Final Fantasy IV is a classic title; it is, in many ways, the foundation for the majority of the series, thanks to the party system, the active time battle system, and the emphasis on the ability to summon monsters. It also features, according to some fans, Uematsu’s most memorable compositions. And they sounded beautiful on the SFC sound chip. So here’s a classic soundtrack, now “new and improved” for the DS. Is that a good thing? It’s hard to say.
Between this release and the old soundtrack release for the Super Famicom version, there are three differences. Two of them weigh in definite favor for this release, but the third … is entirely a matter of opinion.
First, we have additional tracks with live performances. The opening track is an orchestral medley piece. The ending track is Megumi Ida’s song “Moonlight” which is based on the Final Fantasy IV “Theme of Love.” Then there’s the additional DVD content, with these songs accompanied by the FMV and in-game footage. Who can say no to that? This is all good, worthwhile stuff!
Second, the previously one-disc soundtrack is now a two-disc set. Yet, there have only been a few tracks added. What does this mean? It means, the old release, which only played each song once, pales in comparison to this version, which has each song looped, so you have more time to enjoy individual tracks. Every VGM collector agrees: this is a good thing! Kudos to Square Enix for making the right decision here, especially compared to what happened with the Final Fantasy III DS OST, which was still one disc (for over 60 tracks of audio!).
Okay, and now the controversial part. Every song was rearranged to work better with the “upgraded” DS synth format. These arrangements were done by two Square Enix sound staffers that I hold in high regard: Junya Nakano (FFX, Dewprism) and Kenichiro Fukui (Front Mission V, FFVII Advent Children). They did a good job with putting the sounds of Final Fantasy IV into a new era without butchering them, but this begs the question: will nostalgic fans of FFIV be able to stand hearing these tunes outside of their original context, yet still synthesized? It’s one thing to have a recorded orchestra, it’s another thing to try and up-sample music that sounded fine where it was. Personally, I had a hard time with this. Some songs transitioned extremely well: Theme of Love, Troia, the Lunarians, and Bab-Il sounded decent to me. But one of my favorite songs from the old SNES title was “Dancing Doll Calcobrena.” In the DS version, the synth that’s meant to stand out, even to the point of grating your ears, has been drastically subdued. You know what I’m talking about: the high-pitched flute melody, running in perfect 8th notes along a 3/4 creepy-circus backbone of a harmony. However, the snare drum sounds much better defined on this track, so it’s a give and take process; the DS synth improves in one place, but lacks in stark strength at other places.
Overall, the music does sound great though. I’ve been really let down with a lot of DS soundtracks in the last few years. Indeed, it’s become common for DS soundtracks to be released as a multi-disc set, where the first section gives us the DS version of the music, and the second section gives us the “original synth” version (such as Yuzo Koshiro composing on PC-88 sound processors for Etrian Odyssey). But Square’s always been ahead of the rest when it comes to sound manipulation on new consoles and handhelds, and I think they’ve reached a new standard of excellence with the sound quality of this one. Kudos to the programmers and sound manipulators at Square Enix: you’ve always done an excellent job.
Personally, I think that most any Square Enix fanboy should be interested in Final Fantasy IV DS: both game and soundtrack. Even if you’re one of those people who hates remakes, can’t stand the FFVII Compilation, etc., this one may still be worthwhile. I really enjoyed listening to this album, but I do just as much enjoy listening to the old Super Famicom version, so … this could be a redundant purchase for many VGM collectors.