Whatever you might think about sprite changes, missing content, or even that damned font, one aspect of the new Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster versions of classic FF games is definitive: the music.
It is perhaps inevitable that the earlier parts of Nobuo Uematsu’s career are overshadowed by his later works. When you’ve got individual tracks like One Winged Angel and Liberi Fatali and complete scores like those of Final Fantasy IX and Lost Odyssey under your belt, people are obviously going to focus on those over your earlier, more rudimentary works.
The scores of the NES Final Fantasy titles is in part rudimentary because of the console’s limited audio capabilities – but it’s also undoubtedly an Uematsu still experimenting and finding his feet. There’s a simplicity to the composition, and explorative reaches into genres, ideas, and affectations that the FF maestro would later perfect. That makes them a fascinating time capsule – and it makes it all the more exciting to see them produced in an exciting new form.
The idea behind the Pixel Remasters appears to be to produce a version of these games that looks, feels and sounds the way that you remember them rather than the way they actually were. Thus the sprite redraws; for the NES games they increase fidelity while keeping a more sort of simplistic colour scheme and style, veering away from the outright added detail featured in other ports of these same games.
The same is broadly true for music. Those who played the music of FF1 and FF2 as NES chiptune, or on later platforms obviously-synthesized samples — but here, each track has been reproduced lovingly with more realistic-sounding instrumentation – though there is still plenty of synth, of course. The result is music that evokes the feeling of the original rather than precisely replicating it as it was.
In an official Q&A, Square Enix says that the new arrangements were created “while keeping in mind the importance of not destroying the image of the original music,” with the overall vision being of a goal to “restore” elements that weren’t there originally, but were intended. To that end, Uematsu has returned to the series, too, acting as a supervisor for these new arrangements.
For FF1 and FF2, at least, this isn’t the first time the music has been reconsidered in this way. The PS1 release offered interesting new arrangements, and this trend was continued, albeit in native hardware, on Game Boy Advance. But it’s fair to say that the versions of these compositions in the FF Pixel Remasters are the best to date; it is now the definitive version of these soundtracks, and for FF music aficionados, the score alone might be worth the game’s price of entry.
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The quality of the music for the Pixel Remaster releases of FF1-3 gives one hope for the other upcoming games, too. FF4-6 are allegedly set to release over the coming months, and one has to wonder – will they get the same treatment?
Replacing NES music is one thing – but the SNES sound chip is pretty fabulous on its own, with a signature sound that defines much of those games. Thus, replacing that music is much more treacherous ground to tread. There’s a reason that the PS1 versions of FF1 & 2 replaced the music entirely, while the same platform’s versions of FF4-6 simply used recordings of the original versions. So… that’ll be interesting. If the music is changed, it’ll need to walk a tightrope to avoid prompting outrage.
But with the quality of the musical effort in the Pixel Remaster series so far, it only seems fair to give them the benefit of the doubt until we get our first sight and sound of FF4 in action. With the first three games in the series, the music is absolutely the best thing about this remaster package – and whoever is behind it needs a round of applause.