FF7 remake is a masterclass in how to build musical tension through nostalgia.
I recently got around to finishing the Final Fantasy 7 remake! As usual, I got right up to the final boss before running out of steam, but with renewed vigor last week, I finally put it back into my dusty PS4 and finished it off. I've felt and heard a range of opinions on this remake, and personally, I'm not sure where I sit on the negatives but I will say that I loved the way they presented the world and told the story. The gameplay was fun enough for me, although it could have used some variance which I'm hoping to see in part 2, with more characters/playstyles to use. All things considered, there is one element of this remake that I think stands above everything it has to offer, and that is the music.
I might be a little biased on this because Final Fantasy 7 itself has one of my favorite soundtracks of the series, I also love 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 15 musically for different reasons. The battle themes, including Those Who Fight Further and Those who Fight (The main battle and boss themes), are fantastic songs that nearly every fan of FF7, and dare I say, fans of video game music in general regard as some of the best around. The overall production quality improvements brought to the remade soundtrack as a whole and its expert use of dynamic music would probably be enough to call it a masterpiece on its own, but I wanted to mention one other thing it does musically that really worked for me as a fan, and especially as a fan of Those Who Fight and Those Who Fight Further.
Imagine you're playing for the first time and you're running through the first Mako Reactor. You're hearing the fantastic bombing mission theme music and this serves as your backdrop for a while, even when you're in combat. Playing a little further you're treated to this:
This is the first time since I've switched on the game that I've even thought about the original game's battle theme, but I knew from a trailer that there was a really awesome version of the battle theme tied to this remake. So I play a little further, fight the first boss which also has some strangely familiar music but feels similarly apprehensive. After this, you break out of the Reactor and are on the streets. After some minor story interactions, you're back in control running and fighting soldiers to the Battle theme finally! But wait something is still holding back, it's not quite resolving itself or soaring to those heroic highs. Then after a while, it gets really apprehensive, basically stripping everything back becoming somber, and highlighting the Shinra motif. But then as you reach the closing moment of this scene and Cloud gets surrounded by enemies with no way out it finally blasts you with the battle theme. Here's a look at how it progresses:
I think they chose to blow it all here because in the story of the original this is the moment where we really see cloud living up to his reputation as the world's biggest badass. Alone and surrounded by soldiers with nothing left to be except, you know, one of "Those Who Fight" is the perfect moment to FINALLY treat us to the battle theme we've been masterfully teased with.
Similarly, they tease Those Who Fight Further with the first boss and then finally give it to us several fights later with the iconic Airbuster fight. This comes at another pivotal moment, during one of the most decisive battles in the remake's story. It also changes dynamically as the boss changes phases and if the player is winning or losing, adding more tension to the fight than the original ever thought possible:
I can't help but feel like the music team knew exactly what worked for the fans of the original soundtrack and knew exactly how to re-arrange it to serve the new story in the most effective ways. Final Fantasy 7 remake is a masterclass in how to remake a soundtrack and it expertly uses nostalgia to build tension in the story.
Thanks for reading!