OK, just to forewarn you, this is going to be a big one (that’s what she said, hur hur), because I’ve been waiting a long time to get the opportunity to talk about Final Fantasy VII, and – on the off-chance that you have never played Final Fantasy VII – be aware that story spoilers are more than likely. If you want to skip the story and move straight to the tunes: I don’t care about your life story, woman, just tell me about the music…
Fans of the Final Fantasy games can usually* be placed into one of these categories:
- The ones who liked any/all of the Final Fantasies from I – VI but abhorrently detest anything from VII onwards because of the following it got and the fanboyism that blossomed from it.
- The ones who’d never heard of Final Fantasy series before VII was released, who thought that all the games were the same, and after – if not before – Final Fantasy X, realised that wasn’t the case, and gave in, defeated and crying into their Red XIII action figure’s arms (this is my area).
- The ones who are adamant in believing that Squaresoft/Square Enix are incapable of producing anything but pure gold, and who not only buy but actually play every Final Fantasy release, including the MMO’s.
- The ones who liked Final Fantasy IX.
There is no doubting that Final Fantasy VII was a gaming phenomenon. It was rendered polygons, for Christ’s sake. That was a big deal back in 1997. Final Fantasy VII got TV adverts in the UK, and that alone should be enough to make you realise what a big deal that was.
I vaguely remember seeing a TV ad for the game, and I’m fairly sure it was this one:
The reason why I’m fairly sure it was this one? Well, out of the three TV “spots” available on YouTube, this one is the only one with Cloud ‘falling’ and Tifa ‘screaming’ after him, and remember watching that particular scene on the TV, aged 13, thinking very clearly…”look at the SIZE of those breasts!”.
“She’s got HUGE…tracts of land.”
Whether it was because of the beautiful graphics or just to feed my latent lesbianism, the whole reason I wanted a PlayStation was to play this game. There is truth behind the quote that Final Fantasy VII was “the game that sold the PlayStation” […]. It certainly sold it to me. I played this game…SO much. I pretended to be ill to miss school and play this game. I even had the Bradygames Strategy guide, which I later ripped to pieces to stick the map from the back page on my bedroom wall.
I love almost everything about this game (that isn’t to say I love it all: the motorcycle and snowboarding minigames need to die in a fire, along with the Master Tonberry and that fucking Emerald WEAPON for waiting outside the Sunken Gelnika when I’m not ready, like a bitch! Ahem.). The storyline is deep and engrossing, and the graphics for their time were amazing with a great amount of charm, even by today’s standards.
I also don’t love the fact that Aeris (or Aerith – my version of the game had Aeris, so she’s always been Aeris (or Big Bum) to me) dies.
Spoiler alert: she’s dead.
My first time playing through this game, I liked Aeris. That is to say, I liked her in the fights, since she had the most kick-ass magic strengths and her limit breaks made you freaking invincible. As a character, however, she kind of grated on me (I’m Team Tifa, huah!), and I really didn’t appreciate how she got inbetween her and Cloud…
…and before you say anything, Aeris and Cloud are not soul mates. Aeris only really liked Cloud because he reminded her of Zack, m’kay? Now she and Zack are both dead and returned to the planet, and Cloud and Tifa are free to bump uglies all they like.
In any case, I still liked Aeris, and I didn’t know she was going to die. I was devastated when Sephiroth killed her and spent the rest of the game waiting for her miraculous return. And she didn’t come back. *sob*
In any case, the game was brilliant, and still is, even by today’s standards. I’ve said this before, but amazing graphics do not a good game make. Provided the gameplay is good, you can overlook aged graphics. That’s the reason 3 out of my top 5 favourite video games are still PlayStation 1 releases.
Now, as mentioned above, I am firmly set into Fan Category #2. I didn’t realise at the VII was a part number, when I bought it; I figured it was a number of characters or something to that effect, like in Oceans Eleven, you know? Easy mistake to make, and I can’t have been the only one.
That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the later Final Fantasy games. At least, not straight away. When I started playing VIII, for example, I was of the belief that all the Final Fantasies would be set in the same world; I was very disappointed when I realised that not only were these people actually people-shaped instead of the polygonal masterpieces I’d come to love, but Red XIII, Vincent, Yuffie, Tifa and the rest were nowhere to be seen.
