Many things define the Final Fantasy series and led to its once powerhouse position atop the gaming world (a position Final Fantasy XV can hopefully restore). Graphical superiority! Epic summon monsters! Twisting stories that often fail to make much sense! Huge casts of amazing characters! Uber-powerful villains with operatic flair! And, of course, brilliant soundtracks that bring the events of the series to life. This applies especially to the iconic villains of the series and the grand themes which provide background as they beat the stuffing out of players.
So which are the five best boss themes providing the most pleasurable listening experience as the villain kicks your ass? And why are story and character themes just about as important to these rankings as the music itself? Because this is Fandom Following and we like themes!
5. “The Darkness of Eternity/The Final Battle” (Final Fantasy IX)
Kuja’s appearance does not do him justice. Good thing his part of this song does.
“The Darkness of Eternity” is an expanded version of “Kuja’s Theme,” heard throughout the game when he appears, but trumped up and made epic to fit the penultimate battle. It is by far the “rockiest” of the themes ranked here, with electric guitar featuring heavily alongside strong cymbal and snare. Like most villain themes, there is also a heavy focus on sounding sinister, especially in the opening. It’s fast and awesome and one of the better villain themes of the Final Fantasy series. Though, like with Kuja’s appearance, I think they tried a little too hard to remind the player of Sephiroth with the theme.
It also shares a sci-fi sound with the “The Final Battle” that complements the fact these battles are fought on a separate planet than the one the majority of the game occurs on. Necron may be a weird final boss that comes out of nowhere, but the fight has a very solid theme. In particular the death moans opening the song and place sparsely throughout represent Necron’s role as death itself. The synthetic sound and piano are definitely reminiscent of some 80s horror movie, something the moans also lend to.
I don’t think it is a good thing when the themes for both Kuja and Necron overshadow the characters themselves. Which plays a large role in this theme not ranking higher.
So solid work here. That this is relatively unremarkable compared to the best Final Fantasy’s soundtracks have to offer says a lot about the expected quality of the music in the series. Final Fantasy IX definitely delivers, but considering the work in the previous two games (more on them later), the standard may have always been too high to reach.
4. “Born Anew/Nascent Requiem” (Final Fantasy XIII)
Look, Final Fantasy XIII has a lot of problems. The story is a mess, the characters are a let-down, the first ten or eleven chapters are a tutorial, I could go on a while. This theme, though? This theme rocks. It’s also the only one on this list not composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, but rather by Masashi Hamauzu, who also composed the Final Fantasy X soundtrack.
The final boss of the game, a fal’Cie named Orphan that powers the floating orb of Cocoon housing the majority of mankind, wants the murder of millions in order to return a Maker that created the world. In order to do this, Orphan wants to bait two of the protagonists into forming a creature powerful enough to strike it down, which would send Cocoon falling to the ground and kill its citizens. This sacrifice will open a gate to a world where their Maker currently resides and allow it to return.
“Born Anew” hits this feeling of yearning and destruction throughout its chorus:
My name is Orphan. Orphan.
Forever watchful, I yearn for destruction
My name is Orphan. Orphan.
The day of suffering and the mother goddess’s tears
Are what my hope is.
Like most of the themes to come, there are strong religious tones to the lyrics and the orchestra. After all, Orphan wants to bring back its God. “Born Anew” gives the strong impression of Orphan being reborn after the previous boss fight, with a triumphant sound and lyrics serving to introduce the character and its goals. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. And thanks to the PS3’s sound quality, the whole thing sounds gorgeous.
With the second stage of the fight comes “Nascent Requiem,” a fast-paced change reflecting the time-limit on the fight by Orphan casting a Doom spell. It’s urgent, it’s epic, it is everything you expect from the music accompanying the final fight in a game. The urgency and danger constantly increases throughout the track…and then suddenly it doesn’t. As you near the end of the track and the boss fight, the music suddenly grows softer before returning with a triumphant flair. The characters spend the entire game fighting their fate and now is the moment of truth.
Now whether they or Orphan triumph depends on you (spoiler: I suck and lost badly quite a bit before beating this jerk).
