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All Sounds of Final Fantasy I & II :: Review by Jaime

All Sounds of Final Fantasy I & II Album Title: All Sounds of Final Fantasy I & II
Record Label: Datam Polystar
Catalog No.: H25X-20015 (1st Edition); PSCR-5251 (Reprint)
Release Date: December 21, 1988; March 25, 1994
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


The Final Fantasy series is, at this moment, a veritable institution. It is the console RPG franchise with most worldwide success, even with people that are unaware of what an RPG is. But even veritable institutions have a beginning, and this series started with a humble game the success of which was probably not expected by anyone involved. One of those was Square's composer Nobuo Uematsu, whose score was one of the highlights of the game, and of course he, alongside most of the original team, was again involved in the sequel. Although a lesser success than the first one, Final Fantasy II was enough of a hit as to consolidate the series into a viable franchise, and its music into a staple of game scores. Eventually the soundtracks for both games, in all their unarranged chiptune glory, got released in this album.


I just said it, but I will say it again: this is an album of chiptune music. Except for the two arranged pieces that bookend it, of course, but those are there mainly to add colour and variety and I don't consider them integral to the soundtrack, even if, aurally, they might be the most pleasant tracks (provided you have not developed an allergy for late 80s digital synths, and I assure you many people have). This poses a difficulty both for the composer and for the reviewer; for the composer because all he can work with are the purely structural elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and so on, having a limited palette of timbres available, which means also that every piece must be distinct and noticeably different, as the common option of reusing a tune with a different instrumentation is not feasible. For the reviewer because he also cannot use instrumentation to describe the tracks, so no mentions of lush strings or pastoral flutes here. Hence why in this review I will have to go into discussion of chord progressions, harmonic structures, form, background textures, pitch ranges, tonalities and so on. Be warned that I am purely an amateur and a dilettante with respect to music theory, so the more musically trained among you might cringe from time to time with my descriptions, in which case I apologize most humbly.

To begin, I will try to find out what the very distinct two scores have in common and then I will try to explain how they are different from each other. Then I will comment briefly on how this music would influence the rest of the franchise, and finally I will give a detailed track-by-track review.

Among the common elements between the two soundtracks I can find a strong emphasis in melody (which is almost a given for old school chiptune music), most of them eminently hummable, usually built on common harmonic progressions and song structures. The influence is decidedly Western, both pop and classical. Most pieces are constructed in such a way as to make the looping of them sound natural, for example by avoiding the use of perfect cadences which would make it sound like the tune was landing and taking off continuously (see the review of the track "Cornelia Castle" for a detailed explanation of one of those techniques). The instrumentation is quite consistent, mainly using the two square wave channels of the NES sound module for melody and counterpoint or for melody and arpeggios, and the triangle wave channel for basslines or the occasional arpeggio; although the listener will hear that in the score for Final Fantasy II there are some small adventures in timbre, most relying in simple time-shifting effects to give melodies an eerie, cantabile ambience. The noise channel is not used and there are not any percussive sounds, so when an agitated or excited mood is needed the rhythmic elements are purely given by the bass lines and the chordal accompaniment.

However both scores are also very different from each other and the reason for it really boils down to one thing: the mood. It's a bit of a cliché to say that in the Nintendo era "the odd numbered Final Fantasies were gameplay oriented and the even numbered were story oriented", but it's true to an extent. Although the heroes of Final Fantasies I, III and V managed to save the world in the end, at times it was felt like your real purpose in life was to find new and exciting ways of gaining experience and make use of your character's job abilities. Just compare your parties in those games (which even in FFV really are a mostly non-changing quartet of blank slates) with the revolving door parties of very different characters in FFII, IV and VI. Musically this is true as well, as the comparison of the "happy-go-lucky" overworld themes of I, III and V with the moody overworld themes of II, IV and VI would quickly demonstrate.

Thus, the music of Final Fantasy, while serious (there's a line between "happy" and "goofy"), is mainly uplifting, quick-paced, and jubilant. In contrast, the music of Final Fantasy II is much more somber, melancholic, slow and oppressive. There are exceptions to both rules, of course, but even when our Final Fantasy II heroes are safely walking though a town, the music never let us forget that the world is in serious trouble; and when our players are deep into a dangerous dungeon, the music of Final Fantasy usually seems to highlight the bravery of our heroes while the music of Final Fantasy II sometimes gives a genuine sense of dread. Compare, if you wish, FFI's "Gurgu Volcano" with FFII's "Imperial Army Theme".

