Final Fantasy V Soundtrack (Pixel Remaster), 2021, Nobuo Uematsu / Various
Among the trio of SNES Final Fantasy titles, the franchise’s fifth instalment has always been the underdog, which ultimately only added to its appeal. First, there’s the simple fact that the 1992 SNES version of Final Fantasy V was not released in the West, inevitably adding to the mystique surrounding the game. It took until the release of Final Fantasy Anthology in 1999 that US audiences were able to finally lay their hands on the game. Then there’s Final Fantasy V’s main claim to fame – a job system that builds upon that introduced in Final Fantasy III, offering countless options to customise your party. The game felt like a throwback to the NES Final Fantasy titles in other aspects as well. Its fairly simplistic plot and stereotypical (yet enjoyable) characters felt like a conscious step away from Final Fantasy IVs more complex narrative.
Of course, Nobuo Uematsu would return to create the Final Fantasy V soundtrack. Like the game itself, the score remains somewhat overlooked, usually attracting less attention than those soundtracks bookmarking it – Final Fantasy IV and VI. The game’s relatively low profile also meant fewer ports to other systems. As a result, up to the 2021 Pixel Remaster version, Final Fantasy V had never received a substantial sound upgrade. That makes this particular Pixel Remaster all the more intriguing – particularly considering the outstanding work that the team of arrangers had done on previous releases in this series.
Their winning streak certainly doesn’t break with the Final Fantasy V soundtrack. In fact, this might be their most impressive outing yet. After playing it surprisingly safe on Final Fantasy IV, rarely diverging much from the original material, the arrangers seem to have gained new confidence. They still don’t radically rework the music, always respecting Uematsu’s original compositions. But they seem to be trying quite a bit harder this time to ensure the soundtrack impresses throughout, unlocking its full potential.
Such ambition is tangible even on the score’s lesser pieces – those based on Uematsu’s less convincing cues. On the SNES, their shortcomings usually included thin melodic material and perfunctory orchestrations. However, you can’t fault the arrangers for not at least trying on every single occasion. They work hard to turn even throwaway tracks like “Hurry! Hurry!” and “Danger” into substantial cues – and while Uematsu’s paper-thin material scuppers the arrangers’ attempts, such efforts are appreciated. Tracks like “The Fire-Powered Ship” and “The Ancient Library” – underwhelming on the SNES due to their repetitive nature – turn into decent pieces, thanks to more colourful orchestrations and an array of different lead instruments. Elsewhere, the artists’ enthusiasm backfires when already lacking compositions are stretched further, beyond what their material can sustain – and there’s probably no way to salvage a composition as hackneyed as “The Evil Lord Exdeath”.
But as on Final Fantasy IV, such lapses are thankfully the exception. Firstly, on a few occasions, the arrangers manage to turn once underwhelming compositions into winners. Most of the time, they do so by beefing up the instrumentations of tracks that were previously lacking in precisely that department. The zig-zagging, rhythmically tricky style of “The Fierce Battle” works much better now that the cue has moved towards power/prog metal and away from its original, thin orchestrations. On the SNES, “The Airship” and “The Castle of Dawn” were tuneful enough, but again felt underdeveloped. Bolstered by significant amounts of new counterpoint and denser instrumental lines, these tracks final get to soar on the Pixel Remaster. And on “Four Valiant Hearts”, the arrangers direct attention away from the A section’s stodgy rhythms by passing the lead melody around the orchestra – creating an adventurous sweep that papers over any structural issues.
At other times, just a sound upgrade of some of the score’s original, stronger compositions yields impressive results. Out of the gate, the Pixel Remaster version of the Final Fantasy V soundtrack wins hearts with an emphatic version of “Ahead on Our Way”. That wonderfully memorable, optimistic trumpet melody is now surrounded by lush orchestrations that only add to the buoyant sense of embarking on a grand adventure. A cinematic, at times less melody-oriented cue like “A Presentiment” works quite a bit better when performed by more realistic synths. Particularly the slower string material benefits, revealing some of Uematsu’s most poignant writing for the instrument group. End title cue “A New Origin”’s reliance on two melodies is less distracting when repetitions are clad in different orchestral colours. And perennial fan favourite “Battle with Gilgamesh”? It’s as infectious and vivacious as one could hope for, making this the cue’s ultimate rendition.