3. “One-Winged Angel” (Final Fantasy VII)
There’s no doubting this theme’s place as the most praised and famous piece of music from any Final Fantasy game.
That praise exists for a reason. The tech jump to the Playstation allowed a sound quality the poor SNES could never handle. It was the first Final Fantasy track to feature vocal lyrics rather than the gibberish chorus from previous games. Sephiroth is the most popular Final Fantasy villain ever, which makes everything attached to him more popular. The song featured in Kingdom Hearts during his cameo, making it iconic to a brand new generation of gamers. And of course, “One-Winged Angel” is very much an epic piece of music.
The name refers to Sephiroth’s final form, when he takes an angelic appearance with 6 white wings and a single black one. The lyrics and the music work to give off a feeling of terror. The Psycho-like violins (an intentional choice) that start the song are dead obvious about that, and the song never stops sounding ominous, with low pounding drums and screeching violin throughout. The lyrics are pretty standard horror stuff, too.
Don’t remain, remain in memory
Don’t remain, remain in memory
Fierce anger, anger and pain
Fierce anger, anger and pain
Fierce, terrible fierce fate
The intent is clear; composer Nobuo Uematsu wants you to fear Sephiroth. As a boss theme it shows Sephiroth’s anger and violence, as well as his power. This is a character Final Fantasy VII spends its entirety telling you the power of. His reputation is that of invincibility. The one look we get of his power only states this further. At this point the party must stop him to have any hope of stopping a meteor from destroying the world. One-Winged Angel effectively gets across the atmosphere of terror and desperation while also continuing the trend of building fear that the game never lets up on.
(Also interesting; Uematsu envisioned this song as a rock number and thinks the version played with his band, The Black Mages, to be the “complete” version of the theme. Might as well take the opportunity to plug The Black Mages to any Final Fantasy fans out there who haven’t heard them. They’re awesome.)
Whatever my opinions on Sephiroth as a villain, this theme is excellent.
2. “Premonition/Legendary Beast/Maybe I’m a Lion/The Extreme” (Final Fantasy VIII)
So, this one came as a bit of a surprise when I decided to write this. I’ve only beaten VIII once, and most of what I remembered about the Ultimecia fight was how annoying and hard it was. I sure didn’t remember loving the music this much. I nearly ranked it first simply for the “Legendary Beast” and “Maybe I’m a Lion” sections. Much like my number one on this list, these make a cool connection to the events on screen and the forms Ultimecia takes.
With the second and third stages of the fight, respectfully, the names refer to the Guardian Force which Ultimecia rips from Squall’s mind and forces the party to battle. This is also his interpretation of the ultimate Guardian Force, with its power tied to his belief of its power. They’re plain intimidating, as is the design of the two forms the boss takes for each theme. That’s what the music should be, as this boss represents a personal struggle to Squall specifically that he must fight to overcome. These forms represent Squall’s very idea of power. “Maybe I’m a Lion” is blatant about this considering his lion motif.
The boss and the music tie very deeply to the main character, which always makes for an impactful boss theme. Plus it plain sounds great. As a huge fan of drums, the drumbeat in “Maybe I’m a Lion” hooked me almost immediately.
“The Extreme” is also quite excellent, with the slow, haunting piano and chorus giving way to a frantic pace that includes sections of themes from various Final Fantasy games. The music definitely gives the impression of a desperate battle against a cosmic time sorceress. Considering the importance of the flow of time to the game, that’s clearly an intentional choice beyond instilling urgency because of the boss. If I’m honest, “The Extreme” is the best final boss track in the series as far as giving that feeling of a final fight. The piano sounds excellent, everything is clear and sharp and stands out, the SNES MIDI sound is gone entirely.“Premonition” certainly holds its own as well as a good theme for the initial form of the boss.
While Final Fantasy VII may have been the shocking technological jump that caught everyone’s attention, Final Fantasy VIII remains the best example of what Square could squeeze out of the original Playstation.
Great themes for a great boss and one I nearly ranked first. Ultimately though I just can’t put it above the theme I believe tops not only the others on this list, but possibly every video game theme I’ve ever heard.
