Annnnd we are back with another entry into the Great RPG Music series! This time, we will be taking on the RPG juggernaut: the original PlayStation (PS1). Instead of agonizing over definitive favorites like I’ve done in previous installments, I’ve decided to pick pieces that evoke a strong sense of nostalgia rather than the choices themselves being my absolute favorites of each game. That’s not to say that some of these aren’t my favorites, however.
If you’d rather skip over my commentary, you can find a complete, pre-compiled playlist at the very bottom of this article. That said, this list is filled to the brim with PS1 goodness, so let’s jump right into it.
Final Fantasy VII – Main Theme (Overworld)
When Final Fantasy VII first came out, I was already well versed in the franchise up to that point. While it has never been my favorite in the series, I was just as captivated by it as everyone else when it arrived in 1997. “Stunning” 3d sprites on “mind-blowing” pre-rendered backgrounds, a moving soundtrack, and a memorable cast of protagonists and antagonists alike.
Even though it tends to not rate as highly for most in retrospect (primarily series veterans), you can’t deny that it brought forth the franchise and, to a lesser extent, the JRPG genre into the limelight. Sometimes, I wonder how Square would have fared if this entry hadn’t been the runaway success that it was. While I don’t think the series would have petered out and died, perhaps their releases in the West might have changed due to waning interest.
Regardless, this track is so special to me because it is the first thing you hear upon leaving Midgar for the first time. You just spent HOURS in a massive city, and I can’t be the only one that thought the game was coming to a close after the events that unfolded there. But no, your journey literally had just started, and this piece touches on all of the emotions that come with that realization. You manage to get out of Midgar, but are now faced with the massive, foreign world ahead. This track is six minutes long for a reason–it is awesome.
Final Fantasy VIII – Fisherman’s Horizon
Final Fantasy VIII had the unfortunate job of following up the best-selling Final Fantasy entry of all time. It did a lot of new things that may or may not have stuck to the wall, while improving on core features, such as the graphics. While I don’t feel that its cast could ever be considered as memorable as the the individuals manifested in FF7, I think they did a passable job overall given the severity of its inter-familial competition.
The great thing about Final Fantasy games is that even if things aren’t as great as you anticipated, whether it be the battle system, the story, or something else, you never have to worry about the music. I have yet to be disappointed with a Final Fantasy soundtrack, and “Fisherman’s Horizon” is no different. I know, you’re probably thinking, “How could this possibly beat out ‘The Man With the Machine Gun’?” That track is also fantastic, but something about these “calm before the storm” pieces really bring me back to playing these games for the first time. These adventures we take, especially in Final Fantasy games, are filled with action and adventure. The downtime between the periods of heavy activity allow you to really sit back and appreciate all of what the game has to offer. For that, I am thankful.
Final Fantasy IX – Stirring the Forest
Confession time: I have never finished Final Fantasy IX. I have picked it up oh-so-many times and have played it dozens of hours, but have never managed to put the final nail in its jeweled case coffin. Even still, I really appreciate what it set out to do. A throwback to the earlier days of the franchise, Final Fantasy IX went back to its roots in a visual sense, which was a nice change of pace from the more modernly futuristic entries of 7 and 8.
If you ask me, Square Enix has been way past due for a repeat of this process. I would argue that this was the last real dive into the medieval aesthetic with regards to a mainline entry in the franchise. Final Fantasy XII certainly had a more vintage look and feel, but not in the same sense as 9. I hope and pray that Octopath is successful enough to not only spark enthusiasm behind potential remakes/remasters with old series’ entries, but also to coerce Square Enix back to its roots once more. And by roots, I don’t necessarily mean the next mainline Final Fantasy needs to look like Octopath (though I would take that in a heartbeat). Simply put: I’m tired of the boy band look, and tired of the futuristic crap. Go back to the times where the classic armor sets of the franchise’s class archetypes really shine, like my next entry…
Final Fantasy Tactics – Under the Stars
Speaking of that medieval look the Final Fantasy series does so well, I believe Tactics was the pinnacle of that design (from a realistic, gritty perspective at least). If you haven’t played this game, do yourself a favor and make time for it. While the PS1 original is special in a nostalgic sense, the experience in the War of the Lions edition is the better of the two. If you don’t have a PSP or PS1, heck, pick up the iOS or Android version. Just go play the game already; you will thank me later.
Despite being named “Under the Stars,” this piece actually first plays during a fight in a building’s basement. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a phenomenal piece of work.
Final Fantasy Origins – Final Fantasy II – Main Theme
Final Fantasy II saw its first official Western release in the form of Final Fantasy Origins: a compilation of both Final Fantasy I and II for the PS1. While both of these games stay somewhat true to the originals, they received major graphic and audio overhauls in the process.
The revamp birthed this track, a remixed version of the original FF2 overworld theme. It may sound a little empty to some, but I think its simplicity plays well into the emotions it obviously seeks to capture. After all, you play as a group of orphans that are in the midst of rivaling factions. What better way to envelope you in that sense of dread, isolation, and uncertainty than with a piece like this?
