Final Fantasy IV Soundtrack (Remastered Version) Review

A classic game soundtrack enjoys a small but pleasant revision.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

In the annals of video game music history, Final Fantasy IV's original soundtrack holds a special place. It represents one of those pivotal moments when technology, game design, and personal ambition came together at once to push the medium forward into the future.

It also infused Final Fantasy IV, a game heavily inspired by theatre, with a cinematic ambiance. Just as John Williams' score helped sell Star Wars as a grand, sweeping sci-fi epic, Nobuo Uematsu's music and the Super NES's sophisticated sound chip made the RPG -- a frankly limited and linear take on the genre, to be honest -- seem like the most majestic thing we'd ever played.

Now, more than 20 years later, Square Enix has issued a "remastered" version of the Final Fantasy IV soundtrack (in Japan, anyway; a U.S. release presumably will come soon). This may seem an odd concept on the surface. After all, remastering generally improves the audio fidelity of a music recording, but Final Fantasy IV was all-digital from start to finish: Digital samples produced by a machine and recorded onto a digital medium. What possible improvements could a remastered CD hope to offer? If anything, reworking the music runs the risk of making it less faithful to the original game audio thanks to the music industry's obsession with loudness, compression, and normalization. Not that FFIV's soundtrack (brilliant as it was) necessarily presented listeners with the most subtle or nuanced dynamic range, but still.

Finally, an official rendition of the battle themes that last longer than the first round of action.

Thankfully, upon giving the new CD release a spin and comparing it to the original game soundtrack -- 1991's Final Fantasy IV Original Sound Version -- it quickly becomes clear that the Final Fantasy IV Original Soundtrack Remastered Version makes no appreciable changes whatsoever to the game's audio mix. It sounds no more compressed than the original, nothing is clearer or muddier, and no virtual instruments have been pushed forward in the mix. The only new content on Remastered Version comes in the form of a collection of stings and fanfares at the end of the collection: Brief throwaway snatches of music like that ditty which accompanies the brief gyrations of the dancers who appear in towns across the world and perform on command. None of these pieces add much to the soundtrack; in fact they feel rather anticlimactic, having been shoehorned in after the powerful ending theme. The effect is something akin to putting Pixar-style "outtake" gags into the credits for The Return of the King.

But there's one other difference between this CD release and the original: It comes on twice as many discs. Despite the dearth of new material, Remastered Version takes the form of a two-disc set versus of the 1991 release's one. This time around, each track's running time is twice as long.

The market for video game music CDs was still fairly untested 20 years ago, so Square evidently decided to cram the entire FFIV soundtrack onto a single CD to keep costs down. While it was nice of them not to omit any key tracks from the original game audio, the downside of this economical approach was that every piece of music on the disc turned out to be quite abbreviated. Most of FFIV's music, composed and programmed to play in the background of a video game, was arranged to loop infinitely. Generally, that means each track begins with a sort of intro before jumping into the central theme, which slows (but doesn't completely stop) before returning to the central theme, ad infinitum.

Yep. Better get ready to pony up those gil... er, yen. 3200 of 'em, to be precise.

For FFIV's original soundtrack release, every track faded after a single iteration of the central theme. With the remastered versions, the fade comes after a reprise of the theme, giving each tune more time to breathe and convey a better sense of how it feels in-game; after all, battles rarely end within a single loop, and while exploring dungeons and towns a single piece of music can run uninterrupted for several minutes. It's not an absolute necessity by any means -- the music is still good in its older, truncated format -- but the change allows Uematsu's standout tunes to stretch their legs a bit (and for the listener to better appreciate it). Of course, it also means the more grating tracks stick around longer to annoy your ears, but hey, that's what the FFWD button is for.

And, just to be clear, the only tunes here are the ones from the original Super NES game. Not the flat, off-tune Game Boy Advance music, or the remastered but downsampled DS tunes, or any orchestrated arrangements. The music is as great as ever, if a bit dated in its simplicity; the character leitmotifs and fantastic battle themes (immortalized by Scott Pilgrim, sort of) still sound great. And the whole thing comes in a nice box with plenty of commentary by Uematsu, for those who still love physical goods (and can read Japanese).

