Final Symphony consists of arranged music from Final Fantasies VI, VII, and X: an opening overture, one from VI, three from VII, three from X, then three encores from VII, X, and a medley from the series. It is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and every single song is good. Now there are some that are better than others and some I do not particularly care for, but it a credit to the composer Nobuo Uematsu and the arranger that even the songs that hit my ear less stellar are still worlds ahead of most of the music I hear. You do not need to be a fan of Final Fantasy, nor do you need to be a connoisseur of video game music in general to enjoy this bliss. In fact one of the reviews on iTunes stated the very same. This album is for people who love good music and enjoy the classical arts. Thus far every single review there has given it five stars.
The opening overture, Circle Within a Circle Within a Circle (the title puts me in the mind of Smashing Pumpkin’s “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning") is light, flighty and a very sweet piece. It’s machinations are a bit too frenetic for my tastes, but they do put me in the mind of a series whose main goal is to portray the hope that always resides despite ever creeping darkness. This is one of the shortest pieces at little over four minutes, which is not long to wait before the album spills you into the game that first caught my heart.
Final Fantasy VI (Symphonic Poem: Born with the Gift of Magic)
The title does not lie; this is truly poetry made song. FFVI lovers will rejoice in this masterpiece that binds together the Empire’s music, Terra’s Theme, Kefka’s Theme, and the Mystic Forest book-ended with the Opera that teases so cruelly at the end. The Empire’s music is haunting and dark flowing together with Terra’s more forlorn around 1:30. Kefka’s music, which comes in around 3:30 is playful and childish with that note of the sinister hiding beneath to show the depravity that can lie amongst japes and mirth. There’s an almost classical/ballet sound that enters in its later part with a section that is reminiscent of FFIX’s Vamo All Flamenco in its snapping finger cymbals. I can envision a complex dance flawlessly performed by two people in flowing and colorful clothes while the world burns around them to their utter lack of care. The harmonies to this part are weaving and almost sensuous without missing a beat.
Around 7:50 we enter the Mystic Forest and the main wind instrument almost sounds like a recorder, but it is beautifully accurate for this part of the piece. The strings shiver as if amongst mist filled trees and we the observers have no idea where this haunted path will lead. Near 9:30 the melody starts to mix with Terra’s theme and then spirals into Kefka’s again before dropping us into the disaster/cataclysm music the permeates this apocalyptic tale. Then we are brutalized by the battle theme, which is equal parts harsh and gorgeous. It moves into the Decisive Battle theme afterwards before catching the thread of Kefka’s song that is throughout.
At 13:30 there is an all stop. The music ceases for long moments so we must hold our breaths before a plunge into sorrow for what follows is a lay of despair that I can’t myself place in the game (but you are of course welcome to, if you know!), and this is a precursor to Terra’s Theme. We are left wanting more for the beginning of the Opera closes this out near 17:00. Let us pray that in Final Symphony II we are treated to a full blown and absolutely exquisite rendering of that historic melody.
Final Fantasy X (Piano Concerto): I. Zanarkand
I have little to say about this than you may weep. To Zanarkand has always strummed my heart like a gothic lullaby for it dredges up the image of fruitless search and hopeless pursuit. This melody does no less.
Sadly I was less impressed with the other two songs from FFX, Inori and Kessen. Inori was one of the Songs of the Fayth but it lacked the subtleties that I so enjoyed in other versions. I believe Kessen is supposed to be the battle music, but it is too harsh and grating to my ears. Again, I must impress upon you that even though I did not enjoy these as much as the others, ,they are still excellent melodies. My critique of them is like saying, “That one particular light shaft in Heaven is the barest bit dimmer than all the rest."
Encore: Final Fantasy X (Suteki da ne)
The encore for this game more than makes up for what I missed in the other two songs. Rendered in piano, it brings together the yearning and pain of love unfulfilled not because of lack, but because of insurmountable circumstances. Is any story sadder? Life <strong>is </strong>but a dream…
Final Fantasy VII (Symphony in Three Movements): I. Nibelheim Incident
If FFVI caught my heart, then FFVII stole it and captured my soul as well. This song is all dark tones and minor key, and if I wasn’t already in love with it, I would all more so be. The crescendos will terrify you because you don’t know when they’re going to fall or where they’re going to hit. The music around 2:30 makes me envision in near darkness save for sickly green light a body tumbling in a winding sheet. An ever moving and omnipresent cycle going round and round. It’s unending; it’s inevitable; it’s the paradigm presented in O Fortuna, the wheel of fortune, the wheel of fate. Near 4:00 the beginning of One Winged Angel starts, and I cannot believe I’m uttering this, but it sounds even more disjointed, more distorted like a rent and broken puppet that still must painfully dance. The music in VII has always impressed me with its phenomenal use of the minor key with the addition of cacophony and discord. Minor sevenths are among the ugliest of chords, made to clash with all that is harmonious and never meant for beauty, and yet…here in this narrative of ancient horrors they ring so perfectly. There is not a hint of playfulness here as there was in VI. It is all dark; it is all shadows; there is no reprieve. It’s the coming of the dark mother whose lies you must accept. Near 4:45 is where we find “her,” Jenova’s Theme, and if you listen closely, you’ll realize that this melody is the Prelude backwards and in the minor key (it only took me 17 years to achieve that observation).
