With the advent of the Game Boy Advance, remakes were well on their way. Square Enix's habit of revamping their older titles came up to the end of the 16-bit age with FF games IV through VI, remastered for all to love and adore.
In keeping with this, their soundtracks also got touched up and remade for the handheld. While MIDI has long since gone the way of the dodo with most games, its charm still holds for many, and Square Enix has paid every bit of attention to revitalizing the classic soundtracks while still retaining the themes of their golden years.
Final Fantasy IV - Romance and Chivalry
Final Fantasy IV has received the least treatment. While its soundtrack does not immediately come to mind in vivid detail, nostalgia grants that the improvements haven't harmed the original melodies. Particularly powerful are Black Clad Golbeza, theme song for the game's arch-villain, and then Golbeza's Four King's Battle, which plays when warring with his underlings.
The snare drum in the latter has been reduced from its original power a tad, but there is a much broader depth of sound which more than makes up for it. As for the former, I'm deeply impressed at how Gothic and ominous the entire piece sounds, even next to its original. There's a creepier, sharper edge to the remake, a worthy herald of Golbeza's villainy.
Sadly, one theme seems to have a problem, and that's Maiden Rydia, theme for the piece's titular character. An extra vibration has been added in the early part of the song which utterly hurts it, especially when played at louder decibels. It's unfortunate too, because the old version is a favorite of mine, and it simply doesn't need reworking – at least not in this fashion.
Note also that this release of the FFIV OST offers ten new tracks. Two of them are created simply by breaking the ending theme into three separate tracks. The rest are short jingles and other small melodies that had been previously unreleased, but are now officially "out there" for the first time.
Final Fantasy V - Adventures on the High Seas
I have no reservations with telling a person how much I revile the actual game of Final Fantasy V, largely owing to its poor characterization and utterly shallow story. The music is a different matter, however, and still holds a fond place in my heart. Final Fantasy XII thrilled me when I heard the remix of Battle on the Big Bridge, and here it is no different. It's hard to judge which version is better (the original or this remake), but in either case there's a rush of excitement and battle readiness. Old school hardliners may call foul on it due to the original being such a good composition, but I think this remake is every bit worthy of praise.
Dear Friends, how I love you so. Here the remake is a decidedly better composition. While I adore the original, this new take has a more lulling feel to it, and the extra MIDI instruments only enhance its kind melancholy and lilting, longing melody. If there's one song that soothed the whole atrocious experience of FFV, it's Dear Friends.
But there's always a flaw in everything. The Airship just sounds too tinny for my liking. It isn't truly bad, and I can still listen to it without much problem, but when you put it next to the original, there's a huge difference. I could listen to the original over and over, but the new version is just too tinny for my ears after a couple of playthroughs.
Final Fantasy VI - Of Friends and Trials
For many old-school fans, Final Fantasy VI was the triumph of their age. It still separates the old from the new gaming academia, and its music is a large part of that. As I myself am sympathetic to opera, the soundtrack affected me in my youth in such a way that truly enhanced the gaming experience. Thus it's only natural that I've taken additional time to run over the remake with a fine-toothed comb.
Much of the soundtrack hasn't changed. There are some extra instruments that I can hear, but overall the feel is the same. I can barely tell the difference between the original Theme of Edgar and Sabin and the remake. Some have nice touches, like Locke's Theme which now has a better drum roll in the background. But there are others like Forest of Illusion which just shouldn't have been touched. While the main body of Forest of Illusion is the same, the high string piece has been distorted by too sharp a pitch, souring the entire experience.
Another tinny recomposition is Airship Blackjack. It's just too frail to hold a candle to the original take, and that's really sad considering the GBA's sound capabilities. Relatedly however, Setzer's Theme really shines with its remake. Much like Locke's Theme, the added instruments give the composition a depth it didn't have before, and it's a welcome change.
This final component of the Advance remakes is perhaps its most varied. On one hand you have some very strong takes on the old compositions, and on the other hand a good many tracks are just too tinny. This of course may be due to the GBA's small speakers and the need to convey sound in a different way, but when run through a full-sized sound system, some tracks just don't hold up.
I'm overall very enthused by this entire collection. Both Final Fantasy IV and V hold up very well. I rarely enjoyed their music outside of the games themselves due to the rather primitive sound of their times, and so the added instruments do a great service here. Final Fantasy VI suffers more, but even then it's not a true deal-breaker.
It's been a very long time since these tracks were at the forefront of every RPG fan's music collection, but this gives every collector new and old a chance to relive the past. Between the strong compositions of both Final Fantasy IV and V, and the middling region of Final Fantasy VI, it's a really good deal if you can get your hands on it. I personally love this collection, despite its flaws. There are a few tracks just utterly soured, but they're too few to grow any resentment. Definitely a worthy addition to any music lover's library.
...Just, um, be ready to pay an arm and a leg. The album was released as a promotional bonus to Japanese consumers who purchased all three GBA remakes and sent in proofs of purchase. Within days of its shipping, the collection was selling online for over $200, and though the price has slowly decreased, only the most dedicated fans will want to make the choice to pay for this expensive collection, even with its well-remade music and stunning Amano artwork.
Reviewed by: Mark P. Tjan