Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
March 31, 2003; March 24, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
By the year 2003, one of Square Enix’s most intricate game producers / directors Yasumi Matsuno was widely known for his brilliant video game creations. His projects while working at Square were arguably his best; Final Fantasy Tactics proving to have a reliable and consistent production team, deferring away from the normal Final Fantasy RPG game, and Vagrant Story was easily the most distinctive game by Square released in 2000. It was in the year 2003 when Matsuno released the sequel to 1997’s Final Fantasy Tactics, named appropriately Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The game was made for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, as every gamer should know, the small system’s capabilities simply don’t equal that of the PlayStation. This resulted in a quality downfall for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance compared to its predecessor. This included the vastly inferior sound chip compared to the PlayStation’s powerful card. Both games are set in the same world of Ivalice (the name for the world in Matsuno’s 2006 production of Final Fantasy XII), but they are not connected or ‘continuing’ in any other way other than the battle system and the world name.
The soundtrack for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a really nice deal. There are two discs. The first disc is the original sound version; this means that the music is identical in quality to the music found in the game. The second disc is a specially arranged version of the score featuring a major improvement on the synthesizer quality, up to PlayStation 2 standards; these tracks are also rearranged with the advantage of the new sound. Both discs have their weaknesses though. The first disc’s music is obviously recorded with the Game Boy Advance sound card and to some people, the Game Boy sound card sounds ‘murky’ and dated. But the problem with the second disc is that some of the compositions loose their flair with the new sound quality, as strange as it sounds. But both are definitely worth the listen.
At that time, it was also the beginning of the ending days of Nobuo Uematsu’s career at Square, composing his last virtually solo score (with Hanjuku Hero VS 3D). Now, all of Matsuno’s games have made exceptional use of Hitoshi Sakimoto with or without the help of Masaharu Iwata, like in Final Fantasy Tactics. In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Iwata did not contribute to the score at all, and although disappointing to some, he was replaced by not one person, but three people. They were famous game composer Shinji Hosoe’s ‘soldiers’ at Super Sweep, Ayako Saso and Kaori Ohkoshi. And last but not least, Nobuo Uematsu, who composed the main theme. This became a continuing tradition for Uematsu who went on to compose the Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII theme songs. Nonetheless, the huge majority of the soundtrack was composed by Sakimoto, and the music, while keeping his traditional style, is quite different to Final Fantasy Tactics. While the prequel was mostly ‘darker’ (well, in comparison at least), this score has a much lighter focus. Still, expect to hear some epic orchestrations. Let’s break down into individual composers.
Nobuo Uematsu’s main theme for this game is actually a really good one. It fits in with the dominant Sakimoto tracks (unlike “Kiss Me Good-Bye” did in Final Fantasy XII), but Uematsu doesn’t feel scarred to insert his own style in it too. It’s symphonic based and could easily be passed as a Sakimoto track for the untrained ear. I largely prefer the revamped version on Disc Two because of the advanced instrumentals (and the harpsichord lead). But other than this theme, Uematsu doesn’t contribute anything else. Quite obviously, using Uematsu was a publicity stunt to attract more fans over the game, but I am glad they did it.
Kaori Ohkoshi doesn’t have such a large role in the game, composing only four tracks in the whole game, but she produces is good stuff. All are very stylistic and fancy, she has a style which I think is very addictive. She does a particularly great job with tracks like “Undefeated Heart”, where she utilizes Uematsu’s main theme and turns it into a grandeur epic full of inspiration and power. Unfortunately, it gets slightly butchered in the full sound version where it is arranged into a 7 minute track with MANY loops. “Unavoidable Destiny” is even better with the impressive intro, which is expertly done ith great use of the strings and various other instruments. This is possibly even my favorite track on the soundtrack.
Ayako Saso has her moments to shine in the soundtrack too, although only composing a mere four tracks. Her style in the past is known to be of the electronica nature, but in this score, she expresses an orchestral style that, sometimes, is very traditional. “Amber Valley” is active and bouncy. Like Ohkoshi’s “Undefeated Heart” and “Unavoidable Destiny”, “Amber Valley” is addictive, and proves Saso’s composing ability. “Painful Battle” is much in the same style, except it focuses more on hope and accomplishment in a battle. One thing that I can pick out from Saso’s tracks is her love to use rhythm and her love for prevailing strings. They sound great together, especially when the melody is strong.
Of course, this soundtrack is mostly about Hitoshi Sakimoto, so let’s take a look into his tracks. “Snow Dancing in the Schoolyard” is light hearted and child-like with the melody being played on various wind instruments. I found “Marche” to have a very special theme; I haven’t heard such a short character theme with such emotion and deepness, especially when the pinnacle arises with the horn and the strings meeting up with the ‘cello to produce a tear jerking moment. “Ritz” has a nice arrangement of “Marche” in it while still keeping that touch of freshness to it. The full sound version is undoubtedly better because of the advanced instrumentation, to which conveys the epic mood better. “Incarnation” is the final battle theme of the game. Here, we can hear, if on the original sound version, some ‘reminiscent’ Game Boy sounds, pleasant or not. Not being a huge fan of Sakimoto battle themes, this theme didn’t strike me any differently than the many others I have heard, although the atmosphere is nice.
The ending themes on this soundtrack can’t compare to the brilliance of the two finale tracks on Final Fantasy Tactics, but Sakimoto does the same thing with this finale. Using Uematsu’s main theme, he molds an original track around “A Place We Should Return To”. The orchestration in this track is excellent, even on both versions of the track, but the brass and the horns steal the show (Sakimoto was probably trying to express the extravagance by using ‘royal’ instruments). “Fulfilled Dream Segment” has a slow string introduction which leads to middle section focused on “Marche” and the main theme, but this is quite a light and upbeat way to finish of the soundtrack, and Sakimoto hasn’t been this ‘light’ for a while. But for what it’s worth, it’s an awesome track (most Sakimoto ending themes are).
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance features a simply astounding score. There is a lot to like about it, and I mean A LOT. All composers perform to their best and create some pretty amazing compositions. My only gripe would be the length of some track times, and that some are too short, but other than that, there is no other standout fault. So the untimely question has come: “Will I enjoy this if I loved Final Fantasy Tactics?” Well, the answer to that question is ‘Yes’, but be warned that the music to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is completely different to the prequel. It may not be as impressive as the prequel, but believe me, there is more than a hundred things to like about it. But, like I said before, the music style from Sakimoto especially hasn’t changed much, if not matured a bit. Don’t let the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Original Soundtrack slip out of your mind because you don’t like the sound chip quality of the Game Boy Advance, because the compositions are well worth it. And even if that won’t change your mind, there is always the second disc, the full sound, PlayStation 2 like versions.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Harry Simons. Last modified on August 1, 2012.