The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Music – Ethos

ffixEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy IX

As FFVII begins to sweep Riddles’ awards, IX is starting to do the same for me. Although VII is still winning overall on account of all the 2nd places I’m awarding it.

Anyway, while this is an easy choice for me, it needs saying that I adore Uematsu’s work from FFVI through IX. In fact, somewhat ironically, my top three Nobuo tracks are probably One Winged Angel, Terra’s Theme, and Vincent’s Theme, and by far my favourite piano collection is the one from Final Fantasy VIII. Still, when it comes to the entire soundtrack, IX is the irrevocable winner.

Not only is Final Fantasy IX Nobuo’s favourite and most ambitious soundtrack, but it is his most varied and musically impressive. While VIII suffered from too much repetition of really strong tracks, and FFVII doesn’t finish with the same strength that it started with, Final Fantasy IX is bursting with track after track of mood and history. Drawing from his impressive work with VII and VIII, Uematsu added a certain rich charm that isn’t really similar to any of his other work except occasionally VI. In fact, one of the soundtrack’s rare pitfalls is that there is almost too much music. One of my favourite pieces is long, complex and beautiful, but it’s easy to miss half of the entire cue just by playing at a normal pace. And then Zidane – the main character, mind you – only has his theme song played once as well throughout the entire experience.

Still, there is bombastic stuff that would make John Williams jealous, melancholy moments that could make Philip Glass weep, and impeccably suitable and memorable tracks at every single turn. As a music lover and piano player, nothing is more inspiring and mind-blowingly impressive as Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy farewell. He would still go on to write some decent stuff for FFX, but he left his heart with IX, and it’s incredibly obvious.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VII
While VIII has some of the series’ most beautiful tracks, the OST doesn’t extend beyond what you can hear on the Piano Collections, and that’s simply not true for the other PSX titles. If Final Fantasy VII continued to be as strong throughout as it started, there’s a good chance I’d be agreeing with Riddles for the number one spot too. The first few hours in Midgar are stunning. Somehow the music manages to mix dark and gritty with innocent hope, reflecting the mood of the city perfectly. And while I agree with Riddles that the OST doesn’t have any duds, per se, it doesn’t continue in that flawless form until One Winged Angel explodes onto the speakers much later on. While I believe that Uematsu used VI as a leaping point to start hitting his stride, I don’t think VII was able to use themes as effectively, be as emotionally varied or as musically impressive as IX. Still it remains an absolutely outstanding soundtrack.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2

I want to call out FFIII here, but I could never knock an Uematsu soundtrack like that. XII was too epic and XIII had some huge duds, but I’m with Riddles on this too. I actually found a lot of X-2 catchy, but it was never good, and it’s definitely the worst of the series overall. Plus, just…just watch that opening cutscene…

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17 Responses to “The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Music – Ethos”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    -Thinking of the X-2 and XIII OSTs and choosing the worst is actually a very difficult proposition for me. X-2 is just the most obnoxious in your face offensively gaudy OST of the entire series, yet it has a few elegant tracks which utterly destroy anything on the thoroughly vanilla, yet inoffensive, FFXIII OST.

  2. SiliconNooB says:

    I’d say that VII’s OST is much more emotional than IX’s, though IX’s is much more musically diverse and ambitiously orchestrated.

  3. Ethos says:

    Well, as music often does, it’s all tied to your experience as well. If you connected with VII more, the tracks are going to hold more emotion for you. A piece in IX that could come off as calculated to one, is an emotional breakthrough to others. But in being very familiar with both OSTs (I play through both of them on piano as well as being intimately familiar with both games), I find that FFIX has more emotional pieces, they just aren’t as heavily focused on as they are in VII. VII plays the emotional heavyweights far more often when IX plays some of its powerhouses only once or twice the entire game, including moments in cut scenes (Vivi watching the dolls fall from the airship as the Black Waltz descends, Eiko jumping out of the ship to find Dagger, You’re Not Alone!, the two heartbreak themes, Dali, etc). Whereas Aeris’ theme, Tifa’s Theme and the overworld/main theme are very emotional pieces for VII and they are centrepieces in the game. FFIX’s main theme is a brilliant song, but it represents more of the history that inspires the darker moments and more grand architecture of the cities, and I wouldn’t describe it as emotional.

