Final Fantasy VII Remake Original Soundtrack ~special edit version~ [Limited Edition]

Album Title:
Final Fantasy VII Remake Original Soundtrack ~special edit version~ [Limited Edition]
Record Label:
Square Enix Music
Catalog No.:
SQEX-10768~75
Release Date:
May 27, 2020
Purchase:
Buy at CDJapan

Overview

When faced with creating a sequel or remake to a beloved story, great care must be taken on two fronts: maintaining respect of the original’s spirit, while also effecting new transformations, weaving together the past and present.  The same holds for the musical score of such a work.  Luckily, the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII Remake hits all these marks, providing music for fans both returning and new.

For those interested in this album, the first thing one might notice is its size and scope.  Seven discs (eight for the special edition), over 150 tracks, and, most amazingly, well over a dozen contributing artists.  I say amazingly because video game scores generally don’t have nearly so many hands in play.  Heck, you run the risk of having too many cooks at just three or four composers.   This Remake, fortunately, manages to avoid that pitfall, thanks perhaps to the guiding vision of Masashi Hamauzu, who takes the helm as lead composer on the project, treating the material with immeasurable respect and all the creative flourish modern video game music can achieve.

Body

As you listen to the contributions of Hamauzu and his many partners, the familiar strains of Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic score for the original game will come back to you (or, if you’re new, be introduced to you).  Blending familiar thematic motives is a staple of this soundtrack, and it begins immediately.  After the requisite “Prelude” arrangement, inherent to almost any Final Fantasy title, “Midgar, City of Mako” introduces the Remake proper.  In the original game, the opening track invited us in with a warm, yet mystical three-note figure.  Here, a haunting choir instead chants out the words to “One-Winged Angel,” the infamous theme for Sephiroth, the game’s antagonist.  Introducing this menace right off the bat, a very different mood is already set.  Sephiroth’s presence looms through the music.  Even once we finally hear the old three-note figure, we haven’t reached safety.  The call-and-response chanting resumes, like dark footsteps of fate.  Eventually, the choir does subside, and a new rendition of the original opening theme closes out the track in grand, cinematic fashion.

I spend some time on this track because it is a perfect illustration for how this soundtrack approaches much of the material: using the familiar in variously new and imaginative ways.

This piece also marks the start of a stretch of tracks that is predominantly composed by Shotaro Shima, who does especially brilliant work at arranging Uematsu’s themes.  You can hear this familiarity in all his contributions, and honestly I can’t praise them enough.  “Mako Reactor No. 1” eschews some of the original’s industrial sound for a more traditional orchestration, which directs the ear less perhaps to the area and its aesthetic than to the situation and drama underway.  Paired with this track is a “Battle Edit” track for the reactor, an up-tempo, energetic variant on the theme for enemy confrontations within.  This is another new facet of the Remake’s score which bears mention: remixing area-specific music as their own battle cues, rather than use the same track over and over for every encounter.

Speaking of which: “Let the Battles Begin! – Ex-SOLDIER” is an interesting track that introduces the classic battle theme (“Those Who Fight”/TWF) in preliminary form.  The journey is just begun, the party not yet fully assembled, and the music reflects this—tentatively building the familiar theme through brass and strings, yet arcing back down prematurely, before it can reach the pinnacle.  It is not yet time for its complete grandeur.  That moment arrives later with “Let the Battles Begin! – Break Through,” which does indeed break through the ceiling of its predecessor, while also blurring the line even further between Shinra’s motif and the battle theme, reflecting the company’s iron grip across the globe.

“Crab Warden” furthers this trend with a track that is mostly faithful to the original TWF for almost the first two minutes, and continues to play around with the motif in different keys and tempos.  Perhaps my favorite new imagining of this motif is “Ignition Flame,” a new boss track from Naoyuki Honzawa.  As Cloud fights against an eccentric new opponent, frenetic strings race and raw, aggressive percussion violently bursts like a car backfiring in rhythm, before the brass makes clear around the 1:20 mark that this is indeed the familiar theme.

“Scorpion Sentinel,” meanwhile, is our first Remake encounter with the original boss track (“Those Who Fight Further”/TWFF).  Full orchestration, sharp choral strikes, and even some electric guitar make for an epic first impression, especially when it’s seamlessly combined with the music of “Bombing Mission.”  Like I said, blending disparate motives into a brand new whole is such an enriching auditory experience for listeners of all kinds.