1. “Dancing Mad” (Final Fantasy VI)
I doubt this surprises anyone who saw “One-Winged Angel” earlier. Final Fantasy VI vs. Final Fantasy VII is an old debate that will never die, from their casts to their villains to their soundtracks to the argument over which game is the superior overall. Count me among the VI worshippers—I’ll take it over VII in every single aspect. And a big part of the reason I prefer Kefka over Sephiroth (besides him actually SUCCEEDING in destroying the world, rather than failing miserably after hiding half the game) is the amazing theme that plays during the desperate final battle against a man made a god.
To put it shortly before I detail further, “Dancing Mad” perfectly complements the fight and the game in a way no other Final Fantasy theme manages. Each of the 4 different sections to the song, one for every stage of the Kefka fight, tells the story of a fight the player cannot win yet is somehow finding a way to, and also the villain they defeat.
The first part of the fight sees the party facing the bottom tier of Kefka’s tower, a properly demonic looking creature. This stage of the song serves as a stereotypical final boss theme. It is properly epic, starting off with slow organs and gradual building into a fast-paced percussion accompanying rhythmic chanting. It is a boast, just as this form is a boast of Kefka’s power. He holds the character’s party in total disdain and seeks to crush them quickly.
And why wouldn’t he? At this stage Kefka is by a wide margin the most powerful being on the planet. He is a god. What remnants of life remain after he destroys the world grovel pitifully at his feet in hopes he won’t destroy their homes from atop his tower. He has already outsmarted and defeated the resistance he now faces. He wields power the player should not be able to match. Of course he believes he can crush them quickly.
With Kefka’s second stage comes the second part of the theme. Here the player has resisted Kefka’s boasts, but he’s still gloating. He is amused that these mere mortals have lasted this long against him, as if they actually have a chance. The chanting speeds up, as does the percussion. When the section slows down to just the organ, you can hear the beginning of the god complex Kefka has developed, which is even more apparent in the next section. Meanwhile the clownish theme in the background reminds players of his origin, that Kefka was once a man. He can be beaten. He must be beaten.
By the time the third stage begins, a dissonance becomes apparent between the grand heights of Kefka’s ego and the doubt over the battle he fights. Here “Dancing Mad” shifts into a blatantly religious church organ theme. Kefka’s appearance also reflects this, as the angelic resemblance which began in the previous stage grows even stronger. Here Kefka is again boasting, almost incredulous at the determination of the player’s party. I mean, the guy is all-powerful. Not only does he mock the party, he mocks the world itself for viewing him as a god. Kefka does not wish to rule mankind. He wishes to destroy them.
And he also mocks himself. He is a mere mortal deranged by experimentation. He is a perversion of the idea of God. The fact that people worship him speaks to the ludicrousness of the world and his belief that life itself is a joke to be destroyed.
Then comes the final section of the song, where Kefka’s power comes crashing down around him. You’d think he is at the height of his power when this begins. The organ rises higher and higher in key as the final evolution of Kefka’s angelic form descends onto a golden background. He reaffirms his intention to destroy all life and straight up laughs at you. The fast percussion begins. Yet you’ll notice right away just how muted it seems in comparison to the rest of the song.
This is totally intentional and the biggest reason I love “Dancing Mad” so much.
This is not the “down to business” form where we see the greatest that Kefka has to offer. You’ve already seen his best. This is Kefka losing and knowing it. The heavy percussion and weaker reed organ display what amounts to a temper tantrum as Kefka’s anger overwhelms him. And at the realization that he will lose, the theme slows into a somber melody. The god so confident to begin the fight is reduced to sorrow and acceptance of his defeat, even though he continues the fight. And you almost feel as if he is crying. Somehow, for one brief moment, this amazing theme draws a bit of sympathy for Kefka from the player. Even if you sympathize for a monster crying over his failure to eradicate life.
Then the percussion kicks back in and the tantrum returns.
“Dancing Mad” isn’t just the best final boss theme in Final Fantasy history; it just might be the best of any video game ever.
Videos and images courtesy of Square Enix and YouTube.