Final Fantasy Tactics Original Sound Track
Final Fantasy Tactics, a bit of greatness in the form of a game... perhaps substance to a road less travelled, but what a wonderful journey it is for those who are patient enough to "brave" it. (Pun intended). Inside this gem lies all the necessary components of a stellar experience — treachery, malice, deceit, and revenge; love, sadness, renewal, and death — all elements of an incredible adventure. And we are just talking about the storyline; the success of Final Fantasy Tactics would not have been complete without the tremendous musical score accompanying the storyline. My focus at this point will lie on describing the foundation of the soundtrack, which in my belief is one of the greats and how it contributes to what is perhaps one of the greatest games of all time.
Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata once again join creative forces in what is perhaps their best collaborative effort to date. These artists tend to have vastly contrasting musical styles which often embellish each others work exponentially. It would be best for me not to expose the entire soundtrack bit by bit analytically. I would prefer to leave certain judgments up to the listener, especially for those who have never been exposed to the soundtrack before. That being said, I shall do my best to contribute to the understanding of what truly makes this soundtrack so unbelievably awesome.
The first musical piece heard upon turning the game on is the intro theme ("Bland Logo - Title Black") and will expose you to a few of the dominant themes that will be featured in the game without overloading you on a musical level. It is very well-orchestrated and is rumored to have been recorded live with an orchestra. In truth, while much of the soundtrack has a quasi-orchestral synthetic sound in regards to the production it is always to excellent effect and works in perfect congruence with the graphical presentation while in ALL ways surpassing it. To be perfectly honest, the graphical presentation of Final Fantasy Tactics is a bit simple but is ultimately successful because the visual imagery is always perfectly represented by the music. Each piece is mixed EXTREMELY well and is due in no small part to the genius of sound programmer Hidenori Suzuki and synthesizer operator Katsutoshi Kashiwabara. The majority of the tracks remind me very much of an older school approach to video game music (emphasis on melodic development) with touches of traditional classical orchestration, which modernize the quality of the sound.
The beginning phase of the game truly sets the tone for what this soundtrack is going to be about. It all starts off innocently enough in the confines of a church where a young Olivia is kneeling in prayer. The music ("Pray") accompanying the visuals and storyline at this point is slow and thoughtful. The sound of a harp can be heard softly outlining the main chords while a set of strings shadows them quite eloquently, permeating a definite feeling of safety... It is not moments later when a knight bursts into the church, wounded because of an attack by enemy soldiers. The emotional quality of the music is violated very abruptly by the sound of some menacing lower octave strings and some very explosive timpani. An element of danger and death becomes quite apparent and serves in dire contrast to the main element of the preceding music. I will add that the musical correspondence shared between the emotions of sanctuary and stress are expertly represented throughout the course of Final Fantasy Tactics. This technique is effective in that it never gives the listener reason to become disengaged on a musical level. A few paces into the album ("Enemy Attack") will reveal a very strong catapulting of the strings and timpani into what becomes a statement of the main Final Fantasy Tactics theme. "BAM!" This adds a new dimension to the track and aids the scene by strengthening the bonds of the identity between soundtrack and story, both of which will become interchangeable during the unraveling of the story. Needless to say, the main Final Fantasy Tactics theme is always epically represented at key points in the storyline.
The next scene occurs outside of the church with a standoff taking place between the Church Knights and the would be assailants. The musical track representing this scene ("Trisection") aptly envisions the tension of the situation by imparting feelings of anxiety and anger in the form of rising strings utilized with some syncopation and some belligerent brass that angrily doubles the string section to give even more of an impact to the main melody, which is excellent. The blaring harmonizations, rhythmic motion, and pacing of the theme are also excellent and keep the listener on edge to the battles end and far beyond. At a certain point, these explanations of the musical analysis may become moot because it is quite possible you won't even be aware of the music while becoming engaged during the battle; that is to say, the music has a way of becoming the experience. It becomes seamless and natural to the point of being quite possibly perfect. This was never a problem for me because the music is just too damn musical not to fully appreciate but it might give one pause to respect the true enormity of achievement that a composer may reach when their music becomes second nature.
I won't burden you with any more subjective meanderings as to the full nature of the musical experience. It is now time for you to explore the soundtrack for yourself! Now then, enough about talking how the music fits in with the premises of the game. Speaking only of the musics ability to live up to the expectations of the scene work is a vast degradation of its true abilities. I now wish to discuss the musicality of each of the artists, respectively.
