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Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack Album Title Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10028; SQEX-10005/8
Release Date: March 10, 1999; May 10, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Is there any need for a dramatic introduction? Not really. The Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack is not superlative by any stretch of the imagination, but still features rather good music. Nonetheless, the soundtrack is unique and very special thanks to its contrasts as opposed to its overall quality. It is more inconsistent than most Final Fantasy soundtracks, including several peaks and numerous troughs. It is also more varied in terms of genre, with love, war, sorcery, and a funny thing called time compression all being explored in-depth. When signs of age of the Final Fantasy franchise are shown, something weird and wonderful pops up. When the soundtrack becomes too serious, a light-hearted number is inserted to liven up the mood. When the soundtrack is beginning to attain consistent high quality, it randomly plunges into the depths of direness. You can never be sure what to expect from the next track in this soundtrack, though you can be assured of the overall charm of the listening experience given it is a PlayStation era Final Fantasy score masterminded by Nobuo Uematsu.


The album opens in incredible fashion with an ambitious full-orchestral choral theme, "Liberi Fatali". Derived from one of the main themes of the game, the so-called sorceress' theme, it subtly intensifies from the opening unaccompanied "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec" chants towards a dramatic climax. Nobuo Uematsu and orchestrator Shiro Hamaguchi create a work that synchronises perfectly with a spectacular FMV sequence and exudes sheer power thanks to the magnitude of its production. The chromatic chord progression and epic augmented melody that provide the foundations of this theme are heard time and time again in the game to represent sorcery and the development of the game's exploration of the witch Edea. "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec" and "Succession of Witches," though strophic not programmatic, combine pre-recorded vocals with menacing instrumental passages. "The Sacrifice" and "Premonition" identify with Edea's darkest side, creating feelings of fear, terror, and emptiness. They contrast with later incarnations of the theme, principally "Truth," on a cold, authentic, and reassuring harpsichord. By the end of the soundtrack, Edea's true character is represented with the subtle piano-led "The Successor", though warm last words do not disguise the inevitability of her succession. The soundtrack isn't as melodically rich as other Final Fantasy soundtracks due to the extensive reuse of the sorceress' theme and two other leitmotifs throughout the soundtrack. Nonetheless, most subjects of leitmotif reusage add an extra layer of meaning to the themes they carry and reinforce the memorability of the soundtrack's overriding melodic material.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of this soundtrack is the absence of any true character themes. While this is again detrimental to the soundtrack's melodiousness, it avoids simplifying Final Fantasy VIII's characters — among the most well-developed and realistic of the series — into caricatures represented by a single relatively shallow theme, a technique even Uematsu himself resents. Instead, Uematsu focuses his thematic representations on relationships or individual aspects of main characters, often building an overall picture through a multitutde of themes. For example, the sorceress' theme takes many forms, representing the gradual yet profound transformation in Edea's character, while "Unrest" and "Rivals" demonstrate Squall and Seifer's destructive relationship, albeit underwhelmingly. "Ami" and its arrangements are probably the most powerful for representing relationships, however; its bright and memorable melody represents calm and happiness, aiding scenes that intricately link the stories of Squall, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, and Ellone. With "Tell Me," a picture of Quistis' unrequited love for Squall is formed; the gushing melodies reference her letting her feelings out, while the static harmonies are symbolic of Squall's mere grunts in response. "Where I Belong" reflects memories with a nostalgic electric piano sound and shows the abovementioned characters being finally learning how they're united. The theme's final manifestation, "Trust Me," is less successful, though provides necessary focus on Ellone, only otherwise represented in "Drifting." Of course, all are united via Balamb Garden and this building's ethereal theme appropriately introduces the melody rather subtly early in the soundtrack.

The relationship of Squall and Rinoa is thoroughly explored in the soundtrack. The culmination of their love is represented by Faye Wong's award-winning vocal theme "Eyes on Me". It's a charming piece of music that boasts a fair melody from Uematsu, some pleasant string backing, and superb vocal execution. Though many cite it as an example of a hackneyed composing style and criticise it for its Engrish lyrics, it fitted the game suitably, constituted a very successful addition to the soundtrack, and made an impact on mainstream pop audiences that typically ignore the series' music. "Eyes on Me" utilises a leitmotif that is introduced much earlier in the score with the brief but heartfelt piano theme "Julia" that demonstrates parallels of Laguna and Raine's encounters many years ago with the situation of the protagonists of today. Other incarnations of the theme are carefully placed within the game to show the development of Squall and Rinoa's relationship. For example, "Waltz for the Moon" integrates the theme within a Straussian dance to represent the lovers' first chance meeting, while "My Mind" contrasts Rinoa's initially boisterious front with a representation of her inner dreaminess, innocence, and gentleness. It's only until half way through Disc Three in the score, however, that any representation of Squall's true feelings on the relationship are expressed. The first example is the gushing "Love Grows," a full instrumental version of "Eyes on Me" that accompanies a powerful moment in the game where Squall comes to terms with his feelings about an absent Rinoa. Uematsu also offers "The Oath" to show his actual pledge of devotion. This is thematically independent of "Eyes on Me" and uses a new melody to reflect pride, sensitivity, and fate.

The soundtrack reflects the game's initial focus on the military academy Garden and the elite forces it trains. It opens in warlike fashion with a series of brass fanfares before exploding into a epic action theme as the FMV sequence reflects an assault on Dollet. There is an effortless transition into a more electronically-oriented section as FMV transitions to free-roaming gameplay and a secondary section of the theme is nicely decorated by a quasi-orchestral take on the sorceress' theme. The game also boasts two militaristic marches, "The Stage is Set" and "Movin'," which not only intensify the situations they are used, but also use the sorceress' theme wonderfully and are great for whistling along to. The airship theme "Ride On" is full of buoyancy and blithe; it is made even more attractive in soundtrack form by its programmatic introduction, based loosely around "Blue Sky," one of several short themes that are used to FMV sequences in remarkable fashion. Slightly less effective tracks include "SeeD," which comprises of lengthy drum rolls separated by repetitive wind and brass fanfares, "Heresy," an eerie yet hackneyed organ-based theme used to represent a secondary villain in Balamb Garden, and "The Mission," a track that is successful in-game only, due to some poor harpsichord synth and a repetitive basso ostinato. Added to this, there are two percussive hurry themes, "Never Look Back" and the curiously titled "Only a Plank Between One and Perdition." The former mainly relies on a little too much repetition of ascending melodic sequences while the latter is more rhythmical, using the combination of a piano basso ostinato and some guitar riffs.

The town and setting themes are a mixed bag. Balamb's "Breezy" uses major 6th guitar progressions to create a lovely seaside feel, while "Fisherman's Horizon" carries a beautiful melody to provide a representation of a town that demonstrates peace, simplicity, and the fundamental importance of the sea. "Dance with the Balamb-fish" gives Dollet some 'oomph' and, like "Waltz for the Moon", is written in the style of a stately yet gushing romantic dance (but not a waltz). "Fragments of Memories" is perhaps the most remarkable of all, however; its fragmented, fragile, soothing, and innocent melodies are interpreted by a single tuned percussion instrument and the theme is a strong setting for the dream sequence showing Laguna's memories of Winhill. The dungeon themes pretty much comprise of "Find Your Way" and "Junction," despite some other themes (e.g. "Fear" or "Movin'") being used in very specific areas; The former here is much stronger — a well-developed mystical theme that integrates some magical instrumentation — while "Junction," based on just four chords in a repeated sixteen bar solo harp melody, is hideously dull. Most disappointing, however, is the overworld theme, "Blue Fields". Though it has a beautiful melody and some sumptuous harmonies, it suffers from a repetitive ground bass and poor synth operating. It's not all that bad, but its shortcomings are so prominent that it ends up being the most disappointing world map theme of the series and a major letdown after the likes of the "F.F.VII Main Theme."

