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Final Fantasy III Original Sound Version :: Review by Dave

Final Fantasy III Original Sound Version Album Title: Final Fantasy III Original Sound Version
Record Label: NTT Publishing
Catalog No.: N23D-002 (1st Print); NTCP-5013 (Reprint)
Release Date: July 15, 1991; October 1, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Although Final Fantasy VI was released in North America as Final Fantasy III, the original game never left Japan till its 2006 DS remake. This may be frustrating for most American fans, especially since it was also expected to be released on Bandai's WonderSwan Color handheld system, but the unanticipated death of the system meant that this idea was never realised. As a result, few people in the West are familiar with the original music from this game, even though it is available to import due to a reprint in 2004. Thanks to the DS remake, many hardcore Final Fantasy fans are now familiar with the melodies featured here, but the sound is otherwise quite different. The compositions tend to be more harmonically simple and texturally thin due to the Nintendo Entertainment System's sound limitations but also often more charming too.

Before continuing to the body of the review, it's worth mentioning about the sound quality here. Too many fans turn their heads when they see the words 'composed for the Nintendo Entertainment System' printed in the description of the album, but Minoru Akao has pushed the sound capacity of the system to its limits here. The experience is more bearable than most would have anticipated, and it is most certainly a step up from the quality of the Final Fantasy II soundtrack. Of course, the capacity of the system invoked a number of limitations which meant that the majority of the themes couldn't be elaborated on much as previously mentioned. Nevertheless, don't turn away now, as even these limitations couldn't keep Uematsu away from creating some great themes.

Final Fantasy III is one of the largest RPGs to have been designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, so it was inevitable that the amount of music featured within the game was almost doubled that of Final Fantasy or Final Fantasy II. Indeed, the game was Uematsu's first exhibition of a large amount of music, but does it deliver?

Body

The album starts off with a few Final Fantasy trademarks and some incidental atmospheric themes. The first theme that listeners hear is the infamous "The Prelude," which has featured in an arranged form in nearly every Final Fantasy game to date, with few exceptions along the way. This theme has become the ambassador of the music for the series, which is quite surprising since it is merely an arpeggio that would fail to satisfy any critical listener. Fortunately, it's a sentimental and nostalgic gem. The next theme to be heard is "The Cave Where the Crystal Lies," a tense and mysterious introductory dungeon theme dominated by a tremolo line in the main melody. It is hardly fun to listen to melodically, but the mood created makes it an effective theme as far as setting the scene is concerned. Its partner, "Crystal Room" is a failure in comparison; it's just a pile of obnoxious ascending arpeggios and I consider it more as a filler track than a real, impacting theme. "Opening Theme," most popularly known as the 'Final Fantasy' theme that appears in most ending themes in later instalments to the series. This rendition is passionate and moving, but its effects are reduced by the lack of movement from the main motif and some static harmonies.

The majority of the passionate themes on this album are different, though, and are much more pleasing. "Battle 1 ~ Fanfare" provides the first outwardly enjoyable highlight on the album just three tracks in. Its fast pace and rhythmical impetus makes it ideal for the situation, while its melodies are among Uematsu's most memorable. "Eternal Wind" is the overworld theme for Final Fantasy III. As far as main themes go, it is superb melodically and develops into an especially enjoyable airy secondary section. Not all will be endeared towards its repetitive and overpowering ostinato accompaniment, but it has a certain cutesy charm in addition to its melodic beauty. Especially moving is the solemn "The Boundless Ocean"; it is one of the few themes that actually seems to have a sense of unity between its parts as a heartrending melody and a harmonically related arpeggiated bass line depict the vastness of the great seas. Continuing with the water theme, "Elia, the Maiden of Water" is another of the score's classics; although its harmonic line are plain ol' root arpeggios, its slow reflective melody made this one a fine precursor to Uematsu's other sentimental female character themes. Of similar calibre, "The Submarine Nautilus" mingles its bass notes with the soft susurrus and sighs of the main melody creating an exceptionally scenic theme.

