VGM Entry 44: Final Fantasy IV
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
Supposedly the sound team at Square was so overburdened when it came to scoring Final Fantasy IV that they occasionally camped out in sleeping bags at the office. Or so claim Nobuo’s rather zanny liner notes for the game’s official soundtrack, dated “April 13, 1991, 1:30 a.m. (in the office, naturally)”. Whatever the veracity of this, the end result was probably the best game soundtrack composed up to that time.
Nobuo Uematsu must have been waiting a long time for this. “Prelude” received its main melody to finally become the song we think of today. “Prologue” (Main Theme) got an epic introduction to overtake the recently revamped Dragon Quest theme. Hell, something approaching real orchestration was possible!
The process of adjusting to the Super Nintendo took a lot of time and energy, and it didn’t get any easier. Nobuo Uematsu has stated that Final Fantasy VI was his most challenging score, and one can imagine a perfectionist’s realization that Super Nintendo sound, though vastly superior to the Nintendo, was still sufficiently limited for the possibility of excruciatingly sampling every option. Perhaps that’s why Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI especially turned out so great; lacking the sense of unrestrained freedom of true orchestration, attention to detail was taken to painstaking extremes. Perhaps. I don’t know.
The track list for the sample above is:
“Red Wings” (1:35)
“Main Theme” (Overworld) (2:16)
“Into the Darkness” (3:00)
“Fight 1” (3:32)
“Mystic Mysidia” (4:31)
“The Airship” (5:20)
“The Big Whale” (5:50)
“Theme of Love” (6:27)
“Palom & Porom” (7:11)
“Land of Dwarves” (8:12)
It’s something of a testament to how amazing Final Fantasy IV really is that garudoh’s ten minute sampler does not even include the vast majority of my personal favorites. And since I am at liberty to write these articles however the hell I want to, I present you with my top five Final Fantasy IV tracks, roughly in order:
The music of Fabul could not possibly be better suited for its role in the game. Here you’ve got an isolated, well fortified castle guarded by monks, which are pretty much ninjas and way cooler than Edge anyway. And there’s nothing friendly about this town. It’s been a long, long time, but I recall never exactly feeling welcome there, and I certainly shouldn’t after all the trouble. “Fabul” isn’t just appropriately oriental, it’s also pretty grim. There’s a sense of foreboding about it which perfectly captures the events your arrival foretells.
#4: The Lunarians
“The Lunarians” was my favorite Final Fantasy IV track as a kid. I remember pounding away at it for hours on my mother’s piano, which must have been especially grating since I’ve never taken a piano lesson in my life. This isn’t some ‘light in the darkness’ track. The pretty melody is completely haunting, and that forcefully struck deep note is entirely complimentary to it. No, there’s no sort of contrast here. This song captures a beautiful and dangerous mystery.
#3: The boss battles
Yes I know I’m cheating. Final Fantasy IV is packed full of outstanding fight music. The final battle, featured above, is the most dramatic of the lot–as well it should be–but only barely. “The Fierce Battle” also does wonders for capturing a heightened sense of danger and urgency. Really, though the whole multiple tiers of combat music thing was probably done before, Final Fantasy IV has to be one of the first games to make effective use of it. “Fight 2“, the standard boss tune, emerges out of the same brief introduction as the basic combat theme (see garudoh’s mix) and steps the action up a notch with faster drumming, more pronounced bass, brass accents, and a more central role for the strings. “The Fierce Battle” goes farther still, allowing the brass to share center stage with the strings, except unlike in “Fight 1“, the brass melody lines here actually feel like the real deal. The track comes off as very orchestral to me, and intense in a way that just wasn’t possible prior to the SNES. “The Final Battle” mixes the best of each world and contributes a rock beat to top off the job.
#2: Troian Beauty
This appropriately titled song might just be a simple waltz helped along by harp arpeggios, but that’s precisely why it works. It’s just a beautiful song–a real stroke of genius from an artist of whom we expect such feats. It’s one of the most frequently covered Final Fantasy songs you’ll find (I even stumbled across a banjo rendition), as it translates well into nearly any arrangement. It’s one of my personal favorite songs to cover, using Kabukibear’s version. If you’re not familiar with his arrangements, this is a great place to start.
My favorite Final Fantasy IV song of all might be a little anticlimactic, as it’s featured in the garudoh compilation, but I hope you’ll give it some consideration before writing it off as a relatively generic song in relation to the tracks accompanying it.
#1: Red Wings
If I was ever to form a video game cover band, and I’ve been kicking around the idea since I was old enough to pick up a guitar, “Red Wings” would definitely be my top priority. Just imagine the possibilities for subtle intensification in this song. Sure, Uematsu’s version might only be a minute long, but I could see this building up into a ten minute marathon, starting out with that martial snare and climaxing with an Atsuo-intense drumset massacre, with room for all kinds of instrumental variation in between. Ok, maybe that’s my vision for the song and not the song itself, but I think Uematsu lays out a prototype for something truly epic here.