But it only gets better.  Tadayoshi Makino’s “The Airbuster” is a sublime arrangement of TWFF that just bangs out the theme as a hard rock/orchestral blend.  At 2:13 a choir jams in, reaching its glorious pinnacle at 4:31 as a counterpoint to the main melody, before electric guitar takes over again at 5:38.  Believe me when I say you’ve never heard TWFF like this album highlight.  Late in the game (and disc 7 in this case), “Rufus Shinra” threads the theme together with the Shinra motif in another new interpretation, all set to a damn good rhythm.

Said Shinra motif is another that can be found throughout the score, and not just in its titular track.  It stalks our heroes during such moments as “Undercity Suns” and “Maze of Scrap Metal,” melding itself to new melodies and instrumentation.

“Those Chosen by the Planet,” meanwhile, offers a more straightforward retelling of its ominous original, beginning with an uncertain whisper of the main Final Fantasy VII theme before Sephiroth’s menace intrudes in heavy strings and percussive strikes.  Next comes perhaps the most curious inclusion in the score, “The Promised Land – Cycle of Souls,” music straight from FFVII’s sequel film, Advent Children.  Somber strings replace the churchlike choir and will doubtless leave old fans wondering about what it could all mean.

“Chance Meeting in Sector 8” gives us a respite from the surrounding intensity, and here Aerith’s beloved theme has its first appearance.  Slow and serene, a solo piano is supported by graceful strings, glockenspiel, and a theremin-sounding instrument as we meet, or in a sense reunite with, one of the medium’s most endearing heroines.  Aerith’s musical material is especially prevalent throughout the Remake.  “Flowers Blooming in the Church” will be intimately familiar to longtime fans, with its arpeggiated piano runs elevating the rest of the ensemble, compared to the hominess of the original.  A bittersweet loveliness and sense of sadness permeate, both characteristic of Aerith’s theme.

Nowhere, however, is the theme more gorgeously portrayed than in “Aerith’s Theme – Home Again,” from Yoshinori Nakamura, one of my favorites in the entire game.  In a sense this is two tracks put together.  The first part soothes with gentle piano chords and strings in the background.  At the minute mark, the oboe holds the note: the future remains uncertain, the questions between Aerith and Cloud as unresolved as the music.  The next part, however, gives us something that I had honestly never heard before.  Warm, open tones on strings accompany brightly colored woodwinds to create what I can only describe as a ‘happy’ take on Aerith’s theme.  Absent is the melancholy usually associated with this piece, replaced by tender piano runs at 1:40, or peaceful string inversions at 2:44.  It is perhaps the most soul-soothing track in the score.

Another favorite among the initial Shima run of the first discs is “Tifa’s Theme – Seventh Heaven,” a stunningly beautiful rendition of an old classic.  Just as the Remake breathes such vivid new life into its characters, so it is with the music, and nowhere is this better exemplified than the musical selection for the story’s two leading ladies.  This version in particular plays both oboe and fully orchestrated counterpoints against the main melody, culminating at 1:52 in a graceful soaring of strings that ends with a wider interval climb than the theme’s usual progression.  It all creates a calming warmth and joy.

Nakamura also gets to arrange this theme with “The Star of Seventh Heaven,” a cool and mellow piece for electric organ that reflects the welcoming sense of home the famous Seventh Heaven bar and its hostess provides.  Another appearance comes in “Smash ‘Em, Rip ‘Em” from Honzawa, an eclectic blend that is part dance room electronica of Tifa’s motif, part eastern flair with instruments like erhu and what sounds like an oud, capped off with wailing chant and hand drums.  If I had to analogize, it reminds at once of Tekken and Uncharted music.

Of course, not everything on display is a creative rework of old tracks.  There are plenty that are more straightforward retellings.  Examples like “Shinra Creed,” “Shining Beacon of Civilization,” “Lurking in the Darkness – Suspicious Man,” “Main Theme of FFVII – Sector 7 Undercity,” and “Under the Rotting Pizza,” to name but a handful, are more faithful adaptations.

Against these works you can find still more variance on old themes.  “The Turks’ Theme” amps up the original with some dirty, grungy guitar chords, while “Due Recompense” is a track that reinterprets its bluesy origins as synth-heavy electronica.  Once in the infamous Wall Market, we hear still more of the familiar with “An Unforgettable Night.”  Where the track used in the original Honey Bee Inn was a somewhat unnerving piece, here it’s an upbeat, swinging big band bop, perfect for the glamorous transformation the hub of nightlife has undergone in the Remake.

Alongside all these returning favorites are a number of new tracks that stand with the classics, adding new perspectives to a beloved story in the same way the game does.  In the first couple of discs, Masashi Hamauzu gives us “Avalanche’s Theme”—a militaristic march with horns that evoke a pride of purpose from the slum-based resistance group—and “Jessie’s Theme”—a simple, homely guitar melody which all the same adds layers of depth to the flirtatious actress-turned-soldier.

