Welcome back, my fellow Final Fantasy fanatics. Thank you for joining me in the second half of this countdown. Let’s not waste any time and dive right back in.
#10 Final Fantasy X Battle Theme
It was only until I just commenced writing about this entry that a Final Fantasy X song is on my #10 spot: Pure coincidence, not at all intentional. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy X is shockingly one of the only entries that has to warm up to me with every play through. The plot of the story has too heavy of a religious mood to it. Being an Atheist, I find myself rolling my eyes and grumbling at the games many scenes involving religion. The cast of characters, although exceptional and effective on the battle field (except you Kimahri), can get a little annoying at times. By the end though, the game has warmed itself up to me and my criticisms are gently pushed aside. It is, however, the battle system in which Final Fantasy X absolutely shines from beginning to end. Being able to see the order in which your party and enemies attack, not to mention how the order changes in response to certain moves is absolutely genius. It gives you the freedom to plan your attack more carefully. But the best part about the entire battle system is the theme song, which is flashy, conquering, and overpoweringly ambitious as all hell. The moment you are thrown into battle, you are ambushed by a flood of trumpets and you abruptly feel like you are in some epic Caribbean themed pirate chase. There’s only one other battle theme in another game, which I’ll obviously get to later, that I consider better than this theme, but that should not take away the fact that this joyous and adventurous track is an absolutely memorable one.
#9 The Place I’ll Return to Someday (Final Fantasy IX)
The title screen music for Final Fantasy 9, The Place I’ll Return to Someday is a lax and humble song that repeats itself over and over again until it fades away. So what makes it so memorable? It’s the passion and emotion you can sense from it; the feeling of a long expedition ahead of you with thoughts of the home you are leaving behind but vowing to return to. However, it’s not just the place you grew up in that one would consider home. For instance, in one scene, Garland attempts to assure Zidane that with his inner power, he could live an eternity beyond the stars as his home. Zidane, not wanting that kind of power, exclaims that it is his companions whom he met in Gaia, that make up his home. This traveling buddy song is a nostalgic reminder that the people closest to you make anywhere feel like home. It’s a song that gets the player thinking about the people closest to them, and with whom they would take on their own journey.
#8 Eyes on Me (Final Fantasy VIII)
Alright, “hold onto my man-card” part one has now commenced. What can I say, I am an introvert and a hopeless romantic who has a soft heart for in-game romances. Eyes on Me has a huge build up in the game, even being teased for us when Squall’s friends perform it for him to congratulate him on his promotion to SeeD commander. In the dream sequence, Laguna’s crush, Julia, a piano player who performs at the Deling City Hotel restaurant, wants to take up singing, but she’s struggling to find the words to put into song. That is until she finally has a long conversation with a Laguna, who would always attend her performances and gaze in an awestruck trance as she performed her set. Though eventually marrying somebody else, conceding that her “one true love”, was killed in battle, Julia eventually releases the song. In the final moments of the third act, after Squall rescues Rinoa from deep space and awaits a team to save them, they share a sensual heart-to-heart moment inside the Ragnarok, embracing in a way they’ve been longing to the entire game. That’s when we are finally introduced to the song in its intended form. After all this time of being brought up and sampled, it more than delivers when we finally hear it. A lot of people say this song is glorified, cheesy, and out of place, but I disagree. Accompanied by actual vocals, it’s a song about being in love but having love-struck anxiety; not sure if your emotions will be reciprocated if you pursue your feelings. Oddly enough, it speaks for both parties; each person in love with the other but unsure of the other person’s feelings, even though their eyes are always fixated on each other. Being in that situation before, it’s a totally relatable song and the nostalgic feeling sends my emotions high whenever I hear it, so it holds a very special place in my heart.
#7 Dancing Mad (Final Fantasy VI)
Step aside Sephiroth, your theme song is so underwhelming in comparison to Dancing Mad and is absolutely no match for the 17 minute masterpiece that embodies the pure chaotic evilness that is Kefka. By far the best final boss theme in any Final Fantasy, this orchestral epic is fragmented in several differently toned parts and basically writes the story of your encounter between the evil clown. The earlier parts are dynamic with slow, long drawn out organ notes, with the final half picking up the pace into pure chaos. In game, depending on how well you are faring against the final battle against Kefka, the song will shift “chapters” in response to what form you are up against. Unfortunately, that means that over leveled players won’t experience the brilliance as a whole, but instead just small tastes of each chapter. This track is legit opera quality; I would pay good money to see this song performed in its entirety by a live orchestra. You can take your One Winged Angel comments elsewhere, Dancing Mad is the ultimate baddie theme and will forever reign supreme.
