(There are some spoilers at the end of the article, so be warned.)
I've spent more hours playing Final Fantasy Tactics than any other game in my life. I think it's the most compelling combination of gameplay, music, character, and world-building that I've ever encountered.
But I didn't know that when I was in eighth grade, exploring the world of Ivalice for the first time. All I knew was that the faux War of the Roses storyline, the enormous cast of supporting characters, and the immensely deep job system kept me up into the wee hours of the morning for many, many nights. I read all the poorly translated rumors in the taverns. I poached a bunch of monsters to see what kind of rare treasures I could find. I pushed story characters into bizarre, improbable job classes. (Agrias as a Summoner? Maybe!)
I did all this so that I wouldn't have to say goodbye to the world. I had come to love Ramza Beoulve and company. I was deeply, deeply attached to all of the cadets who had left the academy with me at the beginning and with whom I had shared the horrors of war. I would gladly have played long past the end of the game, taking my crew around the countryside and slaying monsters to help out the local townsfolk. I wanted the adventure to go on forever.
But of course, these things aren't meant to last. Tactics has a definite end, just like the vast majority of all games.
I wasn't quite prepared for the character of the ending, however.
Final Fantasy Tactics has one of the most ambiguous and potentially melancholy conclusions in the history of gaming. In fact, the narrative explicitly suggests that your entire party perished in the aftermath of the final battle. Because the story rests on the premise that the history books have cheated Ramza of his rightful place as the savior to Ivalice, there's no possibility of fame and glory for your tiny squad of soldiers and mages. At best, they have to disband, living quiet lives in quiet corners of the world, content in the knowledge that they saved Ivalice from an unimaginable evil — even if no one will know.
And as a 13-year-old contemplating these facts, having to make peace with saying goodbye to my friends, I was treated to this piece of music — an alternately triumpant and melancholy take on the primary leitmotif of the game's score. It becomes a march and a fanfare — as though the credits wished to give my characters the glory that their world never would.
And then, of course, there is the epilogue that follows…the scene that made many of us cry out in confusion and anguish and throw our hands up in disbelief. But that's one that I'd rather not spoil. If you haven't seen it yet, you would do well to play the game.
The Final Fantasy series is full of brilliant music, and nobody can compete with the genius of Nobuo Uematsu. But this piece, by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, remains one of my all-time favorite pieces of music from a game. It can take me back immediately to a world for which I feel a constant longing.