In addition to the sentimental themes, there are quite a few quirky ones as well. "Jinn's Curse" is among the most notable here. Its minimalist harmonies make its relations to its mysterious but playful melody quite idiosyncratic. Another classic is the carousel-influenced "Cute Little Tozas", a goofy yet endearing track with plenty of melodic sheen, though its arrangement "Veggies of Geasal" goes nowhere. "Road to the Summit" is an adventurous theme that is made up from some really upbeat synth, but like so many pieces on the album, becomes tedious to listen to due to poor harmonies and minimal development. Also of dishonourable mention are an underdeveloped version of the "Chocobo Theme" and the whimsical but worthless "Big Chocobo Theme". There are better variations of both themes, although I blasphemously find both obnoxious whatever the format. Also of note are the classic "Sailing the Enterprise" and "Flying the Enterprise" as well as "Theme of the Four Old Men", "Hyne's Castle", and "Return of the Hero", all of which have just enough individualism to sustain their purposes while containing very light-hearted melodies. Not forgetting the town themes, "Hometown of Ur", "Town of Amur", and "The Hidden Village of Fargabaad" are quite similar creations relying on a rich, soft, and enjoyable melody.

There are also a lot of intensifiers throughout the album. "The Dungeon" may seem pleasant due to its high-pitched melody, but its descending bass line presents vim and vigour. "Nepto Shrine" is unsettling due to its minor chord progressions and crisis motifs, albeit nothing special due to a complete lack of individual features. The boss theme "Battle 2" takes a while to get going but always shines rhythmically and has quite a bit of character at its peak. Uematsu's darker themes that lie towards the end of the album are nevertheless consistent in nature. Over our heads, the towering and tenebrous boughs of "The Megalopolis of Salonia" labour under a plethora of wit and imagination. Accompanied by the lissom "Tower of Owen," Uematsu's devilish imagery is supreme here. Better known as a bonus theme in Final Fantasy IX, "Doga and Une's Mansion" is an elegant pseudo-contrapuntal theme with tragic undertones and one of the most technically accomplished themes on the album. As the soundtrack approaches its conclusion, "The Huge Battleship Invincible" proves a delightful theme filled with splendour and a sense of accomplishment ideal for motivating the listener to listen to the end. But on the journey, beware of complete filler like the "Let's Play the Piano" themes, "Une's Exercises", and everything else dubious already mentioned.

The scene is well set for the final battle. While "Forbidden Land" is far too short despite its harmonic peculiarities, "Crystal Tower" sees the return of a sense of ambition to the album, resulting in a theme that is both forceful and dynamic. "The Dark Crystals" expands upon this further, focusing far more on its melody and flowing nature. The accompaniment consists of a fast arpeggiated line followed by one which is much more refined and slow in nature. The penultimate track on the album, "This is the Last Battle," is pumped with adrenaline, though it starts off slow rather than chaotic. At the 0:34 the track accelerated into a tense section that dominates the track. Some interesting percussion is added to give the track some sort of techno beat and, soon enough, a tuneful melody comes in to declare the fact that the final battle is in full swing. The ending theme "The Everlasting World" is one of the most well formed and creative themes to have been written for the game and celebrates the characters' success in epic style. Starting off with a quaint little melody, the theme soon transitions into an adaptation of "The Battleship Invincible," which soars higher than the original. At its passionate climax, the main theme of Final Fantasy is reintroduced.

Summary

On the whole, this is one of the weaker Final Fantasy albums but a worthwhile listen by Final Fantasy fans. Bad characteristics here are the thoughtless harmonies, limited development, lack of looping, and, inevitably, the sound quality of most themes. Even more disappointing is the higher filler ratio here relative to earlier albums. While the number of themes has doubled from Final Fantasy II, the number of classics remains about the same. Fortunately, this soundtrack redeems itself with its town and battle themes as well as a mixture of quirky gems and dark intensifiers. The score is still charming and will scream 'Final Fantasy' for those listeners prepared to ignore its faults. A recommended purchase particularly if you enjoyed the soundtrack to the DS version.

Overall Score: 7/10