The long-awaited US release of Final Fantasy III comes in the form of a complete upgrade. The graphics are 3D, the gameplay includes DS-friendly control elements, the story is beefed up with real character development, and the music has been rearranged by by Tsuyoshi Sekito and Keiji Kawamori to complete the update on all fronts.
Square Enix released a special OST to recognize their work. Along with the upgraded soundtrack, we receive three arranged tracks and a DVD with special content. Let's talk about these "extras" first.
The DVD has three clips on it. The first is the very well-made, very well-publicized Opening Movie. This three minute movie features CG on the same scale and quality as Final Fantasy XII. The soundtrack credits list approximately 50 CG artists who worked solely on this movie. It is accompanied by the opening orchestral piece, which I will discuss later.
The second clip also makes use of the opening orchestral theme, and is hence the same length. This "On Sale" promotional video uses clips from the opening FMV and some in-game scenes to give a more well-rounded look at the game. It also introduces the four characters by name, which is exciting as they didn't have names in the original Famicom version. This clip is the one I chose to sample: check it out.
The third clip is a fairly lengthy interview (over 20 minutes) with director/producer Hiromichi Tanaka, original composer Nobuo Uematsu, arrangers Tsuyoshi Sekito and Keiji Kawamori, and synth operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka (who also did a special arranged track). In the interview, they discuss the original game, the massive overhaul from the original to the DS version, the use of orchestra in the opening, and other interesting topics that monolingual English-speakers will be unable to follow.
As for the three arranged tracks, the most significant track in my opinion is the opening "Memory of the Wind ~Legend of the Eternal Wind~." This three minute track combines the classic overworld music "Eternal Wind" and the heartfelt "Elia, the Maiden of Water" to produce what is probably the best orchestral FF piece I've heard since the FFVIII arranged album.
The second track (track 60), arranged by Yasuhiro Yamanaka, is the .333 mix of Eternal Wind. The use of old-timey 8-bit synth mixed with modern beats and loops made for an interesting track. It wasn't fantastic, but it was a nice bonus, on par with the sort of things heard on doujim albums or fan sites like OCremix. I definitely enjoyed it, but I would've liked to have seen more songs arranged, perhaps in a medley.
The album ends with a Black Mages performance of the Last Battle. To sum up this track: if you like the pseudo-hard rock that the Black Mages have done in the past, you'll like this too. There's a fantastic guitar and keyboard solo in the middle of the track, but otherwise I found myself yawning to the rest of the song, as it was nothing different from the usual sound. I also struggled to detect any cohesive theme throughout the song.
Alright, so those are all the pretty frills to the album. Now let's talk about the meat of the soundtrack itself.
Comprising 58 tracks, this OST expands on the old "Original Sound Version" (OSV) by having a larger number of tracks. It also, as I said, features massive sound upgrades. The soundtrack, it is rumored, is "studio-based," meaning what's on the CD is slightly better than what's on the actual DS cartridge. This happens frequently, like with nearly every "Tales of..." soundtrack release.
It's amazing how hauntingly familiar these songs were to me, though it is the least well-known FF in the United States. Right off the bat, I immediately recognized the Prelude, the first Dungeon theme, and the regular Battle theme. Uematsu's ability to write extremely memorable pieces is exemplified even in these first few tracks.
Though we already have two different arranged versions of the song, I was not displeased with Sekito's attempt at upgrading the classic track "Eternal Wind." The song is simply beautiful, and nearly any arrangement is going to sound good thanks to Uematsu's original melody, simple as it may be. The bouncy rhythm of the woodwinds and low strings are what make it stand out. I could listen to this song on repeat for hours on end.
The pizzicato strings on track 10 sound fantastic, and the melody is also preserved well through the woodwinds and softer strings.
The quality of songs continue through the music that comprises the opening half of the game. The "Battle 2" music marks a middle point for the album, and it too is a true work of art.
A lot of tracks in the 30s and 40s are 10 to 20 second mini-tracks, including piano performances and other little fanfares.
Things pick up at track 42, "Four Old Men's Theme." The four old men from the game are an interesting inclusion in the plot, and their interesting music helps to define who they are and what they represent.
The Falgabard village theme, right after Four Old Men, is another of my favorites. The style of the music is similar to many of the morose themes from Final Fantasy IX, and the arrangers chose sounds to reflect this style.
Speaking of Final Fantasy IX, "Pavilion of Dorga and Une" was a song featured in that game as a remake. Now, in the remake of III, Sekito and Kawamori take a stab at arranging the track. Unfortunately, I didn't find this arrangement to be too impressive. The melody is carried by a soft string/pad synth, which doesn't stand out nearly enough to make it the prominent melody it ought to be. This fast-tempo 6/8 piece is one of my favorites, and I was displeased to see it get a more mundane arrangement, along with a very short track time (a problem inherent to this 61-track disc...many agree that it should have been released on two CDs).
The final battle and ending songs are each split into three sections. The final section of the ending music is one of my favorite pieces. It opens with the Prelude and moves on to a very lovely orchestral march piece. This is one of Uematsu's better end credits pieces.
Being a Final Fantasy title, I'm sure the game will sell to expectation, and I'm betting many people jumped on the opportunity to own this soundtrack. For you slackers: fall in line! Even if you own the original Famicom version's soundtrack, there is plenty of reason to own this soundtrack alongside it. If nothing else, the DVD with the opening video is pure gold.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann