Nobuo Uematsu is a god. I think that should be said at every possible opportunity when applicable. The Final Fantasy series has always been a highlight in terms of music within the narrative of the videogame medium, and there are literally dozens upon dozens of albums to back that claim up. However, the newest, Final Symphony is unlike anything else before it. Yep, strap in; this an album review on orchestral music, haters.
The trend of Final Fantasy albums over the last few years is to provide the fan favorite tracks performed by a complete orchestra with slightly altered arrangements, such as the magnificent Distant Worlds compilations or the scaled back A New World album. The pieces are intricate, nuanced and sublimely true to the original chiptune and synth versions created somewhere between one and two decades ago. Final Symphony is the natural progression beyond that; to arrange these fan favorites into immense symphony movements that put the music from the world of gaming on a scale as legitimate as the all-time greats.
Recorded from Abbey Road studios and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, Final Symphony is an incredible undertaking of weaving melodies and character themes. These songs are poetic sound attempting to retell the stories of the few games they are taken from (FF VI, FF X, FF VII) and are meant to be more than just the background noise to something else, as they were originally made.
“Final Fantasy VI (Symphonic Poem: Born With the Gift of Magic)” is the second track on the album and clocks in at a very necessary eighteen minutes. While most of the games in the Final Fantasy series have their own distinct pieces of great music, VI is renowned for being one of the best by a majority of fans. With dozens of characters, an enigmatic villain and the legendary set pieces of the world map theme and the legendary Opera, eighteen minutes is almost too short to cram everything in as needed.
From the opening tones of the “Opera”, the music quickly and efficiently shifts to the world theme (“Terra’s Theme”) that sets the violent tone of the game’s storyline. Nearly twelve minutes in, the Battle themes begin with a lovingly crafted depth that brings to life the ferocity and futility of their struggles as villain Kefka’s theme is hammered in just to emphasize the fact that he’s one of the few villains to ever actually win. However, the last few minutes revert back to the hauntingly overpowering melody of “Terra’s Theme” to end the piece on as high a note as it began on.
Final Fantasy X is represented by a three part piano symphony that is much less as flamboyant at swirling together theme songs reminisces on the theme songs presented to the game already. This is where Uematsu seems to play with the few integral anthems of the game and find new ways of playing them rather than mixing them amongst each other. This section harkens to fans of the Final Fantasy Piano Collections series, though with the added effect of an orchestra for extra layer. Although this is definitely a step above the Piano Collections, it is the weakest part of the album.
The entire second half is dedicated to Final Fantasy VII; three massive movements that return to the full orchestra toy with the main anthems in great ways. “Final Fantasy VII (Symphony in Three Movements): 1. Nibelheim Incident” sets the precedent, as it captures the rage and pure terror of the crisis behind the storyline to FFVII. The cryptic and chaotic version of fan favorite villain Sephiroth’s theme song “One Winged Angel” (now officially the thirteenth version of this song I own) in this movement twists the terror and futility that stood before protagonists Zack Faire and Cloud Strife as they faced off against the world’s great threat in the Nibelheim reactor.
The second movement, “Words Drowned by Fireworks” is much more soothing as it swims between “Aerith’s Theme” and the “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII” (draw your own conclusions on symbolism). In the end, Final Fantasy VII covers over forty minutes by itself as a massive piece that presents the threat and beauty of the game’s story, whether it be the absolute horror of Sephiroth’s goal to destroy the planet, the desire of the world itself in protecting the life living on it or the tragic character arcs as they try to save everything from extinction.
Obviously, Final Symphony is for fans already accustomed to Nobuo Uematsu, but it goes so far beyond any of his albums thus far: it legitimizes gaming music on a level that has never been seen before. These pieces are intricate, incredibly massive and are the first opportunity for Uematsu to play with theme songs that have been untouchable for almost 20 years. Anyone who has loved Final Fantasy owes it to themselves to listen to Final Symphony. The music can be drawn out at times, but it only leads to something bigger than fans have heard before.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has seen the Distant Worlds concert series every time it has come near the city for the last five years. So many hundreds of dollars to see it live…