Music Within Games: Part 2  
The role of Square and Final Fantasy in the development of music for video games.

Following Part 1: The history of videogame music up to 1987, this part continues the chronology through exploring a focal part: Final Fantasy and its publisher Square in the role of developing musical ideas between 1987 and 1994.



Faile In 1987, Square released Final Fantasy, a game that contained a soundtrack reminiscent of films like Star Wars. Square had hired a Japanese composer by the name of Nobuo Uematsu, to work in-house for them. This decision worked exceptionally well for Square, as each game would have its soundtrack marked by the same techniques, a same coherence of feeling. With Final Fantasy II released in Japan in 1988, also upon the NES, followed by Final Fantasy III in 1990 (Final Fantasy III is the last of the FF games to be released upon the NES), videogame music was beginning to expand to be an important part of the industry, and every game was soon featuring background or incidental music, yet companies were still being hampered by the technology of the time, and thus when Nintendo released the Super Famicom (Snes) console in Japan, further doors of opportunity were opened.

Final Fantasy IVThe Snes console featured a greater range of sound chips, and in 1991, Square released Final Fantasy IV. This game marked the end of the struggle from small company to respected giant for Square. Featuring a wonderful soundtrack notable for its soaring airship theme and love song, Final Fantasy IV marked a new chapter in the 'sound' of Final Fantasy games, for the first time a greater depth in music was possible, and classical stylistic scores were possible to transcribe for playback within the game, and the power of the Snes was starting to be utilised.

Final Fantasy V was another test for Square. Prior to its release 18 months after IV, the press were starting to wonder if Square could keep up to its consistently high standards that were now expected of a Final Fantasy game. As was proved by Final Fantasy V, the answer was yes, and Final Fantasy V was released to great acclaim in Japan. Once again, the soundtrack expanded, and the ante was upped again in the expansion of musical themes within a game. Featuring classical and electrical themes, Final Fantasy V certainly contained many influences from classical and modern music. On a side note, the game itself filled up an expanded 16mb cartridge, and featured the most detailed character system of any Final Fantasy game, previous or since.

Final Fantasy VIThe year was now 1994, the 16 bit consoles had only a little time left, and with Nintendo later announcing its decision to stick to cartridge rather than CD with its next console, Square released their last Final Fantasy game upon a Nintendo cartridge, Final Fantasy VI.
Final Fantasy VI pushed the Snes to its limits in terms of graphics and sound. Featuring a 24mb cartridge, Final Fantasy VI was met with scenes of chaos as Japanese games players tried to lay their hands upon what many describe as the greatest game of all time.
Featuring the greatest soundtrack ever featured in any game previous, Final Fantasy VI included an immense collection of styles of music, from opera to ragtime, with everything in between. Final Fantasy VI was the peak of videogame music.

Final Fantasy VI was the end of an era for Square. After its release, Square pledged itself to Sony as new ideas and concepts such as FMVs were possible only using CD as a storage device. Though Nintendo were the company that helped Square expand to the behemoth they had become, the point of change had been reached.
Expansions in Square now meant that the music department consisted of many full time employees, with Uematsu being left to mainly compose the epic scores of Final Fantasy games. On a side note Uematsu himself was now being compared as the Japanese equivalent of the film composer, John Williams.

The Final Fantasy games, from Final Fantasy I to Final Fantasy VI, all contain similar moments of music, for instance, there is the Final Fantasy 'Theme' that appears in every game in one form or another, and the same goes for the 'Prelude' piece, and also notable, the bass line in the battle theme, and especially of notice the ever present Chocobo theme.

It is impossible to look at music of Final Fantasy and not pick out favourites, yet in many cases, the reasons these pieces become favourites is to do with the way they intertwine with the storyline, providing the games with a film feel, and honouring Square with the prestige of being the first software company to realise the ideas of an interactive movie feel.

Please Note that all Final Fantasy games are referred to by their Japanese Titles. Final Fantasy I, IV and VI were originally released in America, but under the Titles of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III respectively.


- Faile (6 Apr, 2004)