A video game’s legacy is only as strong as its soundtrack, so it’s no surprise that Final Fantasy VII has preserved its legendary status for so long. For a soundtrack that captures such a breadth of emotions, ideas, and locales, picking only 15 tracks was a daunting task. However, I can guarantee that my list will look completely different from any other person’s list because just about every single track in the game is of Top 15 quality.
15. Rufus’s Welcoming Ceremony
A march rousing enough to put a spring in the step of John Philip Sousa himself, “Rufus’s Welcoming Ceremony” comes blaring from the heights of Junon proper and acts in thematic opposition to much of the dark, techno atmosphere of Midgar. Ushering in the inauguration of Shinra Corp.’s new president Rufus, this theme is jovial to the point of being tongue-in-cheek comical and accompanies one of my personal favorite parts of the game.
14. Those Chosen by the Planet
One of the legitimately unsettling tracks in the game, “Those Chosen by the Planet” makes appearances throughout the story, from Sephiroth’s fiery rampage through Nibelheim to the very moments prior to the final battle. Thematically tied to Sephiroth’s character, this theme contains haunting bells and a chilling heartbeat-esque pulse. It’s the embodiment of madness, often spelling bad news for whoever dares to stand in the way of the mighty Sephiroth.
13. Gold Saucer
Final Fantasy VII‘s iconic casino serves as a monument of frivolous spending and gluttonous pleasure, standing in stark contrast against the desolate North Corel town and desert below. Fittingly, Gold Saucer’s theme is sparkling and bubbly, so much so that it almost mocks the massacre that was carried out for its construction. This playful theme is well-suited for the Gold Saucer, accounting for multiple levels of meaning yet relieving the player of any guilt for enjoying their time there.
As a general rule of thumb, the more you like something, the harder it is to describe why you like it, and Final Fantasy VII‘s normal battle theme is my favorite out of the entire series. The first half of the track incorporates an impressive variety of rhythms, convening into a forceful anthem that gradually builds higher and higher, before finally returning to the frenetic opening. Despite foregoing the archetypal Final Fantasy bassline, “Fighting” holds its own as something unique and fitting for the tonal shift that came with Final Fantasy VII.
11. Anxious Heart
Most games, if well-directed, will have a distinct artistic direction, attitude, and atmosphere – elements that define the game on a tonal. For me, “Anxious Heart” embodies all of these things for Final Fantasy VII. The game’s director seems to think so as well, as this track plays at very pivotal moments, including when Avalanche blows up the first Mako reactor and the scene following Aerith’s death. Throughout the track, there are string long tones that blanket the piece, perforated with twinkling synths and a minor version of the series’s “Prelude.”
10. Electric de Chocobo
From VI‘s “Techno de Chocobo” to IX‘s “Ukele le Chocobo,” having stylized remixes of the iconic Chocobo theme has become a musical tradition for the long-standing series. What makes “Electric de Chocobo” so good are the sick bass guitar riffs, the intermittent Chocobo warks, and a surfer rock attitude that is so completely contrary to anything else in the game, yet so perfectly captures the frantic madness that comes with trying to snag a darn Chocobo.
9. Cid’s Theme
A melody so grand it could blow past the stars, “Cid’s Theme” carries with it the long lost aspirations of Cid Highwind. The theme takes cues from big movie soundtracks like Top Gun and The Right Stuff, with a focus on heavy brass fanfare and dramatic percussion. In the main section, the musical texture thins to just a triumphant, stately melody on top of a solitary bass line, and I believe that it’s in this moment when we can hear Cid’s dreams of going into outer space coming true.
8. One-Winged Angel
Final Fantasy VII‘s final boss theme receives a lot of love and for good reason. While the orchestral version from Advent Children has sort of become the definitive iteration of the theme, the original has its own unique, ghoulish charm thanks to the synthesizers. The entire game is spent tailing Sephiroth’s shadow, witnessing the chaos left in his wake, and this theme acts as the culmination for the man behind the madness, incorporating a myriad of rhythms and styles as well as live vocals. “One-Winged Angel” is best enjoyed while watching Sephiroth’s mighty Supernova attack in awe.
