Final Fantasy IX — Feel My Blade
A fair portion of any JRPG soundtrack is made up of themes that are tied to places, characters, or events. In each Final Fantasy since FFIV, for example, each character has had an individual theme that is played during events in the plot that involve that character. Likewise, just about every town (and many of the dungeons) have individual themes, a trend that’s not unique to Final Fantasy but appears in most JRPGs.
At least a certain portion of each game’s score, however, is dedicated to unique plot events–specific battles, cinematic sequences, dramatic moments. Often, when a battle theme is unique, it denotes a particularly difficult or climactic boss–see Chrono Trigger’s “Battle with Magus,” Suikoden II’s “Gothic Neclord,” or Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete’s “Magical Weapon Nash” (a personal favorite–obscure!).
Final Fantasy IX has a unique battle theme accompanying a fight that isn’t particularly climactic or dramatic–at least, not in the traditional sense. “Feel My Blade” gets played exactly once in the game, within the first hour, and it accompanies the battle between Zidane’s acting troupe, Tantalus, and… their boss, Baku, who is playing the role of the evil king in the play that they’re performing. The battle has no actual dramatic tension–you can’t really lose it–and in fact, in place of the “Magic” command in your characters’ menus, you can select “SFX,” a command which allows you to use a number of unique “spells” that are entirely for spectacle and which deal exactly zero damage. You’re putting on a show for the audience in much the same way that the game is putting on a show for you.
This is a sequence which is easy pickings for the crowd who decries Final Fantasy as being mostly cutscenes with minimal gameplay, but if you’re among those gamers who appreciate games as spectacle and don’t mind narrative being sometimes divorced from game mechanics, the whole thing is hugely delightful. In fact, the whole game is pretty delightful.
I love this track–the swashbuckling, heroic melody, the length, melodramatic introduction–all of it. Tracks like this make me lament, in part, the advent of voice acting in RPGs. In the 32-bit era and before, the score of a game was entirely tasked with carrying the emotional tone of a scene, and could do so unimpeded. We’re still getting brilliant game music, of course, but “Feel My Blade” belongs to quite a different era, an era for which I feel a great deal of nostalgia.