The Music of Final Fantasy VI – Act V: Many Endings

By Michael W. Harris

The last scene of the end credits
The last scene of the end credits

Kefka is defeated. The tower begins to crumble around your party. But the player’s part in the game is over and there is nothing to do but set aside your controller and enjoy the game’s twenty-plus minute ending sequence.

While I don’t have the frame of reference to compare Final Fantasy VI’s ending to other video games (I have beat shockingly few games), I can say that it has always struck me for its length and depth. It starts by taking the player through short vignettes that help up wrap up every playable character’s story line as they escape the final dungeon, and it does so while the soundtrack plays each character’s theme for a final time. It is like a last good bye to old friends.

But it doesn’t end there. Following that sequences is another that wraps up Terra’s story and also shows life returning to the ruined world. This leads into the actual credits and then a short tag afterwards. The whole scripted sequence is stunning for both its scope and length. But don’t take my word for it, check out the video from my cartridge:

Final Screen
Final Screen

The above video ends with the “The End” screen which, if you do nothing, will play on an infinite loop of stars screensaver combined with Uematsu’s “Prelude.” This tune has been a part of basically every Final Fantasy game since the first. According to on-line sources, Uematsu composed this piece in ten minutes at the last moment for inclusion in the original game back in 1987.

Part of what helps makes the ending credits suite seem like a cohesive piece of music is that it was a timed, scripted sequence. There is no player interaction. From the moment that Kefka begins to disintegrate, the player no longer has control of the game except to turn off the console. This means that Uemtasu did not have to deal with looping music, or the possibility of having to cut to a different piece of music upon player input, etc. He knew the timings and could work with the game makers to make sure his music fit perfectly with the visuals.

Basically it is a piece that is much more like traditional film music than game music.

Sadly, the ending suite is one that has, as far as I can find, only been orchestrated once, probably because of its length. But this is truly a shame because I believe that it encapsulates so much about what makes Nobuo Uematsu’s music for FFVI great. It has almost all of his themes deftly strung together, touching moments, huge bombast, and everything in between. It shows the narrative quality of his music in the final story sections, and then the actual credits music offers a sweeping conclusion.

Thankfully, in the course of writing this blog series, Ryan Thompson brought the Overclocked Remix community’s tribute album for the score to my attention. I will talk more about this album and discuss some of my favorite tracks in the upcoming final post, but I want to highlight Shnabubula and Gabe Terracciano’s arrangement of the ending credits here.

What I find most striking about this arrangement is it simplicity. It is a violin and piano duet and yet it captures most of the nuances of the fuller arrangement in the game. While it is not one of my favorite tracks on the OCRemix album, I admire its ambition, especially since the performers, I believe, did a live performance for the recording. For a track with so many changes, so many sections, and of such length, it is a testament to their musicianship, dedication, and passion for the music. Consider this my digital tip of the cap to them!

Also consider this a challenge to more people to try and adapt this ending suite to live performance because it certainly deserves it.

...And By Viewers Like You
…And By Viewers Like You

Operatically, the ending suite represents the final chorus, where all the players come out on stage for a final ensemble number. They may have their individual moments, but in the end they come together and end the work with a stirring final musical number. This is what happens as each of the characters are introduced by both their full name and then as the name given to them by the game player (in my above video you’ll see that I did not change their names). Ryan Thompson has pointed out that this dual level of names is one more aspect of the operatic quality of the game. Almost like a playbill with the performer’s name and their character. To me, this whole sequence also seems to also have the quality of a curtain call. Each character gets their moment to shine and you almost want to applaud as their name comes on screen and you hear their music one last time. And then there is the screen where it indicates that the player themselves was a part of the game. Almost like the PBS statement of “Viewers Like You.” It always struck me as both cheesy and also touching.

And with that, the curtain draws to a close on Final Fantasy VI. But fear not, we still have one final post left. A fitting Coda to our time here. Just like the credits for the game, there are many endings to be had.

~End Act V~

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