As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers.
This is going to be another RPG length post
I knew Final Fantasy VI was awesome, but I never sat down and played it until about a month ago. My only wish is that I could have played it when it was released. I know it seems odd to do a retrospective about a game that I just played, but anyone who knows this soundtrack agree that it’s totally worth it. In fact, as soon as I had the idea for these posts, I knew that I would do Final Fantasy VI.
Like most Final Fantasies, it’s a huge drawn out tale with character back-stories as well as plots for the main quest. Rather than one official main character, I feel like there are multiple characters who fit that role perfectly well. It’s the mark of a good story when you care about most of the characters, even if they might not be in your party 100% of the time. But of course, this post isn’t just about the game.
Due to my fear of getting my ass handed to me, I didn’t really play any Final Fantasy game. FFVI was the I had ever beaten and that owed in no small part to the one man who put the soundtrack together. Yes, as is normally the case with Final Fantasy games, the music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu.
Event having never played a Final Fantasy through to completion before, I had an idea of how brilliant Uematsu was just from the sheer amount of iconic FF songs there were. It took playing the game to realize that there would be so many songs to choose from for my list. Like the title says, Nobuo Uematsu is ridiculous and here are some musical reasons why.
Edgar and Sabin’s Theme
Edgar is (or tries to be) the ladies’ man king of Figaro. Sabin is the muscle-bound, kindhearted twin brother who trusts his Edgar more than anyone else. Though this is the theme that plays in Figaro Castle, there is no mistaking that it’s describing the true nature of the two brothers. This song instills their sense of honor and duty that they feel towards their kingdom, despite the fact that Edgar is the one who stands as king. While Sabin doesn’t take an active part in the kingdom and its politics, it’s clear that he cares for Edgar and is a trustworthy companion.
This theme out of all the others holds a very special place in my heart. Whenever possible, I had both Edgar and Sabin in my party at the same time. Their blitzes and tools did the highest non-direct magic damage that I could inflict. So to me, the brothers Figaro were the main characters. While the game would try and tell me otherwise, they were the cornerstones of my FFVI experience. Of course, to the same extent…
Coin of Fate
Using the leitmotif of Edgar and Sabin’s theme, Coin of Fate plays during the cutscene at Figaro Castle when we get a look back on how Sabin left the kingdom and Edgar became king. After that, the two are sitting in the throne room, reminiscing on how time has gone by and it’s real emotional. By the time I watched this cutscene, the two of them had already become my favorite characters. Sitting back with your brother and reminiscing about the past is something I can connect with on a personal level.
Perhaps not everyone can identify with this scene, but I do. No matter how times change or how we feel towards one another, at the end of the day we’re brothers and that person is the only one who can understand my emotions better than my parents. So it’s a really powerful cutscene, and it hit home really hard for me. I can put myself in the shoes of Edgar or Sabin and picture one of my brothers in the other half of the scene.
Kefka Palazzo makes no empty threats, nor does he try to hide any aspect of his character. From the first time you meet him, the music tips you off that Kefka is not completely right in the head. Sure, he might have clearly set goals, but that doesn’t mean he’s sane. Right from the get-go, Kefka is evil and crazy and just starts murdering people left and right. There are few cutscenes featuring Kefka where he isn’t killing somebody. The slightly humorous side of the song only betrays how dangerous and unpredictable he is.
I had heard Terra’s Theme before, enough to know that I was probably going to hear it a lot when I played the game. It’s the theme of the overworld in the first half of the game. Because of this track, if I had to put my money on someone being the main character of the game by design, it would be Terra. It starts as a solemn theme, representing the kind of journey that Terra will have to walk in the game and the hardships she will face. As more instruments join in, you get the sense of the party aiding Terra in her cause. Honestly, it’s also just a well constructed song that can be appreciated in any form (and it sounds awesome when performed by an orchestra).
WARNING – CUTSCENE AHEAD
Opera Scene: Aria De Mezzo Carattere
So this was a bit tough, and I definitely considered not putting this song in (or at least not putting this particular link in), but it would be crazy to skip it. So I’ll say this right now: if you’ve played the game, enjoy this beautifully crafted experience (I linked to the cutscene instead of just the song) and reminisce on how great it was. If you haven’t played the game, I recommend you skip over this song and play the game yourself. No amount of explaining that I might do will possibly ever match the experience of playing the opera section of the game yourself.
