Since this rank, talentless philistine has somehow managed to not only drive this insufferable blog into the ground, what with his lengthy, rambling essays and, of all things, film reviews–god, I think I’ve just thrown up in my own throat–it seems that it is up to me, the MidiMaestro, to return this video game blog to a rightful bastion of critique, analysis, and cultural relevancy.

Thus, we shall discuss music.

Specifically, we shall discuss the music of Nobuo Uemetsu, the premier video game composer and keyboardist, whom many are familiar with as the longtime composer for the brain-hemorrhagingly popular Final Fantasy series.

In particular, we shall discuss the soundtrack for Final Fantasy IX.

By jove, what an unseemly cast of characters. See if you can correctly spot all the girls in this picture.

To the ill-informed, Final Fantasy IX was the capstone upon what may be seen as the finest era of the Final Fantasy series. The three PSX titles–VII (7) VIII (8) and IX (9)–were considered groundbreaking achievements for gaming, both for their incredibly vivid, detailed graphics as well as their outstanding, bombastic soundtracks. To this date, many would content (and would do so incorrectly) that Final Fantasy VII is the best in the series ever. Even with just three games to its credit, the PSX-era of the franchise remains the most innovative and influential.

Final Fantasy IX is this era’s highest mark, at least in sheer technical terms. Very few PSX games look as good as FFIX does, and only one comes to my mind that could even surpass its graphical legacy. But I don’t give a flying baboon’s arsehole about the damned thing’s graphics–I care about its music.

The score for FFIX is littered with simply outstanding tracks. Considered the composer’s own personal favorite of all the soundtracks he’s done (mostly because he had so much time and freedom to work on it), FFIX is an eclectic blend of orchestral melodies, synthesized trip-rock, grungy guitar riffs, operatic organ tunes and so much more.

I posit this: every and all Final Fantasy game has been vastly inferior to its soundtrack. From 1-10, Uemetsu helmed the series’ musical elements, and in IX he brings together his past and present, blending tunes, melodies, simple chords and entire arrangements into one incredible work of art. Characters who might otherwise remain unremarkable are instead transformed into striking personalities by virtue of their theme song alone. Every unique area and location has its own music, from the murky, isolated Qu’s Marsh to the Burmecian Kingdom, drowning in rain.

A great example is my favorite character from the game, Freya. Freya’s a Burmecian, a race of rat-people who live in a perpetually rainy land, surrounded by monsters. Trained in the arts of spear-wielding, physics-defying dragon knights, Freya’s own somewhat tragic backstory and motivations are, sadly, resolved within the game’s first major act. Subsequently, she ends up being somewhat less pronounced in the later parts of the story, and is often buried in the background. I like her for a variety of reasons–she’s easily one of the best characters you can use in game, she has a really interesting design, a visual homage to the earliest FF games–but fuck that, she has an awesome theme song.

Music is essential to buying into a game’s story–and in general, sound is essential to gameplay. Music in games has evolved from simple sound-effects to accompany actions to sincere and powerful works of art. Every chord in FFIX is lovingly played–you can feel the composer’s passion in every passing sound, every note, and this passion surges under the fabric of the game itself like blood, feeding and enriching the experience, pumping life and vitality into all of the game’s individual parts. Without it, the significance of events–from crushing defeats to powerful confessions of love to intense, dramatic battles would be negligible. The music brings Final Fantasy IX to life.

If you’re one of the (surprisingly many) people who never played FFIX, either because you were turned off by the art style or the return to a more traditional fantasy landscape or just weren’t into the series at the time, I urge you, please–at the very least, buy the soundtrack (or download it, I don’t care). The game is worth playing, beating, and playing again on the strength of its music too–and hey, it’s actually a pretty incredible RPG in its own right.

There’s a lot of people who seem to think the only critique that’s worth a damn is negative, because it’s funny and often more insightful into a work’s flaws, which–when identified–allow the creators to improve upon their creation. However, I think we’re bereft of true, genuine praise on today’s Net landscape. Final Fantasy IX–and Nobuo Uemetsu–earn this praise. The final product is, quite simply, one of the finest–if not the finest Final Fantasy game. It marks the end of an era, and it was probably the last Final Fantasy game that Uemetsu really enjoyed making–especially if the rumors about how demanding Squaresoft was on him during the production of FFX.

It wouldn’t be very good of me to finish a review of this game’s soundtrack without giving recognition to the best song on it. There might be some who argue me on this–and I gladly welcome such meaningful discussion–but those who play this game to the end remember one sequence far and above any other. The moment in the story where the hero is at his absolute lowest, as if all hope is lost and and all that he has been fighting for has been snatched away from him. Unable to trust in anyone, not himself, not even his loyal companions, he goes out into a den of monsters to end his life at their hands. Yet at every battle, his companions rush to his side, and support him, even as he insults, derides, and denies them at every turn. At the end, overcome by emotion, he is unable to carry on by himself, and returns to those he abandoned, seeking their forgiveness–which is readily given. It’s an incredibly powerful sequence, blending gameplay and visuals–and it is set to this amazing song, simply–and aptly–titled “You Are Not Alone”.