Thus, being the first two scores for the Final Fantasy series, and helping codify the two main moods the franchise would explore in the future, these had a deep influence in how the music for the series would develop. Aside from the obvious contributions, i.e. the recurrent themes like the Prelude, Final Fantasy theme, Chocobo theme, Victory fanfare, or battle music intro riff, some of the conventions followed here, while not exactly invented for these games, would eventually become defining traits. These include the overworld theme being used to convey the main mood of the game or storyline, the final dungeon's music designed to be as much as encouraging as it is dreadful, and the friendly towns and caves expressing how you're in a place that, while affected by the events taking place in the world, offers you the security that while you're there you have nothing to fear. From the basic foundation laid by these two soundtracks, the main evolution would come from increasing the particularization of the themes — different themes for important areas, characters, etc. which, although not present here, will slowly appear beginning already with the third game on the franchise (but that's another story which must be told in another time...)

A quick note about the presentation of the music on the CD. The chiptune tracks are mostly made to loop twice before fading out, and there has been a noticeable amount of reverb and equalization applied to make a slight simulated stereo sound (like those "electronically processed stereo" pop albums they issued in the Sixties), although it's subtle enough to not annoy the listener. On with the track reviews.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Welcome to Final Fantasy World

This arranged version starts with a rendition of the "Prelude" arpeggio played by typical late 80's celestial-like synths. They are later joined by a vocal-like pad playing sustained versions of the chords, a bit like Uematsu himself would do later in FFIV. The pace slows down and we hear the "Opening Theme" in an acceptable synth arrangement, but is guilty of passing the melody line around too many instruments for my tastes. While, for the most part you get a sense of which instrument the patches try to convey, they're far from perfect. It abruptly cuts to the next section, which quotes the "Main Theme of Final Fantasy" before going into a melody not found in the soundtrack (a series of heavy synth triplets over percussion).

Tee arranged version just as abruptly goes to play the "Main Theme of Final Fantasy II" with a horrible choice of sounds and tempo that in my opinion utterly ruins it, to say nothing of the cheesy percussion added later. Then the synth drums hit us with all their stereotyped might as we are treated to a version of "Matoya's Cave" that takes us to a repeat of the synth triplets and then to an unresolved ending on a suspended chord. The whole effort is at some times nice, at some times cheesy. It's never too complex but certainly a little bit dated. (6/10)

Final Fantasy Original Soundtrack

2) Prelude

It's fitting that the beginning of the series should be with such a musical earmark as this. Everybody knows how the "Prelude" sounds, so I'll just point out how its first realization is probably the fastest and choppiest ever. One wonders if Uematsu already knew at this point that eventually this was going to be a harp tune. Notice also how the arpeggio is actually different than in subsequent versions as it avoids the very lowest notes of the progression, substituting higher notes instead. Were they not confident in the sound capabilities of the NES chip? (7/10)

3) Opening

Another classic which first appeared here: the anthemic tune that would later be known as the "Final Fantasy" theme. Over time it would become slower, more majestic, and with a less involved texture, but here in its first showing it is a bit faster and heavily contrapuntal. I'd say that the countermelody is almost as good as the main melody itself. Later, in FFVII, Uematsu would extend the B section, but personally I prefer the shorter version. And as good as several of the later instalments of the theme are, I still rank this very first one among the very best. (9/10)

4) Cornelia Castle

This is probably the best example of one of the techniques more used by Uematsu in this soundtrack to make a track loop infinitely: the semicadence on the dominant. The whole tune — a very 18th century textbook tonal harmony piece, very 18th century — is actually an 8-measure phrase, like the first line of a typical Tin Pan Alley AABA song form. However, the semicadence at the end instead of leading to the second A line actually loops back to the beginning. Imagine, if you will, the tune "As time goes by" from Casablanca. The way "Cornelia Castle" is written is exactly like if, after the first "...as time goes by", instead of advancing to "and when two lovers woo..." it went back to the start, endlessly. The effect is more fluid than if the tune actually reached any cadence as the loops would be too punctuated and it would feel choppier. (6/10)

