Dying To Your Own Tune

What is the perfect song to die to? A question that could only be revealed to me when driving home in reckless weather listening to my favorite Gorrilaz song. As morbid as this sounds, connecting music to the time of death is key for many video games. You need a well-composed song for a fitting end.

Think back to the video games you love, adore and praise; how many times did you die in a dire situation? Do you remember the music playing in the background? I am not talking about the music after death, I am talking about the penultimate tune upon death. That song can make or break a game for me, because the more mundane the song, the more frustrated I become when dying.

Final Fantasy VII image by PSU.com

A colossal Role-Playing Game (RPG) comes to mind when I think about the music right before I die: Final Fantasy VII. The importance of this game is well-defined by the music in my case. Yes, I enjoyed the story, setting, characters, you name it, but the music had a greater effect on me. What is funny is that I did not play this game when I was first being introduced to the music, my brother was. He was single-handedly the biggest influence when it comes to this game. I watched him play for hours before I picked up the game for myself.

Final Fantasy VII released on the Playstation in late 1997. My brother and I never owned a Playstation, but luckily for gamers, this was the first time seeing a Final Fantasy game coming out on PC. Final Fantasy VII released on PC in 1998. During this time, my brother was in college; three hours away from home. The only time I was able to watch him play is when he came home with his ancient laptop. It should be known that my brother and I were Nintendo fans through and through. We both owned the NES, SNES and N64, but one thing was missing for my brother that the N64 could not offer: a Final Fantasy game. He played every single Final Fantasy game that came out for the SNES and wanted more. I remember watching him play those games as an energetic child who cared more about going outside than ever playing a video game.

When he obtained Final Fantasy VII, I was instantly jealous. I remember looking through old video game magazines that showed off the graphics and character design. It looked like one of the coolest games I have ever seen in my life, but the problem was that I did not own a Playstation or computer that could run it. Once I knew my brother purchased it for his laptop, I watched him the few chances I got. After my first sitting, I could not believe what I was watching and hearing; the music was perfect.

My fondest memory when exploring the music of Final Fantasy VII was when he entered into the Sector 7 Slums. This place is run-down, dank and dark, but the music struck a note with me (pun intended). The mixer of acoustics and heavy bass was intriguing. I found out that the song is called, “Underneath the Rotting Pizza.” The song was catchy and up-beat to the point where I can still hum it by memory.

A little fun fact is that I was beginning to learn how to play the Trumpet during this time. After hearing the song over and over again in my head, it hit me, “I can play this!” From ear, I wrote out the notes on sheet music I obtained from my father, and wrote out the theme of “Underneath the Rotting Pizza.” I transposed my first tidbit of music by ear. Talk about a glorious day for me as a kid who is learning how to read music, not even considering how to write it. I played and played and played that theme over and over again. I was so proud of myself. The best was yet to come though; the music did not stop there.

After my brother beat Final Fantasy VII, he handed down it down to me. I was excited to play it for the first time, but was weary that my computer would not be able to play it. To my dissatisfaction, I was correct. My family’s computer could not play the one game that would truly open my ears up to one of my favorite soundtracks to a video game ever made.

Years passed and I stopped by a local Blockbuster. To my surprise, they had the Greatest Hits version of Final Fantasy VII for $20. I sat on this find for awhile, never appealing to me at the time. I owned a Playstation 2, but did not play on it all the time. I kept going back to Blockbuster, week after week, month after month, and finally decided to buy it. This was easily one of the best video game decisions of my life.

I finally had the game of my dreams. I was not particularly fond of Role-Playing Games at the time, but the combat was and still is one of my favorites. Final Fantasy VII’s turn-based timed combat always sat well with me and part of the reasoning behind that was its theme and victory dance.

The only way you can die in Final Fantasy VII is by losing a battle. With many video games, especially in the Role-Playing genre, the most heard song needs to be the best written piece of music on your video game. Final Fantasy VII composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the most perfect theme song to die to.

The “Battle Theme” is orchestrated to create a tense moment with drive. As the notes progressively build into a near-chromatic fashion, the music never stops. Even though the theme is repeating on end, I still feel like I am on the edge of my seat. I lose myself in this theme during each battle. Occasionally, I will start singing with it because of its catchy style and components that make me feel excited to do battle. My goal is to defeat the monstrous foe I have in front of me at all costs and this theme never got old for me.

This penultimate theme is the perfect song to die to. You get that rush of adrenaline when you realize, “I am out of potions. I have no magic points. I am going to die.” Yet, you still put up the fight. You never know what could happen. Maybe a critical strike will hit and you win the battle? It is possible for your foe to miss you with their deathblow, and that dodge gave you one more hit that finishes off your opponent. There is a never-knowing sequence of events with the perfect song behind you. The perfect song to die to.

When all is said and done, the Final Fantasy VII “Battle Theme” is the perfect song to die to. To this day, it is still one of my favorite video game songs ever written. The “Battle Theme” and other countless video game songs can sync your death with the most perfect song. No matter how many times I hear this theme, I will always remember the battles I outlasted, died and triumphed in Final Fantasy VII.

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6 comments

  1. Oh man I am glad to see someone has the same love for Final Fantasy VII like I do. This soundtrack is my favorite soundtrack of all time. All the songs fit perfectly into each place they are used.

    “Shrina Company” showcased the power they possess. “Crazy Motorcylce” let us experience the same intense moments Cloud and friends had escaping Midgar. “Aerith’s Theme” made us cry as one of our comrades was lost forever. “Cid’s Theme” gave us heroism in the face of danger. “Golden Saucer” made us happy and full of joy like a young kid at a theme park. And “One-Winged Angel” ended it all with one final battle against our strongest opponent yet for the fate of the world.

    This is a soundtrack that can truly tell a story without needing moving pictures to represent them. This is why video games without voice acting but amazing soundtracks tell such memorable stories.

    Sorry i rambled a bit there Lucky haha. This is your blog after all. Great job and I look forward to reading more from the mind of Lightford.

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    1. I like the way how you explained the soundtrack. If I took a more in depth look at it, I would say something to the similar effects that you wrote. It is a wonderful soundtrack; one of the best in my book as well. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Unexpected angle! Start to talk of death in Final Fantasy VII and immediately a certain event comes to mind. That theme gets stuck in your head, but your version makes more sense. You die more often in battle than that character ever did in the game. (And seriously, USE A PHOENIX DOWN!)

    The personal element is key, too. I started with the original Final Fantasy; played Final Fantasy IV (we called it II back then); and then VI astonished me. That score hasn’t left me once in the nearly 20 years since I played it originally. It’s the one that’ll always hit me; if I were choosing the perfect song to die to, it would come from Final Fantasy VI.

    I spend a lot of time thinking about perfect songs, but death rarely enters the equation (confession: usually it’s sex and Uematsu & Co. never crack the list). That said, it’s fascinating that the thought of dying recalls formative years.

    Thanks for sharing, buddy!

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