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#TuneTuesday No. 84: One-Winged Angel


This weeks #TuneTuesday is long overdue, as I deem it to be one of the most influential pieces of game music and I should have talked about it ages ago. It is One-Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu.

To give a VERY brief overview of the plot, for those who have not played this 1997 gem for whatever reason, the story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling corporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a superhuman intent on destroying their planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world.

FFVII introduced quite a few firsts for the series. It was the first in the series to use full-motion video and 3D computer graphics, which featured 3D character models superimposed over 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Although the gameplay systems remained mostly unchanged from previous entries, it introduced more widespread science fiction elements and a more realistic presentation. The game had a staff of over 100, with a combined development and marketing budget of around $80 million, which was one of the largest budgets for a game at the time.

FFVII is arguably one of the most influential and important games in the industry, as many open-world and (J)RPGs can be take right back to this game as its source. The game also has some of the most famous plot twists and narrative in gaming, which I'm certain most gamers are aware of, even if they haven't played FFVII.

 'But what about this EPIC theme?' I hear you ask. Don't worry, I'm getting onto that!

Like the plot twists, I am certain that every gamer knows that this is the theme during the final fight with Sepiroth, in his final form and it is very different to everything else in the soundtrack and pretty much every piece of gaming music up until that point. Uematsu has often stated that this piece of music takes inspiration from Igor Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring', which is a famous atonal ballet that caused riots in the streets of Paris upon it's premiere. Like the 'Rite of Spring', 'One-Winged Angel' presented a new way of composing video game music, combining modern classical music motifs (or chopped-up fragments, as he calls it) with rock and roll music from the late 60s to early 70s to make an orchestral track with a "destructive impact", to use his words.

It also used a live choir, something that hadn't been done in any game (to my knowledge) up until that point. Imagine the look on SQUARE's face when Uematsu presented that idea, knowing how limited the PlayStation's hardware was! The PlayStation had 24 audio channels. Eight were reserved for sound effects, leaving sixteen available for the music.

To be terribly crude for a moment, many game soundtracks before (and a little bit afterwards) could be described as 'plinky-tinky' noises. Game music had a very unique sound, with the 90s using the most basic of MIDI samples to produce sounds that sort-of resemble instruments, or create weird new ones with synthesisers. To an extent, a lot of music in FFVII falls under this category.

 But what makes a lot of this soundtrack different in its sound was the process that it was written. Uematsu's approach to composing the game's music was to treat it like a film score and write music that reflected the mood of the scenes, rather than trying to make strong melodies as that approach would come across too strong when placed alongside the game's new 3D visuals.

It is this sort of mindset that I think all composers in media should aspire for. Not to get caught up in all of the Fmod or Wwise tools and toys to make the music as interactive as possible, as I think that just alienates players and flexes your ego. Nor should you get caught up in maximising templates and buying every sample library Spitfire, NI or any other company spits out. The music in any piece of media, be it game, film or TV should enhance, suggest and support whatever emotion is being portrayed in the visuals and narrative, not to get in its way.



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