5) Main Theme

Being one of the pieces that are heard more frequently in any old-school Final Fantasy game, the overworld theme is very important to set the tone of the experience, and the first one is particularly jubilant. Everything in the tune and the arrangement contributes to this, from the jolly melody to the bouncy bassline, pumping the rhythm even more than a percussion part would. The track still manages to make brief incursions into the minor mode of the tonality of the second grade, as if to remind us that not everything is fun and rosy in this world. And of course it employs again the semicadence trick to make it going continuously. If the message of this piece was put into words, it would definitely be "We're adventurers!" (7/10)

6) Chaos Temple

When the heroes go to face off their first enemy, this is the tune we hear. It's of course the quintessential old school bad guy's lair theme. There is a haunting but cantabile melody in minor mode, but no harmonic surprises this time — the entire tune is textbook minor harmony. The supporting chords are played as an unrelenting arpeggiated ostinato. The triangle channel first holds the bass notes, then features the kind of pumping bassline from the overworld themes, and then transitions to a turnaround phrase that carries us flawlessly to the beginning. Original? Maybe not. Well done? You bet. And it managed to spawn a very good orchestrated version, too. (8/10)

7) Matoya's Cave

It can be safely said that, outside the recurring themes, "Matoya's Cave" is the most famous piece of the Final Fantasy soundtrack. It is certainly the one with a more developed melody, with good range (one of its more salient characteristics is how it climbs to a high note before the conclusion) and a very vocal quality to it (it was easily adapted for voice in the "Pray" vocal collection). Virtually every arrangement of it leaves me wanting, though. I feel even this first one is too frantic and the pumping bassline doesn't work. The best might be the one in the Symphonic Suite, although that one is too slow... (8/10)

8) Town Theme

Another first, the first town theme of the Final Fantasy series, and it really lays the blueprint for subsequent town themes. Peaceful melody? Check. Simple, harmonic arpeggiated background? Check. Manages to evoke the way of living of the inhabitants of this world? Check. And yet this deceptively simple tune packs a lot of meaning. If the Main Theme was the theme of the adventure, this theme is more like the theme of the world as its dwellers know it, which is maybe the reason why it later forms the basis of the Ending Theme. And notice how the same theme is equally suitable to convey the content mind-our-business peaceful Corneria and the desperation over the Earth rot in Melmond. Not bad for a short simple town theme, is it? (8/10)

9) Shop

Whenever you enter a shop you're greeted with a waltz. Why? I don't know, but I guess that for Japanese ears anything that sounds remotely European is fitting for a fantasy setting. The tune has a certain circus atmosphere in this version, helped by the fact that the bassline in the triangle wave channel sounds like coming from a calliope, but charming as it is, it doesn't have pretensions of being more than a half minute ditty. That is why it works in context. (5/10)

10) Ship

The ship theme actually has less to do with the fact that you're on the sea than with being a second overworld theme. Consequently, it sounds like a variation, or extension, of the main theme, with a melody less brilliant but more elaborate and with surprising hints of melancholy. The bassline goes to full tonic-and-fifths on straight eighth notes (the "disco" bassline so prevalent in old-school game music) for the entire first section. And yes, I said "first", as unlike the main theme this one has indeed a brief contrasting second section. Harmonically speaking, it again employs semicadences on the dominant, this time with three different purposes: first to set up the repetition of the first line, then to prepare for the second melody (which is in the minor relative of the dominant), and finally after the second melody to take us again to the loop. And all this in half a minute. (7/10)

11) Underwater Palace

This tune sounds a lot like a slightly more evil version of "Chaos Temple"... because it is. And the reason for this is simple. I suppose the person who gave name to the tracks had not played the game recently because, actually, there's no specific music for the Sea Shrine (which is what the title suggests); the Sea Shrine reuses "Chaos Temple" instead and this track is instead the final dungeon theme, anticlimactically thrown here in the middle of the tracklist. And to add insult to injury, that this is the area music for the Temple of Chaos also means that "Chaos Temple" is mislabelled too, since when we hear it the place is still merely Garland's Castle... The track, you ask? Well, take everything said about "Chaos Temple" and deduct one point for lack of originality. (7/10)

12) Dungeon

The theme for the generic dungeons is quick and uneasy, so much that it almost feels like a "hurry" theme. This actually has a point, being that with the difficulty level of the original Final Fantasy most dungeons were a "get out of here quick" scenario. It features two parts, one in which many short, fast notes cover a very narrow pitch range — a la "Flight of the bumblebee", only more monotonous — and one in which long notes hover above a strangely elastic sounding bassline. And that's about it, basically. (5/10)

