Spotify, everyone’s “yes-we-tolerate-it” music-streaming service, has always been hit or miss when it comes to videogame soundtracks. There are awful covers aplenty, from harps to piano to screamo (is that really still a thing?). But, as of June 5, 2019, Square Enix has put the soundtracks to almost every Final Fantasy title on Spotify. It’s almost all there. from NES titles to Final Fantasy: Tactics to The Spirits Within—yes, they even, have the soundtrack to that awful movie we all saw in theaters because flashy CG animation. The glut of Final Fantasy music now available to stream on Spotify is genuinely staggering, and the world is a better place for it. Hyperbole? Maybe, but most Final Fantasy titles boast incredibly composed pieces of music that carry players through the 100-hour-long experiences that are most Final Fantasy titles. That being said, is all of the music memorable? No. Is all of it great? Still, no. But most of it is good—the ones composed by Nobou Uematsu stand out as being particularly great. If you’re at a loss with where to start with Final Fantasy music, here are the twenty-five best songs of the Final Fantasy series.
“Eye to Eye” is a classical Final Fantasy track at heart—whimsical, deceptively quaint, and brimming with emotion. But what makes “Eye to Eye” so special is how heartfelt the song is. The flute work and strings harkin to a sense of nostalgia and a sense of home that all of the title’s characters long for. Like all nostalgia, it is somewhat sad and fleeting, but deeply emotional and memorable. “Eye to Eye” depicts a transitional state between comfort and acceptance in a way that few other videogame songs ever have.
“Aerith’s Theme”, when listened to out of context, is still a beautiful arrangement rife with both echoes of beauty and melancholy, but when listened to within the context of in the context of Final Fantasy VII and Aerith’s arc, it is ravishingly devastating.
There are some pieces of music in videogames that trigger when you get to certain areas (cities, villages, forests, etc.) and they are so good that you just always want to return to that area, if only to listen to a beautiful piece of music. “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV is one such piece of music—Troia Castle boasts one of the best pieces of music in all of Final Fantasy IV.
Setzer may not be in Final Fantasy VI for all that long, but the Nobou Uematsu composed piece, “Epitaph,” made players feel every emotion possible for the Rogue. And what is even more surprising is that this layered and complex music was pumped out of an SNES.
It is funny how an ascending and descending harp could become one of the most recognizable and immediately identifiable themes in all of videogames, let alone JRPGs. In many ways, “Prelude” from Final Fantasy is the track that started it all. It established a tone and a theme that still resonates through every Final Fantasy title to this very day.
Character themes are meant to set the character’s tone and personality through music, and none do so as well as “Cid’s Theme” in Final Fantasy VII. the near-militaristic motifs throughout the piece harkin to Cid’s sense of duty, loyalty and his goal oriented personality. While the quieter and more uplifting moments throughout “Cid’s Theme” hint at Cid’s life in full—both before the start of Final Fantasy VII and during it.
Boss battles in JRPGs are usually white-knuckle affairs, as players go tit-for-tat with bigger and more powerful enemies, and only ever win through tenacity, cunning and a copious amount of health potions (or maybe that is just me). But no boss battle in a Final Fantasy title is complete without a stirring piece of music, and none are as stirring as the “Boss Battle Theme” from Final Fantasy IV. It is loud, fast-paced and intense, much like the boss battles themselves.
“Zidane’s Theme” from Final Fantasy IX perfectly encapsulates what makes Zidane such a memorable character. It is both a serious track and a jovial piece of music. It showcases the push-and-pull in Zidane’s character between serious realities and childlike denials of said realities and consequences.
The “Theme of the Empire” from Final Fantasy XII contains similar motifs and reverberates much in the same way that the “Imperial March” theme from Star Wars does. It highlights the tight-booted, autocratic ideals of a larger-than-life enemy, and hints that the battle and trials ahead will be hard fought.
Combat music in JRPGs is usually burned into one’s mind after they finish a videogame because, well, random encounters are everywhere, and thankfully in Final Fantasy VIII the random encounter music absolutely hits. “Don’t be Afraid” is so instantly recognizable that it evokes a feeling, a call to action and reminds us why we are so lucky to be able to turn off random encounters in recent Final Fantasy series remasters.
“Immoral Melody/Kuja’s Theme” is a big piece of music, not in length, but rather in size. The feeling of the pounding bass mixed with more orchestral fair creates an atmosphere of sizeable dread. It is one of the most meorable villian themes in the entire Final Fantasy canon.
Ah yes, the hero. Every Final Fantasy title sees the player cast into the shoes of a soon-to-be hero. Yet, the hero—Ramza—in Final Fantasy Tactics is about as normal as a JRPG hero can be. He has no airship, gigantic sword, or mysterious backstory. And his theme, the “Hero’s Theme” plays up this normalcy with hints of complacency, nostalgia, and a melancholic reluctance to become the hero that the story calls for.
