Monday, December 31, 2012

Music Spotlight: Piano Collections FINAL FANTASY VII

Final Fantasy VII was one of the first video games I ever really dove into; it quickly became the standard by which I view games in general. The presentation* of the plot, the use of the Playstation’s hardware and visual style, and of course the game-play, all were done so exceedingly well that I’ve yet to find a game that matches it (I could name a few that get very close—but this one stands on its own.)

One thing that truly makes Final Fantasy VII so unique (even within the Final Fantasy series as a whole) is the music. It not only works amazingly with the plot and themes of various characters, but also stands excellently on its own.

The entire soundtrack from the game is available in both physical and digital media—but there is one slight problem with this.  The “Official” soundtrack is directly from the game—meaning midi-programmed synths. Now while these tracks are wonderfully nostalgic and impressive on their own, they do fall short of the increasing demand for high quality audio. Though there exist orchestral arrangements of various songs (from either Advent Children or various other games, as well as concert performances from the Distant Worlds series) composer, Nobuo Uematsu has put together a simply unbelievably collection of 13 classic tracks from the iconic game, all performed on solo piano in, Piano Collections FINAL FANTASY VII.

The fact that these pieces are done solely on the piano seems to do an amazing thing that I think a complete orchestra can’t—and it’s is something that works very well for those who know the game and the soundtrack very well. The solitary nature of the piano creates an added sense of poignancy and nostalgia that is powerfully moving and in some cases, haunting. “Aerith’s Theme” is one such piece, as is the “Main Theme.” “Aerith’s Theme” in particular is that much more heart wrenching with one instrument playing on its own. It instantly springs the memories of the “infamous” scene in VII, her date with Cloud at the Golden Saucer, the loss of Zack, and the ethereal connection between her and Cloud in Advent Children. In fact, this is how I prefer to hear the piece played. Orchestra arrangements of it are nice, but there is simply no other testament to the strength of the song and the character of Aerith, than hearing it played in this way.

Some of the pieces here could nearly be classified as “reinterpretations” of the originals. “Cosmo Canyon” and “Let The Battles Begin!” are two good examples here.  In the context of this album, these songs come off in such a new and authentic way that it’s almost like hearing them for the first time again. “Cosmo Canyon” itself contains within it the emergence of memories and references to Red XIII’s character and “Let The Battles Begin!” showcases an entire new level of emotion and appreciation for the piece as something more than just “Battle Music.”

Other songs aren’t as serious in tone. “Rufus’s Welcome Ceremony”, “Cinco de Chocobo” and a few others demonstrate the wonderful versatility of Uematsu’s compositions in a fun and jovial way.
Further praise should be given to Uematsu’s fantastic command of the piano. Though many have come to love him as the beloved composer of countless Final Fantasy classics, his technique as a pianist is tasteful and wonderfully expressive. Though the same cannot be said for some composers, Uematsu is simply the best choice to be seated at the piano for these tracks.
This should be a must-buy for any fan of the game. Those who know these songs note for note will enjoy every moment of them as they bring back cherished memories of a simply fantastic work of electronic art.

*Though I enjoy the story of VII, I can’t compare it with the quality of the other things mentioned here. There are legitimate criticisms of the plot and some of the directions it takes (as there could be with any story, really), however the execution of it is what counts for me; it is one of the finest not only in gaming, but in story-telling overall.

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