Film Score Friday Top 5: Themes/Cues of ‘Final Fantasy VI’

Okay, I know I’ve promised a post summarizing my recent trip to NYC, but it’s been a long week.  I hope to have that up this weekend sometime.  But as teased last week, I’m devoting this edition of FSFT5 to my top 5 from Nobuo Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy VI, which is among the classics of video game scores in my humble opinion.

Some background, first, though.  The Final Fantasy series is one of the longest running in the video game industry with the thirteenth edition of the franchise coming out soon for the PS3.  It has also inspired numerous spin-offs and companion series on other consoles (such as the Final Fantasy Legend games on the Game Boy, though those are technically part of another franchise from the same company, but only in Japan…I won’t try to explain it here), but it is the core series which was score entirely by Uematsu for the first 9 installments, and the next 4 with various collaborators, that are nigh legend amongst many vg music fans.

The game at hand, FFVI, was released state side in 1994 as Final Fantasy III due to the fact that parts II, III, and V were not released in the US until long after the seventh installment exploded on the PS1 console.  The game itself involves around 50 hours of gameplay (pretty standard among RPGs of the era), and Uematsu’s score, when released on CD, took up 3 discs.  The score is made up of individual themes for all the major characters and settings of the game, with certain cues only appearing during key plot moments in the game.  If you want more info on the game itself, check out the Wikipedia article.

My own personal history with the game does merit mentioning.  I got it when it released in 1994, and was captivated by the music, especially the fact that the game actually featured a 30 minute opera about 20% of the way in in which the player has to participate.  I didn’t beat the game, though, until years later in the fall of 2000 when I took my Super Nintendo back with me to college and set out to beat it.  If you’re a fan of game music, I really do recommend tracking down the soundtrack collection.  With a bit of persistence, you can find many vg music dealers stateside who sell it for a reasonable price.  Many cues, including the entire opera sequence, have been performed and recorded with live performers with varying levels of success.

On to the list:

1) Celes’ Theme/’Aria de Mezzo Carrattere’ – Even though Celes is not THE main character, her theme is the one that has haunted me for all these years.  The theme is used most stirringly as the aria in the opera, which Celes has to sing.  The aria itself, called ‘Aria de Mezzo Carattere,’ has been recorded numerous times in various forms (I even arranged it for bassoon trio).  I’ll give you two versions here: first a video of the sequence taken from Game Boy Advanced re-release, the instruments don’t sound as good as the original on Super Nintendo, but thankfully the synth voice sounds much, much better…

and secondly the version from the disc release Final Fantasy VI: Grand Finale which is a live performance of the aria…

2) Kefka’s Theme/Dancing Mad – Kefka is the main baddie of the game, starting off as just a merely annoying general, he develops into a megalomanical clown bent on destroying the world.  Yes, I said clown, he basically looks like one.  The final battle with Kefka is accompanied by a battle track called Dancing Mad that on the soundtrack release lasts almost 18 minutes.  I’m including it as part of this selection because the middle section of it is based on Kefka’s theme.  Here’s is the original theme as released originally…

and as a special treat, here is ‘Dancing Mad’ as played by Uematsu’s heavy metal/prog rock band The Black Mages which plays covers of his music.  It’s split into two parts because it’s over 10 minutes long, and the max length on YouTube is 10 minutes…

I just love this version, it captures the epic nature of the song, the wicked organ solo (which is in the original version), plus it has some great guitar solo work.  And yes, that is Uematsu on keys.

3) Slam Shuffle (aka Zozo city theme) – I’ve got to admit that as a kid, this was the first theme to really stick in my head.  It’s got a great beat and hook to it, plus the city of Zozo, with its urban decay and seedy characters is one of the most memorable locales in the game.

4) Phantom Train – Played during a specific sequence in which our heroes have to battle their way through a haunted train, this bass heavy, plodding sort of waltz, is a great piece that ultimately bares a strong resemblance to the character Shadow’s theme (number 5 on the list) in terms of tonality, meter, and overall sound (at least accompaniment).

5) Shadow’s Theme – My childhood friend would probably tell me that is the best part of the game, but oh well.  The mysterious Shadow was captured perfectly with the equally enigmatic theme, who’s whistling harkens back to Morricone’s ‘Whistling Theme’ from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

There are 14 playable characters in the game, and along with Kefka, there are 15 identifiable themes for chracters, along with many, many, many other themes that go with specific locations and/or situations in the game.  Choosing only five can’t really do the score justice, really.  The other truly impressive cue from the game is the ‘Ending Theme,’ which is over 20 minuts long.  It accompanies the ending sequece and credits and includes all the playable charcter themes, and many others.  In many ways, knowing this massive ending lay ahead was what drove me to beat the game.

Not sure what next week will be, but if you have suggestions/requests just let me know.

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