Nobuo Uematsu’s work on the Final Fantasy series was the catalyst that interested many people in video game music to begin with, and few of his works are more acclaimed than Final Fantasy VII. When Advent Children, a direct-to-DVD sequel to the Playstation game Final Fantasy VII was announced, fans disappointed by Uematsu’s absence from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within were overjoyed to see his name on the marquee. And just as Advent Children is the total tonal opposite of The Spirits Within, catering to series diehards to the exclusion of all others, Uematsu’s score couldn’t be further from Elliot Goldenthal’s. Somewhat surprisingly, it is also a long way from Uematsu’s outstanding Final Fantasy scores of old.
Uematsu did not tackle the album as a solo endeavor; perhaps due to his self-admitted inexperience in scoring films, the composer employed a large number of assistants and co-composers. Squaresoft veterans Tsuyoshi Sekito, Keiji Kawamori, and Kyosuke Himuro arranged or co-arranged tracks and wrote some additional music. Uematsu’s regular orchestrator Shirou Hamaguchi was involved in much of the orchestral work, as was arranger Kazuhiko Toyama. Groups as diverse as the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus were lined up to perform portions of the music, as well.
The two-disc original soundtrack set is a blend of orchestral tracks, synthesized music, and hard-rock songs–not entirely unlike the sound Uematsu conjured solo for the games, taking the limitations of video game synths at the time into account. The album debuts strongly, kicking off with a long-overdue, full-bodied orchestral version of the famous “Opening” track. Other orchestral highlights include the choral “Tenrai” tracks, and the finale, “Cloud Smiles” and the “End Credits.” “Cloud Smiles” in particular twists the familiar “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII” into a charming piece that builds up to a stunning climax, easily the overall bright point of the album.
Advent Children‘s electronic pieces are closer to Uematsu’s original composition style for the Playstation game; the piano-based “For the Reunion” is particularly notable for its jagged but beautiful integration of synth effects. “Water” is an album highlight, combining a subtle variation on “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII with a new compositions. It is puzzling, though, that so many tracks are synthesized, since Uematsu clearly had an orchestra at his disposal as well (though the synths are lightyears beyond those from the original Final Fantasy VII).
The hard-rock tracks are among the weakest on the album, adding little but a sense of motion and chaos. Heavy metal interpretations of the once-menacing “Shinra Theme” and generic mayhem don’t fit in well with the orchestral or synth portions of the score, nor do they really gel with the sound established in the original game. More than anything else, they seem an extension of the style in Final Fantasy X‘s “Otherworld,” a track that is unpopular and divisive among many of Uematsu’s fans. Worse, most of the hard-rock material fails to quote any of Uematsu’s multitude of themes from the original game.
Perhaps the most difficult criticism that can be leveled at Advent Children is the number of direct rehashes from previous albums that were shoehorned into the film. The piano tracks are identical to songs from the FFVII Piano Collection; “JENOVA” is indistinguishable from the version that appeared on Uematsu’s Black Mages album. Parts of the “One-Winged Angel” track appear to have been lifted directly from the earlier Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks album, featuring extremely poor transitions between the new rock arrangements and the original orchestral music.
It’s difficult to understand why so many songs were essentially rehashed, especially given the brilliant way that other songs from the original game are reinterpreted (such as in “Water” or “Cloud Smiles”). Unlike the older games in the series, in which Uematsu juggled and mixed genres very deftly, the simultaneous existence of synth, orchestral, hard-rock, and solo piano lends the album a very inconsistent feel. An orchestral track may be followed by a hard-rock ballad with a piano melody hard on its heels, and they rarely feel as if they belong in the same sonic universe, much less the same film. The obligatory J-Pop tune at the end adds yet another genre without adding much to the mix, and is itself rather banal.
Final Fantasy: Advent Children, regardless of how it may or may not work in the film, is a frustrating listening experience on album. There is brilliant work by Uematsu arrayed side by side with near-unlistenable material and unaccountable laziness. Fans of any one of the genres of music on display in the album will wind up disappointed by the inconsistency on display, especially given Uematsu’s strong past record of cross-genre success with other Final Fantasy albums. Perhaps a more experienced orchestrator would have been able to lend the music a more cohesive feel, or perhaps Uematsu should have provided themes for others to flesh out. In any event, the album is a disappointment, recommended only to fans of Final Fantasy VII and Nobuo Uematsu who are willing to forgive the album’s stylistic inconsistency and outright laziness in order to hear occasional above-average reinterpretations of the composer’s prior Final Fantasy VII work.