I want you to know that I have played every major Final Fantasy title bar the online ones, and completed most of them.
I also got a B in GCSE music after basically ripping off To Zanakand in one of my compositions (turns out music teachers don’t play games). Therefore, I’m asserting my authority in ranking the best Final Fantasy music of all time.
10Aria, the Maiden of Water (Final Fantasy III)
This is probably the least well known music piece in this list, because Final Fantasy III seems to be one of the least popular of the series. But the whole thing is truly exquisite, having a nice dripping-like backing behind the soft, easy melody. It truly is one of the most relaxing and soothing scores you will ever hear in any game – let alone Final Fantasy.
9Opening/Bombing Mission (Final Fantasy VII)
Final Fantasy VII might just be the most well-known game in the series; even more likely now that the Remake is out in the wild. I think part of its success is down to its absolutely perfect opening.
You get a beautiful gaze into the lifestream and into Aerith’s eyes. There’s a hint of suspense with long elongated strings, before the rest of the orchestra joins in and takes you on a tour of dirty, industrial Midgar. This is followed by the wonderfully enchanting bombing mission part of the track that matches the churning of steam engines into a wonderfully dramatic battle theme. It takes you into the crux of the action.
That is how you start a game. That is how you use music.
8Steiner’s Theme (Final Fantasy IX)
Oh, I bet you weren’t expecting that. In no list of best Final Fantasy music has anyone included this banger. Well, no longer will I leave it in the shadows of its contemporaries. Most people wouldn’t include Steiner’s Theme as it isn’t a ‘serious’ tune. With its funny use of percussion and lazy, yet jumpy, baseline, it doesn’t strike itself out as a classic.
Yet it is perfect at achieving its goal of representing its titular character, Steiner, the lovable stern oaf, captain of the Knight’s of Pluto. Yet there is a more to it than that: the music hints at that possibility of change while maintaining its course. You can’t help but love it.
7Theme of Love (Final Fantasy IV)
Romance is a key component in a lot of music, and Final Fantasy soundtracks are no exception. In my opinion, no track accompanies a blossoming on-screen romance better than Final Fantasy IV‘s Theme of Love.
It’s not too over-the-top, like other romantic scores can be. It’s a slow, growing melody that’s purely beautiful in its exposition.
6Liberi Fatali (Final Fantasy VIII)
Final Fantasy VIII’s junction system means it isn’t one of my favourite games in the series – but even I can’t deny the sheer epic nature of this tune. It bursts through the screen when the iconic vocals begin.
Here Nobuo Uematsu is showing that he knows how to use choir choruses to convey the hostility and world-shattering stakes at play. You can hear elements from some of his previous arrangements being fine-tuned into the perfect score. You can hear ripples from his past music, especially One-Winged Angel, but made more coherent without losing any of the drama. This is a composer who knows what works and is honing his craft.
5Loop Demo (Final Fantasy XII)
A lot of changes were made to Final Fantasy XII with the remastered Zodiac Age version. Most of these were for the better, but one thing that was surely lost was the introduction cutscene that would play on loop at the start screen.
Starting with the classic Final Fantasy overture with an outstanding choir adding harmonies, you are brought a bit of nostalgia with a dramatic flavour. Suddenly epic army drill drums and horns start ringing out: war that has come to this world! Just perfect.
4Clash on the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V)
Even listening to the original SNES version of Clash on the Big Bridge feels epic. There is a battle going on here, and it means business. There is something very basic about the feeling of this tune; it’s about battle – and a bloody big one at that. There is a reason that this piece has been adapted so many times and sneaked its way into other games. It simply invokes the word fight with its fast paced drum fills and baselines.
It’s also worth listening to the metal version arranged and performed by The Black Mages.
3A Fleeting Dream/Someday the Dream Will End (Final Fantasy X)
Perhaps I should have chosen To Zanarkand, but Someday the Dream Will End had a bigger emotional impact on me when I played Final Fantasy X. After you have the gigantic reveal at the top of Mt. Gagazet followed by the trip down to Zanakand, this tune is the only thing that plays. Uninterrupted by battles, it pierces your ears and heart with its wispy echos. It perfectly creates the emotional response to the situation as its melody manages to be filled with both hope and loss. It simply gets me every time.
2Aerith’s Theme (Final Fantasy VII)
Aerith’s Theme is a beautifully reserved melody that fills you with sorrow and hurt, followed by a theme that echoes your journey through that familiar world. It then returns to the main theme with added harmonies that, while bringing the piece to a close, seem to rip you apart.
You do not need to have experienced Final Fantasy VII to feel the hurt and hope that this music possesses in abundance. But if you have, then you know why the music is so apt and why it perfectly encapsulates the heart of what Final Fantasy VII is about.
1Terra’s Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
When you load up Final Fantasy VI, you’ll be greeted by a haunting riff that seems to flow through panpipes of a lost soldier of a long-forgotten war. It feels simultaneously foreign and yet oddly familiar; a signal of what is to come and the mixture of pain and love that will follow.
Terra’s Theme is so unique that it stands out like a wonderfully delicate sore thumb in the Final Fantasy catalogue. It almost feels Celtic amongst the assortment of Latin-inspired pieces, and paints Terra as Boudica against the mighty empire.
As with many of the pieces of music in this list, it represents its game perfectly. Terra, the forgotten mysterious girl, used by the Empire and longing for home, is seemingly calling out to you to rescue her and the rest of the world.
In my favourite version, the Final Fantasy Pray Arrangement, this voice is literally there sounding you out, adding yet another element. There are also some weirdly compelling dubstep remixes of Terra’s theme; do with that what you will.