Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale - Soundtrack Review

Not Quite Worthy to be the "Grand Finale" of FFVI Arrangements

Track Listing
Disc 1
1.Opening Theme
3.The Mystic Forest
5.Milan de Chocobo
6.Troops March On
7.Kids Run Through the City Corner
10.Mystery Train
11.Aria De Mezzo Carattere
Total Playtime: 54:33
Nobuo Uematsu
Shiro Sagisu and Tsuneyoshi Tsaito
NTT Publishing

Final Fantasy VI is among the very most beloved soundtracks in all of gaming. The sound quality that Uematsu managed to get out of the SNES hardware for the original soundtrack embarrasses some of the sound design in some CD-based games. However, there is no question that if any musical composition for a game is both worthy of a quality orchestral arrangement, and could be better-realized with one, Final Fantasy VI is it. Grand Finale adds some wonderful subtlety to the OST and adds some of its own character, but in many ways is not the perfect arrangement it could have been.

The inaccuracies in the arrangement are many and, considering how fondly-remembered these compositions are, rather severe. For instance, the melody of Kefka's theme is completely different than previously. Originally, the melody appropriately captured the craftiness and whimsy of the character it accompanied, and here, the whimsical chromatic ornament from the melody is actually moved out of the motif and placed elsewhere. What remains is sly and buffoonish, and overall uninteresting compared to the original arrangement. Some of the same feel is captured, but the alteration of the melody does nothing but hurt the arrangement to almost completely ruining it.

The most embarrassing track on this disc is the theme of Relm. Originally this theme had a juxtaposition of a soft, calming melody that was answered melodically by a bagpipes-like sound, slightly harsher but meaningful in contrast. In this version the bagpipes' entrance is as hideous and jarring as an alarm clock going off in the middle of Barber's “Adagio for Strings,” and it's amazing that the results of this arrangement made it to print. Tragically, this track on the CD is otherwise nothing short of beautiful—a lush combination of strings and woodwinds rightly orchestrated. For most people on the fence deciding whether they hate bagpipes or not, this will seal the deal: it would be worth editing the sound file to get rid of it. The presence of a harpsichord in some other tracks barely manages to fit sometimes, but other times can be somewhat grating as well.

On the other hand, this arrangement has its share of highlights. The opening theme, including Terra's theme, is a solid arrangement, with the famous melody given to what sounds like a recorder flute. This interpretation is interesting and legitimate, if unusual for such an instrument to be accompanied solo by an orchestra. The volume for the melody was surely enhanced to balance, but nonetheless the innate timbre of the recorder somehow sounds somewhat dwarfed. In this instance the melodic line in the bridge, which was originally rather plain, is enhanced by a lovely accompaniment in this arrangement. The best track is definitely “Blackjack,” a slower, mellower version of Setzer's theme that is absolutely rich, with the melody sometimes cleverly carried by a saxophone (one of the “hits” among the many misses for the instrumental experimentation), and is a good clue as to what the rest of a faithful FFVI orchestration could have been. “Kids Run through the Street Corner” is also spot-on, if brief. “The Mystic Forest” has a bold arrangement that is quite successful, with a melody slightly extended to its benefit. One of the cleverest arrangements in the album, a voice accompanies the flute playing this melody, enhancing the haunting feel of the piece.

For the most part, it is unthinkable to imagine improving Final Fantasy VI by altering melodies, as well as the genius of Uematsu's original harmonies. Suffice it to say, the changes are almost entirely negative. Some of the same feel is captured with some good—and universally creative, for better or worse—choices in instruments, and to be sure, the full and immersing sound of the orchestra is very welcome. The performance is solid, although other Final Fantasy arrangements are slightly higher caliber, as this one loses energy and intensity. The embellishments on the OST are rather hit-or-miss; many introductions and sections of the tracks are completely original and, though oftentimes interesting, are completely disjointed. The newly-added violin cadenza on “Kids Run through the Street Corner” sounds like it belongs on a completely different track, for but one example.

Grand Finale contains some wonderful listening in its own right, but considering how important an arrangement of Final Fantasy VI really is—how good it should have been, and easily so—the album is rather underwhelming. Final Fantasy VII: Reunion, with its three orchestral tracks, is easily the pinnacle of Final Fantasy arrangements, which almost entirely captured the spirit of the original composition, did not so compromise the harmonies, and arguably managed to improve on the listening experience of the OST. Some other arrangements of FFVI more easily capture and enhance the original sound version much better, including some tracks on the piano album, and other singular pieces that have been performed in front of an audience (such as the recent performance in Seattle, some of which can be found on CD). The royal treatment that Final Fantasy VI deserves, in full, is yet to come.

Sound Quality
Production Value
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