Monday, May 20, 2013

B-sides gone wild - the top five obscure tracks from Final Fantasy's early years

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 ThemeZanarkandBlinded by Light, and Liberi Fatali, there are dozens of lesser-known tracks that rarely appear on lists of best (or even memorable) video game music.

We've already looked at the b-sides of the golden age of the franchise (VI - X), so today we'll dive into five b-sides from the early days of Final Fantasy (I - V). You probably won't hear these tracks in many remixes or spin-off games, but they're every bit as Final Fantasy as Dancing Mad is.

Final Fantasy I - Flying Fortress / Floating Castle

As one might expect from the original entry, Final Fantasy has some of the most memorable music from the franchise. Matoya's Cava, Chaos Shrine, and Opening Theme all stand out in the minds of many gamers - but Flying Fortress / Floating Castle is a bit more of an obscure track.

...mostly because it only plays in only one dungeon (the, uh, y'know... Flying Fortress) but it also isn't a particularly easy melody to hum.  Still, the tense and unsettling atmosphere that it creates fits the mood of the dungeon perfectly - which is a bit unfortunate since most players completely forget about this song and the fortress as soon as they mop the floor with Tiamat.

Final Fantasy II Pandemonium

Despite the fact that the entire game is something of a b-side, Final Fantasy II has some great bits of music buried in its soundtrack like the original Chocobo Theme and the swelling Rebel Army.

This b-side track, Pandemonium, isn't technically much of a b-side as it's the last dungeon theme and is thus pretty unavoidable. Given that many who play Final Fantasy II don't have the patience to slog all the way through to te last dungeon, however, Pandemonium remains a relatively obscure track.

Final Fantasy III - Time Remains (Village of the Ancients)

Final Fantasy III holds the honor of being the last Final Fantasy title to see an official localization in the west and as such, most of its music isn't readily recognized by casual fans of the franchise.

A few tracks like Elia, Maiden of Water, Let Me Know the Truth, and This is the Last Battle are passingly familiar, but others - like Time Remains - are known only to those who actually enjoy this old school RPG and its punishingly difficult boss fights.

Time Remains is a sleepy little music box of a track and like so much a Siren on the rocks it lure players into thinking Final Fantasy III is a simple game with simple musical themes.  After reloading to fight the same boss for the 15th time, however, these players will realize that nothing is further from the truth.  

Final Fantasy IV - Mystic Mysidia 

Final Fantasy IV is the first of the early games to feature a truly memorable soundtrack.  From its amazing Battle 1 to the slower Theme of Love and its fan-favorite Battle with the Four Fiends, its music is rightly regarded as a fan (and franchise!) favorite.

Mystic Mysidia, however, remains forgotten by many except for the truly hardcore FFIV fans and Nobuo Uematsu himself who later paid homage to it with Final Fantasy IX's Black Mage Village.  The "hoo hoo" track from Mystic Mysidia doesn't make its way over to Black Mage Village, however, which is probably one of the greatest disappointments from the series to date.

Final Fantasy V - Cursed Lands

Nowhere near as famous as Clash on the Big Bridge or Library of the Ancients, the jaunty melody of Cursed Lands is a testament to the intricacy of Final Fantasy V's OST.  It only plays twice in the span of the game, but it lends an appopriately foreboding air to the Ship Graveyard and city of Karnak.

Fans of Bartz & Co. will probably be able to sing this song from memory, but it's never been used to represent the FFV on any compilation albums, projects, or concerts to date.... which is kind of a shame as the percussion and lilting melody make Cursed Lands a track all but begging for a new remix or arrangement.