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Composers reimagined some of the most iconic 'Final Fantasy' songs in 'Rebirth'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is the second in a planned trilogy of video games remaking and expanding the story and world of Final Fantasy VII. Part of what makes the Final Fantasy franchise so beloved is its musical score...

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "MAIN THEME OF FINAL FANTASY VII")

CHANG: ...Which means Rebirth's composers were faced with a huge challenge - make music that pleases fans of the original score while also doing something new and surprising. NPR's Vincent Acovino has more.

VINCENT ACOVINO, BYLINE: Released in 1997 for the original Playstation, Final Fantasy VII was a revelation when it came out. Telling the story of a spiky-haired swordsman fighting for the survival of the world, it was more cinematic than other games of the time. The visuals were breathtaking, and the musical score from composer Nobuo Uematsu was memorable, to say the least. It borrowed from classical music, pop music and especially progressive rock.

KEIJI KAWAMORI: (Through interpreter) I do think this is due to Uematsu-san's melodies from the original Final Fantasy VII being ones that are just recalled with ease and remain in their hearts.

ACOVINO: That's Rebirth's music supervisor, Keiji Kawamori. Kawamori says the tracks are different from your average orchestral video game soundtrack, edgier.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "ONE-WINGED ANGEL")

KAWAMORI: (Through interpreter) They're profound. And at the same time, his compositions often incorporate a sort of new idea that perhaps goes against the status quo of music so far.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "ONE-WINGED ANGEL")

ACOVINO: Kawamori and his team set out to recreate that feeling. Musical motifs are hidden like Easter eggs in Rebirth's songs. Take this theme, used during many of the game's fight sequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "ONE-WINGED ANGEL")

MITSUTO SUZUKI: (Through interpreter) So this is the battle arrangement of the main theme. But for those listening very closely, you may notice that there is another underlying or hidden track from Final Fantasy VII included called "Let The Battles Begin!"

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU SONG, "LET THE BATTLES BEGIN!")

SUZUKI: (Non-English language spoken).

ACOVINO: That's Rebirth composer Mitsuto Suzuki.

SUZUKI: (Through interpreter) Also, I believe that each of the characters has a strong and impressionable theme, like for Aerith, and I think this adds to it.

ACOVINO: Aerith is a fan favorite character from the original game.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "AERITH'S THEME")

ACOVINO: It was heartbreaking for players when they encountered it back in the day, says video game music expert Mat Ombler.

MAT OMBLER: The needle drop when that theme plays and the way that entire scene plays out - so many people experienced that feeling of loss.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU'S "AERITH'S THEME")

ACOVINO: In Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, that moment, too, is updated and reinterpreted. And the challenge for the music team was, how do you revisit such a canonized moment - one that distills that feeling of loss - in a way that is still heartbreaking all these years later? Here's Kawamori.

KAWAMORI: (Through interpreter) I think when players think of Aerith's theme, they might typically think of a piano arrangement. But we wanted to add a bit of variation and do something different for Rebirth. So for this arrangement, we're going in with a chorus.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU SONG, "AERITH'S THEME - RETURN TO THE PLANET (FF7 REBIRTH OST VERSION)")

ACOVINO: At its very best moments, the music of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth distills the spirit of Final Fantasy VII and gives it a surprising and unexpected new twist. Here's Mat Ombler again.

OMBLER: The whole idea of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is they flip the original plot on its head. I think that's why they play with the music so much - so that pivotal scenes that people experienced in the original game are not necessarily going to play out the same way.

ACOVINO: The official soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is out now, and it spans more than nine hours of music. But the third game in this remake trilogy is currently in development, which means composers are far from finished when it comes to reimagining this beloved world.

Vincent Acovino, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOBUO UEMATSU SONG, "AERITH'S THEME - RETURN TO THE PLANET (FF7 REBIRTH OST VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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