. Just another example of Uematsu's flexibility.
One genre that game soundtrack composers have never really ventured before is the pop genre. Eyes On Me
is a collaboration between Chinese singer Faye Wong and Nobuo Uematsu. And thus was born the first single on any Final Fantasy Soundtrack. Eyes On Me
garnered Wong international success, especially in Japan and North America. The single sold over 400,000 copies, a notable achievement for the video game music world. The song itself is quite beautiful. The song features tender and heartfelt lyrics, that manage to avoid the usual trapping of cheesiness, that seems to be very common with songs similar to Eyes On Me
. Despite its beautiful melody and matching vocals, the song does tend to drag on a bit, making this a slightly flawed gem.
Instead of just dipping his finger, Uematsu plunged right into the waltz genre with another quite beautiful piece called Dance With the Balamb-Fish
. However this time round, Uematsu opts for a more unconventional piece. Although sticking to the conventions of the waltz genre, Uematsu adds his own unique flair to Dance With the Balamb-Fish
, making it the more exciting song out of Waltz On the Moon
and Dance With the Balamb-Fish
Other highlights on the third disc include the slightly soppy Love Grows
, which wouldn't be out of place in a Hugh Grant film. Another slower song that stands out above the rest is The Salt Flats
with a downcast and drifting tone. Songs add to the environments of Final Fantasy VIII, and for non-gamers helps them visualise the Final Fantasy world. Similarly Fisherman's Horizon
and its peaceful Harpsichord and Flute melody embody a laid back fishing town, as if in a permanent twilight. With songs like these Uematsu adeptly takes the listener on a journey. For fans of the game, Uematsus work helps to strengthen, symbolize and heighten the game world. Whilst for first time listeners, his work still gives the listener enough freedom to dream up their own world based on the music.
With fading hope and a treacherous path ahead, the stage is set for the final confrontation, and the final disc. Although the final disc is easily the shortest with only twelve tracks, it does not diminish the impact. The entire fourth disc is set in a gigantic Gothic castle, and the music matches this with Organs, Harpsichords and menacing string instruments dominating the disc. A lot of the songs on the fourth disc seem to contain spine-tingling sharp melodies that could be compared metaphorically to creeping spiders. Truth
seem to oppose hope in every way. Every twist and turn in the songs carries the listener down darkening hallways. The mood, setting and tone of their deteriorating situation is captured perfectly through Uematsu's music. The tracks seem to effortlessly flow past in one fluid motion, until the Compression of Time
. Without knowing the games plot at that point in the game, Uematsu effortlessly portrays the gravity of the situation with subtle disheartening piano melodies in Compression of Time
With the final battle closing in, the music starts to take on a more urgent pulse, as Uematsu astutely elevates the tension. Deep bass drums provide the only rhythm for The Castle
as its complex Harpsichord melody weaves together with bold Organ chords.
The final battle arrives, with some quite spectacular boss music. The Legendary Beast
, Maybe I'm a Lion
and The Extreme
add an epic sense to the clash of the titans. The tempos are surprisingly quick, and keep the action packed melody flowing. The highlight of the three is easily The Extreme
which begins with that familiar anagram 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec' dampened by sounds of an extreme storm. The song slowly builds up with a soft piano arpeggio, the percussion comes crashing in and the song lurches forward into an urgent tempo. Despite the primary instrument being a piano in The Extreme
, it does not lower the drama.
Maybe I'm a Lion
and The Legendary Beast
share that same electrifying sensation. Their methods are slightly different to The Extreme
, and lack that subtilty that made The Extreme
so fascinating. The Legendary Beast
makes use of a pounding industrial rhythm and a bold brass section to etch out a path. Maybe I'm a Lion
on the other hand combines heavily distorted guitars with a pounding percussion section. Although The Black Mages' (A Final Fantasy tribute band) cover version is easily better, the original version of Maybe I'm a Lion
still holds it own.
The Ending Theme
begins mysteriously, not revealing the outcome. Quivering violins tentatively hold the aftermath under wraps. Equal baffling piano and flutes cautiously tease the listener. Until, as if taken out of Charlie and the Choclate Factory, the song springs into life, and into a heartfelt orchestral version of Eyes on Me
. The song then transitions into a fully orchestral sequence that would feel right at home on an epic John Williams composed movie. The concerto then reaches its final movement, with a startling cello, flute, violin and trumpet medley providing the last dramatic breath before the oddly placed Overture
. In classical music the overture is frequently used as an introduction to a larger dramatic work. The direct translation of the French word 'ouverture' in English is opening. Yet strangely, Uematsu has placed the Overture
at the very end of the soundtrack. This can be read in two ways, perhaps that this is the beginning of a new life away from all the evil atrocities that plagued the album. Or perhaps as a cheeky little poke from Uematsu to show that he does not blandly follow the conformities of genres. Nevertheless Overture
makes for a fitting outro with rattling snare drums and familiar flutes slowly winding down the album.
To listen to the entire soundtrack once through is a daunting task. The four hours of music packed into four discs is filled with an amazing variety of sounds. Sadly the massive amount of music somewhat limits Uematsu in trying to produce a soundtrack filled to the brim with quality songs. Skip tracks are quite infrequent, and are generally short in length too. The large amount of highlight songs easily manages to diminish the songs that fall short in certain areas. Unfortunately though, the gigantic proportions of the soundtrack also limit the listener on finding and remembering the most enjoyable tracks. This is slightly offset by the flow of the album, which makes listening from one end to the other quite easy to handle. Unlike with most Soundtracks, the amount of variety in sound is enormous. Uematsu borrows from a number of different genres, including Classical, Pop, Rock, Waltz and even Irish Folk music. Instead of just giving each song a focused genre, Uematsu avoids a choppy feel by blending in different elements of genres into songs. So although one song may begin with a marching band like trumpet and snare drum intro, the song could quite easily flow into a distorted guitar solo. The transitions between genres and sounds are aptly handled by Uematsu, with his primary weapon of subtlety making the transitions seamless.
Where Uematsu really shines is creating vivid imagery to portray the mood and feel of the music. A large amount of the music in Final Fantasy VIII is situation music, used in certain locations or scenarios. This often becomes a limiting factor for people who have not played the game before, as they have not experienced those environments or situations. However with Final Fantasy VIII, Uematsu has created a soundtrack that is easily accessible to new listeners. This is due to the rich imagery that allows listeners to dream up their own worlds, like when reading a book. Of course the soundtrack is more suited towards players of the game, but it certainly is not a necessity for enjoying the music contained within it.
Final Fantasy VIII has quite easily had one of the largest impacts on modern gaming music. With it came the video gaming worlds most successful single in Eyes On Me
. But more importantly came a new way of looking at music in video games. No longer were simple melodies, low variation and a generally lax view on music acceptable. Final Fantasy VIII introduced a whole new professionalism to the field, and introduced movie-like dramatic orchestral works.
For fans of the game, this is quite easily a must have album. The other Final Fantasy soundtracks tend to pale in comparison to Final Fantasy VIII and its incredible scope. Of course for people unfamiliar with the series, the overall impact of the soundtrack is lowered. However as previously mentioned, being unfamiliar with the game is not as much of a limiting factor as it is with other gaming soundtracks.
As a soundtrack, an album and most of all a tale of two lovers overcoming all odds to be together; this is a monumental album worthy of the term 'Classic.'