(Editor’s note: From Fire Emblem to Persona, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame music.)
Have you ever heard the saying: “No Stairway” before? Yes, it’s a Wayne’s World reference and jokes about amateur guitarists butchering a Led Zeppelin classic. It can be seen as a snobby way of saying that the song is overplayed. But, that’s how I feel about one of the most popular Final Fantasy tracks ever, “One-Winged Angel.”
Now, I’m not going to flat-out proclaim that the final boss theme from Final Fantasy VII is overrated. It’s a phenomenal and haunting track, especially when Uematsu’s former progressive metal band The Black Mages covered it. I simply feel that there’s been enough obsessive adoration and praise thrown at it, so how about all of those other fantastic final boss themes that Uematsu and his fellow Final Fantasy composers have under their belts?
Final boss themes are the crème de la crème of battle themes in an RPG. The fate of the entire (in-game) world rests on the player and his or her party, so the game better have fitting music to go with it. So join me in my third and final examination of Final Fantasy’s battle themes and let’s talk final battle music. Bring plenty of Megalixirs (and be sure to actually use them, dammit!).
The 8-bit era
Final Fantasy’s first example of a different tune playing for the final boss encounter came with the second game in the series. FFII’s “Battle Scene 2″ was used for choice boss fights throughout the game and served as the theme for the last fight with the Emperor. It’s still pretty fitting for a final battle theme, given its serious tone.
Final Fantasy’s final boss music evolved in some interesting ways throughout the series’ history, but if there’s one thing that doesn’t let up in most of the tracks, it’s their upbeat nature.
With Final Fantasy III, the series got its first unique final boss theme in “This is the Last Battle” which reels in the player with a slow-going hypnotizing melody before kicking into full-blown catchiness. This was the first game in the series to use percussion which helps mold the “rock-like” attitude that’s apparent in much of the other final battle themes.
The 16-bit era
“The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy IV
One of the first final boss themes that I happened to enjoy immensely was FFIV’s final fight with Zeromus. “The Final Battle” begins with a low, dooming intro which adds to the player’s bewilderment of how massive and ugly Zeromus’ final form is. Rapid snare hits then lead into a dramatic tune that properly cements the idea that it’s all or nothing for Cecil and his team.
Around 0:58 the track shifts into a chill-inducing feeling of hope, almost like a cry of “you can do it!” to the player, who probably needs that feeling because the party’s being bombarded with “Big Bang.” The tune changes its emotion back to that sense of dread with echoing synth-orchestral hits. It changes yet again to a triumphant-sounding outro before looping back into dramatic mode. These trade-offs between feelings of dread and triumph are what makes this one of my favorite final battle themes of the series.
“Decisive Battle” from Final Fantasy V
“The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy V
“Decisive Battle” from FFV serves as a fantastically intense theme for the first, creepy tree form of Exdeath prior to his intimidating final form. The track excels in the percussion department; just try wrapping your head around its complex tom and double bass work, not to mention the interesting odd-time signatures and references to Exdeath’s main theme. “The Final Battle” serves as the double whammy here, assaulting you with a fast-tempo after its ominous intro. My battle with Neo Exdeath proved to be one of the toughest final encounters I’ve ever faced in a FF title, which makes the theme here stand out that much more.
“Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI
If “One-Winged Angel” isn’t a Final Fantasy fan’s favorite final battle theme, then chances are high that FFVI’s “Dancing Mad” is. Nearly 18 minutes in length, it’s one of the most complex and intricate themes found in the series, and is notably one of Uematsu’s own favorites. What makes the track so unique is its four movements which correspond to the four sequences of the battle against Kefka. A synthesized pipe organ blares prominently throughout, which gives the whole thing a very church-like feel. The religious overtones are fitting, given that Kefka at this point has become a godlike individual. The first movement references other music from the game, including “Omen/Opening Theme” and “Catastrophe.”
The second movement enters into a very circus-like atmosphere, befitting of Kefka’s clown-like getup. Interspersed are synthesized vocalizations which give it an operatic flavor. Eventually the instruments cease playing for the organ to enter what’s known as a cadenza (Bach and Hendel would be proud), which is when a sole instrument goes into a rhythmic freestyle. The third movement continues this organ cadenza, where the playing gets even more virtuosic. I particularly like the triplets at work around 10:41.
The doom and gloom of “Omen/Opening Theme” introduces the final movement before it goes into a full blast of furious drumming, bass-playing, and rock organ. This is topped off by a return to the pipe organ for a moving, slower tempo-ed portion, until Kefka’s trademark laugh marks the return of the fast-paced beginning. I can’t imagine how many adolescent minds were blown when kids first heard this track in the mid-90s.