  4. Ethos says:

    I would describe all three PSX OSTs as being the most emotional in the series, however. Very powerful music all around.

  5. SiliconNooB says:

    -Perhaps I’m looking at it too narrowly, I was really looking at it in terms of invoking the drama of human emotion in on-screen diegetic terms (which VIIs OST has in spades). But really IX’s OST is absolutely dripping with wistful nostalgia which is deeply affecting towards players (nostalgia is probably no less apt to be considered emotional). IX’s OST kind of reminds me of how I felt as a small child (for some unfathomable reason …).

  6. Andogo says:

    If I’d only heard the NA version of “real emotion”, I’d agree with you, Ethos, but the JP version was actually pretty decent (as far as Jpop goes).

  7. SiliconNooB says:

    I’m no fan either … though neither were as bad as ‘my hands’ …

  8. Ethos says:

    I don’t know. I think you said it best, SN, when you called FFXIII’s OST unoffensive, and I’d say the same thing about “My Hands”. As with the entire game, the best music came during Pulse. And I truly do love the battle theme.

  9. Ethos says:

    And re: music, that’s probably it for me, SN. It’s why I love Zelda and the forest and why I’m writing a collection of Peter Pan poems. Nostalgia for childhood strikes me deepest, so the simple yet deep melodies of FFIX hit me deeper.

  10. SiliconNooB says:

    I’ve listened to the entire XIII OST many times, there is no best music, one track may as well be another. The only good stuff is the battle themes … everything else is just inoffensively middle of the road …

  11. Ethos says:

    Meh, I thought there one or two non-battle tracks that are quite good. I wouldn’t call it a great OST overall by any means.

  12. ConstipatedCow says:

    For ethos:

    You will buy :)

  13. Ethos says:

    Already in the works for my Hey! Look! Listen! today. And I’m not buying for Wii.

  14. 7thcircle says:

    I believe Uematsu’s most ambitious soundtrack was 6, not 9. That’s the one where he made different tunes for each of the dozen or so characters and also for most of the non-cave locations in addition to the regular fare for major plot points, bosses, general background music, etc. I think he personally wrote more tracks for 6 than any other FF (the OST is huge, and he did all of it), and later admitted to sleeping only a few hours a night because he stayed up late writing scores and then getting the shitty SNES soundchip to make music rather than beeps and boops. He didn’t work that hard on any other FF.

    Just saying. I winced when I saw you write that 9 was his most ambitious work. I know that it’s his favorite, so maybe as part of loving the final results he called it his most ambitious in an interview sometime, but he worked the hardest on 6. So much so that he vowed never to write so many tracks or work that hard on an OST again.

    Personally, this would be the hardest category for me to pick a winner for. The music in IV is the only thing that’s still good about it after all these years. I was listening to the piano collections for IV while eating dinner last night. I think VI and VII are fantastic. The music was the only thing about VIII that wasn’t dreadful. IX was nice, but for something generally going more for atmosphere than memorability, I prefer XII’s soundtrack. I’d probably say VII is my favorite, although I still don’t own an OST for it for some reason. I had about half the OST on my PC in the Napster days, but I don’t keep much music on my PC anymore.

  15. Ethos says:

    You shouldn’t wince.

    You’ve told me this before, and I know he had a shitty time writing FFVI, but it doesn’t mean it was his most ambitious because he didn’t sleep. There’s a theme for every character too, and besides the battle themes, FFIX rarely repeats its music either, and when it does, it’s always a variation. The OST for VI is huge, yes. The OST for IX is bigger.
    FFVI: 61 tracks. 3 hours, 7 minutes.
    FFIX: 110 tracks. 4 hours, 47 minutes.
    And that’s not including the Plus music.

  16. 7thCircle says:

    Oops. You’re right. I looked stuff up online and he did work longer on FF IX’s OST, and it is his hugest OST. You win this round, Ethan, but the war is far from over!

    *inserts foot in mouth and hops away*

  17. Ethos says:

    Woo! I finally win one against Glenn! :D

    Yeah, the director told him to just write a theme for each character, a few battle themes, and a couple of dungeon themes, and he loved his work so much that he just went fucking crazy with it. The amount of music he wrote is mind-boggling, especially considering that the VAST majority of it is good. (There is the very occasion dud *cough* Cleyra)

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