There is a group of fans that absolutely worship this score and I must admit that I am one of them. If I were to be stranded on a desert island with nothing but five soundtracks that I could choose, this would most definitely be one. Nobuo Uematsu transcended all that seemed possible and created a score of boundless and adventurous spirit that has yet to be topped in the videogame music world.
The Final Fantasy series has certainly had its recent ups and downs, but without a doubt in my mind, the sixth installment is the pinnacle of FF music, and indeed game music thus far. Years ago, when I was in fifth grade, the unforgettable Final Fantasy IV was released, which was my first true introduction into the wonders of game music. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I played part six. While IV impressed me by its almost orchestral sound system (at least I thought so at the time), VI completely blew me away with its incredible traditional arrangements and its knack for unhampered thematic progression.
This leads me to acknowledge this soundtrack's best feature: I've yet to hear one soundtrack from a videogame or a movie that contains so many memorable themes. There are so many great melodies rolled into one neat little package that it makes it nearly impossible to pick out a favorite. There are a couple throwaway tracks, but who cares? There's so much great stuff here that the bad is completely overshadowed and ultimately overlooked. I will admit that this is much darker than its predecessors, but I believe that this is simply a direct turn into musical maturity. The previous FF scores may have been lighthearted, and therefore fun to listen to, but one can hardly make any argument that they were "mature", though I hold them dear to my heart as well. This particular score fits the game like a glove and enhances its emotional impact at least tenfold, yet it still contains a bit of that humorous Uematsu charm that we all know and love. And it is still lighthearted compared to FFVII that was to follow.
The basis for this soundtrack is generally carried by the Wagnerian technique of leitmotif, or character theme, which you may or may not know, was also the basis for John Williams' Star Wars scores. Though Wagner pioneered this technique, Nobuo, in my opinion, maximizes it to the fullest extent, surpassing Wagner entirely. There is a theme for every character and many of these receive a secondary arrangement such as "Coin Song" for Edgar and Sabin and "Forever Rachel" for Locke. Many of these character themes sound traditional, and then there are some that take other routes. "Shadow", for example, sounds as if it came straight out of an Ennio Morriconne spaghetti western soundtrack. While not easy to pick out a favorite, I can say what I don't like. I never cared for the Ghestal/Empire theme that is used in several militaristic tracks, and I've always found Strago's theme to be particularly annoying. Overall though, the character themes form a set of thoroughly entertaining and endearing melodies. More great tracks include the second overworld theme "Searching for Friends", which is similar to Terra's overworld theme but seems a bit more thoughtful and stirring. "Devil's Lab" is certainly a fun listen, and "The Fierce Battle" sounds absolutely ferocious - I believe it to be the second best battle theme in the series right after "Dancing Mad" on the same CD!
One cannot write a review for FFVI OST without mentioning the immortal opera sequence. This also sounds as if Wagner inspired it, as it nearly matches his style. I've never been one to care for opera, but no one can deny that this is just incredible. Once the intro hits the forefront, you are immediately drawn in by its raw power, and the cinematic sequences that follow are just incredible. The best track in the opera sequence is probably the famous "Aria Di Mezzo Carattere" version of Celes' theme, which is one of the most praised tracks in FF history.
If you're looking for the perfect score, then you won't find it here because if it's perfection you're searching for, you're never going to be satisfied. There is no such thing as perfect! If I really have to demand it, then the one thing that irks me the most about the soundtrack actually has little to do with the composition itself, but rather the CD release. I just wish that the ending theme had been split into two tracks. It seems kind of ridiculous to stick all twenty-one minutes into one track when it contains two very separate compositions. Even so, I really shouldn't complain, considering I believe this to be the second greatest piece of music ever composed, just behind the "Presto" movement from Beethoven's ninth symphony. My personal favorite section is the *hugely* bombastic arrangement of Setzer's theme which kicks off as the end credits begin to roll. Combined with the ingenious "Dancing Mad" that comes just prior, I'd say the two conclusive tracks of Final Fantasy VI make for the most enthralling forty solid minutes of music *ever*, and I don't see how it's possible to not view it as such.
As a whole, this, my favorite game soundtrack, makes a timelessly inspiring listen, leaving its own niche in the souls of those who hear it. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Honestly, I don't know how anyone could think that any other game soundtrack out there today could top it. The future may hold a soundtrack that I like better, but until then, Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version will be the game score by which I judge all others.