• Final Symphony - a musical review

    The Final Fantasy fanbase is large, so it's no wonder that we are a hard to please bunch. But whether we agree on which games are terrible and which are the best thing since sliced bread, there's one thing most of us can agree on: the music is always amazing. Final Fantasy soundtracks are some of the most iconic in video gaming, inspiring various fan remixes and official arrangements.

    Final Symphony is one such official album, but it is a pretty unique one. Unlike most arrangements like Celtic Moon or the Distant Worlds concert tour, which consist of simple orchestrations of the most beloved tracks, this project takes a different approach. First premiering at the Historische Stadthalle in Wuppertal in 2013, Final Symphony takes us on a musical journey through the worlds of Final Fantasy VI, VII and X, arranged in an artistic manner. Instead of single tracks from the games, the soundtracks are given new life by the outstanding arrangers, becoming full musical pieces where the original themes blend together to create something entirely new.

    Sadly, I was not able to attend the concert personally. However, the album is now available on iTunes, and so, this review pertains to the recording rather than the live version.

    The album begins with an original overture titled 'Circle within a Circle within a Circle'. While not based on any existing Final Fantasy theme, it nevertheless makes for a good opening, with the melody rising and falling in, well, a circle. The triumphant brass fanfares do bring FF to mind despite not being an FF theme, but more importantly, they set the mood for the entire album. The harmony becomes every richer, culminating in a climax that helps us dive straight into what is to come.

    The proper arrangements begin with a symphonic poem based on Final Fantasy VI: 'Born with the Gift of Magic'. Arranged by Roger Wanamo, this piece is the most romantic-sounding of the three, with dramatic orchestrations, bleeding out the emotions that perfectly embody the tragic atmosphere of Final Fantasy VI. Symphonic poems are meant to tell stories and this one does so perfectly. Two main themes clash together throughout the whole piece, 'Terra' and 'Kefka', with other familiar themes thrown in to drive the story of the piece forward. Liberties were taken with the arrangements of the two themes which, while it may irk some fans, really helps effectively build the narrative of the piece. Kefka's theme starts off pretty identical to its in-game equivalent, but gradually becomes more and more distorted, symbolizing the villain's descent into madness, all the while the woodwinds imitate Kefka's iconic laughter. However, the focus of the piece is really Terra, her discovery of her magical powers and how she deals with them. Thus, her theme ultimately has the stronger presence.

    The next piece is an arrangement of FFX tracks by Masashi Hamauzu. The music of Final Fantasy X has been arranged into a piano concerto, which is very fitting, considering Hamauzu loves the piano and is one of the few video game composers who actually uses the instrument to its full potential. Unlike the FFVI and FFVII arrangements, the FFX Piano Concerto does not really tell a story, but is rather like a new abstract piece using old themes. The end effect is nothing short of phenomenal. Starting with the most beautiful arrangement of 'To Zanarkand' to date, the impressionistic styling so typical of Hamauzu really makes this concerto stand out. With many new melodies thrown in, the old themes blend into three distinct movements – 'Zanarkand', 'Inori' and 'Kessen'. The piece has a very nice flow and ends in a very bombastic rendition of 'Assault' and 'Decisive Battle'. Hamauzu proves that he is a truly formidable composer, presenting quality that is on par with that of the other two arrangers, who are not video game composers, but professional artistic musicians. Though I won't praise him too much, since the concerto is followed by a solo piano rendition of 'Suteki Da Ne'. While nice, it is too similar to the Piano Collections version, which is quite an underwhelming epilogue to an otherwise breathtaking concerto.

    The last large piece on the album, and the longest one, is the Final Fantasy VII Symphony in Three Movements. Arranged by Jonne Valtonen, this is another illustrative piece, but with a much more contemporary feeling than the FFVI symphonic poem. Valtonen does not stray from less classical harmonies, though it's still nothing too grating for the casual listener, and most of the modern elements take the form of imitating non-musical sounds. As the name implies, the symphony is separated into three movements: 'I: Nibelheim Incident', 'II: Words Drowned by Fireworks', and 'III: The Planet's Crisis'. Similarly to 'Born With the Gift of Magic', these tracks can be treated as a retelling of the story of Final Fantasy VII. It begins with Sephiroth's sinister origins, leads into Cloud's love triangle and Aerith's inevitable death, and culminates with a planet-wide crisis before a hopeful ending. The piece is engrossing from start to finish with its impressive use of dissonant chords whenever the Sephiroth-related themes appear. However, my personal favorite part happens in the second movement, where several instruments imitate fireworks in the background, and at a certain point the music actually stops and the entire orchestra paints a very vivid image of fireworks against the night sky. “Interrupted by Fireworks” indeed.

    The album ends with two extra tracks, one of which is a medley of the FFVII Game Over theme, 'the Prelude' and 'Anxious Heart', and the other is a battle theme medley which is bound to excite fans familiar with these three games.

    Final Symphony is available on iTunes for $9.99 and I would say it's worth every penny. It's an incredibly unique take on Final Fantasy themes, elevating simple yet beloved video game music to a truly artistic level. Even Nobuo Uematsu was impressed by how this album turned out. So while it strays from the original themes quite substantially at times, this album is without a doubt one of the best tributes to our beloved series composer.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Final Symphony - a musical review started by Fynn View original post
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Fox's Avatar
      Fox -
      And if you do ever get the chance to attend personally, take it! I went to both Final Symphony I and II at the Barbican in London, and it's an incredible experience. I hope 'Interrupted by Fireworks' in the remake sounds similar to this version
    1. Aerith's Knight's Avatar
      Aerith's Knight -
      I was close to one once, but sadly never got to visit it.
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