I guess this has to happen once every hundred articles or so…
Let’s talk about Final Fantasy music!
I’m a child of Napster, or, more appropriately, I was a teenager of Napster (figure out my age from context clues!). This was pretty awesome, as, when I finally hit the age where I had my own musical preferences, there was suddenly every song ever recorded available, for free, and all a half hour download away. And this was the glory days of music piracy! You couldn’t just download an entire discography in seven seconds; no, you had to carefully pick and choose which songs you wanted, as, if you tried to download a complete new CD, it would hog all your bandwidth for the next year. I can still distinctly recall my first “mix CDs”… let’s see here, there was Butthole Surfers, a healthy amount of Blues Traveler, and a surprising excess of Chicago. Dire Straits snuck in there for some reason, Foo Fighters joined ‘em, and I think I was into some noticeable Garbage to boot. Cranberries, too? Of course. And, look, I’ll level with you, readers, I was really into ska. I eagerly await the day when all hope seems lost, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers return to us, refreshed and rejuvenated, with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in tow, and then The Second Great Age of Ska may begin. Oh, and there were three Final Fantasy songs in there: Final Fantasy 6’s Mog (Moogle Waltz), Final Fantasy 8’s Laguna (The Man with the Machine Gun), and Eyes on Me.
I cannot describe the significance of the presence of those songs. … Even if one is silly J-Pop.
The Final Fantasy franchise has always had good music. While Prelude and the main theme of Final Fantasy are obvious choices from the first adventure, I still remember every time I hit a location in FF1 that played Matoya’s Cave. It plays in other caves! It is a very poorly named song! And, while it doesn’t get nearly enough praise, the Final Fantasy airship theme is still one of the most triumphant ditties I’ve ever heard. It might just be because that new craft opens up a world of unlimited possibilities without random encounters and it means you never have to go into that stupid Ice Cave ever again, but I could listen to that silly airship loop forever and still be excited.
And, in a weird way, I feel like something ineffably “clicked” with me, even in those early Final Fantasy days. There was “Mario music”, and there was “Mega Man music” (or pretty much anything from the Capcom oeuvre that sounded like it came from Mega Man), and there was certainly “Castlevania music” (which, side note, totally rocked), but, somehow, “Final Fantasy music” not only was clearly its own animal, but it also contained what I would really call songs. This wasn’t just something you listened to while Mario was running around (“Oh, that song is called Running? Neat.”), these were actual songs you would listen to on a radio, or your super hi-tech Walkman. … And I’m not just saying that because I once used a cassette recorder to create an entire mix tape of Final Fantasy 3 (6) music in preparation for a week long camping trip that would, for some reason, be sans Super Nintendo. And you didn’t see me preserving Contra tunes for bouts of videogame withdrawal.
But to move past sixth grade and up to those halcyon teen years, precious Napster, giver of Final Fantasy music, was a gigantic unknown. Literally nothing before in human history had ever been like this “file sharing platform”. There was no standard for what was, essentially, the newest, greatest thievery network in human history. I mean, let’s not mince words here: with a good enough internet connection, you could effectively steal every song that had ever been recorded. It was all out there and available, from Abba to Zero 7, and, more importantly, no one knew how long it would be before this tower of sin inevitably toppled. There was this simultaneous feeling of “this will be awesome forever” and “oh my God this is a crime, get what you can while you can.” Hell, the entire idea of “a MP3” was basically synonymous with depravity, and we could nary imagine that, in a few short years, Apple of all companies would be peddling them like candy. In the meanwhile, it wasn’t just about free music, it was about the music being available at all. Want to know how many Final Fantasy songs I would have purchased before 1998 if I could have even done such a thing? The answer is “all of them, all of them forever”. Do you think I really wanted to buy that Jethro Tull album? Well, yes, I did, but if I could have purchased a Final Fantasy 6 album in its place, I absolutely would have. Aqualung is nothing compared to Strago’s Aqua Rake. But Napster and its “criminal web” was the only available avenue.
And, God help me, I feel like nearly twenty years later, nothing has changed. I’m still about ten minutes away from holding a tape recorder to the TV.