The battle themes on Final Fantasy VIII are its best feature. "Don't Be Afraid," the normal battle theme, creates plenty of tension with its irregular 5/4 metre and is orchestrated well enough to sustain in-game use rather well. The boss battle theme "Force Your Way" takes an upbeat approach that combines rock riffs with decorative electronic arpeggio patterns rather effectively. Laguna's battle theme, "The Man with the Machine Gun," is written in a surprisingly accessible light techno style and evokes many warm feelings with its exhilarating melodies. The aforementioned "Premonition" suffers from a ghastly introduction, but combines the sorceress' theme and several other important themes in a haunting way, creating, as another reviewer put it, "Uematsu's Hobo Stew", or, as I'd prefer, "Uematsu's Witch's Broth". Though used mostly as the game's climactic boss battle theme, it's also the first of the four final boss themes. The second such theme is the unrelenting "The Legendary Beast". Melodic fragments are passed between each instrument uncompassionately and gradually undergo metamorphoses over ascending chord progressions; the harmonies are horrifyingly consistent, constantly off-beat and rhythmically unsettled. It's successor, "Maybe I'm a Lion," isn't much kinder; aggressive tribal drum beats, overdriven guitar backing, and dominant organ melodies present a powerful picture of Squall's nemesis. Finally, "The Extreme" opens ominously with spacey sounds and harp and piano use that gives a sense of inevitability before quickening into a electro-acoustic beat fest that climaxes with some deliciously crisp duelling synth lines.

One way Uematsu has gone backwards from his Final Fantasy VI days are in the jazz- and country-based themes. "Shuffle or Boogie" lacks the quirky harmonies, decent melody, and sense of fun that made "Slam Shuffle" and "Spinach Rag" successful; it grows old very quickly used and is not effective as the accompaniment to the regularly played card game Triple Triad. An entirely mediocre piece of BGM is the pizzicato string-based "Intruders"; any whim and drama this piece could have had is limited by predictable chord progressions and a repetitive bell motif. Deeper down in this pool of excrement lurks horrors such as "The Spy," "Fear," "Jailed," and "Galbadia GARDEN," all ambient jazz-based themes that are used in lengthy gameplay sequences. They're the worst in the soundtrack due to repetitiveness, cringe-worthy synth, absence of melody, and uninspired progressions. All Final Fantasy soundtracks in the past have had a degree of filler material, but what separates this one is that they're used in long gameplay sequences and do nothing to alleviate the tedium. There are a few effective light themes, however; the two slide show pieces in the final third of the soundtrack are fun, if underdeveloped, while "Under Her Control" represents the sleaziness of Deling City well, despite utilising yet another repetitive ground bass. Timber's "Martial Law" initially drags on, but an awesome electric piano solo in the development section and some top-notch percussion use saves it from the realms of the unremarkable. Oh, and special mention for "Timber Owls"; this employs the most quirky ensemble in the game — pizzicato strings, a tuba, a clarinet, an oboe, a triangle, and the characteristic 'tick-tock' of a clock. And guess what? It works!

The last third of the soundtrack introduces a number of interesting experiments. "The Salt Flats" is a beautiful ambient theme used in Disc Three to demonstrate the hostile environments on the journey to Esthar. "Silence and Motion" suitably represent the party's arrival at the jaw-dropping futuristic metropolis. It offers a combination of sweeping well-developed melodies, eccentric percussion use, and high-pitched electronic sounds that seem to 'float' above everything. Even more zany is Uematsu's interpretation of a crystal light pillar (whatever one of those is) called the Lunatic Pandora. It's an imposing imperial march made twisted and alien by high-pitched synth sounds and eerie synth vocals. Less popular but still interesting are "Residents", a light-hearted electro-acoustic theme with a quirky bass line, and "Compression of Time", an ethereal minimalist creation that features a blaring saxophone sample endlessly repeated. Finally, "The Castle" is a Gothic organ theme to represent the final dungeon, but is hardly a hackneyed one; there are some modern touches to represent time compression, three contrasting sections, lots of intricate pseudo-counterpoint, and, of course, some unforgettable melodies. Popular response to these themes have been mixed but hardly hostile, though, fear not, the authentic sound of the Final Fantasy series is not dead. Notably, the "Victory Fanfare", "Prelude", and Chocobo themes all make prominent appearances, even if their arrangements aren't special.

Plenty of musical bliss is offered in the "Ending Theme". Opening mysteriously in a string-led passage, the first two and a half minutes set the scene and are breathtakingly orchestrated. The theme segues into a reprise of "Eyes on Me", now fully orchestrated by Shiro Hamaguchi; the lush orchestration gives the theme much more depth and meaning and support Wong effectively. After the vocal theme has finished and the game's credits roll, the trademark "Final Fantasy" theme plays, boasting an execution superior to any other rendition of the theme. The truly momentous part of the "Ending Theme," however, is the final three minutes. This offers an epic orchestration of the sorceress' theme and some programmatic music to accompany a touching epilogue scene. Ending with a glimpse into Final Fantasy IX and the harp arpeggios of the "Prelude" theme, the final minute and a half of the theme is a breath of fresh air. Over 13 minutes long, fully orchestrated, encompassing four major sections, incorporating four popular themes, and even providing a glimpse into the series' future, what more could you ask for? This is a timeless classic and the emotional peak of the soundtrack. It's preceded by "The Successor", which ties up the loose ends of the sorcery element of the game, and is followed by the misplaced "Overture", which ends the soundtrack with a whimper, but not after a massive highlight.


Quality-wise, this soundtrack is very variable. Yes, there are themes like "Liberi Fatali," "Ending Theme," "The Extreme," and "Silence and Motion," which are completely unparalleled. However, there is also an abundance of really poor themes, such as "Fear," "Jailed," "Rivals," and "Junction," which not only add nothing to the soundtrack, but are used in prominent and lengthy gameplay sequences. Every Final Fantasy soundtrack has its stinkers, but Uematsu chooses to flaunt them here rather than take a low-key approach, significantly hindering several scenes in the game. It is in the utilisation of these poor themes, therefore, that Uematsu really lets the gamer down, and, indeed, if I were to assess the music based on just Disc Two and the first half of Disc Three, the verdict would be unfavourable. It's fortunate that the introduction and conclusion to the soundtrack is nothing short of exceptional, easily making the soundtrack comparable to other additions of the numbered series. More inconsistent than earlier soundtracks, certainly, but still as heartfelt, enjoyable, and memorable overall, with lots of progressive elements to boot. All Final Fantasy music fans should add this to their collection.

Overall Score: 8/10

Appendix ~ Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc One

1) Liberi Fatali

There is no doubt that many of Nobuo Uematsu's creations in the Final Fantasy series get much more credit than they deserve. I am obstinate in my opinion that this is not one of them, however. Why?

First, the ambitious level of the track's production helps it to stand out from a mile away. The sheer wondrousness of a full Latin choir and its powerful accompanying orchestration is completely unparalleled by earlier works in the series. This is attained by the pre-recorded sampling methods introduced in this score, which are similar to that of a film score. Second, the way the track synchronises with the opening FMV sequence for Final Fantasy VIII is nothing short of perfection. It subtly intensifies as the FMV sequence develops up to its climax and the full-blown approach towards it composition presents a huge amount of power and impact as a result.

