Life these days is rush rush rush, isn’t it? A million things to do, and everything needs to be done yesterday. You know you need to slow down a little bit, but just thinking about that stresses you out because you just can’t afford to slow down and take a breather, lest something doesn’t get done and you fall behind. Thank goodness music is there to help bring you back to sanity.
Listening to Fragments of Memories: A Melancholy Tribute to Final Fantasy VIII forced me to slow down and reflect. Of all the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, few lend themselves as well to the “Melancholy” treatment as Final Fantasy VIII. Despite the epic bombast required for a Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy VIII’s most poignant and memorable moments were its more understated and quiet ones. The subtle movements made by Squall and Rinoa during their awkward romantic night at Fisherman’s Horizon, Irvine shooting a basket and missing while the gang remembers the orphanage, Laguna’s time in the quiet town of Winhill with the young woman who finds him wounded on the battlefield, the sidequest involving the library girl with a crush on Zell… I could go on and on. The point here is that underneath Final Fantasy VIII’s “overly complicated, bigger than life JRPG” veneer lies the heart of a quietly powerful game that could have benefited from the virtue of simplicity.
The music presented in this soundtrack completely reflects that. The enchanting, sometimes ethereal, arrangements of many Final Fantasy VIII songs reflect the strength of quieter moments and showcase the versatile power of well-composed music. Sure, slower pieces like Balamb Garden, Blue Fields, and Fragments of Memories are no-brainers for mellow, downtempo arrangements, but the biggest surprises are some of the faster-paced themes. Force Your Way, the intensely quick boss theme, sounds surprisingly good with a stripped-down mellow arrangement. The choice of notes and their progression still gives the song intensity, but it’s more serpentine and mysteriously foreboding.
My personal favorites on this soundtrack are songs like Find Your Way, Truth, and Compression of Time. These songs already induce feelings of disorientation, especially during their respective portions of the game, but the “Melancholy” arrangements enhance that feeling in a good way. It’s not stressful disorientation, but a more “trippy” disorientation where you’re in a mindset of allowing your thoughts to drift tangentially and just going along for the ride, without fear of whatever good or bad may come. This almost goes along with one of the sub-themes in the game of learning to accept uncertainty in life; that not every outcome can be completely controlled or manipulated, and it is okay to just let go every once in a while.
I’ve mentioned reflection throughout this review because this is a soundtrack that really needed time to grow on me and entice me to reflect. At first I wasn’t 100% sold on these stripped down, mellow, and downtempo arrangements that almost sounded like children’s lullaby music. But now I ask myself, “Why did I resist in the first place?” Why not listen to this at night and allow it to influence my dreams as I drift into the altered consciousness of sleep? As I listened to it again, while awake, it really made me reflect on much of what I said here. I reflected not only on Final Fantasy VIII and its storyline themes, but also on music and how even unexpected treatments of it can be pleasant surprises. An open mind to tangential thought is a requirement going into Fragments of Memories: A Melancholy Tribute to Final Fantasy VIII, but if you allow it to grow on you, it will.