Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version
Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version
N23D-001 (1st Edition); NTCP-5014 (2nd Edition)
June 14, 1991; October 1, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
Responsible for the infamous active time battle system and for the introduction of storytelling as a focal point in the role-playing genre, Final Fantasy IV is one of the most esteemed creations in the series’ storied history. In honour of Final Fantasy IV‘s re-release on the Game Boy Advance, I have elected to revisit the fine score from the original game. In many ways, the Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version parallels the game it supports in influence and respect. Though not as refined as composer Nobuo Uematsu’s later creations, the soundtrack represents a large improvement in expressiveness from his NES compositions. Mimicking the series’ shift from simple good versus evil adventures to more complicated character driven dramas, Uematsu’s melodies developed the power to heighten the dramatic effect of the game’s emotional scenes. In addition, the score provides further definition to a game setting that is more developed than any of the NES settings available. Though the value of Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version as an album cannot quite reach its value in influence, it is still a fine creation, and a great showcase for Uematsu’s ability to express a game through music, even under the limitations of early Super Nintendo sound quality.
Over the course of the album, Nobuo Uematsu treads new ground whilst maintaining the series established traditions. The album opens with “The Prelude,” whose simple arpeggiated figure graced the title of Final Fantasy, the first in the series. The title screen role is reprised in Final Fantasy IV, but for the first time in a game, it appears with additional music. The new music, which appears at 0:39, is almost as well-recognized as the arpeggio itself, and adds a deal of depth to the old staple style. Alongside “The Prelude,” the ubiquitous “Prologue” also appears in Final Fantasy IV. The composition is mostly untouched, save an added fanfare to the beginning. Final Fantasy‘s “Fanfare” also reprises its role as the anthem for a victory in battle. In addition to actual themes lifted from Final Fantasy, Uematsu uses the same opening bass line used for battles to open “Fight 1” and “Fight 2,” Final Fantasy IV‘s main battle and minor boss battle themes.
The battle themes, always strengths of the Final Fantasy series, are especially strong in Final Fantasy IV. “Fight 1” balances bombastic brass whose volume and melody blare with conflict with a danceable rhythm from the drums and bass, which prevents the music for typical foes from becoming overly dramatic. “Fight 2” is as melodic as the first, but harsher dissonances, a quicker tempo, and more deliberate rhythms step up the intensity for minor boss battles. I still feel like I could dance to this tune, but it would probably be in a dustier club, with shadier characters. The real delights in Final Fantasy IV‘s battle music come from the latter tracks. “The Dreadful Fight,” used for battles with the game’s toughest foes outside of the final battle, is one of the harshest tracks Uematsu has ever composed. From the ominous rising line that opens the piece to the rhythmic brass that carries the piece to the melody that doesn’t even appear until nearly a minute into the piece, everything about the piece screams of danger. Rhythm rules “The Dreadful Fight” and even when the melody arrives, it remains a slave to rhythm. The end result is an absolutely invigorating listen that stands up with some of Uematsu’s greatest battle themes. “The Final Battle” is another wonderful listen, and while it never manages to capture as strong a sense of danger as “The Dreadful Fight,” it is just as fun to listen to.
Though the rest of Final Fantasy IV‘s album is not nearly as consistent as the battle themes, many tracks of note stand as some of the greatest products of Uematsu’s career. The beautiful “Theme of Love” may well be the most expressive love theme that Nobuo ever crafted. The melody is simple, yet avoids banality. It represents passionate love, most obvious at the swell into the climactic moment of the melody at 0:53, but its subdued sections reveal the melancholy Cecil feels towards his dark past, and his introspective nature. In under a minute and a half, Nobuo surpasses accomplishments some of his later love themes failed to accomplish in more fully realized settings. “Troian Beauty” also stands as one of Nobuo’s most charming career accomplishments, especially as far as town themes go. Opening with a charming descending harp arpeggiation before the entrance of its fabulous flute melody over a luscious string harmony, it is one of Uematsu’s finest melodies and suits its paradisiacal setting. Also standing as one of Uematsu’s finest atmospheric works is “Into the Darkness.” The dungeon theme starts with a crescendo on a slow string trill into the main section of the piece. Here Uematsu creates a fluid ebbing in the music by utilizing a triple metre with very de-emphasized second and third beats in the high-hat. The melody captures the fluid feeling with its adherence to the established rhythm, and the bass line bounces along in step. As fluid as everything is, the melody possesses certain coldness, especially when the strings stop doubling the flute and focus solely on harmony.
Despite all those magnificent themes, the greatest two most creative tracks from Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version derive from game’s strangest twist, the trip to the moon. Nobuo deals with the strange settings with some of his most creative tracks on the album. “Another Moon” captures the hollowness of the moon with a low octave sustained for seven counts, an octave a fifth above, and the return to the original octave. This motive repeats throughout the entire piece. The piece also features trumpets playing throughout many registers and being panned all over the place that gives a very spacey and unstable feeling. Finally, Nobuo creates two contrasting melodies, one very ominous and one very lush and awestruck. The ultimate effect is very mesmerizing, and effective. “The Lunarians” has the same low octave from “Another Moon” only this time the octave remains the same throughout the entire song, and is sustained for twenty counts. There is not a whole lot to the piece, but the usage of the 5/8 time signature is noteworthy, and the effect of the repeated 5/8 motive applied to the prelude chord progression again has a mesmerizing effect, and ties this unfamiliar setting to a very traditional theme. Equally remarkable is the “Epilogue”; clocking in at over eleven minutes, this is one of the few tracks in the game that is given a chance to introduce more than one or two themes, and actually go to more than one dramatic place over the course of its occurrence. Though not nearly as impressive as later Final Fantasy ending themes, he still shows his ability to draw from earlier themes from the game, and changing harmonies in order to create a more nostalgic mood, or to fit whatever event occurs in the ending scenes. As one of the first closing themes of its kind, “Epilogue” set a high standard for how to conclude a game musically.
For all its accomplishments, the Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version is not perfect. A number of the game’s character themes end up being uninteresting on the album, even though they suited their scenes in the game well. “Hey, Cid!,” “Giott, the Great King,” and “Run!” are perfect examples. After that, there are also rare tracks that even fail to capture the mood of their setting. “Mt. Ordeals” is the worst example of this, failing to really create any sense of being on a mountain, or of the noble purpose that Mt. Ordeals held in the game. It’s a fun piece of music, but doesn’t feel appropriate to its setting. This is a rarity on the album though, and very few manage to be as far off as “Mt. Ordeals.”
As a whole, Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version really ends up being the first great Uematsu album. Though not as accomplished, either musically or in terms of sound quality, as later releases, it is still a fine piece of music. Even though the album is groundbreaking, it manages to be a magnificent creation independent of its value as an influential collection of music thanks to its remarkably high melodic quality. Not only that, but it offers us a glimpse at Uematsu’s ability to create convincing music for strange settings. This is a recommended album even against ones that offer much more in terms of sound quality.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on August 1, 2012.