Battle themes are some of the musical pieces that players will hear the most in JRPGs, and “Stand Your Ground” in Final Fantasy XV is one of the most rousing calls to action in any Final Fantasy title. It is layered, bombastic, and urges the player to keep trying, to never give up, and if you turn it up loud enough, you don’t have to hear any of Final Fantasy XV’s awful combat party banter.
I hereby declare “The Landing” from Final Fantasy VIII as the official “shit is about to pop off” theme song. It starts ominously and builds to full on battle music. It just makes you want to gather your party together and set forth into combat.
Say what you will about Final Fantasy XIII, but the title’s soundtrack is an emotionally diverse affair—from rousing tracks that call the player to action to heartfelt tracks that become instantly memorable. “The Promise” falls into the latter category, as its overall composition skews closer to a heartfelt gesture somewhere between acceptance and sadness, and the vocal portion of the track cements it is a moving piece about the power of promises, of friendship and of love.
Rarely has an opening theme moved me to the point of tears (videogames aren’t really known for eliciting emotion, after all), but “To Zanarkand (Opening Theme)” from Final Fantasy X is a piano heavy track that brims with a deep melancholy that really sets the player up for the emotional rollercoaster of a journey that is to follow.
Perusing wares—from potions to weapons—is a key aspect of any JRPG. Yet, it is even more important in RPGs of the tactics variety, and none are as good as Final Fantasy Tactics. And that is due in no small part to the title’s incredible soundtrack, namely the “Shop Theme.” Rarely has buying potions ever been so dang enjoyable. Hell, I’d just hang out in shops to hear this theme on loop.
RPGs, specifically JRPGs, and even more specifically, Final Fantasy titles, feature a lot of travel and trekking over large world maps. The sense of adventure in Final Fantasy VI is the most palpable out of the entire series, and the “Searching for Friends” theme helps build this feeling. Furthermore, its use in the unforgettable Falcon scene has the possibility to bring the most stone-hearted individual to tears.
Sephiroth, like Final Fantasy VII itself, is a character whose place in pop culture ephemera during the late 1990s and early 2000s was second to none. And thankfully, his boss battle theme does his stature justice. “One Winged Angel” is a boss theme that says more than words ever could. It encapsulates Sephiroth’s denial and refusal of all of the horror that has happened in his life by both his hand and external forces. Furthermore, as the theme plays on, it leans more and more into Sephiroth’s final acknowledgement of his own vengeance filled desires. Also, Sephiroth is recognized in autocorrect—wild.
“Ronafaure” is a subdued piece of music that resonates with the themes of place and of life. The string accompaniment brings the entire arrangement together into a hypnotic ballad that suitably cements players in the world of Final Fantasy XI. It is a welcoming home to an unknown land—familiar yet unknowable.
“The Dark Messenger” from the Trance Kuja battle in Final Fantasy IX is a piece of music that shakes with the intensity and fear of the moment, of the unknowable threat of the coming boss battle. As the battle carries on, the piece only grows in intensity until it reaches a fever pitch that is only snuffed out through victory or, more likely, defeat.
This track imbues a place with so much life that it becomes a character in and of itself. The repetitive motifs and piano/drum x/electronica nature of “Besaid Island” creates a track that is so utterly original that the player just wants to hear it again and again. It truly brings the small tropical island of Besaid to life.
Rarely has a videogame track subsumed itself into greater pop culture like the “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” from Final Fantasy VII has. Its drums and calls to action are so instantly recognizable and if you close your eyes while listening to it, one can almost see the chunky PS1 era bodies of Cloud and Barret.
Losing is never fun, but it is rarely ever sad—well, at least in videogames it never really pulls on the old heartstrings. But the “Game Over Theme” from the original Final Fantasy is genuinely tragic. It fully encapsulates and captures the feeling of loss, of fleeting life, and of sacrifice. It is rather heavy stuff for an NES title, and both the original “Game Over Theme” and redux theme are equally distressing in their affinity for sadness.
Of course “Liberi Fatali” has to take the #1 slot. It is such a colossal piece of music. It is as stirring as it is intimidating, emitting both fright and an adrenaline rush in the player. Final Fantasy VIII opens with “Liberi Fatali” cut to the image of waves crashing against a sandy shore, the camera pans across the sea, and then eventually focuses on Siefer and Squall fighting in the rain. The melodrama is real and it seems as if the world hangs on a sword’s edge, and “Liberi Fatali” hits home how absolutely over-the-top, emotional, and different Final Fantasy VIIII is.