Cloud’s Theme is interwoven on top of Jenova’s around 7:30, which is an excellent metaphor for how he overcomes the corruption that was forced upon him. Then at 9:30 the medley goes One Winged Angel. There’s this ever present dark beat there that never subsides. The drums in the song always reminded me of those great, many-tiered ships that needed them to keep the rowers in time and in line. The first part ends here where it should…with the coming of this horror, and the question of what will be allowed to endure.
Final Fantasy VII (Symphony in Three Movements): II. Words Drowned by Fireworks
As the first part is dark and full of terrors, the second is light and joyous and free…in its initial seeming. The long sweeping string strokes see to that as the low oppressive beats marked the first. This is my favorite song with Part I of the VII cycle being a very close second. Cloud’s theme pervades this melody tying the songs of Aeris/Aerith and Tifa together between. Around 4:30 Aeris’s takes the hand of Cloud’s, and a lone viola plays this lament before the entire string section joins in. Then near 6:30 Tifa’s theme brings me to tears. Was there ever a song more forlorn? This section of VII’s symphony ends with a distorted version of Aeris’s song because it is tied to Sephiroth’s…his overshadows hers starting around 10:40. It is very subtle and initially sounds like a little major to minor switching, but then near 11:00 the unmistakable opening to One Winged Angel tears through before seeming to fade, and we think that’s it; we think we’re safe. This is the end of the song. It finishes in darkness, but this is no different from the prior, but no, it fades and then rises again with Cloud’s theme in minor while Aeris’s theme shivers disjointed from behind. And of course the drums, the omnipresent drums that pervade Sephiroth’s leitmotif to beat in warning of what is yet to come. Just listening to it is terrifying, and the last notes that fade are the cacophonous tones of the beginning of OWA as if reminding us the cycle will come again and again and again. Even near the end it refuses to fade until the last moment and my hair stands on end.
Aeris’s, Tifa’s, and Cloud’s songs wind and skirl together in the most beautiful amalgamation I’ve ever heard. Strains of each flow through each other in a sumptuous, glorious swell. It is sweeping and grand and even Seph’s song fits in to make a dark binding in the end with Aeris’s. It is the unity of opposites made to sing.
Final Fantasy VII (Symphony in Three Movements): The Planet’s Crisis
Cloud’s theme and Sephiroth’s song run throughout all three of these pieces to show the struggle against corruption vs. the bending to its will. This medley is literally the end game when all hopes and prayers rest on one dead maid It is based on World Crisis from the OST. We get to hear some of the Cosmo Canyon theme at the start, but even still the concise beats of One Winged Angel creep in. Then around 3:15 is a gorgeous rendition of Cid’s song. The music then tumbles into turmoil. Will we live or will we die? Shall we have a second chance? Around 10:00 we receive our answer and (supposed) salvation. Every single note of this section paints the picture of unending light falling from the sky, but will it save or smite us? The original game left this question in the minds of the players. We of course have our answer now; however, the more existential, “Did we deserve it?” remains to the ages.
Encore: Final Fantasy VII (Continue?)
There is a music box type sound in this medley starting near 3:00 as if everything that’s happened is a child’s woeful dream. There…is a theory about that with respect to Aeris as she is the first and last person you see in the game making the story a <a href="http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/BookEnds/VideoGames">book end</a> and providing some speculate about what really did happen. Near the end of this glorious extra there is that one strain of music associated with Sephiroth. It is first heard during the Nibelheim Incident in the basement of the Shinra Mansion where Sephiroth waits…initially the melody is hardly even that being only bells and drums, but then the organ comes in what I have heard described as the “music of evil.”
It is as dark and minor as you will ever get, but in Final Symphony at the end it is made pure. In my article Major/Minor Switching I discuss how changing from minor to major usually ends in a cacophonous disaster with my example being One Winged Angel switched from its original E minor to G major. It was just…wrong, but Final Symphony has done what that video could not in taking the brief phrase in Those Chosen and making the switch to minor work. It does not make the song joyous; however, terror changes to forlorn with the barest hint of hope. This is the essence of Final Fantasy VII.
The final encore is a conglomeration of battle themes going between VI and VII, but this is not just the base battle music. It also includes the Fierce Battle theme from VI and of course One Winged Angels falls into place from VII. It ends on a questioning note again with the beginnings of that song.
If I had to give one less than glorious mark to this masterpiece of an album it would be to lament that there were not more songs from FFVI. I adore the Symphonic Poem and wish it had been done in three parts like X and VII were graced with. I have been dying to hear a good orchestration of Cyan’s Theme, and if they did one of VI’s entire ending I’m sure my heart would break. This album has made me add another item to my FFVII remake demands, which were as follows:
- PS4 graphics so the entire game looks like Advent Children
- Japanese with English subtitles option
- No change in the story
- No change in the game mechanics
The additional demand would be that the London Symphony Orchestra perform all of the music and that it be arranged by Germans as was done for this symphony. Arranged by the Germans; performed by the English. No wonder this is more than perfect.
I could not recommend this album more highly. If you do nothing else this week, at least give it a listen. All of the music is available on YouTube so if you are unable to purchase you can still partake. Even if you have never played a Final Fantasy nor listened to another game soundtrack, listen to this. It is not just for gamers; it is for anyone with a discerning ear who desires the chills that only powerful music can bring. For myself I shall continue listening as I have throughout this review and keep my tissues near so I can wipe away the tears that shall surely fly.