#6 The Promise (Instrumental and Serah’s Theme) (Final Fantasy XIII)
I will admit my introduction to Final Fantasy came well ahead in my life, having started with VIII and making my way to VII. And for a while, those were the only two I had played. When college started, I made some friends in the dorm who I connected with over a similar liking to VII and VIII. When I was questioned if I was eager for Final Fantasy XIII, I admitted that I hadn’t really kept up and was unsure. But having that long conversation, something told me I wanted to look into picking up this title. Little did I know, when you start up the game and that bright white title screen appears, and that utterly ear-pleasing piano starts to play, that this would be the song that jumped started my full-time, unswerving love for the Final Fantasy franchise. XIII to this very day gets a lot of crap for being linear, but so is Final Fantasy X, so end of discussion. I personally love it and the graphics are a huge accomplishment in comparison. The story might need a couple playthroughs in order to fully understand it and Hope is one of the more pitiful and annoying characters in all of Final Fantasy, but overall XIII is a very solid installment and eventually a legit trilogy. The Promise is a soft, slow, melodic piano piece that is set as the opening theme and is the love song between Serah and Snow. It is heard multiple times throughout the game and has various arrangements, including a beautifully sung vocal rendition. It’s a relaxing song I look forward to hearing every time I start a new game or continue my current game’s progress. To this day it still holds a very special place in my heart. Hearing it triggers my nostalgic senses and gets me thinking about my time in college and the friends I made, and how they eventually got me fully committed to the Final Fantasy franchise that I still ever so love.
#5 To Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)
If you’ve been reading these in order, you now know that I am a sucker for emotional moments and soft melodic piano pieces (now where did I put that man card?). So it should come to no surprise that the most iconic song in Final Fantasy X deserves a spot in the top 5 best songs in all of the franchise. This song is purely sad and depressing, but sounding stunning and iconic at the same time. It’s a song now used by many to narrate a really saddening moment in their life. Yet again, it’s the very first thing you’re going to hear when you start the game up, so I wonder if Final Fantasy is amazing with picking the opening song, being that they always end up being the most remembered and talked about. Now, again, I’m not the one who is going to praise X’s story, being a bit too religious for me, but I can’t deny the fact that this song is a prediction of what is to become in those tragic, bittersweet concluding moments. The ending of that game is considered tremendously unfortunate to some; it tears at your heart-strings watching everything unfurl until the credits roll. To Zanarkland is another emotional trigger, and even though it’s intentions are sad and depressing, it will remind people of a time or a person that meant something very special to them.
#4 Balamb Garden (Final Fantasy VIII)
I never grew up in an orphanage, but peculiarly enough I relate very closely to Squall and his group of friends; shelled off from the popular world and really only dependent of myself for fear of losing people I brought in close to me. In the world of Final Fantasy VIII, the majority of characters are represented as students taught and trained at their respective Garden, which is simply a fancy word for “fight school”. There are different Garden’s throughout the world that differ from each other in terms of political views and what their students are being trained to fight for. Your group of students hails from Balamb Garden, and let me tell you something, are you going to love discovering the wonders of this campus, because the Balamb Garden theme song is the epitome of relaxation. There isn’t a single negative feeling that will arise in your body when you hear this track. Everything about it is so positive and cheerful, it is always bound to put a smile on your face and warm your ice-cold heart. This game’s music emboldens you to roam the world, discover every nook and cranny, and spend hours upon hours collecting rare cards all over with the Triple Triad mini game (best mini-game ever, I said that already, right?). But you will find yourself spending the most time at Balamb Garden, simply because its theme song is unmatched in positivity.
