2020, despite all its heart-wrenching challenges, has been a fantastic year for original soundtracks in video games. Doom Eternal’s music personifies brutality, while Ghost of Tsushima’s soundtrack captures cinematic majesty. Tons of other high-quality soundtracks lie in between them, and at TechRaptor, we aim to highlight some video game music you shouldn’t miss. To kick things off, let’s start with one of the most delightful nostalgia trips of the year: Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The Best Game Music of 2020 is a weekly feature that highlights some of the best soundtracks of the year.
Final Fantasy VII holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts as one of the cornerstone JRPGs of the PlayStation era. Nothing brings people back to that magical time like the iconic “Let the Battles Begin!” or “Aerith’s Theme.” In the 23 years since Final Fantasy VII’s initial release, the people’s connection to that music has only grown stronger.
This year, the long-awaited remake had big shoes to fill. After all, with time comes nostalgia, and with nostalgia comes rose-tinted glasses. Fans might have worried it would never compare to the way they remember Final Fantasy VII from their childhood. Luckily, it more than lived up to expectations. Furthermore, the soundtrack not only does the game justice—it breaks the limits of nostalgia itself.
Spoiler Warning: This feature spoils some of the bosses toward the end of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
23 Years Later - Old Songs, New Tricks
Composer Nobuo Uematsu had his work cut out for him. He’s no stranger to making bangers, but creating a refreshing take on beloved classics takes real guts and talent. There are 156 songs on the Remake soundtrack—that’s roughly eight hours and 30 minutes, by the way; a literal whole work day’s worth of music. These songs showcase the immense work he and his colleagues have done, and it exceeds any and all expectations.
Of course, one of the most noticeable differences is the technological leap in sound quality. Instead of the bit-crunched synth and guitars of 1997, we have the full glory of ridiculously high-fidelity audio. The game makes it clear from the moment you boot it up. “The Prelude - Reunion,” which plays at the main menu, sets the tone for this massive sonic upgrade.
An elegant harp joins the familiar melody, and nearly 50 seconds in, a crisp drum roll crescendos in, welcoming the accompanying organ. This time around, though, the organ gets support from the beautiful strings and woodwinds, the proud snare, and the subtly thunderous timpani. This all paves the way for some triumphant trumpets to carry the melody, swelling to a celebration of this grand journey you’re about to embark upon. This isn’t just a hit of nostalgia; this is a whole new way to experience that childlike wonder from two decades ago.
Quite a few tracks got a similar upgrade, another iconic one being “Let the Battles Begin!” This battle theme, like many others in the Final Fantasy franchise, stands the test of time as one of the most recognizable songs in gaming. In terms of melody and accompaniment, everything sounds familiar in the 2020 versions of the track—at first glance.
Take “Let the Battles Begin! - A Merc’s Job” for example. Nearly the whole orchestra is in unison for those powerful staccato notes that kick off the theme, with the snare drum breaking off at a brisk rush. While the main melody is nearly identical to the 1997 version, the entire orchestra brings a grander, larger vibe that hits the adrenaline hard. Keeping true to its roots, they even keep that clang of metal in the background, a little cue that shows care and attention to detail.
As the battle theme goes on, you’ll notice more of the orchestra being fully utilized. The main melody goes from the brass to the strings without missing a beat. Countermelodies harmonize with whatever instruments are championing the main melody, ensuring that no matter what section of the band you focus on, there’s something interesting for your ears to enjoy. And this is all happening while you’re slicing through monsters and Shinra soldiers.
This rendition of the battle theme remains faithful while kicking everything up to 11. It’s instantly recognizable, yet it has a newfound sense of depth and richness to it. It’s what you might have imagined as a kid when you heard the original in all its synthy glory, but now it’s magically, vividly brought to life through Uematsu’s masterful work.
Rearranged, Reinterpreted, and Reinvigorated for 2020
While playing Final Fantasy VII Remake, you may have noticed multiple versions of the “Let the Battles Begin!” theme. In fact, most motifs occur and reoccur in different ways across the soundtrack. Uematsu and his colleagues gave almost every moment a unique musical identity while building upon familiar melodies. Practically every major boss fight has its own arrangement, some based on “Fight On!” (the boss battle theme in the original game) while incorporating other recognizable motifs.
Pulling this off must have taken an unimaginable amount of work, but the payoff is clearly worth it. “Fight On!” is already so familiar to fans of the original game. By creating unique arrangements of that theme for each boss, though, the composers amped up the excitement while keeping it fresh every time. Best of all, despite being a love letter to everyone with rose-tinted glasses, first timers will still feel the hype of each song because they’re just that good.