13) Menu Screen

Another waltz-like ditty, but much more repetitive than the shop theme, and not as charming. It loops after, what, 20 seconds? In the CD it's over before you notice, thankfully, but in the game it is positively aggravating, since it plays endlessly while you're trying to micromanage your characters. In fact, if I remember correctly, this theme has been taken out in later versions, which is a relief, as the constant switching between town theme to shop theme to town theme to menu theme whenever you buy and upgrade your equipment is one of the most annoying aural experiences known to gamers. (3/10)

14) Airship

The first airship theme of the series, and in my humble opinion it doesn't quite cut it. Sure, it maintains the joyful qualities of the other two overworld themes, but the only feeling I get from this is "speed". Yes, flying around is insanely fast in this game, but the important thing with getting an airship in a Final Fantasy game is not "now we can travel fast", but "now we can travel everywhere!". When I listen to this ditty, I cannot help but remember how the moment when one uncovers the Lunar Whale in FFIV, the moment when one first takes off in the Highwind in FFVII, the moment one gains control of the Ragnarok in FFVIII, or the moment where the Falcon emerges from underground in FFVI gave that hopeful sense of "the whole world is open to me" that I don't find here. (4/10)

15) Gurgu Volcano

A very famous underground theme that spices your treks through the Earth Cave and the Gurgu Volcano. It is my favourite dungeon theme of the entire NES Final Fantasy trilogy, and it's also probably, in the entire series, the tune with a more definite old school feel. There's something in it that gives me flashbacks of the mid 80s (or of my early teens, which happened to be then). It's interesting how the arrangement goes from the syncopated chord stabs of the beginning to an increasedly contrapuntal texture with each of the three distinct melodies one hears. Probably the first melody — the one with the chord stabs — is intended to be an "intro" to the real tune, but it is so good that it will be forever to me the melody of the piece, in the same way that in many pop songs the riff is more memorable than the chorus. A thing of note: Nobuo Uematsu remade this tune twice — once for the subsequent ports of the game, once for FFIX — and neither one of the new versions are, in my opinion, on the same level of the original. There is an excellent, faithful arrangement as one of the sections of the "Scene VI" of the Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite, but in some way I somehow think this humble chiptune is still the definitive version of the piece. (9/10)

16) The Floating Castle

Most Final Fantasies feature what I call "technological dungeons", whether in the guise of "ancient ruins of an old, but more advanced civilization" or of "central complex of our technologically superior enemies", or variations of them. Of course, the first time it conforms to the first type to a tee, with the bonus of also being the also popular "dungeon in the sky" trope. These settings usually have their own kind of music, and this one is interesting, because it is the second track in a row that, for me, strongly recalls its era. Because the kind of atonal, angular melody and disjointed, almost random arpeggios featured in the first part of this track is what everybody used in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s to convey the impression of "very advanced, possibly alien technology". Back then, hearing those sounds screamed "computers and spaceships" even more than LED panels and the Data 70 typeface did. Curiously, almost unnoticeably the music morphs into a kind of Mediterranean / Middle Eastern flavour that perhaps tries to convey that this dungeon is futuristic and ancient at the same time. Once the listener is adjusted to the initial weirdness, this tune reveals itself as a worthy precursor of FFVIII's "Silence and motion" (which takes place, of course, in a somewhat similar environment). (8/10)

17) Battle Scene

Battle music for RPGs is a difficult thing to do. It must be exciting enough for battling yet not overstay its welcome rapidly, as you'll hear it literally hundreds of times per playthrough. How does this one do? In my opinion, quite well. My only gripe with it is that its slightly playful nature is very well suited to run of the mill random encounters but not so much for, say, the final boss (which, yes, features it, as the original game did not have any boss music). It's common knowledge that for years all the random battle music from the series started with the same intro, and it's true, but as well as Uematsu used to pull that trick, I still think it fits to the piece it was composed for (this one) better than to any other. The melody is very good and the syncopated transitions between the main sections are well done; that's not to mention that the tune is melodically the most extended in the soundtrack and it's arranged with a nice counterpoint. A minor defect I can find is that the lack of percussion forces Uematsu to use again the pumping disco bassline to add punch, and that might make the track sound a bit goofier to some than intended. (9/10)

18) Victory!

