In the spirit of Final Fantasy XV’s recent release—and in the wake of its glorious, glorious soundtrack—here is a list of the top five Final Fantasy OSTs, based on overall soundtrack cohesiveness and symbiosis with the story.
Note: Contains plot spoilers.
Note #2: You may want to turn up your speakers to listen to these epic tunes! <3
5. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is strange. It’s the game where you go from the dead lands of Midgar, to the frozen tundra of Icicle Inn, to the lush and sprawling jungles of Wutai, and then into space. No element seems to work together—even its character roster is astoundingly hodgepodge.
- Cloud = an amnesiac with super strength, who also has the self-confidence of a turnip
- Tifa = a piano playing, fist-fighting, romantic barmaid
- Barrett = a foul-mouthed man with a machine gun (get out, Laguna) and vocal environmentalist
- Red XIII = an intelligent, philosophy-spouting quad-pedal creature with daddy-issues
- Aeris = a devious goody-two shoes who wears Holy as a hair accessory
- Cid = the feminist, tea-loving, chain-smoking, vitriol-spewing ex-pilot
- Cait Sith = the Scottish(?) animatronic cat-and-stuffed-marshmallow manned by a giant nerd
- Vincent = the most guilt-ridden man in the universe—also has four demons trapped in his body
- Yuffie = a plucky princess who moonlights as a thief and failed assassin
…Needless to say, FFVII has quite a lot of variety to play with. The soundtrack strives to match this chaotic uniqueness (in both character themes and locales), and as such, is comprised of the most eclectic spread of songs.
However, the OST doesn’t manage to sync with the over-arching plot. The songs are liable to be just as chipper, exciting, and upbeat when the Weapons have been released and Meteor’s about fall as they are depressing and anxiety-inducing near the beginning/middle (when our heroes are still hopeful).
Still, kudos to Uematsu for attempting to tie all these songs together.
4. Final Fantasy IX
Many fans call Final Fantasy IX the “oddball FF”—but it’s one of the only ones to have a cohesive, world-appropriate soundtrack. FFIX exists in a place wherein technology is objectively-advanced, but still medieval enough for swords, knights, and royals to make logical sense. It’s a strange mishmash of old, new, and steampunk, and it melds together seamlessly. The player can equally believe that the shady bars and underground cultures in Treno coexist with areas like Crystal World and Bran Bal. Every part, no matter how small or seemingly-odd, has a larger role to play in the wider scope of things.
This follows the game’s theme of the small parts banding together to make a whole. It’s seen in the way that the successive number of Eidolons Dagger and Eiko collect enhance their lives and tie them further and further into their ancestry. It’s found in the black mages leaving their oppressive beginnings and banding together to figure out what “self” means. It’s seen in the people of Alexandria rallying in the wake of the city’s destruction to create something new, bigger, and better. It’s in our ragtag group of heroes—who originally found themselves alone and dealing with loneliness in their own ways—and how the jagged puzzle pieces of their personalities fit together to make a beautiful, complete picture. Again, these are but a few examples.
The game uses the soundtrack to heighten its world, but doesn’t do much regarding tying it to its characters, and as such, ekes into the #4 spot.
MUSIC COMPOSER: Nobuo Uematsu
OTHER NOTABLE SONGS: Vamo’alla Flameno, Run!, Zidane’s Theme, Eternal Harvest, Rose of May, Something to Protect, The Four Medallions, You Are Not Alone, Melodies of Life, Hunter’s Chance
3. Final Fantasy V
A beautiful theme from Final Fantasy V is overcoming insurmountable odds with the help from dear friends (I’m hilarious, I know). Understandably then, the OST’s songs sound connected (image of ideal family) and they follow a tonal trajectory of spiraling highs and crushing lows that align with the story’s path.
The game start with a hopeful—light, airy, slightly upbeat—song (Four Valiant Hearts), and immediately follow it with A Presentiment. This cycle of high-high-high to low-low-low cycles through the game, leading towards and past the whole Galuf situation (it still feels like a sucker-punch to this day. *wipes tear*). However, although some songs may start out “negatively” and “grim” (in a minor key), they end back major and positive, reflecting the game’s theme that no matter the difficulty of the struggle, one must keep on keeping on if they hope to succeed.
One of the other things bolstering FFV’s soundtrack is that Uematsu gave very few tracks vague, lyrical titles (ex. Hurry! Hurry!, Danger, and Nostalgia). But, it’s this on-the-nose stylization that gives the OST a level of charm matching the game’s overdone-yet-unique and ludicrous-yet-endearing plot and world.
Honestly, the songs from Final Fantasy V are some of the most iconic and memorable from the older FFs. Maybe it’s because the OST has a faint, ethereal, old-timey instrumental element to it. Perhaps it’s because Uematsu only had “rudimentary” musical tools to hand, so it all sounds similar. Either way, he created a cohesive, thematic, and audibly-connected soundtrack—putting FFV in slot #3.
