Today is the 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of Final Fantasy VI–or Final Fantasy III when it first released on SNES in North America. While it didn’t reach the U.S. and Canada until October 1994, I decided to celebrate its original debut date instead. Final Fantasy VI is perhaps my favorite game of all time, and I’ve replayed it more than any other game in my library. Admittedly, there are certain aspects of the game which don’t hold up as well over the past two decades, but I will take it over most contemporary games any day. In order to celebrate FF6 turning the big 2-0, I thought I’d take the chance to pick some of my favorite songs from the series.
Final Fantasy VI was the last of the SNES games in the series. The soundtrack was composed by the famous Nobuo Uematsu. While the quality of the sound was constrained due to the technology available on the SNES, the melodies and themes still shone through, and the orchestral versions that you can hear on soundtracks and at live shows are proof of the quality of the pieces.
You might recognize a few of my favorites from previous High Notes, but for those of you who haven’t heard the songs before, you should definitely get the chance, so you’ll see them again here. And with that, let’s get on with the show!
Let’s start this article off with my personal favorite: “Celes’ Theme,” which is actually a remixed portion of the song “Aria di Mezzo Carattere” from the Opera House. Even though, Celes was one of my least favorite characters when I first played the game, her Opera House scene and her scene after trying to take care of Cid, where this song plays, really changed my opinion of her. The opening sounds like it is building up to something exciting, but then this slow, melancholic melody rings through. It’s hard for me not to get a little misty-eyed when I hear it play.
When I first heard “Terra’s Theme,” I didn’t realize it was meant to be a character tune since it played throughout the overworld map for much of the first half of the game. Knowing how the game is divided now, it makes complete sense that it was used for the part of the game where she is more-or-less the protagonist, but in my heart it’s still more of a map tune than her character piece. The drumbeat helps make this a fantastic world map piece as portrays the feeling of the party marching along tirelessly during their journey across the World of Balance. The other major map music, “Searching For Friends” shows off drums that are more upbeat and determined, but the wind instruments make for a much more wistful feel to me.
A third character theme? Why not! This theme is completely befitting Setzer, airship pilot and gambler extraordinaire, at least on the outside. The soaring melody is exactly what you would expect from flying around in an airship and befits a character who crashes the opera to steal the show (and the star while he’s at it). While the song doesn’t play nearly as often as Terra’s theme, I think it stuck with me much better since it sounds so uplifting; however, I have to admit that I can’t help but think this song would have made an amazing opening theme for an Aerobiz game, too.
“Dancing Mad” (Orchestral version from the Black Mages)
How can I end with anything but “Dancing Mad,” the music for the epic final battle of the game. I used The Black Mages’ version to demonstrate how the songs sound when performed by an orchestra as compared to the soundtrack versions above. I waxed poetic on the song in a previous version of The High Notes, and I don’t think I can do any better now, so allow me to steal my own words:
“You’ve failed to stop the big baddie. You’ve let him ruin the world and obtain inhuman amounts of power. Kefka has begun to lose interest in humanity, even as playthings. All he has left to do is destroy everything, and now it’s your last chance to stop him.
But first, you have to battle your way up a tower of religious imagery: a giant demonic figure, a group of lost souls, and what looks to be some sort of saint. Once you reach the top, you see a winged, divine Kefka, ready to pass judgment. Such an epic progression requires an equally epic soundrack, and clocking in at 12 minutes (in this Black Mages version, 17 minutes in the original), “Dancing Mad” gets it done. To start, an organ wails in the background, the perfect accompaniment to all of the religious imagery set before you, but as the second movement begins, the pace picks up, delivering more urgency. The organ returns in the third movement, alone this time, sounding like a classically religious piece, but with a hint of the sinister underneath. The fourth movement sounds to me more like old Kefka bleeding through, the reedier organ sound with a busy percussion section sheds the religious feeling for something a bit more chaotic. It almost feels a little desperate with the way the beat rushes. Then finally, right around when you finish the fight (if you haven’t already) the music slows, shedding its previous forms for something almost a little melancholy, which echoes what the fight would be like by then: everyone is tired, maybe starting to lose hope a little as the battle rages on against this falsely beatific creature.
TL;DR: Nobuo Uematsu manages to put a five act play into a single song, which is what makes “Dancing Mad” such an epic piece of music.”
Okay, while none of these songs scream “Happy Birthday,” I think this is the best way to celebrate one of the greatest JRPGs in history. If you haven’t played it, you should give it a try, and if you have, let us know what your favorite song from Final Fantasy VI is down in the comments!