Third, with respect to the wider picture, this track suitably introduces several of the game's main themes (as in both melodic ideas and subject matters), even if subliminally. The use of the "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec" chant and its accompanying chromatic chord progression is one example and gives an inkling into two of the most important subject matters of the game: love and sorcery. Take note as to how the chant is, in fact, an anagram of 'Succession of Witches' and 'LOVE'. In addition, the title of "Liberi Fatali" means 'fated children' in Latin. This is also appropriate, considering the FMV sequence provides a glimpse of the game's characters' destiny as once-fated children. This is definitely one of the best Final Fantasy pieces Nobuo Uematsu has ever written. (10/10)

2) Balamb GARDEN

At first I thought this track was pretty dry. However, one day its inner beauty just seemed to radiate towards me and it has appealed ever since. The wind orchestration is particularly calming and works together with the strings to contribute towards creating a tranquil atmosphere. I have been told that Balamb Garden's atmosphere is very much like the atmosphere in Japanese schools and I can certainly imagine this. While you inevitably run up and down Balamb Garden's corridors an uncountable number of times during Final Fantasy VIII (if you play it all the way through), I never get bored of it considering that new musical features seem to shine out every time I listen to it. Definitely highly recommended! (9/10)

3) Blue Fields

As the world map theme for Final Fantasy VIII, "Blue Fields" became a notorious disappointment after the goodness of the "F.F.VII Main Theme." It has two key problems in my opinion; the first is an overly repetitive basso ostinato, the second is the utilisation of some dodgy synth instrumentation for the melodic lines. These two elements seem to have contributed towards it being quite heavily criticised by fans, but disproportionately given its relative worth overall. It definitely has many other positive features. Its elegantly shaped melodies provide a sense of richness and boundlessness, and are beautifully complemented by some dense countermelodies in the harmonic lines. A lot of its instrumentation also proves quite effectual. Many of these positive features stand out to a greater extent in both of the official arrangements of this track for the Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections and the orchestrated album Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec. These prove much more agreeable overall. (6/10)

4) Don't be Afraid

The normal battle theme for Final Fantasy VIII sustains plenty of in-game use well. While it doesn't sound particularly different from other battle themes for the series on the exterior, when you strip it down, a lot of original features emerge. Its experimental 5/4 metre, for example, is a highly effectual element to this theme; it gives it a very agitated feel throughout and results in a number of unusual rhythms being used. The bass riff that usually opens Final Fantasy battle themes is also gone giving way to a bit more creativity. Other elements crucial to its success are its catchy melodies and Uematsu's balanced choices of orchestral instrumentation. It manages to create everything needed for a normal battle theme — energy, danger, enjoyment, and memorability — and be highly musically intriguing at the same time. Unlike most battle themes, its effect is not lost with continuous battling! (8/10)

5) The Winner

While a Final Fantasy trademark in some ways, the "Victory Fanfare" has been used in a pedantic and phoney way in recent years. Its use has no longer become a familiar treat, but rather something expected and perhaps even dreaded. I manage to tolerate this particular rendition, however, considering the fanfare is followed by a tuned percussion and string passage that is quite inventive and catchy. It gives an old theme a new lease of life... until the next instalment! (6/10)

6) Find Your Way

This ambient cave theme follows closely in the footsteps of "The Mystic Forest" from Final Fantasy VI and "Chasing the Black-Caped Man" from Final Fantasy VII before it. When I first heard the track, I didn't care much for it; however, it has since grown on me and I remain mesmerised by its subtle instrumental contrasts and its fine development even to this day. The atmosphere presented is just right; it manages to be creepy, ethereal, and somehow calming. My only minor quarrel is that its accompaniment could have been experimented with more. The harmonies are based upon simple arpeggio sequences for the most part, and while it contributes to the boundless atmosphere, it is musically bland. Other than that, this is a great track and a real grower. (9/10)

7) SeeD

"SeeD" is one of the first glimpses of the military influence upon this Original Soundtrack. It suits the various contexts it is played in very well (e.g. as background music for mission briefings). The rigidity of its rhythms, the heavy use of drum rolls, and its overall dominant sound all give a sense of formality. However, the main thing this track is lacking is variation. While the drum rolls are effective at first, they quickly grow repetitive. Furthermore, when you look at the full picture, these drum rolls become quite detractive from the impact of the brass and wind fanfares, which tend to be much more interesting. Combining minimalist and nationalist influences together is an awe-inspiring feat in theory but it didn't quite pull off as well as intended here.

8) The Landing

Like "SeeD" before it, the introduction to this track is militaristic and fanfare-like. This part of the track is used to accompany a spectacular FMV sequence within the game to represent the approach of SeeD forces towards the Dollet shores. The theme moves into a passage very much like that of a stereotypical Uematsu battle theme (i.e. lots of catchy melodies, syncopated rhythms, and a fast-paced tempo) in order to accompany the gameplay during the initial Dollet mission. This part also re-introduces a semi-orchestral rendition of a passage from "Liberi Fatali," which is used with great prominence throughout the soundtrack to create a sense of fate and sorcery as the game develops. If you remember "Opening Theme ~ Bombing Mission" from Final Fantasy VII then this track will seem distinctly similar in structure. (10/10)

9) Starting Up

There is an industrial sound presented in this track, primarily used to represent a huge communication tower being activated within the game during an FMV sequence. (It is also used lesser successfully during part of the Timber train mission later in the game). The instrumentation use is initially fantastic for creating a lot of agitation. The theme gradually builds up to a climax to represent the communication tower being in full operation. Although it is far from one of the leading tracks in the game, it's worthy of credit considering its effectiveness in-game and its experimental leanings. (8/10)

10) Force Your Way

This is the main boss battle music for Final Fantasy VIII. Like "Still More Fighting" from Final Fantasy VII, the track is overly upbeat and energetic. It uses electronic synth instrumentation, racing tempos, syncopated rhythms, frenetic arpeggio figures, and heavy accentuation to contribute to the motion inherent to the track. I cannot help but feel this is a little too light-hearted, however, and lacks the sense of danger a boss battle should have. Still, it's moderately successful and has stood the test of time. (9/10)

11) The Loser

'Game Over' music is renowned for being a 'something about nothing' in RPGs. This is an exception, however. A sorrowful string melody introduces this theme and transitions into a version of the "Prelude" (the series' major trademark theme that sadly takes an otherwise absent role in the Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack). An element of sadness is captured by the synth vocals and the minor/diminished chord sequences used by the harp arpeggios. I feel this is a more sensitive 'Game Over' theme compared to others in the Final Fantasy series, although it's only a small highlight on the album. (8/10)

12) Never Look Back

"Never Look Back" is ideal music for developing tension. The use of repetitive ascending melodic sequences creates a sense of impending danger throughout. This, together with the maintenance of an appropriately fast-paced tempo and the manipulation of some percussive and electronic instrumentation, ensures that the heat of the chase is aptly reflected. This was not the most inspired track in the game, however, due to repetitiveness and a lack of interesting ideas. As a consequence, while it works for in-game purposes marvellously, it is often very dull when played alone. (7/10)

13) Dead End

This is used as background music to accompany an FMV sequence where the protagonist Squall has to escape impending doom at the hands of a giant mechanical spider. The music adopts a similar style to "Never Look Back," but magnifies the extent of the sense of danger and uncertainty. There is a wide range of musical features employed here and its shortness ensures the track doesn't become boring like its predecessor. However, like many of the tracks used to accompany FMVs in the game, it isn't very memorable. (8/10)

14) Breezy

"Breezy" conveys a seaside town through use of a light acoustic guitar melody built around major 6th chord progressions. Its simplicity complements the context and the subtle choices of chord progressions makes the theme calming, refreshing, and somewhat different. Nothing profound, but a perfect accompaniment to Balamb. (9/10)

15) Shuffle or Boogie

If you are one of those 'old school' Final Fantasy fans out there, then you might find "Shuffle or Boogie" very reminiscent of light-hearted tracks like "Slam Shuffle" and "Johnny C. Bad" from the Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version. Of course, it maintains its own original style as well, which manages to be a strange yet effectual fusion between 'shuffle' and 'boogie' (hence the track name, duh!). It is used when you play the oh so tedious 'Triple Triad' card game throughout the game. Considering that you have to experience literally hundreds of these dire matches in the game (if you want to get some decent abilities, that is), you will listen to this track almost as much as "Don't Be Afraid." Sadly, unlike the normal battle theme, "Shuffle or Boogie" loses its edge quickly and, while it is originally the only fun aspect of 'Triple Triad', it quickly becomes just as unexciting. Sorry, guys and gals. (6/10)

16) Waltz for the Moon

A pastiche from the Romantic period, "Waltz for the Moon" is a passionate stately waltz. Uematsu combines gushing melodies and dainty harmonies together with a sense of military formality. It is split into two equally memorable and effective sections and, while they clumsily transition into one another, the track otherwise feels natural and unforced. Its subtle integration of the "Eyes on Me" love theme is appropriate since the track was principally used during a stunning FMV sequence that shows the game's lovers (Squall and Rinoa) chance first meeting during the SeeD ball. Overall, while not perfect, this is a subtle and poignant track that is among the most memorable from the game and soundtrack. (9/10)