The Pixel Remaster version of the Final Fantasy V soundtrack doesn’t stay as close to the SNES original as Final Fantasy IV, taking more liberties with the material. A few of the arrangements modify not so much the music’s content, but instead its mood. “Fate in Haze”, “Sealed Away”, “Intention of the Earth” and “Beyond the Deep Blue Sea” all impressed on the SNES with Uematsu’s assured handling of the console’s limited audio capacities to create strikingly atmospheric compositions that oscillated between claustrophobic, heady and enticing. Like on the Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster, the new arrangements sand away some of these creative intricacies. Instead, they for a bigger, more anonymous sound that is thankfully still anchored by Uematsu’s strong melodies. However, there’s no need to feel ambivalent about the new version of “The Decisive Battle”, which doubles down on dissonant, roaring synths battling another heroic trumpet lead.
As on previous Pixel Remaster scores, the arrangers extend the run time of cues by repeating material in new orchestrations before heading into the loop. That habit had fallen a bit by the wayside on Final Fantasy IV, but it makes a most delectable return on this soundtrack – and just in time. While Final Fantasy V’s narrative has a reputation for being lightweight fluff, Uematsu’s music squarely contradicts that impression. His work here often has a sentimental, nostalgic quality that is well-served by his legendary melodic chops and sets this soundtrack apart from other franchise scores. Hand such material to arrangers who know how to tastefully add colour and counterpoint, and pieces like “Lenna’s Theme”, “Unknown Lands”, and “Waltz Suomi” turn into drop-dead gorgeous, luscious creations that rank among the finest musical moment this storied game series has ever produced.
Livelier pieces benefit from the arrangers’ deft reworking and expanding of material as well. Once charming, if a bit repetitive, “Royal Palace”’s Pixel Remaster version builds upon the piece’s pseudo-Baroque foundation. The arrangers turn the cue into one of the soundtrack’s most complex pieces by adding new melody lines – and the orchestrations couldn’t be any more joyously colourful. “Critter Tripper Fritter!” used to be a fun interlude with some intriguing ideas – the arrangers run with the piece and almost completely rework it, crafting a compelling mix of mock bombast, comical undertones and Middle-Eastern woodwind lines. Best of all might be “Musica Machina”’s Masashi Hamauzu-esque reworking that emphasises the original’s quirkiness to create a slow march for steampunk robots roaming a blasted industrial wasteland. While the Final Fantasy V soundtrack might have been unfairly overlooked upon its original release, this Pixel Remaster cements its status as a game music classic.
- 01 - Ahead On Our Way Uematsu, Nobuo 2:50
- 02 - A Presentiment Uematsu, Nobuo 4:32
- 03 - Four Valiant Hearts Uematsu, Nobuo 3:11
- 04 - Lenna's Theme Uematsu, Nobuo 4:21
- 05 - Fate in Haze Uematsu, Nobuo 2:26
- 06 - The Battle Uematsu, Nobuo 2:28
- 07 - Pirates Ahoy! Uematsu, Nobuo 2:08
- 08 - Tenderness in the Air Uematsu, Nobuo 3:20
- 09 - Sealed Away Uematsu, Nobuo 1:48
- 10 - Harvest Uematsu, Nobuo 3:05
- 11 - The Fierce Battle Uematsu, Nobuo 2:34
- 12 - Royal Palace Uematsu, Nobuo 3:08
- 13 - The Day Will Come Uematsu, Nobuo 4:17
- 14 - Musica Machina Uematsu, Nobuo 2:32
- 15 - My Home, Sweet Home Uematsu, Nobuo 2:40
- 16 - The Airship Uematsu, Nobuo 2:02
- 17 - Battle with Gilgamesh Uematsu, Nobuo 2:28
- 18 - Unknown Lands Uematsu, Nobuo 4:16
- 19 - Critter Tripper Fritter! Uematsu, Nobuo 3:53
- 20 - The Castle of Dawn Uematsu, Nobuo 2:05
- 21 - Beyond the Deep Blue Sea Uematsu, Nobuo 2:23
- 22 - Waltz Suomi Uematsu, Nobuo 4:14
- 23 - The Land Unknown Uematsu, Nobuo 4:05
- 24 - Intention of the Earth Uematsu, Nobuo 2:55
- 25 - Searching the Light Uematsu, Nobuo 3:05
- 26 - The Decisive Battle Uematsu, Nobuo 4:20
- 27 - The Last Battle Uematsu, Nobuo 3:38
- 28 - A New Origin Uematsu, Nobuo 8:39
- 29 - The Prelude Uematsu, Nobuo 3:48