Overall, Hitoshi Sakimoto's writing style is fluid and melodic, with a large emphasis placed upon exquisite harmonic presentation. His writing style is gorgeous and through many of his works becomes identifiable fairly quickly because of its unique nature. Sakimoto reminds me very much of the Impressionistic musicians, particularly Maurice Ravel, a comparison not only imparted because of the expressiveness for which they compose, but by the beautiful pictures they can paint utilizing notes. That being said and while I am not one for typecasting, Sakimoto's choice of orchestral colouring along with note choice are sometimes essentially, without peer. That is to say, Sakimoto's musicality is absolute. This can be evidenced further in works such as "Antidote" whose beauty cannot be described in mere words. The music takes you to a place so endearing that it makes you sad to ever have to leave it. Sakimoto knows how to play the emotions via musical meanderings very well and perhaps that is his greatest skill not only as an effective composer, but as an artist. If I could even begin to describe the relationship that Hitoshi Sakimoto appears to hold with each of his compositions, it is one bourne of love and trust. The apparent level of care that goes into each of his compositions is both astounding and worthy of remembrance and praise. His thematic development could've perhaps been a bit more defined this time around but its still pretty much pinnacle for the video game music world as is. His battle themes are beyond amazing and his character portraiture is PERFECT. Ovelia's and Thunder God Cid's themes, in all of their original incarnations and reincarnations provide fodder for what is perhaps some of the most epic, moving and personable character theme's ever written with only the Final Fantasy VI character themes holding greater dominion over such achievement. While much of Sakimoto's writing style is consonant and pleasing to the ear, that doesn't mean he can't batter the heart with the notes as well. "Bloody Excrement" is a perfect example of Sakimoto's ability to pull a complete 180 and do something completely different which is a testament to his versatility. The piece is incredibly sinister and is a complete reversal of the musical values instilled by previous Sakimoto pieces.
Speaking of sinister music, I will admit it took me a bit of time to warm up to Masaharu Iwata, at least in comparison with the rapidness for which I just ate up Sakimoto's work. Iwata writes in a style that is a bit darker and a bit less melodic with more emphasis on ambience and percussion. Still, he is very consistent with his musical ideas and the more I expose myself to his music, the greater appreciation I have for his musicianship. His crowning achievement in the Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack is "Ultema The Perfect Body!", which is perhaps one of the most terrifying pieces of music I have ever had the PLEASURE of hearing. To me it exemplifies Iwata at his core; dark, evil sounding, grating and very unpleasant to listen to, hence very effective! A low string section begins by introducing the main melody and is quickly accompanied by some discordant brass to create a very creepy effect. All the while there is a higher string section outlining the main chords... all of this continually builds up to a point of AWESOME tension! The first half of the theme basically sets up for the explosion of terror that erupts from the brass and strings in the second half. Don't be put off by this piece at first glance. It is as if the footsteps of black death are on your heels and it is truly chilling. Not too bad considering this is the theme present during the final confrontation with the greatest human evil. The musical materials may not be for everyone, but the way it matches the scene is incredible! A few other works that deserve notice, notably "Unavoidable Battle", "The Pervert", and "Backfire". Iwata is a very fine musician and I respect and admire him very much for his work on the soundtrack.
As I've said before, both Iwata and Sakimoto feed off of each other's musical deliberations very efficiently without ever sacrificing the intent of each's unique musical vision. Each brings a presence to the soundtrack that is both spirited and highly creative in its own right. In a game that is often ruled by sinister moods, uplifting spirits, moments of celebration, and the pangs of tragedy, each emotion is represented in an epic way utilizing harmonic and melodic materials of the highest nature. I lament to concede that modern soundtracks fall utterly short of the musicality and brilliance that makes this soundtrack one of the greatest musical achievements in modern times... or arguably, ever.
The Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack is like a fine wine; it gets better with age. The more I listen to the soundtrack, the better it gets (and I don't even have to worry about a hangover in the morning). If you weren't fortunate enough to catch Final Fantasy Tactics the first time around, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Simply put, its one of the greatest soundtracks ever made and a true work of inspiration.
Yasumi Matsuno finished Final Fantasy Tactics for PlayStation not so long after the initial release of Final Fantasy VII. In that time, it was slightly overlooked because of the other major title, but the quality was very high. Matsuno called for the help of two long time friends to create the game's soundtrack. Before Final Fantasy Tactics, Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata weren't huge faces, but they were known for such compositions on Magical Chase, Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and Treasure Hunter G. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase their talents to a wider audience. The music in this game is of the orchestral nature. The first Final Fantasy game of its kind to feature traditional based orchestrations that focuses more on rhythm and complex harmony than a catchy melody, as some have come to expect from Nobuo Uematsu's previous Final Fantasy games. Being one of the earlier PlayStation titles, the sound quality of the soundtrack and the quality of the synthesizer isn't anything too special, but for that time, it certainly wasn't bad. Outside synthesizer operator Katsutoshi Kashiwabara makes great use of the available sounds while the sound programming is great — another excellent work by Hidenori Suzuki. All sounds and data are expertly filtered and adjusted and programmed nicely into the game. But enough about the details! Let's get on with the music!
