The first category of the Top 100 is the Mini-game category. The stipulations of this category were that the piece had to have a prominent appearance in one of the mini games that were in one of the games (but it could appear outside mini-games as well). Due to this stipulation, the pieces for this category were only found in FF 6-10, where mini-games came into their being.
Runners up: Vamo Alla Flamenco (IX), Hunter's Chance (IX)
Winner: Fiddle de Chocobo
When it is played: During Chocobo Racing
Starting off the list at Number 10 is a piece of Uematsu's that is not only on this list because of the mini-game it is a part of, but because its main theme is based off one of Uematsu's most consistent and noticeable tracks across the whole series, the Chocobo theme. Fiddle de Chocobo take this track and enhances it with a Southern charm (as the Fiddle part suggests). The piece itself is also a very lighthearted piece and is definitely one of the funnier tracks to listen to across all of the Final Fantasy soundtracks.
While this piece was considered to be the favorite of ours for Chocobo themes, it is probably the fact that it is a Chocobo theme that put it up at number one for this category at all. Chalk this one up to nostalgia, although you can't really go wrong with a good variation of the Chocobo music.
The next category is FMV (Full Motion Video). This category was completely biased towards the later games of the series because, well, there were no FMVs in FF 1-6 (until they were re-released). There were still plenty of great candidates for this entry though.
Runners up: The Landing (VIII), The Great Warrior (VII)
Winner: Assault of the Silver Dragons
When it is played: When approaching the entrance to Memoria
The silver dragon swarm is probably one of my favorite FMVs in any Final Fantasy. I'm not sure if it is my obsession with dragons, or the piece of music Uematsu wrote to go with it. It opens up with a complete build up as the dragons approach the party, and then it proceeds to what I consider the "loop point" (where the song loops back to during playing), which is a great scene enhancer. The reason this song lists at the top of the FMV list is it does exactly what a FMV music track is supposed to do, it enhances the FMV to a whole new level. I have to say that my only disappointment is they decided to end the song at the start of the Nova Dragon battle. This piece would have made that battle so much more memorable.
In any of the Final Fantasy games, there are two main types of areas: Places where you can't fight enemies (we'll call these city/indoor areas) and places where you can (dungeon/outdoor). We will get to the prior later on, but for now we will focus on the outdoor area. The songs considered for this piece were songs that accompanied places where enemies could be encountered (excluding world maps). Songs that accompanied both indoor and outdoor settings were chosen for just one area and judged on that criteria.
Runners up: Terra (IX), Underwater Temple (I)
Winner: Judgement Day
When it is played: During the trek of the Northern Crater
Judgement Day is the perfect name for this piece. The whole piece itself sounds like it is building up towards the apex of the game (which the dungeon is). While playing this song in my house one day, a friend commented to me "That song sounds like your readying yourself for the world to change." If a track can do that without even knowledge of the context, imagine what it does in game. Like most tracks on the Final Fantasy VII OST, Judgement Day really shows why having the Playstation and it's ability for better sound was a fantastic asset for Uematsu to have. Nobuo hit a great stride with this piece and really set up a fantastic ending to the game.
The next category listed is the Final Battle. Songs considered for this list aren't necessarily just found in the absolute final battle, but in the final series of battles. This allowed for a few more qualified entries (especially popular ones such as Maybe I'm a Lion) to make the list. Regardless of the entries though, it seemed pretty clear what songs were going to compete for numbers one and two in this category.
Runners up: One Winged Angel (VII), The Extreme (VIII)
Winner: Dancing Mad
When it is played: During the final confrontation with Kefka
Dancing Mad is the 2nd longest piece composed by Uematsu for the Final Fantasy series (the longest is the ending from the same game). The runtime on the piece that is on CD is a whopping 17 minutes and 39 seconds (and close to 11 minutes for the shortened Orchestrated version). The reason the song is this length is that the piece consists of four different movements (which I happened to give names myself) to match the four stages of the final battle. The Catastrophe part (Part I - named after the title of the piece it resembles) plays a familiar opening heard elsewhere in the game and gives the song a fast, energetic opening. The Latin part (Part II - named for all the Latin spoken in the orchestral version, although I know next to nothing of it) moves the song in a direction that makes the build up towards the final stage of Kefka full of tension. The Organ part (Part III - named because the entire movement sounds as if it could belong on a church organ) gives a filler that mirrors the third tier of the battle perfectly. Ironically, of the whole piece, the third movement is the calmest, and the third tier includes a boss named Sleep. The Showdown part (Part IV - played with the final confrontation with Kefka) regains the uptempo cadence from the earlier movements and then adds to it. The movement has a sound that fits in well with the metal genre (which makes this piece easily arranged for compositions with the Black Mages among others) and really brings a great end to the song.