MUSIC COMPOSER: Nobuo Uematsu
OTHER NOTABLE SONGS: Fate in Haze, Pirate’s Ahoy!, Cursed Earth, Walking the Snowy Mountains, The Fierce Battle, What, Mambo De Chocobo, Battle for the Big Bridge, I’m A Dancer
2. Final Fantasy XIII
Although Final Fantasy XIII was a polarizing game, its soundtrack is one of its strengths. It ties into the game’s characters, plot, and location: Cocoon is constrictive, militaristic, and inescapable, while Gran Pulse is more open-world, widespread, and free.
For Cocoon, Hamauzu favored songs with heavy brass, steady beats, eerie sustained chords, synth elements, and few airy instruments (The Thirteenth Day and The Hanging Edge). Alternatively, the later songs—representing a rejection of Cocoon’s values and a welcoming of Gran Pulse’s freedom—transition to lighter, open scores like the Sunleth Waterscape and The Gapra Whitewood.
The characters’ themes also oppose one another—for example, Lightning’s Theme vs. Fang’s Theme. The former came from the stifled oppression of Cocoon and the latter came from the teeming wilds of Gran Pulse. Lightning’s Theme uses few instruments, and even when it crescendos, the increased vivacity is quickly smothered, returning the song to its previous banal quietude. Her theme implies she’s one who refuses to be bolstered by optimism and is willing to maintain the status quo. Alternatively, Fang’s Theme is loud, booming, and quick-paced from the beginning. In fact, it only turns soft and muffled at the one minute mark, but breaks free from the mellowness soon after, returning to its large drums, fast tempo, and piano runs. Fang is from Gran Pulse; she is not one who will be tamed.
Although only two characters are explored here, such distinctions can be seen in all the themes and throughout the OST. Even if you didn’t like Final Fantasy XIII originally, maybe try it again through the lens of the soundtrack? 🙂
MUSIC COMPOSER: Masashi Hamauzu
OTHER NOTABLE SONGS: Eidolons on Parade, Eternal Love (Short Version), This Is Your Home, Dust to Dust, Serah’s Theme, Snow’s Theme, The Promise, March of the Dreadnoughts
1. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack is the most cohesive, most plot-applicable, and the most connected to its characters.
Throughout the entire OST, multiple songs tie together—such as At Zanarkand and A Fleeting Dream—with similar instruments, similar chord progressions, and similar feelings they emote. Additionally, songs like The Sending and Song of Prayer play off one another, while the latter also ties in the rustic village tones of Kilika (where The Sending takes place). Also, the OST offers clues about the characters (please, go listen to Seymour’s Theme, Seymour’s Ambition, and They May Pass and tell me that you’re not getting major “this-guy-is-a-creep” vibes).
At the same time, FFX’s OST follows the plot on two different fronts: (a) the audible shift of the areas from rustic and relaxed to stifled and dangerous and (b) the characters from having hope to losing it. First, the world is spread out and diverse (compare the music that plays in Bevelle and Besaid Island), but it still manages to present an image of unity. Most all areas carry a wild, natural feel, because of Yevon’s beliefs. However, as the game progresses and the characters begin to root out Yevon’s corruption, the locations and the music begin to take on a more abrupt, grim, and hopeless feel. The characters realize the lives they’ve lived have been lies, and there’s nothing they can do to break the cycle (except they totally do, score). The OST follows the area shifts, the theme shifts, and the characters’ growth.
Furthermore to the characters, their arcs are also detailed in their themes. Take Auron’s, for example. It begins with a slow, steady beat (i.e. Auron is dependable). Then, synth instruments and a higher, moving melody floats along the top (i.e. there’s more to Auron than just the dependability). Then, a chorus emerges around the one minute mark.
…In what other song is it very important for a chorus to exist? That’s right, our poor, unsent hero has echoes of the The Sending in his theme.
Then, at 1:48, most of the original instruments exit, and the song quiets. Is this meant to emphasize the moment when Auron died and things got hazy for him? If so, it then makes sense that at 2:24 the original musical elements repeat—when he used his determination and rage to become an unsent and return to the “old Auron.”
Note: Auron is only one example, but he’s the example that proves the rule.
All told, FFX’s OST goes above and beyond the other games because it ties it all together: the world, the characters, the plot, and the actual songs on the soundtrack.
MUSIC COMPOSER: Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, and Junya Nakano
OTHER NOTABLE SONGS (Original and HD): Movement in Green, Spira Unplugged, Servants of the Mountain, Decisive Battle/Final Battle, Fight With Seymour, Final Aeon Battle, Suteki da Ne, This Is Your Story, Path of Repentance, Wandering Flame
So, what do you think? Think I’m crazy (totally valid, I wouldn’t stop you) and that I have too much time on my hands? Have another thought on how to analyze these songs? How would you rank the game soundtracks? Sound off in the comments below!