Dadadada da da da dadaaa! And thus one of the most famous riffs in game music came into existence. The main part of the victory music is just another slice of old school greatness, with that pumping bassline (again) laying out a constant I - bVII progression over which we hear a decidedly techno melody in (almost) parallel harmony, and it would be slowly built upon over the years. Meanwhile, the opening fanfare, with or without the lightning-fast run that precedes it (echoing the similar one on the beginning of the battle theme), would over time become the most frequently heard musical phrase of the franchise, and probably the only theme that, if you hum it, even very casual FF players will know what is. (8/10)

19) Ending Theme

The "Ending Theme" is probably the most refined composition in the whole soundtrack. It has its own intro featuring an arpeggiated, lute-like chord sequence introduced by a climbing arpeggio reminiscent of the Prelude. There is a ritardando in which the previously static bass line leads the ensemble. The main part manages to unify the whole experience by combining a melody reminiscent of the town theme with an anthemic second melody and a majestic contrapuntal arrangement very reminiscent of the opening theme. It's a fitting background for the ending sequence (or rather, narration). In the CD this track ends with a fadeout, as all the rest, though in game it slows down to a conclusion. Given that such an ending is not present in a rip of the game's data, it's safe to assume that the "ending" was achieved simply by manipulating the music data in real time. (9/10)

20) Dead Music

And as a sort of bonus track we have the Game Over music. It's a mournful minor tune built over one of the most stereotyped progressions ever, which means that, if not very original, it works. However, it's a bit funny hearing it just after the Ending theme; after declaring your victory now the soundtrack kills you? (4/10)

21) Save Music

Actually more of a "sleep jingle". In this regard, it introduces another mainstay of the series — a series of ultra-short tunes all sharing the same mood of peaceful rest. Given saving and sleeping were very inextricably linked in the game, the title is apt. (It's curious to witness within the series the evolution from "you can only save in inns and tents" to "you can save wherever you could use a tent" to "you can use a tent in save points" to the current "touching the save point heals you". I digress). (3/10)

Final Fantasy II Original Soundtrack

22) Prelude

The only musical themes reused in full from the first Final Fantasy were the Prelude and the Victory Fanfare, apart from some minor fanfare bursts. (And yes, that means the "Final Fantasy" theme is not here — making this the only one of the pre-PS2 titles to not feature it). Why then include the Prelude again in the CD? Because the second time around the tune already sounds different. The sound is more fluid and eerie — with a wonderful echo effect created by delay between the two rectangular wave channels — and the arpeggios are fully symmetrical this time, without odd note jumps. While not too different, it's a marked improvement over the first version, although it would continue to be developed over time. (7/10)

23) Battle Scene 1

We're right into the action! The first track after the Prelude is the battle theme, which is very fitting for two reasons. The obvious one, for those who have played it, is because the game does start right into a battle. The subtle one is because by following a tune repeated from the first soundtrack with another one which has the first couple of bars lifted straight from the first game but diverging immediately, you find yourself gently easied away from the world of Final Fantasy and into the world of Final Fantasy II. The theme itself begins, as said, with the same intro bassline of the first game's battle theme, but soon it diverges into a very melodic though dynamic piece, starting with a melody in A minor with a bit of unmistakable spice in the shape of a single melodic note from the Dorian mode. It transitions with a couple of arpeggios to a second part heavily based in chromatic movements over a pedal note (and I always found the high buzzing descending melody quite appropriate for the battles against hornets one first encounters). The counterpoint is incredible; not only the bassline employs more variety of resources than in the FFI battle theme, but the countermelodies played by the secondary melodic channel are as interesting as the main melod. Notice also how the sound programming manages to insert subtle changes of timbre at some points — the piece sounds at times like it was scored for five or six instruments. One of my favourite battle themes, for sure. (9/10)

24) Revivification Room

A simple sequence of arpeggios built through extended chords that sounds moderately mysterious and which happens to be a loop of the intro to the ending theme (or maybe the ending theme quotes from this one; pick your choice). (3/10)

25) We Meet Again

A short piece used as the background for the scene where our heroes reunite in the rebels' hideout. The thing is that, in-game, this piece segues right into the "Rebel Army Theme", and I would much have preferred it like that — both tracks as a single track. I understand that in the game data there was a necessity for keeping them separate, as after this scene the Rebel Army Theme always plays without this intro, but I don't think that had to be replicated in the album. As an intro to the rebel's theme, "We meet again" serves to further enhance that classic, but as a standalone track it's a non-entity. (3/10)

