It has been nearly thirty years since the release of the first Final Fantasy game, and during that time, the series has come to be known for many things; deep stories and lore, gorgeous graphics and cinematics, and intense love stories. But the greatest thing that Final Fantasy has given us may be the music that accompanies each game.
Music has the ability to make or break a video game, and can easily become the most memorable aspect of a title as well. There is no greater example of this than the Final Fantasy series. There are fourteen games in the main series, and a countless number of spin-offs and sequels. Today, we will taking a look at fourteen of the best songs from the franchise: one from each of the main games, plus one additional new song that is sure to excite those of us anxiously awaiting the release of Square Enix’s next title. So take some time to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the beautiful music of Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy – Prelude (The Crystal Theme)
This is, without a doubt, the iconic Final Fantasy song. Its slow-moving arpeggios, fifth harmonies, and strange chord progressions give it an ethereal sense of mystery, but also a feeling of contained excitement. It appears in every Final Fantasy game in the main series in one form or another, often as menu or game over music. This arrangement from Piano Opera Final Fantasy I/II/III also includes the “Final Fantasy Main Theme”, which is a sweeping melody that adds grandeur and adventure to the piece.
Final Fantasy II – Battle Theme 2
This battle theme plays during the final battle of Final Fantasy II against The Emperor. From its opening moments, it is dark, intense, and frightening. Final Fantasy II is typically looked upon as one of the weakest points in the series, and unfortunately lacks not only in the gameplay department, but the musical department as well. But “Battle Theme 2” certainly stands out as one of the more memorable pieces of music from Final Fantasy II.
Final Fantasy III – The Altar Cave (Into the Crystal Cave)
This great song from Final Fantasy III is heard right at the very beginning of game. Its eerie melody is one that has practically become synonymous with the concept of crystals in Final Fantasy lore. “The Altar Cave” wisely evokes a sense of the unknown and the mysterious, and combines it with a musical theme similar to that of the Final Fantasy “Prelude.” This brilliant combination represents Final Fantasy III’s ties to the previous two games, while staking its claim as its own great entry in the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy IV – Edward’s Harp (Melody of Lute)
This hauntingly gorgeous song is one of a few pieces of music in the Final Fantasy series that are actually incorporated into the narrative of the game. “Melody of Lute” serves as a theme for Edward the bard, and is featured during the battle against the Dark Elf. The Dark Elf, upon hearing Edward play the song on his harp, is driven into a state of madness and the party is able to fight against it more successfully. The juxtaposition created by this slow, beautiful song being used in an intense battle makes it instantly memorable.
Final Fantasy V – Battle At the Big Bridge
The opening, fast-paced sixteenth notes of “Battle at the Big Bridge” instantly dictate the pace for the rest of this fantastic song. It is the theme song of one of the most memorable characters of the entire series – Gilgamesh. If you are unfamiliar with Gilgamesh, he is a recurring boss in Final Fantasy V who is eventually cast into an inter-dimensional rift. Because of this, Gilgamesh is apparently able to cross time and space, and appears in multiple other Final Fantasy games. Gilgamesh is the only character to appear in multiple games in the main series, and many of his appearances in other games are also accompanied by new arrangements of this song.
Final Fantasy VI – Dancing Mad
Long-time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu refers to this song as one of his favorites. It is the battle theme for the final fight against Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. The showdown consists of battling Kefka in four different forms, and “Dancing Mad” is made up of four different movements to mirror each of Kefka’s forms. It is simultaneously bleak and fierce, and it incorporates various themes and melodies from other parts of the soundtrack. It is also the longest of any Final Fantasy song to date. But it’s worth it to listen all the way to the end. If Nobuo Uematsu says it’s his favorite, then you know it’s good.
Final Fantasy VII – One-Winged Angel
The fear that I felt when this song began on my first play-through of Final Fantasy VII was immeasurable. Just as “Dancing Mad” is the theme for the final battle in Final Fantasy VI, “One-Winged Angel” is the theme for the ultimate battle against Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. Nobuo Uematsu clearly was pleased with the result of “Dancing Mad,” because this track is similar in nature. But on the PlayStation, actual vocal tracks could finally be used, and “One-Winged Angel” makes great use of this capability. There are multiple verses and choruses, with Latin lyrics performed in an operatic style. This is easily the most recognizable song from Final Fantasy VII, and perhaps the whole series.