Hitoshi Sakimoto composes the majority of the original soundtrack with 47 tracks, most which are arrangements of both main themes. Some of his highlights include the opening track "Brand Logo ~ Title Black" which features a heavenly interpretation of both main themes — the hero's theme in the first part and the main overture in the second half. It's just too bad it's so short as it is most definitely a highlight on the first disc. "Prologue Movie" is a superb arrangement of the main theme, contrasting both dark and light interpretations of it while being sandwiched between a delectable new bagpipe-led theme. The harp-led "Hero's Theme" is a representation of one of the soundtrack's main themes in its purest form and is also one of the best renditions. One of my favorite tracks on the entire soundtrack by Sakimoto is "A Chapel". It's actually only the ending of the track which really affects me, but it is such a powerful and concluding climax. Not a lot of tracks have that kind of immense power. "Zalbag, the Holy Knight" is worth a mention too. It's an epic theme with great use of horns and brass. "Holy Angela's Theme" is yet another awesome track. Violins thunder in the background while low strings build up to the eerie and enigmatic melody.
Masaharu Iwata has his tracks to talk about too, and although he has only scored only 24 tracks on the soundtrack, he relies a lot less on the main theme and more on original composition. His tracks start out with "Backborn Story". Not quite as impactual as Sakimoto's opener, but the drama is much more intense. "Algus" is tranquil and heavenly, as Iwata manipulates flutes and oboes to represent airiness. In the soundtrack, Iwata composes more music to reflect conflict and intense situations. Tracks like "Unavoidable Battle" are epic and get straight to the point with what they are trying to convey. The rising tension in this particular track makes it appealing, and the timing with the beat, in particular, is especially engrossing. "Decisive Battle" hosts a lot of screeching violins and driving horns and percussion, while "The Pervert" features rough brass with some odd percussion and strong strings that run chaotically throughout the track.
The final battle and finale tracks are range between impressive and just average. As much as a like Sakimoto's "Ultema The Nice Body" as a first final battle theme, it doesn't grab me the way Iwata's final battle piece, "Ultema The Perfect Body" does. Generally, Iwata is more successful at showing a pinnacle of evil in a darker and more expressive tone. The cellos and low strings mainly standout above the rest of the track's instrumentals. Sakimoto finishes this epic soundtrack off with some emotional turns on the main theme. "Epilogue Movie" is as epic as Sakimoto can get. He takes the track and progressively makes it better and better through utilising additional instrumentals to raise the power; it climaxes with a combination of sweeping strings and grandiose brass interpreting said theme. Finally, we arrive at the grand finale, "Staff Credit", which lacks stylistically compared to his Vagrant Story credits theme, though is still amazing. Like a traditional Sakimoto ending theme, he builds the track up from a strong introduction and then after repeats the main theme of the game several times with different variations. A little more prowess would've made it perfection, though I still greatly enjoy the theme when wanting to travel back and remember what an astonishing soundtrack this is.
After reading this review, you should now have a good idea of what to expect from this soundtrack. There are very limited melodies to which you can sing or hum along too, but the orchestral music is beautiful nonetheless. I can imagine that fans of Uematsu's music would not find it easy to adapt to such different music presented by Sakimoto and Iwata, but it is appreciable in a different kind of way. All in all, it has too many great features to miss and should be tried by all game music collectors. Recently reprinted by Square Enix due to popular demand, it is the perfect opportunity to explore this near-faultless soundtrack. Grab it now!
Disc 2: 08, 10, 12, 18, 19, 23, 24, 26, 27
Composed by Hitoshi Sakamoto Disc 1: 01*, 03*, 06*~10, 13~15, 19, 21, 22, 24~26, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35~38, 40, 41
Disc 2: 01~07, 09, 11, 13~17, 20~22, 25, 28*, 29*
Music & Original Score by
Masaharu Iwata & Hitoshi Sakimoto
Sound Programmer: Hidenori Suzuki (SQUARE)
Sound Engineer: Motoko Watanabe (SQUARE)
*Recorded & Mixed by Kenzi Nagashima (SQUARE)
Synthesizer Operator: Katsutoshi Kashiwabara (Smile Sound)
Producers: Masaharu Iwata, Hitoshi Sakimoto
Director: Kensuke Matsushita (DigiCube)
Mastering Engineer: Masaaki Kato (Sunrise Studio)
Art Direction: Tadashi Shimada (Banana Studio)
Design: Tadashi Shimada, Norie Kadokura (Banana Studio)
Photography: Hiroshi Shibaizumi, Shouji Otake (HAND MADE)
Sales Promotion: Saiko Fukui (DigiCube)
Co-Executive Producer: Hirofumi Nakamura (DigiCube)
Project Supervisor: Michio Okamiya (SQUARE)
Executive Producers: Hisashi Suzuki (DigiCube)
Hirofumi Yokota (DigiCube)
Special Thanks to...Yasumi Matsuno (SQUARE)
Bland Logo~Title Back
Enemy Soldiers Attack
Main Character's Theme
Fur, Meat, and Bones Trade
Cry of a Bitter Heart
Anxiety Before the Battle
Zalbag, The Holy Knight
Run Past Through the Plain