26) Rebel Army Theme

Meant to represent the secret headquarters of the rebellion the player characters find themselves unexpectedly part to, the "Rebel Army Theme" has transcended the narrow scope of its setting to become, undoubtedly, the most famous piece in the Final Fantasy II soundtrack. The track sounds, and I really don't find another way to describe it, like a combination of a militaristic anthem with a Baroque suite dance. It has an unforgettable melody and an arrangement that sounds almost like a harpsichord piece. And the tune, simple as it is, is capable of suggesting a lot of things at once. For example, it has been arranged for orchestra a couple of times, and usually to make it grandiose and suitable for the heroic nature of the rebels, but in its in-game incarnation it also emphasizes the ambience of despair that floats around the rebels as much as their determination to win. A deserved classic. (9/10)

27) Town

If you have heard some other of Nobuo Uematsu's classic Final Fantasy soundtracks, you know how his "friendly town" themes usually sound, and you expect them to be a good, cantabile melody over a mostly arpeggiated background. This one fits that description, but it adds a touch of melancholic resignation in the main melody. This is further augmented by the sudden shift from F major to Ab major / F minor, complete with a change of register in the main melody channel from the more wind-like sustained tones of the first part to the harpsichord-like second section. Comparing the town themes of the two games, it's impressive how Uematsu is able to convey two very different emotional landscapes employing very similar means — a true testament to his worth as a melodist in these early scores. (8/10)

28) Main Theme

As we've seen, the prevalent mood in Final Fantasy II is darker and more oppressive than in the first, and there's no better place to notice it than in the overworld theme. Where the main theme of the first game was joyful and adventurous, the second one is sad and reflective, built on the key of A minor with time-tested devices for creating the mood like short modulations, Neapolitan sixths, the whole gamut. Besides, the theme is longer than the first overworld theme, as it contains two whole phrases instead of one (they sound similar, but the melody and harmony are subtly different on the second repetition), and it even has a small ritardando at the end; it still ends on a dominant chord to prepare for the next loop. Instrumentally it's more sparse than the previous main theme because the accompaniment is reduced to a simple arpeggio pattern in the triangle wave channel, as the second rectangle wave channel is reserved for producing the echo that gives the main melody's long sustained notes the airy and floating quality by which they are most recognized. Not much of a sacrifice anyway, as the simple texture really works here. It's every bit as classic as the main theme of Final Fantasy I; in fact I see it as a leap forward in the melodic department, and it's one of the few tunes in the soundtrack that has been rearranged a number of times. (8/10)

29) Castle Pandemonium

First, a question: what is the final dungeon theme doing at this point of the sequence? Because in the game its music is absolutely not featured until you enter said final dungeon. I know, I have beaten the game not very long ago. The only possible explanation would be that it's an effort to replicate the (mangled, as we saw) sequence of the FFI soundtrack, which is fitting since the piece feels like a remake of the "Chaos Temple" theme. It features the same kind of haunting melody over devilish arpeggios, although feels a bit more developed, if not as fresh as the former. Fans of the FFIX soundtrack will notice that the "Pandemonium Castle" tune from that album is indeed an arrangement of this earlier track... if they listen carefully, because the FFIX version was so slowed down that it took a little while to pinpoint "where have I heard this before". (7/10)

30) Imperial Army Theme

This is the second main dungeon theme, and it plays in some areas filled with those Imperial soldiers who, true to the "Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars" feeling of the game, seem like a cross between Stormtroopers and Uruk-Hai. While not the most pleasantly melodic tune in existence, it rightfully creates a sense of being surrounded by danger while still being quite hummable. For the musically literate out there, just five words: "chromatic progression of diminished chords". If that doesn't sound tense, I don't know which will. The wonder of it is that even when going into non-common practice period harmonic territory, Uematsu still manages to produce an utterly memorable tune; the chiptune version does not highlight it, but do yourself a favour and listen to the version in the Scene VI of the Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite. (8/10)

31) Chocobo

For a game that is among the least remembered in the series, Final Fantasy II had also its share of firsts, and perhaps the most influential was the creation of the chocobos and the Chocobo Theme. The first thing one notices is that it is incomplete; the B section wouldn't be written until the next game. This makes it extremely repetitive, and its downright bounciness makes it cute at first and annoying after too many repetitions (luckily it doesn't loop too much on the album). In the end this version only serves as a foreshadowing of what's to come — who could have thought a simple, jumpy, syncopated tune as this would undergo so many variations and permutations? (4/10)

32) Magician's Tower

One of the most annoying parts of FFII was the climb of the Tower of Mysidia to unlock the Ultima spell, with lots of floors to climb, pestering enemies and a boss battle every few floors, and throughout it you were accompanied by this tune. Apparently it tries to sound like some Baroque harpsichord piece (with lots of echo added, as if played inside thick stone walls), but the sticking to the minor mode throughout and the suspended diminished chords at the end remind me more of Baroque as filtered through horror movies. In fact I would not have been surprised if this tune had ended in the soundtrack to a Castlevania game given it would fit the setting so well. (6/10)

33) Flee!

