Sunday, September 14, 2014

Soundtrack September: Final Fantasy Tactics

Game: Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)
Platform: PlayStation
Composers: Sakimoto Hitoshi, Iwata Masaharu

Spoiler alert: Soundtrack September will not be honoring any of Uematsu Nobuo's work on the Final Fantasy series. While I can understand why his work is popular (in the same way that Vanilla Ice used to be popular), I never had the sense that Uematsu's music was growing up with me. Rather, he continued to write consistently simple (childish), melody-driven (sing-song), bold (strident) material which lacked the subtlety I increasingly desired as my tastes matured. His popularity carried him, disincentivizing his improvement and holding him back from developing as a musician.

(Mine isn't a popular opinion when it comes to Uematsu...nor when it comes to character designer Amano Yoshitaka. Don't get me started on that clown.)

But just as Final Fantasy's seemingly immutable formula (preachy, self-indulgent story interspersed with hundreds of boring random battles) was beginning to wear thin with me, Final Fantasy Tactics came to rescue the franchise in the nick of time -- not only in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of music. Although the random battles were still many (and now much longer), they involved more engagement than just a repeated hammering of the button to select "FIGHT," and the music was a reflection of that change.

Listening to the music of this game, one gets the sense that Sakimoto and Iwata understood musical composition on higher levels than their more popular counterpart, Uematsu. And, thanks to the assistance of synth specialist Kashiwabara Katsutoshi and sound programmer Suzuki Hidenori, the end result is greater than any of Uematsu's soundtracks. Particularly in the pieces that accompany the game's numerous (and lengthy) cutscenes, the PlayStation shows off how good its on-board synthesizer can sound, handily emulating a full orchestra and displaying a dynamic and emotional range that was absent from every Final Fantasy title preceding.

Final Fantasy Tactics might just have the most musically-intelligent video game soundtrack of all time.

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