Overall, Dancing Mad easily relates to the "epic-ness" of the boss fight and is definitely (and deservedly) considered in Uematsu's top works.
The Opening/Main Theme/Vocal category was the last one created. It was determined that these particular parts of the game stand out above other FMVs, and should be recognized in their own rights. The stipulations for this category is the song either had to open the game, be a lyrical track within a game (which only 5 games utilized), or be the song played on the world map (in which Final Fantasy VI's fell into a different category).
Runners up: To Zanarkand (X), Prelude (IV)
Winner: Liberi Fatali
When it is played: Opening scene of Final Fantasy VIII
The Latin (and the single other phrase used in the song) are absolutely astounding in the opening piece to Final Fantasy VIII. Liberi Fatali means "fated children", and in actuality could be attributed to many Final Fantasy themes (that the playable characters are fated to the survival of the world). Beyond just the lyrics, the orchestrated part of the song is extremely well done, really accentuating the opening battle between Seifer and Squall. Although Eyes On Me is the main song of Final Fantasy VIII, Liberi Fatali has influence on a few other pieces throughout the game as well, including "The Landing", "SeeD", and "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec".
Interesting Note: Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec is the non-Latin phrase I was talking about that is spoken in the song. In actuality, the phrase translates to nothing, but rather is an anagram of the words "Succession of Witches" and "Love" which are the two central themes of Final Fantasy VIII.
The character category is a pretty self explanatory one. Most pieces considered for this category are specifically named for the character, however, there are a few (see: Rose of May and Theme of Love) that are the themes for certain characters that are also included.
Runners up: Aeris's Theme (VII), Rose of May (IX)
Winner: Terra's Theme
When it is played: Overworld map of Final Fantasy VI
The song selection for number one is really an oddity in itself. The piece is actually Terra's theme, however, it is really the overworld theme for Final Fantasy VI (in the World of Balance). The theme that relates to scenes involving Terra is actually called "Awakening", but Terra's theme was still recognized and gets the spot for representing the character. The theme itself can be heard in "Awakening" as well as the opening sequence and "Metamorphosis" (another piece related directly with Terra). The piece has become synonymous with Final Fantasy VI just as Dancing Mad and Kefka's laugh has. It starts out with a slow opening with very few instruments playing the melody of the piece. After a few iterations of this segment with more instruments joining each time, the song reaches is peak with a overture that really captures the gamer. This is one of two themes that I have actually let play all night while I fell asleep (the other being Final Fantasy VII's version of the Prelude).
The Town/City category is made up of places that random encounters do not take place (for the most part). This category is fairly straightforward (and the opposite of the dungeon theme category).
Runners up: You Can Here the Cry of the Planet (VII), Black Mage Village (IX)
Winner: Fisherman's Horizon
Where it is played: In Fisherman's Horizon and present day Winhill
For me, Fisherman's Horizon is one of the most soothing pieces written by Uematsu. The song encompasses everything that the towns of FH and Winhill are about: simplicity, peace, relaxation. It's docile tone does wonders and really welcomes you to the town. Three-quarters of the way through the song, a slight build up feels like a complete tempo change, but it still remains as slow and gentle as before. The song has been widely acclaimed by many fans of the series, and deservingly so.
The next category we have is boss battles. This is another straight-forward category for songs to fall into. The only boss themes not to fall into this category were the ones to fall under the "Final Battles" category.
