By Michael W. Harris
As soon as you insert the Final Fantasy VI cartridge and turn on the Super Nintendo, you immediately see that this game is different. While many games with have some logos and then give you an option screen, FFVI instead blasts you with dramatic organ chords as the game logo comes on screen, the letters are colored with fire set against a stormy sky. From there, there are some narrative screens giving the background of the world, followed by the game’s first scene. After that you have something that is rarely seen in video games: opening credits. But these credits also play over the journey of the three characters just introduced to the city of Narshe, where the game proper begins. All of this plays BEFORE the player see the actual first option screen (new game, save game, etc). You are plunged into the game world first, and if the player doesn’t press a button, in theory this sequence could play on an infinite loop. You can watch the sequence below, captured from my very own original game cartridge.
Many players fondly remember this sequence: how it immediately captured their attention with its promise of drama, adventure, magic, intrigue, all set against the icy weather…listen to that bone chilling wind—so often used by directors like Akira Kurosawa—to ramp up the drama.
The music here is broken up into three different sequences: the opening organ and choral chords, followed by harp arpeggios which transition into the second sequence. The second piece is not unlike the first, filled with organ and drama. An ominous piece to accompany the history of the world, which ends with the omen of: “Can it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a senseless and deadly mistake?”
Aside: Those who know the history of the game know that this translation differs from those that came later, which read: “Is mankind on the verge of repeating a terrible mistake?” This is because the original translation/localization of the game, by Ted Woolsey, was thrown out in later re-releases of the game for other platforms.
From there, there is no music, only wind, to accompany a discussion between the two soldiers in mech suits and their mute companion, Terra (originally named Tina in Japan). Terra will become the player’s first character that they can control, and is the game’s main protagonist. It also happens to be her theme that is heard as the opening credits play and the trio walks to Narshe while the Super Nintendo shows off its Mode 7 graphics.
Terra’s theme is used numerous times in the game, and not just for character specific moments. It is also makes up the main overworld theme for the first half of the game, before the giant mid-game twist in which the villain actually wins and destroys the world as you had known it.
Having so many incarnations, and being one of the most well-known themes from the game, Terra’s music has made many appearances in the numerous CD releases of music from the game beyond the three-disc original sound version.
The first release of Terra/Tina’s theme came back in 1994 on the CD Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale. This was one of the early orchestral arrangement CDs for the Final Fantasy series that I can remember, though I am certain that there were many before it in Japan. This version includes the music that plays underneath the opening text before moving into the credits music and also includes the full version of Terra’s theme as heard in the game.
This album, Grand Finale, is probably one of the better orchestral albums for music to Final Fantasy VI, though the recordings are not as good as later orchestral compilation discs which include music from the entire series. It also has what I consider to be one of the worst orchestral recordings of the opera aria, but more on that in my next post.
The other version of Terra’s Theme worth mentioning is from the second Distant Worlds disc, featuring music from the “Distant Worlds” concert tours—the same tour that I saw in St. Louis in 2012. This version is a straight up arrangement of the theme as heard in the overworld map from the World of Balance. While it doesn’t include the other parts of the opening scene, it is probably the best arrangement of the bunch, especially since it avoids the, in my opinion, rather annoying penny whistle sound of the Grand Finale arrangement and the original game.
One of the great things that this opening does is to set up the scale of the game, while also working with the economy of space that the cartridge had to deal with. The opening title and storm pans down to see the town of Narshe and is the same “matte” that the player sees slowly emerge during the credits sequence. During the opening text, laying out the story, the player sees the windy cliffs where the first dialogue scene takes place twice, along with two locations from later in the game: the town of Narshe and the Imperial Palace of the Gestahlian Empire.
But everything in the opening is a nod to operatic tropes in some way: it is previewing the plot and music to come, just as many opera overtures preview the music to come. Everything about this opening hints at the plot, locations, and music to come. And when we consider opera’s evolution into the genre of epic films (think Lord of the Rings), everything about the game and how it is presented points Square-ly (pun very much intended) back to opera.
This is why I find Ryan Thompson’s argument so compelling: it is reflected so much in the presentation of the game that it is hard to refute it. And the fact that there is a full blown, twenty-minute opera sequence just reinforces that reading.
And speaking of the opera, “Oh my hero, so far away now…”
~End Act II~