There probably isn’t a series of games that has ever captured my imagination quite like the Final Fantasy series. I have sat and played most of the games, although I have admittedly not touched the MMOs. They are well-conceived games and merit discussion in their own right, but for me, and I suspect many others, the sixth entry into the series stands apart.
My reverence for this particular game brought me to pick up Final Fantasy 6 from publisher Boss Fight Books. The book is a critical analysis of the game, most specifically, its music, and by extension celebrated composer, Nobuo Uematsu. And that music is iconic. I’d even go so far as to argue that most nerds would recognize “Prelude” from the Final Fantasy series of games since it has become a staple of the franchise’s soundtracks.
Most fans will debate which entry into the series is the best, with many people taking sides in favour of the sixth or the seventh game. Regardless of whatever acrimony there might appear in this respect, just about everyone agrees that the music is always top-notch in every single iteration of Final Fantasy. I would place myself among these people, and the first video game soundtrack I made a point to own in physical form was Final Fantasy 6. Obviously, it’s I have a deep affection for this game, even if it might be tempered by nostalgia at this point. Uematsu himself is highly respected for his body of work, similar to how John Williams is held in high regard for his film scores. Deken takes issue with this comparison in his examination. (After considering his approach that Uematsu and Williams are not really a good comparison, I concede that he makes a strong case.
FF6 came out almost 30 years ago. Being in North America, I was only able to play the first and fourth games in the series, or FF1 and FF2 as they were known in my corner of the globe. I loved them both and was anticipating FF6 when news broke that the game was finally coming. I don’t recall purchasing it as a ‘Day One’ release, but I definitely didn’t wait long to add it to my collection. Once I had it in my hot little hands, I was not disappointed. It was and is a masterpiece.
Neither was I disappointed with the book that reviewed the game’s legacy. People can say whatever they want about the game’s place in history, for a long time it was the benchmark that every other RPG was measured against. The game’s music helped make that possible.
As author Sebastian Deken discusses, the game took some interesting turns by incorporating an expansive soundtrack. It was on three CDs! Each character has their own song and the game makes expert use of them. Not only that, but the composition itself is ambitious and wildly varied. I’ll leave the formal critique to Deken because he was extremely adept at it, but I found myself agreeing with a lot of his assessments.
The book does a great job of discussing ideas about why the music from FF6 worked so well, and how it differed from its predecessors. One point that I thought was also interesting was the infamous opera scene. This had to be in this book, and Deken’s take on it was very thoughtful. It worked in the game in a way that fit the game, beautifully, but, as he points out, it only truly works in the game. This is obviously a bit of a flaw, but something that didn’t really make a difference to anyone helping Celes sing her part. At the end of the day, the limitations of the hardware didn’t matter. The opera scene fit the game. It doesn’t need to be recreated in the real world because it was written for the game.
One of the problems of this book though is that it doesn’t treat the game as a whole. It really only addresses the music, and so aspects of the game that really stood out, both for good and bad reasons, weren’t really investigated as much as they could have been. Could there be another book-length critique of FF6? Sure. Should there be? That’s a good question. Perhaps Boss Fight would consider authorizing another foray into FF6 legacy, but Deken’s book stands well on its own, even if it’s a bit limited in its scope.
Ultima-atley, this book was great. I felt like I was reading an easily digestible academic thesis. Yes, it could have been longer and covered more ground, but what’s available is perfectly substantive. At no point was this book ever pandering, or petty. Rather, it is intelligent, insightful, and frankly, a must-read for anyone that is a fan of the Final Fantasy games, especially FF6. This was my first time reading one of Boss Fight’s books, and I’m impressed enough that it almost certainly won’t be the last time I purchase something from this publisher.