I remember it so clearly. The full on awkwardness of high school, the blind attempts to define myself with smashing pumpkin quotes and Halo lan parties. Amidst the teenage angst, pimples and zero contact with females, videogames provided a guiding light to illuminate the changing definition of self.
"What kind of music do you listen to?" A well meaning leader at my local youth group asked. "Rock music? Metal?"
"Umm, videogame soundtracks."
Kind of a conversation killer. Should've just went with an easy answer, the guy was just trying to create a connection, find some common ground. Instead he asks puzzled, "Like, Madden?"
"Like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy, the ones with symphonies and stuff."
Yeesh, I guess we're not swapping CDs. But despite the clueless looks, I still loved those videogame soundtracks. Some are tied to a sense of place, like the world theme of Chrono Trigger, and others just claw at my heart with the wavering strings and pounding orchestration.
Still others just make me cry. Like I said, yeesh.
While many soundtracks capture the imagination long after the controller is put down, composer Nubuo Uematsu stood out among the pack. Somehow, among the blips and boops of midi, the master of emotion culled a symphony in each game. It's no surprise then, when translated to full live orchestras of Video Games Live or the stripped down piano collection, they speak of the genius this composer was writing long before the videogames as art was even a question.
So here it is, a long forgotten playlist, not the top five videogame Original Sound Tracks of all time, but a list of some of the most moving songs from Final Fantasy maestro, Uematsu. These are the kinds of songs that reach into the thousands of plays in any fan's iTunes, and I for one am not embarrassed anymore.
5. Tifa's Theme, FF VII
It's comforting, and like many of the themes of Nubuo Uematsu, it takes its time building but the incredible catchiness of the theme gets stuck firmly in your head. It's not the stirring grandiosity that is Aeris' Theme, but it somehow fits the character of Tifa, unassuming, a little guarded, but sparkling and warm underneath.
4. People of the North, FF X
Speaking of haunting, climbing the mountain of Gagazet is an emotionally harrowing ordeal, one made through the clashing symbals and vibratto of the otherworldly strings. It's not necessarily an easy song to listen to, but you can't help but sit mesmerized by it's raw power. This song could truly end wars.
3. Eyes On Me, FF VIII
This song is so romantic it's sickening. But I don't care. It's stands among anything Elton John has written for a disney movie, but it reaches a tenderness that outright love songs seems to skim over. It's less of a magic carpet ride, and more like holding hands for the first time; something immutable passes between two human beings.
2. To Zanarkand, FF X
Many of Uematsu's themes contain piercing height and depth, the melody rising and falling with his delicate piano, before weaving both into a rich chorus. None contain such a cascading beauty as To Zanarkand. The opening song that plays over the menu has caught many family members off guard, stopping just outside my room to hear out the haunting melody.
1. Aeris' Theme, FF VII
It's the slow build for me, the stirring but muted beginning of innocent cascading and ascending piano tapping that spreads out a tapestry of midi melodies. It's part sadness to be sure, but the measured chorus builds and ends with such broad deliberate notes, it adds a solemnness and finality, not unlike the fate of Aeris herself. Yet hope lingers inside every phrase, how can you listen and not be undone?
(Honourable mention) Melodies of Life, FF IX
So there you have it, my secret love. Now how about you? What Final Fantasy theme did I miss? What's your number one?