17) Tell Me

Although it is only used once in the game, "Tell Me" does not easily go forgotten. Providing the accompaniment for an uncomfortable conversation between Squall and Quistis early on in the game, this music represents how he still remains obstinate even when she opens her heart to him. There is a combination of beauty and warmth created by the gushing melodies, but the melodies contrast with the distinct sense of hopelessness created by the unmoving harmonies. Indeed, the awkward pairing of the melodies and harmonies in this piece of music could be seen as a metaphorical interpretation of the mismatched pairing of Quistis and Squall (rather than poor composing, so to speak). The track introduces the "Ami" theme, a superbly melody manifested throughout the soundtrack to symbolise friendship and memories. While its use may appear at odd at first, its inclusion helps to represent the hidden childhood link between Squall and Quistis, which is later discussed in the game. Indeed, on the whole, this track is much deeper than it originally seems and has a pivotal role in developing the soundtrack. (8/10)

18) Fear

This track has major problems: its development section is far too short to create some much-needed variation from the dull initial melody; its harmonies are unimposing and downright repetitive; the poor synchronisation between the parts leave nothing other than an empty feel throughout the track; and, most importantly, no fear is created whatsoever. It goes straight over my head how this track fits its title. It has no emotion. It has no mood. It has nothing at all. Interpret it whatever way you like (I daresay somebody will find it inspiring and find some amazing minimalist features), but I'll sum up my interpretation of this track in three words: bland, muddled, and pointless. (3/10)

19) The Man with the Machine Gun

Could this theme be interpreted as the greatest battle theme on Final Fantasy VIII? Definitely (and that is no mean feat). Some composers have a tendency to alienate people when using techno and leave only a small proportion of fans enjoying their work. Nobuo Uematsu has never had this problem; while conformity has something to do with it, outward melodic flair is the biggest reason. "The Man with the Machine Gun" combines some of the game's catchiest and most uplifting melodies with a dance-like pulse and an overall sense of vivaciousness. This makes the Laguna dream sequences (which I never particularly cared for) much more enjoyable and creates a definitive highlight to Disc One of the Original Soundtrack. (10/10)

20) Julia

This piano solo sets the foundations for the main love theme in the game, "Eyes on Me", in more ways that one. According to the game, Julia, the pianist who plays this track during the game, later composes and sings "Eyes on Me" and dedicates it to Laguna. It is also a subtle and heartfelt rendition of the melody of "Eyes on Me". While it is not especially developed, the theme sets the motion for much greater things to develop. It does what it needs to do and will be cherished by many Final Fantasy VIII gamers because of the touching scene it is used in. (9/10)

21) Roses and Wine

I've always cherished this track for its warmth and innocence. Its melodies on the plucked strings are simple and underdeveloped, but so sweet and soothing nonetheless. Although it would certainly ,benefit from more development, the fact this track is so gently understated is, for the most part, its greatest asset. (7/10)

22) Junction

This track is a repeated sixteen bar solo harp melody comprising of just four broken chords. While a surprisingly strong mysterious atmosphere is created with the use of the harp, most of this is lost on the fact that the theme is so underdeveloped and repetitive. Weak as it stands, this track could have been much more. It's also used excessively in the game. (4/10)

23) Timber Owls

"Timber Owls" helps to create a lot of chirpiness in the early part of the game and proves to be a worthy but often overlooked addition to the soundtrack. The ensemble used — pizzicato strings, a tuba, a clarinet, an oboe, a triangle, and the characteristic 'tick-tock' of a clock — is probably the strangest of the game; while all these forces add to the outward quirkiness of the track, they also effortlessly fit together. Admittedly, the track takes a while to take to, but its place in providing some perkiness at the end of a rather serious disc is integral to the success of the score. So, how do you like mock seriousness, slapstick, and light relief all at once? (8.5/10)

Disc Two

1) My Mind

Out of the primary four tracks that feature the "Eyes on Me" love theme in the game ("My Mind," "Eyes on Me," "Love Grows," and "Julia"), this track is the least remarkable. The suspended strings in the harmony are not only clichéd, but feel bland too. Similarly, the choice of instruments to play the melodic line (bells and guitar) feels quite unbalanced. While what Nobuo Uematsu had planned to achieve here is clear, it was not implemented effectively. It is quite a good reflection of Rinoa's dreamy and innocent character, but feels rather one-dimensional nonetheless. This track is quickly overshadowed by later incarnations of the same theme and, while decent enough, it is far too sentimental for my tastes. (6/10)

2) The Mission

This track was used for the Timber train mission during the game and worked successfully in that situation. Somehow, however, it doesn't work at all as a stand-alone track. I'm not entirely sure why this is — its melodies are strong enough, there is sufficient variation as it develops, and it provides quite a strong sense of movement and danger throughout. It would be fair to attribute some of the blame on the fact that its introduction featuring two horrific harpsichord passages gets the theme off to a poor start. In addition, the theme does not benefit from the repetitive string ground bass running throughout it. This track is admirable for what it achieves during the game, but is intolerable on its own. (6/10)

3) Martial Law

This is another fairly mediocre piece (you'll see a lot of those throughout Disc Two, unfortunately). The percussion use is top-class; it really makes this theme fun to listen to and provides a strong picture of life in Timber under Galbadian control. In addition, the jazzy development section of this theme is creative and a real joy to listen to. However, the initial section of the theme drags on for far too long and is characterised by much more boring progressions than the development section. Also, the piece's melodic lines feel rather uninspired throughout and this creates an empty atmosphere just like "Fear" on Disc One. Although the positive points about this theme outweigh the negative points, this track still could have been much better. (7/10)

4) Cactus Jack (Galbadian Anthem)

Do you like national anthems? I should hope you do since the Galbadian National Anthem is the most stereotypical national anthem out there. Nationalism, militarism, and patriotism are the three main -isms that can be associated with this theme. While there aren't many distinguishing musical features that make it a worthwhile standalone listen, the strong use of brass instrumentation and steady melodic progressions assure the theme does what a national anthem should do within the game. Invent words to sing to it if you like. (7/10)

5) Only a Plank Between One and Perdition

First, cool name! Second, this track isn't too shabby at all. While the percussion use is deadly repetitive, the track benefits a lot from an excellent piano basso ostinato, some memorable overdriven guitar melodies, and some sporadically placed orchestral clashes. As the game's main 'hurry' theme, this track effectively creates a threatening and energetic atmosphere throughout several scenes in the game. I felt it could have had a little more flair, but this is mainly due to limited implementation rather than poor composing. (8/10)

6) Succession of Witches

As the first major incarnation of the sorceress' theme (excluding "Liberi Fatali"), "Succession of Witches" fuses cold chromatic progressions, chilling 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec' chants, and abstract instrumental passages. The most interesting aspect of this theme is the way the foreboding vocal passages (consisting of the aforementioned repeated chants) contrast so heavily with the lengthier instrumental passages; these passages are intimidating because they are so menacingly playful like a laughing sadistic witch. As one of the darkest pieces in the game, its use within the game is consistently strong and not hindered by the fact that the sorceress' theme is heard in a number of other tracks throughout the Original Soundtrack. (9/10)

7) Galbadia GARDEN

A grandiose and militaristic introduction to this track leads to nowhere after the body of the track is reached. This body is based upon a cool jazzy style, but any chance of being an experimental wonder is significantly hindered by the fact that it is sloppily put together and highly repetitive throughout. To its credit, however, there is some mystery created as a result of its bare textures and this creates some anxiety the first time you listen to it. This is, of course, until it repeats so many times in one listen that it descends into utterly monotony. Skip this one. (3/10)