SaGa Frontier – Dungeon #1
You know those songs that are forever stuck in your mind, that have the ability to take you back to a specific place and time? This track doesn’t necessarily do that for me, but SaGa Frontier as a whole certainly does. In 7th grade, I took the strategy guide with me to school (yeah, I was THAT kid) and wrote down combos on the inside of the cover page for future reference.
As a SaGa game, it shares the “spark” system that has more or less become a series staple. Basically, you have a chance to learn new abilities (aka spark) in combat rather than receiving them statically from a level-up or from a purchase. On top of that, you had a chance of comboing with other party member’s abilities, and there were A LOT of possible combinations. They looked sick, too, which made it that much more engaging of a system.
As you would expect, “Dungeon #1” plays in many of the game’s dungeons. It will be so ingrained in your mind from grinding sessions that you will know it by heart before you know it.
SaGa Frontier II – Feldschlacht III
While I spent hundreds of hours in Saga Frontier I, the second one didn’t resonate with me quite as much. That’s not to say its a bad game though. In fact, this particular battle theme is one my favorite pieces of all time, which is odd considering its instrumental makeup is something I would not be drawn to in most scenarios.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Dance of Pales
To say that I adore Symphony of the Night would be a complete understatement. I love everything about it, from its cheesy voice acting to the Metroidvania-meets-RPG mechanics. Everything. Therefore, it may come as a shocker that I am totally disinterested in the majority of Metroidvania games that have released since, but for a simple reason. Every one that I have played, outside of the few DS Castlevania games, have given up most (if not all) of the RPG elements that made Symphony of the Night so fun to me. But that is exactly why I am so excited for games like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Chasm, because they appear to utilize the same formula that made Symphony of the Night such a wonderful experience in my opinion.
Symphony of the Night’s soundtrack is so incredible that I’ve always loved the idea of seeing it performed live someday. It’s just THAT good.
Suikoden – Blue Oceans, Blue Skies
I have little experience with the Suikoden series, but I’ve only heard great things about it over the years. I only really remember two things from this entry in particular, one being its massive cast of playable characters that would rival a list of generation I Pokemon, and the other being this overworld song.
Breath of Fire III – Dangerous Feeling
Breath of Fire III was my first exposure to the Breath of Fire series, and remains one of my favorite games to this day. The pixel-based sprites on top of a 3D map was a real treat when the game was in its infancy. But the music – man, oh man – the music. As a (retired) drummer, I’ve always loved how Breath of Fire III incorporated some sick drum beats in ways you would not expect in a high fantasy game. This track is one of the milder offerings out there, but is still as moving as the rest of the score.
Parasite Eve – Out of Phase
Parasite Eve remains one of the most memorable games to me from the PS1 era, and for good reason. For those unfamiliar, think Resident Evil with RPG mechanics. Honestly, the tension this game exudes is on par with any PS1 Resident Evil game in my book.
“Out of Phase” plays at your base of operations, NYPD, and I feel like it orchestrates that setting superbly. When I close my eyes while listening to this, I can almost see myself sitting at a detective’s desk in a dimly lit room, drinking my morning coffee just before trying to solve the horrors that await within the bustling city.
Lunar – Silver Star Story Complete – Toward the Horizon
A friend of mine in 3rd grade had a Sega CD, and with it the original version of Lunar. I don’t even think he liked RPGs, but he still played it for some reason. Occasionally, he’d let me hop on and play it some myself. But it wasn’t until its re-release on the PS1 that I was really able to become fully invested in it.
Lunar is really one of the first RPGs that I can remember that had animated and voice acted cutscenes, even back on the Sega CD. While simple in terms of RPG design these days, it still tells an emotionally moving story. “Toward the Horizon” is one of four overworld themes that play throughout the course of your adventure, and is certainly among my favorites in the game.
Brave Fencer Musashi – The Musashi Legend
Ah, the days when everyone wanted to be just like Cloud, complete with spiky hair and a gravity-defying sword. Jokes aside, Brave Fencer Musashi was a fairly solid action RPG for its time, even though the main character was your run-of-the-mill, annoying, trope-infested kid.
Interestingly enough, I traded this game to EBGames (Gamestop) for an odd fishing RPG on the Gameboy called Legend of the River King. This act of “betrayal” is something my brother is still angry about to this day. The way I see it, EBGames betrayed ME for allowing the exchange in the first place! How dare they!
Diablo – Town Theme (Tristram)
Although Diablo I as a complete package isn’t near as memorable to me as its sequel, the iconic town theme knows no nostalgic bounds. It very much depicts the tale of an old, worn-out town that constantly struggles against an ever-growing demonic presence.
Think of the below pieces as “runner-ups” to the actual list. Although I have played each of these, there aren’t enough memories associated to speak of them at any substantial length. Therefore, I will let the music do the talking for me.
Wild ARMS – Adlehyde Castle
Beyond the Beyond – Isla Village
Ogre Battle – Fortune Teller
Guardian’s Crusade – Overworld
Playlist – Great RPG Music On: PS1
What do you think about my selection? What are some pieces you would add to the list?