Further in, “Midnight Rendezvous” has become, by my estimation, a new fan favorite, thanks to its blended string figures and ambient synth textures.  It’s an ethereal track from Mitsuto Suzuki, and reminds me a little of Final Fantasy X’s “Macalania” music. It’s a worthy addition.  “Luxury Massage” is another new track I love, a fun little jazzy beat for piano, trumpet, xylophone and even some acapella as Cloud experiences one of the town’s more memorable attractions.

Indeed, I can safely say that what I love most about Wall Market’s audio offerings are the new tracks.  “Colosseum Death Match” is a head bopper that adds electric guitar chords to the overall electronic mix.  “Stand Up” is another catchy, swinging song, perfect for the stage of the famous Honey Bee Inn.  My favorites, however, are the trio of electronic dance tracks that come next.  “Funk With Me,” “Sync or Swim,” and “Vibe Valentino” are some funky techno Honey-beats from Suzuki (get it? Honey Bee, Honey bea—I’ll show myself out).  It’s the exact kind of EDM I love.  My only complaint is they’re way too short!  Together the trio don’t even clock in at three minutes.  I would honestly buy the hell out of a full Mitsuto Suzuki EDM album, were he ever to make one.

Another Suzuki—Yoshitaka—has a brief run of tracks after this, once the party enters the sewers beneath Midgar.  The best of the bunch is “Ascension,” which combines a driving rhythm with frenetically flitting strings.  Always a good time.  Like plenty of other pieces, it also weaves in that same rising figure from “Those Who Fight”/”Shinra’s Theme.”

Masashi Hamauzu himself takes over for a longer stretch upon our arrival at the Train Graveyard.  There are some hauntingly atmospheric tracks in this section, pieces that evoke fog and shadow and melancholy.  Hamauzu’s contributions to Final Fantasy have always been unique, as his style isn’t quite as melodically driven as Uematsu’s classic work.  In a sense, that could be viewed as a slight negative here, as his material doesn’t always gel with the others, sometimes feeling more like Final Fantasy XIII, for which he was the composer, than VII.  Regardless, the quality of the music itself cannot be questioned.

And when he does tackle familiar Uematsu motifs—using gorgeous strings for Aerith in “Waiting to Be Found,” which are even more impossibly moving in “Aerith and Marlene – A Familiar Flower” and “Limited Options”—the result is something truly special.

Hamauzu’s stretch, as well as disc 5, draw to a close with “The Look on Her Face,” an emotional reprise of Jessie’s theme that again combines his atmospheric, ambient strengths with moving orchestration (especially strings) to portray, well, an emotional part of the game.  Less successful is the decision to include two tracks at the start of disc 6, “Return to the Planet” and “A Broken World,” which are largely identical to each other.  Considering how much material this album left of the cutting room floor, just one would have sufficed.  With the recent announcement of a Final Fantasy VII Remake Plus OST, this perhaps becomes less of an issue, but it is still a strange choice.  Thankfully, they are quickly followed by pieces like “Fires of Resistance,” which, around the 0:50 mark, has a wonderful, dramatic swell of orchestral vigor, refusing defeat and rising from adversity.

But the Shinra theme returns in its full oppression with “The Shinra Building,” in which Y. Suzuki expands on that leitmotif with a creeping piano and ponderous strings, reflecting the heroes’ plan to sneak quietly into the colossal monument to dystopian corporate greed.  The action quickly picks up, however, with a very interesting track, “Operation: Save Aerith.”  Despite the name, the flower girl’s theme is not present; instead, it’s another mix of TWF/Shinra’s theme, but at 0:55, a sound that might be familiar to long time FFVII fans rears its head.  We hear strains of “The Birth of God,” which I won’t elaborate on for spoilers’ sake, but whose inclusion is very curious, even as it’s quickly swept away by furious string work.

Within the Shinra HQ are plenty more treats offered over these next two discs.  Two new additions are “All Quiet at the Gates,” a chill bit of electronic, Zen-like ambiance, and “Scarlet’s Theme,” a ritzy, glamorous song for the fashionable yet sadistic company executive, the kind you imagine playing at some high end hotel lounge in the evening.

“Stewards of the Planet” brings us back to some more familiar material, but with a new twist.  Yasunori Nishiki, another composer, is very creative here, taking the villainous Jenova ostinato and flipping it into a major key; he does the same for the Shinra motif, juxtaposing it with the main FFVII theme and imbuing the usually oppressive music with noble purpose, emblematic of the way the company must see itself and its mission.  Nishiki does not contribute a large number of tracks, but most of his work comes here in the latter discs, and in my opinion steals the show.  Even his simpler tunes, like the piano sonata “Corporate Archives,” are very ear pleasing.