8) Unrest

This track suitably interprets Seifer's disturbed character with its cold, unsettling, and brooding sound. However, the track suffers from being one of the most musically uninspired in the score; it is nothing other than a sluggish bass guitar solo blandly accompanied by some suspended strings. Regardless of its ambient qualities, this track is unforgivably tedious and entirely unremarkable. It looks like you'll be skipping two in a row here. (3/10)

9) Under Her Control

While I didn't like this track at one time, it has grown on me a fair amount recently. Its jazzy melodies and laid-back rhythms contribute to building the ideal atmosphere for Deling City and the instrumental contrasts are effective to a certain extent. The least inspiring aspect of this track is its structure. It is built upon a ground bass and thus develops by repeating a basso ostinato and varying the melodies above it. While I see no obvious problems with this structure, the fact that the basso ostinato is hardly enjoyable in the first place considerably limits the enjoyment of the track. A little more diversion from this rather rigid structure wouldn't go amiss either. After all, the track should be cool and free, and, as it stands, it really isn't. Other than that, the track is fairly listenable. (7/10)

10) The Stage is Set

This track is a fast-paced militaristic battle march led by a synth military band and strings. While the initial motif is catchy and fun to listen to, the excellent thing about this track is the way it gets even more and more exciting as it progresses and thickens in textures. It builds up all the way until it reaches a poignant climax with a synth orchestral rendition of the main melody heard back in "Liberi Fatali." It manages to be captivating and create a sense of urgency. On top of all that, it features some marvellous counterpoint from the string section to provide strong harmonies to the grand brass melodies. Disc Two would be much worse if it weren't for this gem. (9/10)

11) A Sacrifice

Unlike the other incarnations of the sorceress' theme (except "Truth"), this one does not feature any 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec' chants whatsoever (although some dodgy synth vocals are still heard). It is also much slower and darker than most of the other incarnations. Uematsu uses a diverse palette of instruments here to create a brooding and hopeless atmosphere that represents the torment, suffering, and anguish of Sorceress Edea's human sacrifice. While this track suffers from a lot of dodgy synth work and has a few awkward progressions here and there, it is otherwise a decent addition to the soundtrack. (8/10)

12) Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec

This is used as the sorceress' parade music at the end of Disc One in the game. It captures the darkness and mystery of this parade well by mixing the chilling 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec' chants together with cheeky and highly intimidating instrumental sections. Like "Liberi Fatali," the vocals in this track are pre-recorded, though the track otherwise uses synth instrumentation. Considering 'Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec' is an anagram of 'LOVE' and 'Succession of Witches', it is very interesting to analyse the extent to which the melodic and chord progressions used in this theme are manifested throughout this soundtrack. Some tracks integrate this theme with great subtlety while others do so with downright blatancy. Still, regardless of subtlety, each manifestation of the theme emphasises the themes of love and sorcery throughout the game and never feels inappropriate. (10/10)

13) Intruders

The pizzicato strings and unusual percussive instruments used throughout this track create a very sneaky character. The fragmented melodic lines and syncopated rhythms add to this edge as well. However, like most of Disc Two's tracks, the main problem with "Intruders" is its sheer repetitiveness. This means that, while suitable for ambient purposes, it isn't a particularly good listen on its own. It would certainly benefit from being developed by introducing a contrasting second section. (7/10)

14) Premonition

Out of all the battle music in the game, "Premonition," which is used for the special sorceress boss battles, is my least favourite. Once the track gets to the fast upbeat part, it is great, but the introduction preceding it is horrific to listen to outside the game. While I can usually cope with dissonance if it is created in a purposeful manner, the discords and suspensions used throughout this introduction don't do that and just seem pointless. Sure, Nobuo Uematsu wants to interpret the evil of the sorceresses somewhat during the theme, but it is clear that the main aim of the introduction was to sound climactic. As it stands, it just sounds repulsive. I am thankful that the body of the theme is strong, however. The prominent sense of sorcery created by the subtle integration of many melodies from the sorceress' theme is remarkable. Similarly, the vivacious rhythms used in conjunction with the piece's unusual 6/4 metre create a lot of energy throughout the piece and add to its intimidating and threatening character. Indeed, once you are over the ghastly introduction, this theme is a fine one. (8/10)

15) Wounded

This track is used to accompany an FMV sequence at the end of Disc One where Final Fantasy VIII's protagonist, Squall, is wounded. Once again, the chord progressions used in the sorceress' theme acquire a leading role here on the lead instrument (a synth solo organ); its characteristic ascending chromatic progression is actually extended to create the sourest dissonance heard on the entire Original Soundtrack. Against these suspended chords are some synth bells, which ring atmospherically above the vile mess below it to reflect the sadness and hopelessness of the dismal situation. While not especially pleasant to listen to on its own, this dissonance worked perfectly within the game and was not detractive from the overall musicality present in the score. It's a shame that the FMV sequence was too short for this to be extended over 52 seconds in length! (7/10)

16) Fragments of Memories

Due to the multitude of emotions this track inspires, one might be fooled into thinking that it is immensely complex in a musical sense too. Indeed, it wasn't until I analysed this track for the purpose of this review that I realized that it was played by just one instrument (which is tuned percussion of some sort). Still, it's amazing what Uematsu manages to evoke from just one instrument. It's fragmented, fragile, soothing, and innocent melodies make it the perfect setting for the dream sequence showing Laguna's sweet memories at Winhill before everything turned rather tragic for him (two deceased lovers and all that). It is an ideal track for reminiscing and has a very nostalgic feel to it. In addition, this track, more so than any of other, shows how bleak the world of Final Fantasy VIII has become, simply because it is such a profound contrast to the darker tracks on the album (e.g. "Wounded") intended to reflect events in the present day. (9.5/10)

17) Jailed

"Jailed" adds to the accumulation of substandard tracks throughout Disc Two. I would describe this track as one with a lot of unrealised potential, as, like "Galbadia GARDEN," it adopts a jazz style, but doesn't do anything creative with it. The track relies on one motif (which is rather dull in the first place) far too much and just doesn't develop. Even though the theme is begging for development, it just repeats, repeats, and continues to repeat. At least it represents the jail well — after all, it is monotonous. (4/10)

18) Rivals

This track is intended to represent a climax in the game whereby the rivalry between Squall and Seifer has developed to the extent that it results in cruel torture. An ambient approach was taken here to represent it, revolving around low suspended strings and mysterious woodwind motifs. Unfortunately, unlike the events it accompanies, it sounds neither climactic nor particularly vulgar, but bland, clichéd, and lifeless instead. Something much more unique and emphatic was needed here to support the torture scenes in the way they deserve. (3.5/10)

19) Ami

The "Ami" theme and its variations (including "Balamb GARDEN") have possibly the most touching melody on the entire soundtrack. The melody isn't as cheesy as those in "Eyes on Me" and "Waltz for the Moon," nor as simple as themes such as "The Oath" and "Roses and Wine." Furthermore, unlike these themes, it represents the themes of friendship much more than it does the theme of love. The melodies come across amicably on the piano, which leads the theme, and sound even warmer during the flute and string passages. Though still a little simple, the theme is one of the most memorable, bright, and beautiful on the soundtrack. (9/10)

Disc Three

1) The Spy

This is another track that had potential to be excellent ambient music. It features a cool jazz style similar to "Under Her Control" and "Martial Law," but doesn't work somewhere along the way. Like "Blue Fields," Keiji Kawamori's synth operating deserves a significant proportion of the blame; it makes the melodic lines sound awkward and the accompanying parts dull. Uematsu's predictable and largely uninspired composition wasn't up to all that much either. That said, the bass riff is fun and one of the few features that allows this piece to stand out in terms of originality and create a sense of sneakiness. A functional success, just about, but not a particularly pleasant addition to the soundtrack. Oh, and somebody told me to add that it sounds like hentai music. Well, I don't really know what that sounds like, but that gives me one more reason to avoid the genre in addition to my dislike for animated pornography! (5/10)

2) Retaliation

"Retaliation" is the fourth minor situational track used to accompany brief FMV sequences — after "Starting Up," "Dead End," and "Wounded". It adds a lot of power to the scene and a touch of colour to the soundtrack. With a distinct sense of movement and some lovely melodies, this theme is developed further in the subsequent track, one of the major additions to the soundtrack. (7/10)

