This is an excellent opus, with many memorable tunes and a hint of wistfulness to almost every one of them, creating a peculiar, somewhat melancholy overall atmosphere. The most memorable and most famous track is, without a doubt, “Aria de Mezzo Carattere”, the opera song that Celes sings, and a modified version of which also serves as her theme. The former version is a beautiful, tragic piece, while the latter takes on a clinky, music-box simplicity, perhaps to emphasise the artificiality of Celes’ life as a soldier. A fully orchestrated version of the song also features on the Grand Finale compilation. The other highlight is Terra’s theme, which plays during the opening credits and also serves as the world map music for the first part of the game. It’s a march accompanied by a haunting, lonesome flute melody, combining Terra’s military background and the emptiness she feels. Most of the other character themes are also good: Locke’s is energetic and upbeat, but has a nostalgic variation in “Forever Rachel” (explaining the title would be a spoiler). Cyan’s has an epic sweep to it, Gogo’s is goofy, Umaro’s has a stomping rhtyhm. Shadow’s is a disquieting whistled melody à la Ennio Morricone, while Setzer gets a lavish, brash tune, and Mog a cute little merry-go-round song (the official moogle theme for the series, first introduced in FFV). And, further differentiating himself from his villain predecessors, Kefka has a mischievous, childlike melody that fits him to a tee.
Other good pieces include the eerie ambience of “The Phantom Forest”, which is reused in several areas besides its namesake, the soothing peacefulness of the town theme “Kids Run through the City”, the mechanical rhythms of “Devil’s Lab”, which plays in the Vector Magitek Research Facility, the dramatic insistence of “New Continent”, which welcomes the party on the Floating Continent, the careless energy of “Spinach Rag”, which plays in the Opera House lobby, and the energetic, tinny “Johnny C. Bad”, a parody of “Johnny B. Goode”, which serves as the background music in the Colosseum/Coliseum and some pubs.
Of course, there are also some less successful tracks, such as Relm’s theme, with its obnoxious bagpipes, “Techno de Chocobo”, which feels thoroughly out of place, or the Fanatics’ Tower/Cultists’ Tower theme, which just gives me a headache after a while. I must also admit to not being a great fan of “Dancing Mad”, the very famous, but extremely long (18 minutes!) track which accompanies the final battle: despite its operatic feel (perhaps to parallel “Aria de Mezzo Carattere”), I find it too messy. However, overall, the good tunes very largely outweigh the bad, resulting in what is probably one of Uematsu’s (N.B. Nobuo Uematsu, the main composer for the FF series) best successes.