Final Fantasy VIII – The Man With the Machine Gun
This is the battle theme that plays when controlling Laguna and others in the Dream World of Final Fantasy VIII. It’s upbeat, techno rhythm mirrors the look and feel of the whole game, and is highly reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog. It is a nice change of pace for a battle song. Most other Final Fantasy battle themes sound similar, but “The Man With the Machine Gun” takes a new, fun approach, and is one of the most entertaining battle themes in the series.
Final Fantasy IX – Festival of the Hunt
This awesome track from Final Fantasy IX only appears twice in the game: during the Festival of the Hunt (of course) and during the optional battle with Hades in Memoria. It possesses all the qualities of a typical Final Fantasy battle theme, but feels more upbeat and less severe. The melody is great, and the rhythm is extremely catchy. There are so many great songs in Final Fantasy IX, and it is difficult to pick just one. But “Festival of the Hunt” has seen a boost in popularity lately, and it is the theme from one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.
Final Fantasy X – To Zanarkand
“To Zanarkand” is a beautiful, unforgettable song. I fell in love with this piece of music long before I even played the game and came to understand everything that this song stands for: fear, desperation, courage, hopelessness, and love. The beauty of the song lies in its simplicity. The melody is simple, and the rhythm is straightforward and uncomplicated. Final Fantasy X has a magnificently tragic conclusion, and this is the song that brings back all the memories of Tidus and Yuna’s love story, and their adventure together.
Final Fantasy XI – Battle Music 2
Final Fantasy XI was a huge risk for the franchise. It is the first MMORPG in the series, and reactions from fans concerning it being a completely online game were either glowing or hateful. But regardless of whether or not you like the game, it has great music. “Battle Music 2” is the battle theme that plays during outdoor party battles. This song is great because while the orchestration sounds modern, the melody and rhythm sound like a total throwback to the original Final Fantasy game for the NES. Although it is a battle theme, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is a lot of fun.
Final Fantasy XII – Lowtown
Lowtown is essentially the ghetto of Rabanastre in Final Fantasy XII, and this is the music that plays while in that part of town. This song sets itself apart from other songs on this list through a variety of techniques. The time signature of the song is constantly changing, and there is plenty of syncopation and triplets to keep things interesting. It’s jazzy, upbeat, enjoyable, and the chorus is one of the catchiest of the series.
Final Fantasy XIII – Lightning’s Theme
“Lightning’s Theme” perfectly captures the character of Lightning in music form. It starts out sorrowful, yet beautiful, and eventually crescendos and becomes strong, determined, and hopeful. The attributes of the theme are the attributes of Lightning, and for a song to capture so many different characteristics and nuances is simply brilliant.
Final Fantasy XIV – Answers
“Answers” is the music that accompanies the opening scenes in Final Fantasy XIV. Its mix of choral, rock, opera and pop styles make it unique in the Final Fantasy series. Lyrically and musically, “Answers” does a great job representing the tone and feeling of Final Fantasy XIV. It is dark and despairing, yet gives a great sense of hope even when there is no hope to be had. Perhaps the best moment in the song is a line that not only summarizes FFXIV, but also epitomizes a core theme in the entire Final Fantasy series:
“Tell us why, given life, we are meant to die, helpless in our cries?”
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD – Utakata (Transience)
Final Fantasy fans are thrilled to be able to experience the once PSP-exclusive Type-0, which will be released on March 17 of this year. “Utakata” is a new song written and recorded for the HD re-release. News regarding Type-0 HD consistently states that this is not a children’s game, and will in fact feature an ESRB rating of Mature, which is a first for the series. If “Utakata” is any indication of what Type-0 HD will be like, it will certainly be bold, loud, and action packed.
What are your favorite songs from the Final Fantasy series? Did they make the cut? Let us know your thoughts on all things Final Fantasy in the comments.