3) Movin'

Action tracks have always been amongst Uematsu's best, boasting melodic prowess to lure the listener, rhythmical impetus to stimulate them, and lots of subtle additions to maintain their interest. "Movin'" is certainly no exception and is, once again, developed extensively. It initially feels ominous in nature and then moves into an upbeat and slightly agitated section written in the style of a militaristic march. The theme's high point comes after an accelerando at the 1:30 mark, when there is a series of discords over an ascending chromatic chord sequence associated with the sorceress' theme. The tension is suddenly and beautifully relieved to reflect the passing of danger, though the theme continues to develop further from here as a sign that a threat still remains. The mechanical and militaristic fusion heard here is reminiscent of "The Stage is Set", though extensive and quasi-programmatic development is the key factor that makes it so distinguished compared to the average action theme. (9/10)

4) Blue Sky

The second situational theme on the disc, "Blue Sky," is a refreshing composition that represents the boundless sea and clear sky when Balamb Garden is floating. The FMV sequence that it is used in will only occur if Rinoa is in the party, however, so not all will remember it or the context it used in. This theme shares a similar melodies to the introduction of the airship theme, "Ride On," though it also uses fragments of the "Eyes on Me" theme as well to represent Rinoa's presence. (7/10)

5) Drifting

This theme is used in several significant scemes in the game featuring the mysterious and dreamy Ellone. It's initially quite successful in creating atmosphere, with its contemplative string melodies feeling flowing and heartfelt, but its impact is quickly lost. This is partly due to the fact that there is hardly any variation and development, though its problems lie even deeper than this: It is devoid of any musical profoundness in the first place. Consisting of just a repetitive string melody accompanied by a suspended string note, with no true harmonies whatsoever, any amateur musical could write something like this. It is a major disappointment, both from the perspective that it is not something you would expect from Uematsu and the fact it adds to the tedium of some of scenes it accompanies. (3/10)

6) Heresy

With a jazzy bass-heavy sneaking theme, a slow string-based emotional theme, and two situational themes that end on a suspended note having just passed, what is the next cliché Uematsu is going to utilise on this album? A miserable organ-based villain's theme, of course. Though we've been there and done that before in VGM, Uematsu does a decent job here in creating tension in the brief scene that it plays, utilising layering and other features to disguise the actual simple chord sequences that underpin it. It made the encounter with the secondary villain NORG more memorable and will be quite enjoyable for those who enjoy the organ's sound. Further, to Uematsu's credit, he doesn't often resort to using the organ for these purposes, so it might be considered original after all. (7/10)

7) Fisherman's Horizon

Remember that I expressed my initial apathy towards the "Balamb GARDEN" at the start of this review? Well, I felt the same about "Fisherman's Horizon" originally, with my hatred for fishing and boredom with much of Disc Two in the game likely explaining this. Nowadays, I consider it to be the perfect musical representation of a complex scene that represents peace, simplicity, and the fundamental importance of the sea. Widely regarded as one of the best town themes Uematsu has written, many arranged versions of the theme now exist, including an acclaimed orchestral version, a piano version, and the oh-so-cute Mahoroba recorder version, which only serve to emphasise the sensitivity and melodic charm of Uematsu's original composition. (10/10)

8) ODEKA de Chocobo

One of the more unusual additions, as Uematsu prepares to move into the experimental third of the soundtrack, "ODEKA de Chocobo" sees a return to 'old skool' style with NES-style beeps. It's cute, very catchy, and bouncy, though likely an ironic statement rather than anything else. Still, it's nice to see this classic theme stripped down after all the wild and sometimes wonderful versions before it. Although this track grows annoying eventually, it might make you smile the first few times the melody plays. (6/10)

9) Where I Belong

"Where I Belong" is another variation on a theme of "Ami," this time in the form of an electric piano solo. It isn't especially different from the original theme, but demonstrates the power of the melody as a representation of peace and unity. The timbre the electric piano offers gives it an especially notable nostalgic feeling while the addition of string backing being provided from the 1:17 mark adds a sickening layer of sentimentality. Used in a much-criticised scene that reveals the relationship between Squall, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, and Ellone, it is by far the most memorable rendition of the "Ami" theme in terms of in-game context. Original? Certainly not, but it's still a special theme. (8/10)

10) The Oath

Some people say this is Squall's theme. It isn't. Why would it be given such a name if it is? And why would Uematsu betray the policy of no character themes? Rather, it represents Squall's relationship to Rinoa from his perspective, thus inferring information about his personality too. As a theme of devotion, it infers Squall's hidden sensitive side. It can hardly be described as a full picture of his personality, as it was never intended to be. While another standard 'melody with accompaniment' piece that features a little too repetition to be considered a masterpiece, its warm melody and the atmospheric nature makes it close to pure gold nonetheless. (9/10)

11) Slide Show Part 1

The two slide shows themes are slapstick piano-based themes used to accompany a hilarious dream sequence featuring Laguna and a film company. Part 1 is definitely the worse of two, featuring descending scales in the treble against a very simple harmonic pattern. Worse still, it features the unnecessary background noise of a film rolling; it's annoying rather than communicative. Somehow, though, it manages to be tolerable, though only just; this is because it has plenty of character and nicely represents tension before all hell breaks loose as it segues into Part 2... (6/10)

12) Slide Show Part 2

This lively piece is used to show Laguna being chased by a life-threatening dragon. Guess what Uematsu does to represent this? Use a solo piano to play a fast-paced Western-style rag, of course. Yes, I know you're thinking that couldn't possibly be scary, but it does suit the mildly amusing nature of the scene. Despite apparent chaos, this theme is a simple one, underpinned by basic rhythms, a ternary structure, and standard chord progressions. Uematsu has a tendency to hide the simplicity of his works and he does this superbly again here. It's simply a fun theme all-round, and, though Uematsu could have developed it much more, it was only ever intended to be a short jingle anyway. (8/10)

13) Love Grows

"Love Grows" is the closest to a full instrumental version of "Eyes on Me"; if you can't stand vocal themes yet still love sentimental melodies, then this track is for you. It plays as Squall finally begins to express and come to terms with his true emotions for Rinoa while she is absent. The opening consists of a light interpretation of the melody with simple accompaniment; subsequently, the track blooms as a number of different instruments are added to increase the power of the scene. When a flute comes in to take over the melody and some strings are added to the accompaniment to give it more substance, the track becomes almost tear jerking; the theme of romance is delicately tied in with a sense of tragedy. In terms of actual in-game context, it plays considerably before "The Oath," which means its placement in the soundtrack feels a tiny bit out-of-synch, though it is ideally placed to prepare for the major rendition of the game's main theme at the end of the disc. Some people would describe this as just another variation on a theme of "Eyes on Me"; while technically true, the subtle instrument use and nostalgia created by the scene it is used in make it a major addition to the soundtrack. (8/10)

14) The Salt Flats

Used when passing through the harsh salt desert during Disc Three towards Esthar, "The Salt Flats" represents a turning point in the soundtrack from conventional and sometimes hackneyed themes like "Heresy," "The Spy," and "The Oath" towards more experimental ones, ideal for representing the futuristic nature of Esthar, the Ragnorak, and even an outer space base. Not all people like this theme, as it utilises minimalism and some unusual percussion use to present a hostile and cold sound. It is nonetheless a fantastic composition if considered as ambient music; it develops breathtakingly, uses gorgeous contrasts in textures, and is the home to some haunting melodies. Refined and atmospheric, this theme is perfect for the context it is used in, yet an acquired taste. (9/10)

15) Trust Me

One of the banes of Uematsu in recent years has been overusing themes. Though this isn't an awful problem in the Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack, it has to be asked why it is necessary for the "Ami" theme to be arranged once more here, when the original theme or "Where I Belong" would have been more suitable. The composition is actually quite irritating, with some poorly synthesized panpipes initially playing against an annoying bell motif that repeats throughout the whole track. While the clarinet playing the melody eventually saves the theme from complete failure, focusing on the bell motif either makes you go mad or have a headache. "Ami" is the classic rendition of the theme, "Balamb GARDEN" is a perfect scene-setter, "Tell Me" made one scene much more heartfelt, and "Where I Belong" is a good creator of nostalgia. This, on the other hand, just exists, and seemingly for no reason other than to annoy. (3/10)