Curiously, Square is also working on remastered version of the FFV and VI soundtracks. Since those games expanded to two and then three CDs for their original soundtrack releases (and thus already used multiple loops for each track), I'll be interested to see what value their respective remasters offer over the original pressings.

For anyone who owns the original CD release, this remaster isn't an absolutely essential purchase.And the hefty import CD price means that the older soundtrack (available for download on iTunes) is a much more economical purchase. Still, for aficionados with a profound love for the game and its music, or anyone who's been meaning to add FFIV to their soundtrack collection, this new release is definitely the one to get.

3.5 /5

Final Fantasy IV Soundtrack (Remastered Version) Review Jeremy Parish A classic game soundtrack enjoys a small but pleasant revision. 2013-07-02T18:22:00-04:00 3.5 5

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for JamesBE #1 JamesBE 4 years ago
    I wonder if these are the same "remasters" they used for that vinyl box set?
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #2 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    I have the original soundtrack and it sounds like this addresses the concerns I had with it. Some of the songs were...too short. Especially the Prelude, you barely get into the "strings" when the track ends...I don't think I'll pick up this album, but if it ever hits iTunes...or Amazon, then there may be a few tracks worth purchasing, especially the Prelude and Main Theme.
    As a side note, this era of music was magic to high school (nerd) me, I went so far as to rig my system so I could record the music from FFIV and Secret of Mana onto a cassette...just to listen to it when ever I felt like it. Game music, on a technical level, far excels what was made then, but there was something about being able to put out orchestral sounding tunes from a computer that I just loved from this era!
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #3 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @JamesBE Good question, but I don't know the answer. I gave away my copy of the vinyl set as a contest prize without ever listening to it.
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  • Avatar for VegaTT #4 VegaTT 4 years ago
    Jeremy, does this include the omitted tracks you played on an interim episode of Retronauts?
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #5 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Hey, you guys need to plug the OCRemix album, Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin. It's really, really good, and absolutely free!
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    I've been listening to Balance and Ruin and I have mixed feelings about it. Some of it's really good, and some of it is really painful.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #7 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Yeah, some of it isn't great. I love the opera scene / tribute to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, though! Jake Kaufman really outdid himself there.
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  • Avatar for karobit #8 karobit 4 years ago
    I had assumed this remastered series was in the same vein as the Secret of Mana Genesis: Arrange album Hiroki Kikuta released last year: the same arrangements using the original, uncompressed samples. So when I listened to the samples of the FFIV Remastered OST on Square's website, I was let down. Knowing that this is more of an expanded release (in terms of track length) makes more sense. I still own the original FFIV OST, but as its one of my favorite games... I might double dip.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #9 Shinta 4 years ago
    I'm glad to hear your thoughts on Balance and Ruin Jeremy.

    I have no idea why anyone is pumping it up like it's great. It's pretty damn awful honestly. Bunch of hipsters who never listen to most new SQEX releases getting impressed just because it's "indie" and "kickstarter."

    Kotaku was praising the Queen-style opera remake, and I nearly threw up in my mouth. So overrated. I bet K. Hamilton hasn't sat and listened to a single FF OST in his life; let alone any of SQEX Music's other releases.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #10 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Geez, Shinta, that's a little harsh. I don't think anyone's praising it for the reasons you mention. I know I'm not.

    People can enjoy different takes on things. And I'm enjoying it. Not everything, certainly, but enough that it's worth mentioning. And I, for one, have listened to plenty of Square's music releases. And much like this, they can be hit or miss.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #11 Shinta 4 years ago
    Maybe a little harsh. I just get a little tired of official SQEX Music releases being completely ignored by mainstream sites, but yet Balance and Ruin is featured. It's hard to not resent "indie" at this point, because it gets such unearned special treatment.

    I admit there are exceptions, like yourself Sarge. It's a generalization, but it has some truth to it.
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  • Avatar for JamesBE #12 JamesBE 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Download codes that came with it were great. The vinyl all sounded like garbage.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #13 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    Oh, it had download codes? I'm embarrassed that I didn't realize that.
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