Final Fantasy VIII: A Subdued Junction

The Final Fantasy series is known for its great music. The memorable scores brought out in the main games by Nobuo Uematsu have created iconic themes like One-Winged Angel and Dancing Mad. Music from the various Final Fantasy side series have also been thrilling, if not distinct samples of musical prowess. Hitoshi Sakamoto and Masaharu Iwata’s work on Final Fantasy Tactics and its related games were rollicking and grand tunes that reflected the medieval-themed hierarchical world the games took place in. Kumi Tanioka’s whimsical, nostalgic tracks carved a place in the Final Fantasy franchise for the Crystal Chronicles series. There’s so much care and talent put into arranging music for these games that it’s no wonder that covers and remixes continue to be made.

Although I definitely think the composers for the side games deserve way more praise, today I want to talk about a soundtrack from the main series. It’s a game that, despite its popularity, is divisive, with some seeing the game as innovative, with a compelling and provocative storyline, and others deriding it as a sappy game with unlikable characters and broken mechanics. Without going into the merits or faults of the gameplay, I want to talk about what I consider to be one of the most  understated, unique soundtracks in the series. I’m talking, of course, of the off-beat, subdued music of Final Fantasy VIII.

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While the other examples of Uematsu’s work, such as the two mentioned above, can be recognized by even non-gamers, the songs in VIII seem to be overlooked by those outside of its biggest fans. Although VIII is not necessarily one of my favorite games, though, I do think the soundtrack deserves much more appreciation. From the beginning, Uematsu plays with some of the sounds from VII and VI while diverging with flat, near-ambient melodies.

Even when the characters rush into action, the game’s subdued nature can still be found with powerful, intense music being offset by minor keys.

This is in large part due to the implementation of one of the game’s staple tracks, Liberi Fatali.

Which is actually most obviously used in one of my absolute favorite battle themes in the whole series.

Premonition is such a menacing, enigmatic boss theme, representing the threat of the sorceresses throughout the game. Its muted horns and bewitching synthesized strings are punctuated with powerful drum beats that create such a unique atmosphere that it makes you wish there were more fights with Sorceress Edea than there are.

And of course there are the songs that play off of perhaps the most central theme of the game, Eyes on Me. Even though the song itself is of a clearer quality with more realistic sounding music, the tracks that reprise it maintain that unique sound VIII constructs.

Perhaps what most punctuates the minor tone of the game, separating it from its predecessors and successors, is the track that seems to be more emblematic of the power and wonder captured in the other games. The game’s airship theme, Ride On, though great, definitely doesn’t quite feel like it belongs with the other muted tracks.

I could likely list examples of music from this game forever, but I think what’s been offered already is enough to make my point. That is that Final Fantasy VIII’s soundtrack is such an interesting, unique work; a hidden gem in an already stellar pile of treasure. Its subdued nature causes it to be forgotten among some of the more iconic music in the series, but overlooking it is a mistake. Final Fantasy VIII expands a legacy of off-beat game themes started back in the series’ infancy, and though Ultimecia may be no Sephiroth or Kefka, her theme caps off the unique experience in a way that hasn’t really been mimicked by another Final Fantasy since.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m glad you emphasized how subdued the music is. I found that to be true for the game in general — it’s all very understated. That alone makes it stand out in the JRPG world where melodrama and overpunctuated characters is the norm. It gives the entire game a sort of impressionistic feel to it, which the music both reflects and contributes to. There’s nothing else like it.

    Liked by 1 person

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