32-bit and beyond
“Birth of a God” from Final Fantasy VII
Whereas “One-Winged Angel” instills a haunting sense of finality in the battle with Sephiroth, “Birth of a God” works as a fantastic way to get players pumped to do battle against his first form, Bizarro.
It may take several listens, but this track features a few interesting references in it. Around the 0:26 mark, one can hear a nod to “The Final Battle” from FFIV with a backup bass line that references the intro bass line of the first six Final Fantasy titles. Finally, towards the end, the choir from FFVII’s “Those Chosen by the Planet” is referenced as a way to administer a touch of evil into the whole thing.
FFVIII has the interesting tag-team of “Maybe I’m a Lion” and “The Extreme.” The former’s title is a clear play on the name of a Deep Purple song called “Maybe I’m a Leo,” and sports some of that track’s style. Fans of prog rock band Rush may also notice the similarities between the percussive intro of this track and “YYZ.”
“The Extreme” is interesting in that it begins rather peacefully, albeit eerily thanks to the female choir chanting “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec.” The piece then crashes into the classic FF battle bass line and the grand orchestra-meets-synth catchiness begins. In a way, the track serves as a return to form with the series’ final boss themes; no need for the intense operatic theatrics of “One Winged Angel,” just rock our faces off with fast-paced rhythm.
“Messenger of Ruin”
“The Final Battle”
“Messenger of Ruin” (or “Dark Messenger/The Darkness of Eternity” depending on your translation) is the rocking track that plays during the battle with Trance Kuja in FFIX. Thoughts of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” may arise within you as the drums pound amidst the dramatic organ intro.
As an aside, I’d like to point out that this track made my young self want to be like a rock star. The synths mixed with the hard rock atmosphere considerably tickled my inner rocker — I imagined what it would be like to jam this song out on stage in front of a crowd of screaming videogame music fans. Just the typical daydreams of a pre-teen VGM nerd.
Say what you want about the battle with Necron. Without that cop-out of a final boss, we wouldn’t have such a fantastic battle theme. Its long-winded cavalcade of choral moaning and King Crimson-inspired mellotron-playing might weird you out initially, but once the upbeat prog rock track kicks in you’ll dig it.
Previous FF games usually factored in two final battle themes, but with FFX it seems that the composers thought there wasn’t enough heart-pounding music, and sought to dish out more bodacious badassery.
FFX is chock-full of final battle themes, thanks to all the different encounters you experience prior to the ending. “Seymour Battle” is a fantastically diverse track which represents Seymour’s character perfectly — a seemingly calm and misleading person on the outside, and an interior that just screams “I’m an over-the-top nutcase.” I’m a sucker for the Asian-infused synth intro followed by the repeated hits of the china cymbal.
The battle with Braska’s Final Aeon fittingly plays “Otherworld” which is originally heard in the beginning of the game. A growling heavy metal track such as this is the only way to appropriately tackle such a gigantic demon.
“Summoned Beast Battle,” composed by Junya Nakano marks the next stage of the game’s lengthy stream of bosses. The bombastic intro that references “The Hymn of the Fayth” and later “Enemy Attack” carried by a tenacious orchestra will make your hairs rise. The final, final battle theme for FFX is the Masashi Hamauzu-composed “Decisive Battle,” which features his signature soaring melodies and brilliant pianowork. Although the player doesn’t have to fear from losing in this battle, it doesn’t make it any less epic.
Due to my lack of knowledge of XI, XII and XIII’s final battle music, I can’t go into much detail with those. That’s where you come in and one-up me in the comments.
Thus concludes my three-part obsessive adoration of Final Fantasy’s normal, boss and final boss battle themes. Uematsu and co. are masters of their craft, emotionally driving fans toward an ending with a pulse-pounding roller coaster of music that you want to relive over and over every time.
Top Five Tracks:
- “The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy IV
- “Decisive Battle / The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy V
- “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI
- “Messenger of Ruin / The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy IX
- “Birth of a God” from Final Fantasy VII
Awesome FF Final Boss Theme Remixes:
- “Battle Scene 2″ by The Black Mages
- “Battle Scene 2″ from Final Fantasy Origins, arranged by Tsuyoshi Sekito
- “The Final Battle -THE BLACK MAGES Ver.-“
- “Zeromus” by The Black Mages
- “Red Wings over Baron” by Powerglove
- “Neo EXDEATH” by The Black Mages
- “Dancing Mad” by The Black Mages
- “Birth of a God” by Powerglove
- “One Winged Angel” by The Black Mages
- “One Winged Angel” by Earthbound Papas
- “Take this Broken Wing and Learn to Funk Again” by The OneUps
- “Maybe I’m a Lion” by The Black Mages
- “The Extreme” by The Black Mages
- “Grand Cross” by The Black Mages
- “Fight with Seymour” by The Black Mages
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