7. Tifa’s Theme
One of the more overlooked character themes to come out of Final Fantasy VII, “Tifa’s Theme” encapsulates tender feelings of care, longing, and verbal reticence as the theme’s owner struggles to save her childhood friend Cloud from his very own memories while acting as the emotional pillar of the group. The theme is built from a melodic sequence that repeats itself, resolving to a low note the first time around and gaining the courage to move higher the second time around. A melody is carried by a delicate flute synth during the first refrain, and when the section is repeated, the melody is handed off to a low bassoon-like woodwind synth, as if to create a conversation between starcrossed lovers.
6. Great Warrior
The Cosmo Canyon musical motif is fantastic, and while it appears in three different tracks, the exotic melody sees its greatest interpretation in “Great Warrior.” This theme is only used once in the entire game, but that scene is incredibly poignant, powerful, and one of my favorite moments in Final Fantasy VII. The evocative melody line and the tribal rhythm sections beautifully mesh together the pain and the pride that come with realizing the truth behind Red XIII’s father’s disappearance. The track is further punctuated by the twinkling tears of the petrified Seto and the mournful howls of his son Nanaki.
5. Aerith’s Theme
Very seldom does a musical track feel genuinely sincere, warm and heartfelt, yet still so cold and tragic. From the scene recapping Elmyra’s encounter with the baby Aerith and her dying birth mother Ifalna to Aerith’s inevitable death, “Aerith’s Theme” carries each moment with such heavy-hearted emotion, that these scenes still move the masses to this day. The white materia bouncing with the music, piercing through the unbearable silence? Continuing to play over the subsequent fight with Jenova LIFE? Perfection. Absolute musical perfection.
4. Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII
If I were to crystallize the main theme behind Final Fantasy VII‘s story, it would be the struggle to overcome the past – tentative feelings that shine through in the game’s musical main theme as well. Serving as Cloud’s de facto theme, the “Main Theme” begins with an atmosphere of foreboding and uncertainty, a reflection of Cloud’s case of mistaken identity and loss of his sense of self. The music gradually works its way to a climax, a bold statement of the theme’s main melody as if to say with confidence “I am me, and there’s nothing that can change that.”
3. Those Who Fight Further
Appearing quite high on my Top 30 RPG Boss Battle Themes list, it should come as no surprise that “Those Who Fight Further” is one of my favorite tracks from Final Fantasy VII. It has what every good boss battle theme should have: varied rhythms, a constant build of energy, and sections with distinct musical styles. The rock attitude, expressed through the electric guitar and hi-hat work, exemplifies the tonal shift from the earlier Final Fantasy games and establishes an exhilarating atmosphere for every boss fight in Final Fantasy VII.
2. Interrupted by Fireworks
During dinner tonight, I caught this track playing in my head. Immediately enveloped by chills and thoughts of Final Fantasy VII, I rushed upstairs to capture this fleeting introspection, and that’s exactly the type of piece this is. “Interrupted by Fireworks” is a condensation of Final Fantasy VII’s outlook on human emotion, revealing the often vexing complexity and the almost unjust fragility of the human heart. In addition to making Cait Sith’s sacrifice in the Temple of the Ancients oddly touching, this track’s greatest contribution to the game is obviously how it plays during the famous ferris wheel ride, creating an atmosphere for a moment that is so short, yet so very precious.
1. Opening ~ Bombing Mission
How many notes does it take to make one’s hairs stand on end? In the case of Final Fantasy VII‘s opening theme, it’s three. Three notes that pierce the foreboding texture and pave the way for one of the most iconic opening cinematics, from the persistent train-like snare drums to the declarative fanfare accompanying the logo reveal, in video game history. Then the music immediately transitions into the high-adrenaline “Bombing Mission” portion, playing throughout the entirety of AVALANCHE’s heist in Sector 1’s Mako Reactor. “Bombing Mission” also plays during the raid on Midgar, and the very last notes before the end credits are the same three from the opening, effectively and thematically bookending the entire game the same way it began.