Nakamura returns with “Cultivating Madness,” which probably will go overshadowed by other tracks, but it’s another clever twist on the Jenova theme that slows down the usually quick tempo, going instead for eerie, creeping footsteps of alien synth, conveying the unhinged mind of the detestable scientist Hojo.  A secondary line around 0:40 enhances the unease.

Now, considering these variations on the Jenova motif, longtime fans might be wondering about the original holotype.  Luckily for us, Makino, not content blowing minds with “The Airbuster,” chooses to go mad again in the best way, with the three-phase “J-E-N-O-V-A – Quickening.”  The first two phases are grand reimaginings of the theme for full, sweeping orchestra and chorus; dramatic melodic inversions around the minute mark are my favorite parts, as they subvert our expectations in operatic fashion.  A more faithful rendition comes in the final phase, with a pulsing synth beat throughout; but even here, new embellishments can be heard, such as a brief cameo by One-Winged Angel, merging Jenova and Sephiroth material together.  Makino’s contributions to this album are indeed a highlight, and in my opinion a work of genius.

Of course, to speak of genius and One-Winged Angel is to arrive at the final showdown for Final Fantasy VII Remake.  Here, Nishiki shows his mastery with “One-Winged Angel – Rebirth,” which must surely become a benchmark for all video game arrangements.  The threat of Sephiroth hinted in the beginning of the score bursts into its full climactic glory in this four phase reinterpretation of Nobuo Uematsu’s classic.  I can only imagine the pressure a composer must feel, being handed the responsibility for such an iconic piece for a major video game release, but Nishiki doesn’t shy away.  Rather than another straightforward or abridged remix, as we’ve heard in the past, he takes the various sections and transforms, rearranges, and embellishes them.  Different portions play out of their traditional order; the “Estuans interius” lyrics chant out to the melody of the “Sors emanis” section at 0:36 and 1:34; altered keys are abundant, like the dramatic chant in phase two at 3:05.

Even when we reach the third phase, and the orchestra belts out the familiar progression, this return to familiarity is only temporary, as becomes quite clear at 5:35.  Here the instruments take the baton and then carry the theme to an epic upshift in the chorus.  Another surprising twist comes in the final phase, which incorporates other motifs, specifically TWF, TWFF, and Hamauzu’s theme for the Whispers, which are new additions to the plot.  Overall it’s a phenomenal track, the only potential downside of which being the question of how they can possibly top this version in future installments.

Following this opus is “Seven Seconds till the End,” another remix of previously existing material that makes mystical use of a celeste-like instrument to deepen the mystery of what the future will bring.  The ending song, “Hollow,” is a brand new contribution from Nobuo Uematsu himself and the J-Rock group, Survive Said the Prophet, and has a bittersweet twang reminiscent of the music of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.

Disc 8, exclusive to the extended edition of the soundtrack, is a partial collection of music used in the game’s jukebox feature.  It’s a very jazz-forward assortment; in a way, it’s a supplement to the Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy VII- album that also released this year, which itself contains the remaining jukebox tunes.  As for this selection, “Barret’s Theme” gets a spokey dokey, bluesy harmonica remix that fits the character well.  The same goes for the “Turks’ Theme.”  “Costa del Sol” breezes in some tropical bossa nova that makes you wonder how they can do any better when we actually reach that area in the next game.  “Under the Rotting Pizza” has an old school funk vibe going on, while the baseline in “The Oppressed” is just grooving in a sort of spy thriller way.  And “Descendant of Shinobi” has perhaps the catchiest swing rhythm of the bunch.  All in all, it’s an eclectic mix and a nice bonus dessert after the main course.

Summary

And so we come to the close of this excellent soundtrack and FFVII Remake’s musical journey, for now.  As mentioned, a second album is incoming this December, which will thankfully contain the numerous tracks and cues from the game that were absent here.  Despite those omissions, there are still a number of worthy tracks in this release that I haven’t discussed, but if I did we would be here all day.  To be honest, this whole score deserves a thorough, track-by-track analysis.  Maybe a whole book.  But that is for another time.

For any minor shortcomings or disappointments there may be with this soundtrack, I believe it well makes up for them by the general brilliance of the material.  There is something here for all kinds of music fans, whether they know the original game or not.  As the saga continues, we can only hope the compositions, under Hamauzu’s eye and the work of his excellent collaborators, maintain such a respect for the original works, while simultaneously infusing them with new life and creativity.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Original Soundtrack ~special edit version~ [Limited Edition] Jon Weicher

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!

4.5


Posted on November 18, 2020 by Jon Weicher. Last modified on November 18, 2020.

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