This inaugurates the much maligned tradition of Final Fantasy "hurry" themes. They have a reputation for being annoying, repetitive and underdeveloped, and this one fits the bill one hundred per cent. A three note diminished melody over agitated background which modulates one whole step up and then loops. Truly the precursor to the hurry theme in Final Fantasy IV, but at least in this game you don't have to suffer it through a difficult boss fight. (1/10)

34) The Old Castle

This theme, that plays whenever you get to explore a deserted or occupied castle, is definitely one of the highlights of the FFII soundtrack. A serene melody in A minor with excursions into the Dorian mode at key times that give it somewhat Medievalish and Mediterranean flavours, backed by a sparse bass ostinato and a memorable counterpoint. The whole thing sometimes sounds like it could be arranged into a movie soundtrack — maybe more Morricone than Hollywood. Also, the programming is excellent, with lots of subtle articulations like slurs, tremolos, and appoggiaturas. As a final note I recently discovered that bits and parts of the melody and some small melodic cells are exactly the same as determined parts of the "Battle Theme", even if the final product doesn't resemble it in the slightest; this gives the whole soundtrack a sense of unity while avoiding monotony. (9/10)

35) Dungeon

Here we have the main dungeon theme of Final Fantasy II — another theme that the player will get to experience during a good deal of playing time. It features a Middle-Eastern type melody over a particularly spacey background, and the interesting thing is that the main melodic channel alternates between two sounds, making it sound like a call-and-response duet between two instrument. I'd even go out on a limb to say that my impression is that of a duet between a wind instrument and a stringed instrument. I like how the "response" instrument shifts from triplets to galloping rhythms — fans of late 60's guitarists like Jimmy Page will know the impression it gives. (7/10)

36) The Emperor's Rebirth

Another tension theme, and this is not an ounce better than "Flee!". It does give you a sense of dread but part of the sensation comes from the desire to make it stop. Jokes aside, it's just a series of diminished scale runs serving as an ostinato and a series of trills serving as a melody — certainly nothing very novel in the realm of creating fearful music. (1/10)

37) Battle Scene 2

Final Fantasy II was the first in the series to have a separate theme for boss fights, a device that was used sparingly for a few select bosses after roughly mid-game. As such, the music practically screams "Danger! We're in a special fight!" and Uematsu benefits from a multitude of resources like ostinati, chromatic progressions and melodic fragments, countermelodies, trills, you name it. Once again, it's amazing how much tension Uematsu managed to extract from three meagre melodic channels, to the point that this is yet another of those pieces which subsequent arrangements fail to do justice to. (9/10)

38) Victory Fanfare

It took me a lot of listens to notice that in fact this is not a straight copy of the first game's victory theme, although the only differences I found are a slightly different timbre and that at the end the countermelody goes down instead of up. So, just re-read the review for track 18, if you're so inclined. (8/10)

39) Finale

Finally, after winning the game, we are treated to an ending theme that manages to even surpass the first one. Its impact is made greater by the hopeful nature of its hymn-like melody, preceded by the same arpeggios that comprised the entirety of "Revivification", which contrasts in a big way with the atmosphere of the background music of the rest of the game. Note however how it still has a streak of melancholy through it, as if to remind us of all that the heroes lost during their fateful adventure. As the ending sequence had a predetermined length, in this case the ending music had a properly programmed ending. (Also, as many times as I've heard this tune, I still cannot help hearing the first three notes of the main melody and instantly thinking of Elvis singing "Can't Help Falling In Love".) (9/10)

