I’m sure many of us remember marveling at Final Fantasy VII in our youth. The cinematic graphics made our eyes widen and our jaws drop. The majestic soundtrack was a symphony compared to the 16-bit soundtracks we were used to. And the storyline was deeper and more epic in scope than most anything we had seen before. Unfortunately, as adults, it’s difficult for us to look at Final Fantasy VII with that same childlike wonder. The once stellar graphics look clunky by today’s standards, the once magnificent soundtrack now sounds a bit tinny to our ears, and the storyline seems somewhat cartoony now.
Listening to Sean Schafianski’s first volume of remastered Final Fantasy VII tracks took away my cynical adult sensibilities and turned me into an excited little kid again. Even better was that the tracks selected were mostly lesser-known tracks that I couldn’t believe I had overlooked before and nostalgically reminded me of the game’s in-between moments rather than its more bombastic ones. So when the opportunity to listen to Volume 2 presented itself, I immediately jumped at it.
The majority of tracks presented this time around are more well-known, such as Cosmo Canyon, the chocobo themes, Descendent of Shinobi, and Crazy Motorcycle to name just a few. Upon immediate listen, pieces like Cosmo Canyon and the Main Theme don’t seem too far off from their original forms, but if you were to compare versions, the remastered Cosmo Canyon sounds far more majestic and the Main Theme far more epic than the originals. Once more, I was transported back to my youthful exuberance, marveling at my first view of the expansive overworld after the stifling nature of Midgar and the Grand Canyon-esque natural beauty of Red XIII’s homeland. I also liked the subtlety of the Soul Ballad remix of Ahead on Our Way. It made my memories of tranquil towns like Kalm far more vivid and added much needed life to what would typically be a generic town theme. Basically, what I heard on this album is what I would expect the music in a HD remake of Final Fantasy VII to sound like.
The most noticeable differences between original and remaster are found in the more action-oriented tracks Still More Fighting and Crazy Motorcycle. Some players might be put off by some parts of Still More Fighting being loud and perhaps overpowering, but imagine hearing that piece of music during a battle. Over the music, a battle would have the “whoosh” of Limit Break sound effects, the slashes and clangs of swords, resounding gunfire, the variety of noises accompanying magic spells, and other intense sound effects. So while, yes, Still More Fighting sounds brash by itself, it would be mixed just fine within a real battle scenario.
One of my favorite pieces from Final Fantasy VII is Crazy Motorcycle, so I was super excited to hear it here. This interpretation of Crazy Motorcycle needed to grow on me a bit, but grow on me it did. My initial impression was that I would have liked the bass line to be more staccato and the bridge at 1:07 to have stronger note cut-offs to add intensity and punchiness, but upon further listening, I realized the nature of this interpretation: speed. The blurred notes in the bassline and the subtle warble and wavering during the bridge made me think of scenery being a blur as you zoom by at high speeds, which can be a bit disorienting when coupled with the G-forces and the effort required to keep one eye on the road and the other on pursuing enemies.
Once again, Sean Schafianski has delivered a winner. In his remasterings of Final Fantasy VII’s music, he displays a good sense of when to issue subtle enhancements and when to add more dramatic overtures. I preferred the first album, because it gave credence to the more unsung pieces of Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack, but this one showcased a loving treatment of more well-known pieces that fans should clearly enjoy. I look forward to hearing more of Schafianski’s remasters in the future. “Birth of a God” and “Bombing Mission” are on my wishlist for pieces I would want to hear remastered.