When I think about the Final Fantasy series and start reflecting on why it’s meant so much to me over the years, I nearly always come back to the music. For me, the soaring arrangements of Uematsu and co. are an enormous part of what makes Final Fantasy so very special. I can’t wait to hear what Final Fantasy XV has to offer in a few days’ time, but while we wait with bated breath, here’s a look at some of the best battle themes from the series thus far.
Now, before we get into the top five itself, I just want to give a nod to my personal favourite general battle theme from the series. I’m a big fan of Final Fantasy X’s ‘Battle Theme’, but the one I always find myself humming is ‘Those Who Fight’ from Final Fantasy VII. It comes down to the subtle cymbal that kicks off the ascending pattern of notes in a chorus that never fails to send adrenaline coursing through my veins.
It’s pretty great.
The five below, however, might be even better.
5. The Man With The Machine Gun (FFVIII)
One of the most high-tempo battle themes in the series, The Man With The Machine Gun expertly blends together dramatic synths and driving percussion to create a battle theme that’s well suited to to Laguna Loire. It’s a great blend of frenetic action, funky groove, and a hint of silliness. It’s a little ironic that this track is so good to dance to given Laguna’s propensity for leg cramps, but that sort of adds to its charm.
4. Blinded By Light (Final Fantasy XIII)
Masashi Hamauzu wanted to created something catchy-yet-complex for the main battle theme in Final Fantasy XIII, and he succeeded spectacularly with ‘Blinded By Light’. Traditionally, many of the battle themes lead with strong performances from the brass section, but here, the strings are really allowed the freedom to soar, and the results are fantastic. It’s a perfect fit as a leitmotif for the game’s main character Lightning – juxtaposing the violins’ grace with percussive power.
3. Clash on the Big Bridge (FFV / FFXII)
If you’re a long-time Final Fantasy fan, chances are that you’re a fan of Gilgamesh too. He’s one of the best antagonists in the series, and Clash on the Big Bridge is his leitmotif. Just as he has changed over the years, popping up from time to time in various games, so too has Gilgamesh’s battle theme changed and evolved. Final Fantasy V heralds his coming with driven rock; XII transforms it into an epic orchestral spectacle , and XIII-2 introduces the theme with some delicate Japanese native instruments. I love all of them, to be honest, especially the versions performed as part of Distant Worlds III, and The Black Mages cover, of course. The ever-changing Big Bridge is a theme much like Final Fantasy itself – familiar yet new, epic and beautiful, and desperately, brilliantly exciting.
2. One Winged Angel (FFVII)
Perhaps the most iconic piece of music from any Final Fantasy game, there’s no way this list could possibly have been concluded without talking about SEPHIROTH! Everything about One Winged Angel is absolutely sublime, and designed to make your jaw drop in awe. There are the violent timpani drums heralding an incredible fight, strings shrieking in fear, trumpets going mad, and that’s just in the first minute! Then there are the incomprehensible vocals, rising and falling in epic fashion, sending shivers down your spine, and, if you’re listening to the Advent Children or Black mages versions, the wild joy of earth-shaking guitar solos as well. One Winged Angel might be a bit overplayed these days, but when it’s this damn good, it’s difficult to care. Just brilliant.
1. Dancing Mad (FFVI)
This, however, is probably the best, most epic boss theme in the entire history of boss themes. ‘Dancing Mad’ represents Uematsu at his very best. It’s a sixteen-minute symphony in four movements paralleling Kefka’s ascension to almost divine power, and then capturing his dizzying fall from grace.
The first movement is a grand orchestration, symbolising Kefka boasting about his power. It’s all towering organs and choral vocals. The second is a slightly dissonant descent into villainous madness – a reminder that he’s no longer the goofy jester of the early game; no, Kefka is dangerously unhinged. And then comes the third movement, an almost religious shift, shamelessly borrowed for Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But it’s all a lie! Kefka doesn’t want to ascend to godhood – he’s taking the piss! Listening closely reveals Kefka’s theme transposed into a minor key, he’s the same madman he’s always been. Then, the fourth movement, and everything comes full circle. What began ‘Dancing Mad’ is repeated, but lessened.
Kefka finds himself losing, and instead of kicking into a rampant finale of rage and fury, the mood becomes almost sad and pitiful. Instead of building a monument to destruction and non-existence, Kefka himself has been undone, and it’s all reflected in this grand, sweeping, terrifically-ambitious track. Nothing else comes close.
Those are my two cents, but what are your thoughts? Hit me up in the comments, and let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see on Top Five!