Yes, you can purchase the entire Final Fantasy library on iTunes, and, yes, we now live in a glorious future where every third JRPG you buy comes with a partial soundtrack (this is why I have so many Atlus sponsored coasters). But, well, I feel like there’s a reason I’m increasingly separated from the “real” radio. As a child of Napster, I am an MP3 hog. I have gone all in on CD-ripping and MP3 purchasing over the years, and I have… let’s see here… 6,518 MP3s on my playlist. And, to be perfectly clear, this is a carefully manicured list that has been accumulated over approximately twenty years, and is not simply, “Here’s a new CD, let’s rip every song and call it a day,” as if I were some kind of barbarian. No, there are only songs I want to listen to on this playlist, and all 300 or so hours of it is good stuff. And I know, that, of those 6,500 songs, if I choose to go back to listening to the “real” radio, I will probably hear… about twenty of those songs.
I have eclectic tastes.
It may not have been true back on the NES, but by the time we hit Dancing Madly, Final Fantasy was pumping out what was obviously “real music”. But will any of that music -literally thirty years’ worth of tunes performed by real, live orchestras- ever hit the FM stations? Of course not. And, mind you, I’m not claiming there needs to be Aloha De Chocobo on heavy rotation with the greatest hits of yesterday and today, but it would be kind of nice if, out of the hundreds of songs composed for the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, maybe we could get one that plays more often than an Avril Lavigne song from fifteen years ago. Come to think of it, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been releasing the same song for the last three decades, maybe there’s room for Etro’s Champion somewhere in there.
I’m not naïve, I know Pitbull has more popularity and advertising clout than Lightning ever will, but when I sit down to play Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call with its 321 songs (admittedly, some are DLC), I realize that literally hundreds of brilliant, memorable songs have been ghettoized to the slums of “it’s just videogame music”. And FFTCC is amazing, because it allows you to participate in these songs (Okay, you technically always could participate, but it turns out that hitting the Fight command to the beat doesn’t actually make Cloud do extra damage), and truly realize that some of these songs have become part of your DNA. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the crazy one that can more easily recall the melody from Melodies of Life than anything by The Who, or maybe I’m the new normal. Despite the fact that a healthy portion of the population has never known a world without videogames, somehow One-Winged Angel still isn’t real music.
And it’s doubly strange, because, FFTCC, released three years ago, has no imitators. There was a Dragon Quest-based sequel that never saw our shores, and… that’s it. There are no Mega Man, Castlevania, or even Nintendo music library based rhythm games out there. And that means something. Final Fantasy is, whether through skill or marketing or some combination of both, the king of videogame music, and its own industry (and its fans) recognize that.
But, while Final Fantasy may be king, it’s king of the smallest, smelliest kingdom. It will never be invited to the big kids’ table, and will always be relegated to 3DS games or file sharing sites. Final Fantasy music may have come a long way in the last two decades, but it will still never reach the echelon of popularity dominated by Natalie Imbruglia.
If there’s one thing that my ancient mix CDs and Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call can agree on, it’s that Final Fantasy deserves better.
Though, if you’ve read this far, I’m obviously preaching to the choir. Sorry. Okay, choir, let’s get another round of Liberi Fatali going. From the top!
FGC #291 Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call
- System: Nintendo 3DS. Screen be damned, I would be happy to see a “complete” version pop up on the Switch.
- Number of players: Two! I actually played head-to-head FFTCC once… and lost. Never tried again. I am a prideful man.
- Favorite Song: And after an entire article extolling the joys of Final Fantasy music, I’m going to go ahead and name Chrono Trigger (The Theme from Chrono Trigger) as my favorite tune. What? Be glad I didn’t choose something from Nier!
- Favorite Character: Lil’ Chaos is so adorable. That said, as much as I love this game, I kind of hate the… whatever this art style is called for the characters. Then again, I might just be biased because I had a bad experience with Flash figures back in the day.
- Stylus or Buttons: While I understand you get more precision with the buttons, I’m a stylus guy. It just feels so much more… tactile to swipe along to the beat.
- Did you know: Buying “additional characters” as DLC in a game where characters barely matter is robbery, and you know it, SE.
- Would I play again: This is one game I really regret owning in cart, and not downloaded-forever form. That said, I do pop it back in the 3DS on occasion, and I always replay the game “for one more song” over and over again. So that’s a definite yes.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Brutal Paws of Fury for the Super Nintendo. That isn’t a Bubsy game is it? No? Okay, so please look forward to it.