40) Waltz

In one of the important plot points of the game, the royals on the side of the heroes decide to have a ball to celebrate a major victory, and one sees a castle where the game's sprites waltz to this arrangement of "Kaiser-Walzer" by Johann Strauss II. As another example of the franchise's penchant for referencing earlier instalments in incredibly minor details and points, this "waltz in a castle" setting would be repeated twice: straight in Final Fantasy V and as a kind of "scene within a scene" in Final Fantasy VI's opera. (Now that I think of it, the waltz scene in FFVIII might also count...) (5/10)

41) The Queen's Temptation

At some point of the game there's a decidedly disturbing scene underlined by this tune, which I think most people would recognize instantly as the main melody of the first scene of Act II from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". Nothing to write home about, but the sound is suitably eerie. Notice the placement of these two tracks after the Finale music, as some kind of bonuses, even if they feature in important scenes. I suppose that, being arrangements of classical music, the compilers didn't want to mix them with Uematsu's tracks. (5/10)

42) Dead Music

The death music for this game is built similarly to the one for the first game, as a slow melody over arpeggiated minor harmony chords, but in some way it sounds sadder than the first time. One noticeable thing is that this music is used also in-game, as a background music whenever a major character dies (which is a bit too frequent), so it could be said that FFII is the only FF game where you're forced to listen to the game over music no matter how good you are at playing it. (5/10)

43) Fanfare

A short fanfare burst, which plays in both games when the party obtains something of note. (2/10)

44) Addition to Party

Another fanfare which plays when player characters join the party for the first time. (3/10)

45) Shop

The next four tracks are bonus tracks written for Final Fantasy II but never implemented in the game. Evidently "Shop" was an attempt to recapture the feeling of the first game's shop theme, featuring the same kind of folkish waltz of that one. It is very well executed, with the countermelody imitating an accordion, but it was right to take it out the finished game because it wouldn't have suited its mood. (4/10)

46) Airship

Now this is more how I like my airship themes. While it still gives a sense of speed, this one has also the touch of epicness that the first Airship theme lacked, making it more like a revved up version of the first game's Ship theme. However it was cut from the game, where airship flights were simply accompanied by the normal overworld theme, the reason possibly being to not disrupt the gloomy, oppressive overall mood. No glimmer of hope allowed in this game, it seems... (6/10)

47) Battle Scene 3

I don't know if this theme was supposed to be an additional battle theme or an early effort that later got ditched in favour of either Battle Scene 1 or 2 (it sounds rather boss-like to me). It's on the same level of quality with the other two battle themes, although I rate it lower due to it not being as instantly memorable. (7/10)

48) Dungeon

This Baroque-inspired rejected dungeon theme is famous for being reworked years later as "The Magic House" from Final Fantasy VI, but there's one thing that catches my attention; in the same way that "The Old Castle" reused melodic cells from "Battle Scene 1", this dungeon theme does the same with "Battle Scene 2". Now, "Battle Scene 2" and "Dungeon (unreleased)" are probably the two tracks more far apart in mood, speed, and concept in the whole soundtrack. And yet, the notes are there for all to hear. Was this all accidental or premeditated? (7/10)

49) Farewell! Final Fantasy World

The second arranged track starts with a slow reprise of "Matoya's Cave" that, by virtue of another clichéd synth drum fill, takes us to a quite lifeless rendition of "Chaos Temple" full of robotic drums and heavy metal-like synthesized guitar drones that sound totally straight from the 80s, and without pause or change we get taken to the "Battle Scene 2" from Final Fantasy II, which is robbed of much of its impact by the sickly lead instrument patch and the dull drum pattern.

An abrupt silence carries us to a decent rendition of the first game's Town Theme, with a nice harpsichord backing and a slightly less questionable than usual lead synth. Just as abruptly we end with the second game's finale, which begins with an horrible implementation of all the instruments, gets better with the addition of some more background instruments drum accents, and sinks back into dullness with an utterly inappropriate 4/4 drum pattern and very dated synth brass. Overall, the presentation of this closer is worse than the opener due to it being even more cheesy and dated, but your mileage may vary, so I will rate it just the same as the opener. (6/10)


It's extremely difficult to give a final verdict on this album, since the very good points it has to offer, like memorable melodies and solid compositions, are a bit offset by its drawbacks such as the shortness of the tracks and the bad sound quality. However it is a very notable effort and a worthy opener for the subsequent offerings of Final Fantasy music — as such I am going to give it a moderate rating, to which you can safely add a point or two if you're willing to disregard its obvious aural hindrances. But, as far as NES chiptune soundtracks go, this is one of the very best.

Overall Score: 6/10