Checking the Score: FFVII Remake Stays True to its Roots with Updated Sound

At long last, the Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally in our hands. Like many long-time Final Fantasy fans, I wasn’t going to believe that it was real until I actually held a tangible copy. Between teasers and postponements, the community joked that we’d end up like Aerith before the game released. Thankfully that wasn’t true and we have been treated to a remarkable rendition of a beloved series. While I can’t say that FFVII is my favorite installment in the franchise, it’s a title that deserves gamers’ respect everywhere. The title was instrumental in evolving graphical integrity of games at the time (my friends and I now joke about the original’s “life-like” graphics) and story. It’s also the title with some of the most memorable, significant musical tracks in Final Fantasy history — and game music in general. Updating the title’s graphics and story are only half of the remake — we need the soundtrack along with it. Square Enix understood the cultural significance of its seventh Fantasy because this remade soundtrack gives us all the emotional highs and lows of its original in a new light.

A good place to start is with “Aerith’s Theme.” The original was so breathtaking because of when and where we hear it throughout the story. It’s also a theme that truly embodies Aerith’s character — the joyful pragmatist to Cloud’s emotional brooding. The original theme uses complex synth melodies that had been evolved from their beginnings in Final Fantasy VI (this theme has similar melodic structure to some tracks from VI, but that’s a story for a different CtS). Aerith’s Theme has been revisited and updated before and can be heard fully orchestrated in Distant Worlds’ discography (Distant Worlds is a traveling orchestral event that showcases FF music). Because this theme had been “remastered” through Distant Worlds’, it’s important to keep the sound updated without sounding like a direct copy. There are differences we can hear and feel in the Remake’s version of this theme. Where previous iterations had crescendos midway through the track for a strong sound, this version takes the original melody and transforms it into a soft theme to compliment the title’s cinematography and mood. It’s a slight, novel change to the melody that freshens it up for the Remake and speaks brilliantly to Aerith’s character.

The next stop on our tour of remade tracks is the “Bombing Mission Theme” that is heard early on in the story. Another track that started as a frantic synth theme and was transformed by Distant Worlds to sound like something out of a Batman movie. The updated sound we hear in Distant Worlds does keep the same emotion as its original, but we also hear a lack of metallic “clang” that sets the tone for this industrial-punk story. In its original theme, we can hear a distinct buzz-saw noise that helps to create that world building. The remade track pays homage to its Distant World’s counter part in orchestration and we also hear additional percussion and brass likely used to help create the industrial feel. We’re able to see the pattern of small changes to these melodies throughout the Remake that update these tracks for a new generation.

We can’t move on without addressing one of the best girls in gaming: Tifa. Childhood friend to Cloud, bar owner and all around badass ninja, Tifa is an integral part to the story. She’s a support in Cloud’s life and a necessary player in the fight against evil. Tifa’s Theme embodies her spirit with humble melodies and a shy percussion. Distant Worlds did not do a rendition of this track, but we do hear it in the Advent Children soundtrack. It keeps closely to its original theme with some lengthy modifications with woodwinds. Tifa’s new theme “Tifa’s Theme-Seventh Heaven” is one of the most changed tracks so far. It prominently features a piano- – where previously the piano was a soft support accompaniment. We still hear the familiar woodwinds, but now they’re elevated with harps and additional string instruments. The structure is there, but these small changes significantly change the feel of the theme. It’s now more uplifting in its melancholic tone. I’d even go as far as to say that this remade track fits the title’s story even better than before.

Final Fantasy VII Remake has taken beloved compositions and changed them just enough to fit in a new rendition. With it being such a monumental title in the gaming industry, it made sense not to touch tried and true tracks too much. Instead of a complete overhaul in the soundtrack (like everything else about the game), small changes were made across the board to create new sounds. Because these tracks have been revisited so often over the years it was important to maintain their structural integrity while also shaping them to fit a retelling. This remade soundtrack shows that you don’t necessarily need to go way outside the box in order to create updated sounds. Instead, by adding thoughtful composition through additional instruments or slight melody changes, Final Fantasy VII Remake has been able to stay current without trying too hard. This is only half the story, however, so we’ll have to wait before we can hear a remade One Winged Angel.