“Midgar? What’s that?” the Final Fantasy VIII disk asked, a dark mocking tone shining in its reflective surface.
I still completed VIII, but I did so begrudgingly, and each time a fight scene opened or closed, all I could think was: “You’re not Cloud. Your hair colour’s all wrong, you’re far too skinny, and your sword isn’t big enough (that’s what she said!).”
Who would win in a fight? ~ (Image Sauce).
I even gave X a good try (I skipped IX, though I couldn’t tell you why, although after picking that up a few years later, I don’t think I missed much), and finished it, for that matter, and while I wanted to stab Tidus in his stupidly tanned face every time he opened his mouth, the rest of the game wasn’t that bad at all. I quite liked Yuna, and that cat-type guardian thing she had…Kalamari or whatever he was called.
But VII had itself buried deep in my heart, and I happily danced to the beat of Square Enix’s drum and bought everything that followed on, and in danger of this little blog post turning into a memoir, I’ll summarise them in a sentence each:
“Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children” was a visually impressive look at the Final Fantasy VII universe, but the story pulled long-time fans away from the core group to focus on something that nobody really cared that much about.
“Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus” was an underwhelming action shooter, but it was about Vincent, so we didn’t come down too harshly on it.
Looked great, played…not so great.
“Final Fantasy: Crisis Core” was a great look into Zack’s life (and death), tied in very nicely with the original game, although I found the combat system more of an irritant than anything even remotely engaging.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry… *bawls*
Anyway, I’m so far off-base I can’t even see the starting line anymore. I’m supposed to be talking about the music.
Let’s move on before I drown in my own nostalgia.
Let’s get to the business-end of this post already!
Final Fantasy VII
We’ll start from the beginning, with the original PlayStation game’s music, and the most iconic of which is obviously Aerith’s theme:
Christ, when this thing kicks in, you know something sad’s about to happen.
Another tearjerker moment (and yes, I actually do cry like a pussy when I play this part) is when Red XIII learns that his father didn’t abandon his people to save himself and instead sacrificed himself so that the people of Cosmo Canyon could live…oh man, there’s a lot of death in this game, huh? You can only hear this song at one point in the game, but it stays with you:
In case you’re curious, the scene itself can be seen here. It’s so sad. Poor Red. Just listen to him when he howls. Awwwwwwww.
Let’s move onto something a little less depressing before we all start slitting our wrists.
How about some bad guy music? How about some SHINRA music?
Now, I appreciate that this particular piece might sound a little dated to those of you who didn’t hear it for the first time when President Shinra’s helicopter flew him into the mako reactor. But listen, it’s still well composed, has a nice, building amount of threat, easy to picture a very tense moment going on to this backing.
When I’m writing my Slayers and other ‘big bads’, I use the Shinra music. It has a corporate, overpowering feel to it.
Another favourite is:
It just starts so quietly, like a heartbeat, then all of a sudden BOOM, SHIT IT’S ALL COMING DOWN, WE’RE GONNA DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE. Or maybe that’s just my interpretation. It doesn’t help that this is played during that part in the game where Sephiroth’s obviously gone mad.
And while I could talk all day about every single one of VII’s in-game musical tracks, I feel again that I should move on. Let’s end with something a little calmer and…
HOLY FUCK, IT’S SEPHIROTH!
Just LISTEN to that violin. SCREE SCREE SCREE SCREE! SCREE SCREE SCREE SCREE!
That’s some intense shit.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
For the advent children soundtrack, many of the original game songs were re-orchestrated, including the fight music:
But it also included a large number of new pieces. Highlights for me include:
I love this track again because of its build up. It kind of reminds me of Jaws, and I mean that in a good way.
Below is the music played through the end credits of Advent Children. At least, it’s played through one version. It’s on the bootleg copy of AC I got off eBay shortly before the English version was released, at any rate, and that’s good enough for me:
It’s kind of upbeat. It’s like an adventure theme, you could imagine driving with the windows open and your arm stuck out, soaking up the rays of sunshine with a shit-eating grin on yuor face.
I can appreciate a beautiful, gentle piece of music when I hear it. Except for the fact that Cloud’s ‘smile’ is pretty damn creepy. Sorry to ruin the illusion, but just look at it up there. It’s like it’s causing him actual, physical pain.
Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus
A lot of the DoC soundtrack errs on the side of melancholy, with many tracks focusing on piano and high-pitched string instruments to evoke painful memories. Whether that’s because Vincent’s story is essentially a tragic one or not remains to be seen, but highlights for me include:
There seems to be a lot more emphasis on stringed instruments in this soundtrack.
Unfortunately, I don’t have that much to say about the game itself, since I only played about three hours of it before giving it up as a bad job. Sorry. But I did buy the CD. In fact, it was one of the last physical CD’s I ever bought, before the advent of the Internet and the great beast that is iTunes came along.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
Much like the PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII, the fact that Crisis Core was only coming out on the PSP gave me enough incentive to go out and buy one. Now, however many years on, I still only use my PSP to occasionally play this game, as well as the classic PSOne games (including, of course, the original FF7) from the PlayStation Network. I’m still waiting for Tomb Raider II to be released.
Here’s another re-orchestrated version of Aeris’ theme, this time mixed in with guitars, which a YouTube commenter has already pointed out is like Zack’s instrument of choice. Mixing it in with the softer piano and strings composition gave this already classic track a more contemporary, while at the same maintaining its original beauty. It’s less of a tragic piece here, more like a love song.
You listen to this track, on the other hand, and your brain will feel like it’s been put in a blender, but you’ll enjoy every second of it before it turns to mush.
I actually think the music from Crisis Core is my favourite out of the whole lot. I know that might sound a little weird, but in essence it’s the things that made the original game music so appealing, while at the same time breaking free from the MIDI restrictions imposed on the original game.
I should also point out I never actually finished Crisis Core, either, which bugs the hell out of me, because I love the story and really wanted to see where it headed. But after Sephiroth kept kicking the shit out of me in the Nibelheim reactor, I almost threw the PSP against the wall. Maybe one day I’ll persevere and level up some more. I’m sure it will be worth it.
Covers & YouTube Exclusives
The thing with having a game with such immense popularity in a time when the Internet exists is that there are going to be people who build upon the foundations Nobuo Uematsu and the others created.
Some of them are shit, but others are pretty freaking sweet.
Take, for example, Cid’s theme. The original you can hear here, which kicks a lot of ass all by itself, but then check out this duo version covered by a pair of YouTubers:
And the same theme but with guitars:
What a difference! And yes, I am showing Cid’s theme plenty of attention. It’s an amazing theme, and Cid was such a freaking a badass, he deserves to have the most empowering piece in the game. All he did was smoke and swear and demand cups of tea. He’s, like, my hero.
It’s funny cuz it’s true! ~ Image Sauce
And you remember up higher I commented on the Shinra theme sounding a little dated by today’s standards? Well, listen to this fan made remastering:
Sexy stuff, amirite? It’s a little less intense than the original, but personally I think it makes it a very powerful piece.
There are too many others to list here, but if you click on any of the above videos, you should be able to find related cover tracks to just about every FF7 song out there.
Music to Write ALL Scenes By…
There is such a large variation to the music in Final Fantasy VII, it’s too much to pigeon-hole the whole thing into a specific ‘mood’. Fight scenes naturally work well with the fight music, and your characters’ death beds might work nicely to accompaniment from just about any of the Dirge of Cerberus soundtracks.
Fans of the games themselves might struggle using some of the music to write to, since most of the tracks have specific scenes attached to them, and it might be an issue to disassociate the games with the writing. Unless you’re writing fan fiction, of course!
More Information / Further Reading
If you want to read more about the Final Fantasy VII universe, I personally recommend the Wikia site. Start with Cloud’s, as linked, and move around from there.
You can buy the official soundtracks from the following places:
Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Final Fantasy VII Reunion Album (Incl. Piano & Orchestrated Versions) – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Finally, to close, it has nothing to do with the music from Final Fantasy VII, but I found this fan-made trailer (FF7 fans are the bestest), and it’s EPIC, so after that huge list of ‘still’ videos, please appreciate this depiction of the fight between Cloud and Sephiroth.
You’re a cock, Sephiroth, but I still love you.
Check out the full list of my ‘Music to Write Novels By’ series here, including a spiffy FAQ section, which will likely cover any questions you have.
* The word “usually” means that there can be exceptions. If you have a valid argument in my classifications, or if I’ve missed any, let me know and I’ll be happy to update it.