It’s a great piece of music regardless, and I would want everyone to have the same kind of experience I had. It was all just so fantastic. All of it.
The city of Zozo is full of thugs and liars, and I’ll be damned if this song doesn’t tell that story on its own. I didn’t know what to expect when I got to this town, but as soon as that music hit, I knew I walked into the wrong part of it. Zozo is unfriendly, and the rain definitely doesn’t help the dreary attitude of the residents. This is the theme of a town where I want to get to my destination as soon as possible because I don’t like the way that dude over there is looking at my wallet.
After you confront Kefka and Emperor Dog (Gestahl) on the floating continent, the true ramifications of Kefka’s actions unfold. This song tells a story of a world that is no more, with hope all but lost. It’s an appropriate feeling because the main goal of the game was lost after Kefka did what he wanted to do. He wanted to destroy the world, and he succeeded in doing so. This is the overworld theme of the World of Ruin and your primary goal seems pointless now as Kefka has managed to overcome the hero… that is until you get your new airship “The Falcon” and this song plays:
Searching for Friends
When I played through FFVI, I streamed it on my Twitch channel. It was 5 in the morning, and I figured I was done playing… that was until this song. As The Falcon rose from under the water, the Dark World was replaced with Searching for Friends. Your overworld theme was no longer one about suffering and loss, but about looking towards the future and what can be done to fix Kefka’s mess. I had a second wind and did a bunch of sidequests because I was rejuvenated. I had never heard this song before playing the game, and wow did Nobuo Uematsu nail that feeling of hope! A song I had never heard became one of my favorite in the game. Just goes to show what good composing can do.
Now, if you’re familiar with the music of FFVI, this song is the one that you might have been waiting for the whole post. It’s time for:
That’s right; I didn’t post an extended version of the song. The final battle with Kefka has one of the most insanely good themes I’ve ever heard and it clocks in at 17 minutes spread across 4 phases. The four phases are broken up as such: 0:00 – 4:30 is phase one, 4:30 – 8:12 is phase 2, 8:12 – 11:33 is phase 3, and 11:33 onwards is phase 4 (the most recognizable phase). Each part transitions seamlessly into the next phase with barely anyone noticing that the song is changing based on the fight. When I played through it, I had no idea it was doing this, but when I look back on it, I think it’s just sheer brilliance.
Since it’s the most notable, we’ll look at phase 4. As the final angelic form of Kefka lowers from the top of the screen, the song slams on the organ and the chorus to show you that you’ve reached the top of the mountain (of bosses, literally). After that, the evil yet controlled church music of Parts 1-3 devolve into total chaos. Despite gaining ultimate power, Kefka hasn’t become any less insane and bent on annihilation (Absolute power didn’t make him saner? Who knew?? – EDITOR FRANK). It’s totally mayhem in song form (just how Kefka likes it) and just as things calm down and start to return to that church music, you hear Kefka’s laugh and it cranks up the craziness.
I cannot praise this song enough. A labor of love to be sure, Dancing Mad is a literal masterpiece of composition. I made the joke while I was streaming that the developer wanted Uematsu to go HAM on the synthesizer, but in all seriousness, it’s completely purposeful and the impact is intense. Listen to this entire song, and appreciate the sheer amount of talent and dedication that Nobuo Uematsu has. If I had to name a song on the soundtrack that had the best pure sound out of anything, Dancing Mad would top that list without much effort, and no less than Kefka would want.
This post was almost more of a love letter to Nobuo Uematsu than it is solely about Final Fantasy VI. There are more songs that many people would choose as their favorites, and I don’t claim that I am an expert in the world of Final Fantasy music. I got here about 19 years later than many people who have serious nostalgic memories attached to this soundtrack. Nostalgia that is warranted, mind you, as this music is one-of-a-kind; which I imagine is Nobuo Uematsu’s specialty and why he is so beloved.
Feel free to comment below with the songs you really liked that I may or may not have mentioned. Either way, I will see you all tomorrow!
Don’t tease the octopus, kids!