Take “Rufus Shinra” as an example, which plays during the boss fight with the titular character on the Shinra HQ helipad. The track starts with a curt, brisk take on the “Fight On!” main melody, which gives it an imperial feeling of superiority. Given Rufus’s position as vice president of daddy’s company, it’s a fitting interpretation of his character. Throw in a couple references to the overture-like melody from “Shinra’s Theme” and you’ve got a track hand-tailored specifically for this boss fight, and this one alone.
If you’re looking for a robust medley of some of your favorite tracks, look no further than “Hell House.” This silly boss fight didn’t need to be as extra as it was, but it got a glow-up that no one was expecting. The same can be said for its boss theme. This track incorporates motifs from “Fight On!,” “Let the Battles Begin!,” “The Prelude,” and the “Main Theme of FFVII,” and it wraps them all up in a delightfully mad fugue of whimsy. After all, Cloud and Aerith are in a colosseum fighting a sentient, murderous, flying house for sport—in front of a live, rabid audience.
However, one of the most stand-out uses of “Fight On!” comes in “The Airbuster.” This track is a shining example of the symphonic metal genre. The powerful guitar tone rocks the start of the track, blistering through that beloved boss fight melody, and it never lets up. It’s all rising action, with no downtime.
Then comes the second and third phases, where a bombastic choir joins the fray. This powerful symphony of voices drastically changes the feeling of “Fight On!” Instead of being a simple hard-rock anthem to get the blood pumping, it’s elevated to the sound of a heroic struggle for glory. It’s reminiscent of the more grandiose sound that recent Final Fantasy games have gone for, like “Apocalypsis Noctis” in XV. Between the epic guitar tone, full-sounding orchestra, and shining chorus of voices, this track oozes triumph and adrenaline.
The One-Winged Elephant in the Room
“Fight On!” is core to the Final Fantasy VII experience. It accompanies almost every boss fight in the original game. In the Remake, so many bosses have a memorable rendition of “Fight On!” attached to their name. But there are a few villains special enough to get their own unique track.
Ever since 1997, Sephiroth’s legendary boss theme, “One-Winged Angel,” has stood as one of the crowning achievements of video game music. Not to be outdone, this Remake took everything that made this menacing opus so memorable and polished it to a sheen.
In terms of rhythm and melody, “One-Winged Angel - Rebirth” follows a lot of the original track pretty faithfully. Those first few spine-chilling measures have “Sephiroth” written all over them. However, this time around, it feels like the shackles have been broken. The full-range orchestra and robust choir are more bombastic than ever, and they hit harder than they did 23 years ago.
The menacing bass and baritone voices, along with the roaring low-brass section, dynamically work with the punchy bass drum and timpani. The soaring altos and sopranos mingle with the woodwinds and strings, creating a macabre sound reminiscent of Sephiroth’s piercing gaze. At one moment, the song sounds like a march, mimicking his threatening, heavy footsteps. By the next, everything transforms into a chaotic cacophony, fitting for such a wild boss fight.
Everything about “One-Winged Angel - Rebirth” feels grandiose, like it’s making a larger statement about Final Fantasy VII itself. On one hand, this track fits its boss perfectly, embodying Sephiroth’s vindictive determination to destroy the world he’s become so disillusioned with. On the other hand, this revamped opus is a statement from Uematsu and the rest of the development team about the Remake as a whole. Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t just a modernized take on a classic JRPG. This is a celebration of one of Square Enix’s most seminal, most triumphant works.
tl;dr - This Soundtrack is Insane
I could go on and on about the Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtrack. It captures the essence of nostalgia and distills it into something far more potent. The composers mixed and matched beloved themes with each other, all while injecting fresh interpretations and additions to the score. This soundtrack runs the gamut from hard rock to sultry jazz, from symphonic metal to bopping electronica.
What about the compelling orchestra-overture-turned-dark-electronic sound of “J-E-N-O-V-A - Quickening”? Or the melancholic yet sweet tune of “Jessie’s Theme,” newly composed for this remake? Or the stand-offish “Turks’ Theme” that straddles the line between spaghetti western and cheesy spy flick? The vaudeville-esque, big-band vibe in “Stand Up” welcomes us to the Honeybee Inn, where Cloud dances to a full-on EDM club banger. And let’s not forget all the jazzy, swanky remixes in the completely optional jukeboxes.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of how fantastic this gargantuan soundtrack is. There’s no one “definitive” version of “Those Who Fight” or “Fight On!” Instead, there are many takes on these motifs, and they all fit into different moments, evoking different feelings. And those don’t even account for half of these 156 tracks.
Even passive listeners will notice that the Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtrack is a love letter to 1997, much like the entire game. Considering this eight-hour monster only covers the first couple hours of the original game, I only have high hopes for the rest of the music in this remake saga.
This feature is part of our limited-run series on some of the best soundtracks of 2020. Tune in next week for another installment!