Runners up: JENOVA (VII), Premonition (VIII)
Winner: Battle at the Big Bridge
Where it is played: During battles with Gilgamesh as well as when crossing Big Bridge
Battle at the Big Bridge is one of the most renowned and acclaimed pieces ever written by Uematsu. It is absolutely adored in Japanese culture, but it is not as highly recognized in the western world, due highly to the fact that Final Fantasy V wasn't immediately brought to the states. However, fans of the series will give credit to this piece. With the exception of series staples such as "Final Fantasy", "Prelude", the Chocobo Theme, and the Victory Fanfare, Battle at the Big Bridge is the most remixed and reused song of the series. Once you listen to it, it isn't difficult to understand why.
The piece itself flows very fluently, even though it is very fast paced and a few of the parts are very intricate and involved (such as the opening scales). As with most of Uematsu's pieces (especially all the ones on this list), this piece perfectly fits the role for which it is used. Although it is an intense piece like most boss battle themes for the series, it is also able to accentuate the lightheartedness of Gilgamesh's character throughout the game.
Note: Among the remixes created of this song, one was done by Hitoshi Sakimoto for Final Fantasy XII for the battle with Gilgamesh and Enkidu in that game.
The next to last category we have is the Battle Theme category. This category was for all battle themes that were not used when fighting bosses. Most games had one major one (most of them named just "Battle"), but there were multiple that had numerous battle themes.
Runners up: Battle 1 (IX), Those Who Fight (VII)
Winner: Man with the Machine Gun
Where it is played: In the "Dream" battles with Laguna and company
The battle theme of Final Fantasy VIII (Don't Be Afraid) is good in its own regards, but is completely surpassed by Man with the Machine Gun. Final Fantasy VIII has, in my opinion, the best collection of battle music in any game, beyond just the Final Fantasy series; and Man with the Machine Gun is at the top of this list. The piece itself has many good individual parts, between the strings in the background, the brass playing the main theme, and the transitional brass part in the second half of the theme. The most amazing part though, is the amazing harmony they create when placed together.
As great and highly renowned the song is in game, the song deserves much more recognition (and thus gained more notoriety) for the performance in the Distance Worlds concerts, where the song has become a staple piece and always receives great feedback.
The final category, and the one that holds the number one song by Nobuo Uematsu, is the Cut Scene/Other category. This category is one of the harder ones to define, as it holds all the songs that were included in cut-scenes (but not FMVs) in game or songs that really didn't fit another category (Victory Music, Airship Music, etc.).
Runners up: Victory (I), Aria de Mezzo Carattere (VI)
Winner: You're Not Alone
Where it is Played: During Zidane's struggle with himself in Terra
You're Not Alone is quite possibly the epitome of Uematsu's work. I think this piece matches the emotion of the scene better than any other piece in the series. The cut-scene itself is a series of battles Zidane fights after finding out his true origins and the intentions behind his creation. After pushing the rest of the party away, Zidane ends up battling enemies, in which he has little chance winning himself. During these battles, members of the party show up to assist him, and remind him who he is, and that (as the song title suggests) he is not alone.
The piece itself holds up to the same emotional direction. It starts highly solitary, slow, and simple. As the song continues, it carries the same theme but with added instrumentation that improves the harmony of the piece. The piece then shifts into a higher tempo, more driven tune, with the sound of hope and determination. Nobuo's work on this song really brings what the entire event is about, and as a stand alone piece, it really delivers that same feeling.
Trying to rank and write about something as subjective as music is a very daunting task. I hope I could possibly shed a little light on some of these brilliantly constructed pieces through this top ten list and do a little justice to all of the great work Uematsu composed for Final Fantasy. This by no means are the only great pieces Nobuo Uematsu has composed. Some of these great songs, including: Clowns of the Moonless Night (IX), Rikku's Theme (X), A Face Unforgotten(IX), Over the Hill(IX), Main Theme (I), and Roses and Wine (VIII), didn't even make it to the Top 100.
However, for what this list was created to achieve, I hope everyone checks out these great pieces. I am very eager to hear the debate to other songs that others believe belong on the list. Thanks to everyone who helped rank these and those who took time to read it.
List by Vaeicioux (11/22/2012)
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