Thursday, April 11, 2013

B-sides gone wild - the top five obscure tracks from Final Fantasy's golden age

With the exception of moogles and chocobos, nothing makes a Final Fantasy game feel like a Final Fantasy game quite like its soundtrack does.

Building on the titanic legacy of Nobuo Uematsu's contributions to the series, the music of Final Fantasy is finally beginning to stand on its own after it's inspired an ongoing concert tour and an awesome rhythm game.

Yet for every Aerith's Theme, Zanarkand, Dancing Mad, and Liberi Fatali, there are dozens of lesser-known tracks that rarely appear on lists of best (or even memorable) video game music.  These tracks are often as evocative as their better-known counterparts, and should by no means be forgotten... even if they only appear in a game once or twice.

In this post, I'll present five of the best Final Fantasy B-sides from the golden age of the franchise. You probably won't hear these tracks in many remixes or spin-off games, but they're every bit as Final Fantasy as One-Winged Angel is.

Final Fantasy VI - Epitaph

You only hear Epitaph once during a memorable scene in the game's somber second act, when the free-spirited gambler Setzer reminisces on his deceased love.  Dropping his flirtatious playboy persona for a rare moment, the first strains of Epitaph begin as memories of Setzer and his lost love play in the background.

Fittingly, Epitaph is a reprisal of the boisterous Setzer's Theme.  Hearing it toned and presented in such a subdued manner adds a tremendous amount of weight to the scene as you watch it unfold.

...even if you know that you're only visiting the tomb to steal his dead girlfriend's airship.

Final Fantasy VII - Fort Condor

Casual players will only pop into Fort Condor once to grab the Huge Materia, but the strategic mini-game you can play there brings many players back for more.  Of course, this dramatic military anthem that plays in the background of the events probably doesn't hurt their decisions to return any.

I wouldn't expect this song to work its way into the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert series any time soon, however, as there's not a snare drummer alive whose wrists are capable of making it through this song in tact.

Final Fantasy VIII - The Landing

Hoo boy, and you thought your final exams sucked.

This foreboding theme plays first plays during the amphibious assault on Dollet, when potential SeeD Candidates are given the chance to prove themselves on the field of battle.  If the teenage candidates do well, they're promoted to full SeeD in a swanky graduation ceremony back at the Garden.  If they do poorly, they're either gunned down by Galbadian soldiers or blown to pieces by landmines.

Interestingly, an increasing number of adjunct professors have recently come out in support this style of grading, as it means they wouldn't have to read through stacks of blue book essays every semester.

Final Fantasy IX - Swords of Fury

This is really a tough one not to like. It's an over-the-top, completely cheesy battle theme that plays during an over-the-top, completely cheesy, staged fight. The only problem is, the song is absolutely amazing and would easily lend itself to an orchestral remix or reprisal as a later boss theme.

Unfortunately, Swords of Fury received neither honor and is quickly forgotten by many players once the intro on Disc 1 is completed and the events of the game get underway.

Final Fantasy X - The Sending / Farplane Sending

This is a weird one to include in the list, as the scene of Yuna performing the Sending at Kilika is easily one of the most memorable moments of Final Fantasy X (and perhaps Final Fantasy in general), but for whatever reason this song - which features an intriguing blend of liturgical vocals and Asian percussion - doesn't enjoy the same popularity.

Perhaps it's because Disant Worlds uses the visuals from The Sending for its arrangement of Zanarkand, or perhaps it's because Zanarkand itself is a much more memorable theme, but either way there are relatively few Final Fantasy fans who could hum The Sending if you asked them to.

And there you have it!  If you enjoyed this list, drop a comment or pass it along to your friends.  Should the response be positive enough I'll hash out more B-sides from earlier (and later!) Final Fantasy titles.