#3 Blinded By Light (Final Fantasy XIII)
Well, you’ve finally made it. The previous 17 entries definitely have quite an impact on me and most certainly deserve to be on this list as well as many other people’s list. That being said, the remaining 3 songs are considered, in my opinion, as the “powerhouse 3”, beating the rest of the competition by a wide margin. They are the three songs that instantly come to mind when somebody mentions Final Fantasy. First up is the battle theme of Final Fantasy XIII, Blinded by Light. Nearly every time you are thrown into battle, you are immediately pumped up with the short bursts of string instruments followed by long drawn out wind instruments. Eventually the tempo and octave pick up, and then finally, the string instruments just let loose and let absolutely beautiful notes flood the ear-canals. And to top it off, the second verse is complimented perfectly with an electric guitar and drums to make this one complete stud of a song. Lightning is one of the best written and represented Final Fantasy characters in the entire series (seriously you guys, its not a bad game, just pretend Hope isn’t there). She’s blunt, cold, no-nonsense, determined, and just a badass all around, and this song pays more than a compliment to her character. Unless something else comes up in future games, Blinded by Light will go down in Final Fantasy history as my favorite battle theme of all time.
#2 Liberi Fatali (Final Fantasy VIII)
If it weren’t for how the #1 song makes me feel, this song would easily be my favorite. Never in any game, even outside the franchise, has a song in the very beginning (even before you start playing), had me so full of passion than with this song. Liberi Fatali is Latin for “Fated Children”, and refers to the group of teenagers you play as throughout the game. It must have something to do with the acapella Latin opera choir singers that start the song, but every time I hear it, I’m blindsided by a massive chill down my spine. When the song begins to pick up, there is a lot more to take in. The orchestration as a whole is incomparable; nothing else comes close to its intensity. The bass-like low cello notes, the fast sharp drum snares and the triumphant trio of wind/brass/string instruments all come at you at once in overwhelming fashion. The vocals, once calm, have now become panicked and afraid, and the tempo picks up even more. There’s so much going on that when you are watching the FMV sequence the song is playing over, you are already sympathizing for the characters you are about to embark on a journey as. By far the best opening sequence in any Final Fantasy, Liberi Fatali is an absolute masterpiece that will go down as once of the best songs ever written for the franchise.
#1 Cele’s Theme/Aria di Mezzo Carattere (Final Fantasy VI)
Okay, it’s time to take away my man card and refuse to return it. While impersonating the opera singer Maria, during the party’s attempt to trick Setzer into kidnapping her and obtaining his airship, Celes belts out a tragic love song about longing for her lost hero to come rescue her from distress. How this song makes me feel cannot be justified by being put into words, but I’ll try. The Opera House scene in Final Fantasy VI is my favorite scene in the game and quite possibly the franchise, and it’s all thanks to this song. Whenever I hear it, I become emotionally weak and vulnerable. The idea that the singer is in isolation and longing for their true love really speaks out to me. As an introvert, it’s hard for me to meet new people, and even more difficult to express my feelings. I am comfortable being alone, but deep down, I no longer want to feel that way anymore; I want my hero to come rescue me from the state I’m in. I’m sure everyone else in similar situations would agree. In the second act of the game, after Kefka successfully destroys the World of Balance and turns it into the World of Ruin, Celes is stranded on an island with Cid, who eventually passes away to illness and fatigue. Believing that everyone she has ever known and loved is now gone, the song begins to play as she ascents a nearby mountain and attempts suicide of the cliff; letting it all go. Now, I am not the type of person that would ever think to do such a thing, but I can certainly relate and commiserate to the pain Celes is going through; having everything close to you ripped away and being eternally alone. Every time I hear this song, I am met with a sudden rush of emotion and I proudly let whatever tears may flow. It’s my go-to song when I’m feeling down and need to have a good moment to myself and let it all out. I’m confident when I say no song will probably dethrone Cele’s Theme as my favorite and most influential Final Fantasy piece, because it is simply the most entrancing moment in my gaming life thus far.
*As a bonus, because this song is so good, here’s an amazing vocal cover of the 8-bit version.
Whether some of these songs are on your list, or if yours has a completely different set, there is no denying that the music of Final Fantasy has a tremendous impact on everyone who has ever played an installment. I thank you for taking the time to read my opinionated list and encourage you to let me know what you think.