16) Silence and Motion

What do you get when you combine gorgeous melodic progressions with futuristic electronic sounds, hints of minimalism, and lots of development? Well, there's two answers: "Silence and Motion" and a masterpiece. Both are actually the same thing, however; look at the Oxford English Dictionary under 'masterpiece' and you'll see "Silence and Motion" be mentioned. If you look under a picture dictionary, you'll also see a picture of Esthar, the ubertastic city where it plays. To all those who say that Uematsu has never progressed and relies on nothing but melodies, this is proof that he actually experiments a lot while also retaining melodic flair. Combining the tasks of creating feelings of awe to represent a stunning metropolis in such an outrageous and contemporary way can't be easy, but Uematsu pulls it off admirably, creating, as I said, a masterwork. When Uematsu dies, this track should certainly be played at his funeral, while his gravestone could have 'silence and motion' engraved in it, to represent one of his finest works and an awesome title. Oh dear... I just turned something wonderful rather morbid. Moving on... (10/10)

17) Dance with the Balamb-fish

EvilMushrooms said it, Djinova said it, Tetra said it, and now I will say it for emphasis: "Dance with the Balamb-fish" is not a waltz. How can it be if it is in 4/4 for the most part? Not that common mistake has been dealt with, I must say that this little dance is a classic. It's equally as charming as "Waltz for the Moon," with a stately melody. Its gushing transition into 3/4 time during a brief passage enhances the motion of the track, but still doesn't make it a waltz. It's used in some strange places — the seaside resort of Dollet, the Lunar Base, and a random sequence involving a fishing rod — but that's not a major complaint, as it just about works, even if it was pushing it using it in space. It's a touch of colour to the soundtrack, does no harm in the game, and is strong musically, so receives high marks! (8/10)

18) Tears of the Moon

This track brings back bad memories — really bad memories. No, not of the Lunar Cry, as tragic as it was, but of my broken Disc Three of Final Fantasy VIII. I was happily playing through until the FMV this track was used in played, but it was never able to complete the FMV sequence, always stopping some time in the middle. Though I now understandably hate it, it suited the scene it was used in perfectly, utilising lots of chromaticism and Star Wars-esque instrumentation to create an ominous sci-fi feeling. While some don't realize it, Uematsu has a talent for creating programmatic music and the Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack really demonstrates this, even if the themes concerned are mostly short. Oh, and in case you were wondering about how I solved that problem, it turned out it was my PlayStation that was the problem, so it worked fine when I played it on my PlayStation 2 instead. I was able to watch the world get destroyed after all! (8/10)

19) Residents

Another example of controversial experimentation, "Residents" uses a combination of oppressive percussion beats, lots of light-hearted futuristic synth sounds, and some amusingly placed 'cello samples to paint a picture of the interior of a spaceship taken over by monsters. Perhaps most quirky of all, however, is its subtle integration of the chromatic sequence used in the sorceress' theme into the bass line. If this is Uematsu's attempt to representing how sorcery has become linked to Rinoa or is simply him feeling a little uninspired, we will never know, but its use isn't obvious until more intricate inspection. Though "Residents" doesn't exactly create the image of pure fear, despite the scary nature of the monsters lurking about, it is a plain fun track if you're not one to be alienated by synth sounds and a little cheesiness. (8/10)

20) Eyes on Me

"Eyes on Me" is bittersweet. On one hand, it's the first of its kind for Final Fantasy soundtracks, features superb vocal execution from Faye Wong, boasts an unforgettable melody, and portrays the climax of the love story that has been developing in the game up to the point it is played. Indeed, Uematsu made a choice to bring a fresh new idea to the series while also drawing in a new audience of mainstream pop fans and manipulating the capabilities of pre-recording technology. On the other hand, it is based on a hackneyed love ballad format, features some rather bland instrumentals in its original version, is considered overly soppy by some, and is not strictly a pioneering creation in terms of all Square soundtracks. Indeed, it was actually Yasunori Mitsuda's "Small Two of Pieces" that was the first Squall love ballad, though was sadly clouded by "Eyes on Me" when it came to general popularity and receiving prestigious awards; it was "Eyes on Me" that somehow won "Song of the Year (Western Music)" at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1999. Given the theme is overhyped, features few rousing original musical features, and has quite a weak melody disguised by sentimentality, it's not a surprise that it played straight into the hands of elitists, who often cite it as the worst creation in video game music history. Truth be told, however, when it is seen for what it is — a pleasant love ballad that accompanied a powerful scene effectively — it can be deemed as a worthy addition to the soundtrack without the use of needless extremes. It is not the best nor the worst, just a decent innovation that was especially memorable. (8/10)

Disc Four

1) Mods de Chocobo (Featuring N's Telecaster)

Uninspired renditions of the Chocobo theme like these have turned a once enjoyable theme into something both nonsensical, annoying, and dated. It's catchy, yes, adopting a swingin' sixties style that would appeal to the (relatively) few mushroom-loving Video Game Music fans out there, but has extremely low replay value, making many, including me and a telecaster-carrying Nobuo, go into convulsions every time it plays. (5/10)

2) Ride On

One of the most uplifting themes in the album, "Ride On" is used in the Ragnarok, the airship (or spaceship?) that provides the most efficient mode of transport in the latter half the game. The start of the theme consists of a string section that plays a series of staccato notes alongside a intricate flute line. Although this may inspire you to reenact scenes Swan Lake at first, Uematsu develops the theme into something much more static and strophic. From here onwards, the theme glides into a section full of hope with lively motifs and airy instrumentation, though suffers a tiny bit from repetitiveness. Overall, one of the stronger airship themes in the series, though the introduction is more inspiring than the actual core melody. (8/10)

3) Truth

I admire what Uematsu was trying to do here. That is, to create a wind quartet with harpsichord continuo, a once common ensemble in the Baroque era. Is the execution effective, however? Well, Bach wouldn't be proud of this work, I can say that for sure. Uematsu's counterpoint is sloppy and thoughtless, while each individual voice in the winds is too pronounced, only coming together in one brief yet heartfelt moment during the four minutes of playing time. Indeed, it feels thin for the most part and lacks any memorable melodic material beyond that already covered in the sorceress' theme. Still, the theme is quite effective in context; the winds show Edea's inner warmth, the harpsichord demonstrates the ancient and forgotten nature of the orphanage, and the initial chromatic harmonic sequence interprets the continued presence of sorcery. A functional success, but it could have been better. (6./10)

4) Lunatic Pandora

You've witnessed comments about Uematsu's interpretation of the interior of a spaceship, an icy desert, and a futuristic metropolis. Now you're going to learn about how Uematsu deals with a crystal light pillar (whatever one of those is) called the Lunatic Pandora. Yes, his method is appropriately strange. What we get is an imposing imperial march, complete with snare drum rolls, oppressive bass notes, and rigid rhythmical structures. It's made futuristic, haunting, and alien by the addition of high-pitched synth sounds, eerie synth vocals, and detached tuned percussion motifs. It's a beautiful fusion of styles and is one of the truly inspiring themes on this soundtrack, though accessibility is an issue and will mean that some will not enjoy it. If you're not an open-minded listener, I pity you for missing out on one of the pinnacle achievements on this soundtrack. (10/10)

5) Compression of Time

There's some tracks that you either love or hate and "Compression of Time" is certainly one of these. Considered repetitive, annoying, and repugnant by some, yet artistic, surreal, and beautiful by others, this one divides opinions quite sharply. I like it, of course, despite Kawamori's awful synthesizing of a saxophone motif that runs throughout most of the track. Once it develops with the addition of some arpeggios, the timbre created is gorgeous, while the rest of the track has a minimalistic quality that makes it ideal for representing the compression of time. If you have selective hearing and can ignore that repugnant saxophone sound, it might well capture your heart, though it probably won't do. (7/10)

