I am trying to compile my top 10 Final Fantasy songs to be shared with a bunch of people who has never listened to video games music before.
This is going to be a long night.
UPDATED (version 3):
Ok, after about 5 hours of going back and forth and sieving through more than 40 albums, these are my final 10 picks:
1. To Zanarkand ~ this is the first piece of music that you hear when you play Final Fantasy X and Tidus ending his monologue with “…this is my story,”. Final Fantasy X is special in many ways – awesome graphics, complex yet engaging storyline, great combat and gameplay. This song becomes especially significant when a very shocking revelation was uncovered in Act III of the game i.e. that Tidus himself is an Aeon (guardian force), summoned in the dreams of the remaining summoners of Zanarkand to end their 1,000 years’ sleep by breaking the cycle of destruction and devastation on Spira once and for all.
2. Endless Sorrow ~ I am particularly drawn to the music of Final Fantasy IX because the soundtrack is diverse and contradictory – some songs are whimsical and joyful, and then there are songs like Endless Sorrow that evokes sadness and nostalgia. This was Nobuo Uematsu’s last score for the series and I was pleasantly surprised when in interviews he said that due to the fantasy nature of Final Fantasy IX, he wrote the score so that “a serious piece as well as silly, fun pieces could fit in.” This piece was played when Princess Garnet returned to (a destroyed) Alexandria to become its Queen, in the cutscenes for other characters in the game right before the (hilarious) love letter scene between Beatrix and Steiner took place.
3. Battle on the Big Bridge ~ this is the theme song for Gilgamesh, a recurring character in Final Fantasy series. He made his debut in Final Fantasy V as a bad guy; in other Final Fantasy games he is a harmless, pun-spewing sword collector who steals other people’s sword in his search for Excalibur. He is a scene-stealer and gets the best lines. This frenetic, crazy piece describes him perfectly. Square Enix should make a standalone game about him already.
4. Rose of May ~ If you have the chance to play Final Fantasy IX, you will come across a non-playable, badass character called General Beatrix who is known as the best swordsman in the continent. Now, why do I choose this song? Because it is so contradictory to her outward character that is seen as merciless and arrogant (her nickname is “the cold-blooded woman that silences even the crying infant”). This song reveals the true Beatrice: soft-spoken, respectable, fiercely loyal and ever-ready to die for her country and queen. But try to push her over and she will slice you with her blade. I love her.
5. Town Theme ~ I can’t even remember which game featured this song. But when I heard it performed in a doowop style at the Voices concert a few years ago, I unexpectedly started humming along and could not get it out of my head until I went online and looked it up. This was from Final Fantasy II and played every time your characters enter a town. Do you know what’s great about Final Fantasy II? It was when chocobos (big, giant chicken that you can ride) were introduced! Which takes me to the next song…
6. Chocobo Theme ~ This was a cover by Moonbow using the version played in Final Fantasy III. Chocobos are hard to tame and its side quests are always so ridiculously hard to complete. But riding a chocobo is an awesome possum experience (though it doesn’t always run in the direction where you want it to go). Kinda like the music which is jumpy and all over the place.
7. Dewdrops at Dawn ~ this is, hands down, the saddest piece of music in the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack. It is played after the game is over and the end-credits are paused midway to play a cutscene of dawn breaking and sunlight slowly piercing through the dark clouds. This piece is so good that you would have gotten that imagery in your head without me explaining it to you. Why the saddest? The name of the main character of the game is Noctis, which is Latin for “of the Night”. When dawn breaks… night ends. The last frame of the cutscene shows four camping chairs facing the Crown City of Insomnia. Just slays.
8. Vamo’ Alla Flamenco ~ the third song from Final Fantasy IX that made my list. I selected an acoustic guitar version by Daisuke Minamizawa because I think he perfectly captures the silly exaggeration and exuberance of a swordfight between two bumbling theatre actors. Best lagu ni. Makes me tap my feet. I can’t play the guitar like this :(
9. Somnus (Sleep) ~ the truth is Yoko Shimamura did a terrific job writing the score for Final Fantasy XV. Somnus is actually the first piece that she wrote ten years ago when it was still known as Versus XIII so I have been listening to this for 10 long years before the game was finally released. The lyric was written in Japanese (and then translated into Latin for its vocals) by Nomura Tetsuya who (originally) conceptualised the game before passing the helm to Tabata Hajime in order to focus on the remake of Final Fantasy VII. This is my favourite piece in the game, and most probably in the whole series.I loved it when I first heard it, loved it even more as I played the game and came to realize what Noctis has to do when he ascends as King. To me it speaks of indescribable love, sacrifice, bravery, loyalty and, most importantly, about upholding the trust and responsibility that is entrusted to you even if it is at the cost of your own life. Walk tall, my friends.
10. Main theme ~ the song that starts it all. This version was released to celebrate Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary. The one song that ties and binds them all. So much feels.
Can you tell how much I love the series?
p/s: there are many songs that I left out of the top 10 such as Aerith’s Theme and One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, Dalmasca Estersand from Final Fantasy XII and Why from Crisis Core and so on. These, to me, are very specific to the game (and scene) that it is featured in. So it loses impact particularly on those who have never played a single Final Fantasy game.
For this list, I wanted to showcase the diverse musical styles in video games music and their versatility. So I picked songs that are striking in terms of musical arrangement, and evocative and expressive in terms of feelings and imagery so that non-players could relate to them too.
And that, as they say, is that.
(To listen to all of them in the versions that I have selected, click the youtube playlist below.)