6) The Castle

The final dungeon theme, "The Castle," sustains use during a lengthy gameplay sequence in the game superbly. This is partly due to its length, though the overall novel nature of the theme is the key reason. Intended to represent a huge Gothic castle, the theme combines Baroque organ use and counterpoint with more modern styles, representing time compression, whatever the heck that is. It starts off with a light contrapuntal introduction that would, at last, make Bach moderately proud, before transitioning into an imposing chordal section that is dark and frightening. The most enjoyable section, however, is the secondary one, which is playful yet somehow intimidating, almost like "Cefca" from Final Fantasy VI. It's a superb piece of music that not only works in the game, but succeeds in being memorable, creative, and downright enjoyable. (10/10)

7) The Legendary Beast

Following "The Premonition," "The Legendary Beast" is the second of four final battle themes. Some may call me mad for saying this, but I think it is the most threatening battle theme Uematsu has ever created. Sure, it's an unlikely candidate for this title: no fast tempo is needed, contrary to Final Fantasy IV's "The Final Battle" from Final Fantasy IV; no thick textures are employed, unlike "One Winged Angel"; and, for that matter, there are no unusual timbres with the organ mastery of "Dancing Mad" being traded for average symphonic fare, such as aggressive drum beats, flute-led melodies, and brass countermelodies. Where the track achieves success and separates itself from all predecessors is through its unrelentless melodic progressions and agitated rhythms in the bass line. The track develops for nearly four minutes and not once does the level of intensity drop. Melodic fragments are passed between each instrument uncompassionately and gradually undergoing a metamorphosis through ascending chord progressions. The harmonies remain horrifyingly consistent, constantly off-beat, and never rhythmically settled. This one really sends shivers down one's spine, and, even when it does loop, no relent is achieved, for it feels like it is merely going around in circles, creating a feeling of an entrapment. And, heck, this is only the second of four final battle themes. How is this nightmare going to end? (10/10)

8) Maybe I'm a Lion

The battle theme progression continues with the third final boss theme, in many mays more original and aggressive that its two predecessors, though with a few compassionate moments. A belligerent track that is intended to represent an incarnation of Squall's ring Griever, "Maybe I'm a Lion" combines tribal rhythms with electric guitar prowess and an invigorating organ melody. Like the preceding track, it develops really comprehensively, though occasionally thins to leave just the ethnic drum beats and bell sounds, providing a moment where the track relents after the progressive building of instruments previously. To be honest, though this makes the theme slightly less intense, it was needed, as the themes are harrowing enough and too much buildup would destroy the climax in the following track. Ultimately, it provides the essential balance of pioneering forward and building up tension, while still representing a fiery encounter. A very effective interpretation of a lion, this contributes a great deal of balance to Final Fantasy VIII's legendary final battle quadrilogy. (9/10)

9) The Extreme

You've fought three battles to get here and now need to fight one more. Yes, the ultimate battle is here, and you know what that means? Yup, a masterpiece is created to accompany it. Opening ominously with a final distorted chant of "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec" against sound effects that interpret the protagonists travelling through space, the piece moves into a more settled passage; it features a solo harp playing a slow arpeggiated pattern, later joined by piano decorations and some ethereal synthesized vocals. At 1:38 mark, these acoustic instruments are suddenly replaced by a hard-hitting electronic beat; its imposing effect is only exacerbated by the subsequent addition of a piano descant, the theme's diminished string-led melody, and the eventual establishment of a adrenaline-pumping bass line.

Constantly intensifying and always remaining stimulating, the theme reaches its climax at the 3:03 mark. Here, some fast-paced electronic runs and arpeggios are played against a powerful rendition of a secondary melody, making the listener want to reach out for the stars. Adding to the dramatic effect of the theme, all forces are suddenly cut and a beautiful interlude featuring the piano descant prominently against the highly effectual synth vocals is featured, with the textures dramatically thickening once more for a repeat of a lot of what occured earlier in the only true loop of the piece. Creative, absorbing, and, most of all, with a sense of exuberance, "The Extreme" is a worthy successor to "Dancing Mad" and "One Winged Angel" and one of the major dramatic peaks on the soundtrack. Go, go, Uematsu! (10/10)

10) The Successor

Without the right balance between harmony and melody, solo piano tracks can go horribly wrong at times, but, thus far, Nobuo Uematsu has yet to fail creating one. Although this theme doesn't offer anything especially inspirational, it is plain nice. It wraps up the loose ends concerning the sorcery aspect of the game, with practically all the track being based around the sorceress' theme, and the light timbre Uematsu employs presents a final and more compassionate insight into the theme of sorcery. Though nothing in comparison to the track that follows, it is a lovely break after the terror before. (8/10)

11) Ending Theme

Final Fantasy VIII's ending was probably the best in the series, rivalled only by Final Fantasy IX, and Uematsu and Hamaguchi's score was one of the key reasons for this. Opening mysteriously in a string-led passage, the first two and a half minutes set the scene. They are breathtakingly orchestrated, with little hints of the sorceress' theme placed here and there to add interest, in conjunction with decoration from a piano that fits this theme effortlessly. In the last 30 seconds this passage plays, the theme builds considerably, eventually leading to a rendition of "Eyes on Me," which is perfect for representing the tragic end to Rinoa and Squall's love story in a scene that could be considered the pinnacle of achievement in the game. Faye Wong's performance is unchanged from the original theme, but it is now fully orchestrated by Hamaguchi, making the theme much more deep and meaningful. This rendition is certainly vastly superior to the original, even if the lyrics are unchanged.

After "Eyes on Me" has finished and the game's credits appear, the trademark "Final Fantasy" theme plays, following the precedent set by earlier Final Fantasy scores. It is, however, vastly superior to all earlier renditions, thanks to combining grandeur, emotion, and nostalgia into his orchestration that powerfully represents the magical journey that has just passed. The truly momentous part of the theme, however, is the final three minutes. This brings a grand orchestration of the sorceress' theme followed by the use of music to accompany a touching epilogue scene. The opening brass fanfares retain the militaristic air that otherwise runs through the soundtrack. The way the theme develops almost relentlessly simply makes the listener feel captivated in a way comparable to how they felt with "Liberi Fatali."

The final minute and a half of this theme is a breath of fresh air. The sorceress' theme movingly transitioning into a much mellower section led by woodwinds. Here, the "Prelude" theme reappears, with harp arpeggios accompanying the deep orchestration that lies beneath, and this was a very welcome addition, considering it only otherwise appeared in "The Loser." Even more remarkably, however, the "I Want to Be Your Canary" theme from Final Fantasy IX makes a brief but heartfelt appearance, giving a glimpse of the next game in the series while the credits state that the series will return. Over 13 minutes long, fully orchestrated, breathtakingly emotional, encompassing four major sections, incorporating four popular themes, and even providing a glimpse into the series' future, what more could you ask for? Right there with "Liberi Fatali" and "Silence and Motion," this is a timeless classic that is, in my opinion, unparalleled by any other ending theme in the series. (10/10)

12) Overture

"Overture" was used on the title screen prior to the player pressing 'New Game'. Its unusual presence in the game meant it presented a challenge to Nobuo Uematsu. Did he place it before "Liberi Fatali," greatly dampening the introduction to the soundtrack, or did he place it at the end, creating an anticlimax following the breathtaking theme that came before? Placing it here was probably the lesser of two evils, but he probably would have been best allowing it to start a different disc, such as Disc Two; sure, it wouldn't fit chronological order, but at least it wouldn't be in reverse order! Truth is, this track isn't bad at all, being militaristic, well-developed, and featuring some fine melodies, but its effect in the game is much stronger than here, as it feel like a misfit after the fully orchestrated 13 minutes of immediately goodness before. And, heck, after over 14,000 words, endless poor jokes, and discussions about musical nonsense most don't understand, this review just ends with a whimper and an 8/10. Doesn't that feel like an anticlimax? Nobuo, I hate you! (8/10)