I’ve never cared much for early PlayStation RPGs. For most people who have nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII and the like, it’s because it (or another from the same era) was their first RPG—for me, that was Dragon Warrior, and I grew up with Final Fantasy II and Secret of Mana and all the rest. I certainly played PlayStation RPGs, and I may have even liked a few of them at the time, but I wasn’t much impressed by the bad graphics, awkward controls, and overblown storylines.
In specific, it always really gets me when people talk about the “great music” of Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy III had good music. Chrono Trigger had good music. But when they made the switch to the PlayStation, the developers lost all that experience they’d gotten with the SNES sound system and everything sounded weird. Sure, some of the songs might have had decent composition, but the instrumentation and execution kind of ruined it.
And that’s why I always think about Breath of Fire III. The game was a contemporary of Final Fantasy VII, but the graphics and music still manage to be good today. That’s rare to say for a game on the original PlayStation.
This is an article about game soundtracks, so I won’t go into detail about the superiority of pixel art in the early 3D era, or the difficulty of discerning topographical features on a flat, drawn background with a static camera. I won’t talk about how it’s probably not a great idea to jump straight into 3D game development when your team is solely experienced with 2D games, and how there are examples of teams that made the transition slowly by using a mix of pixel art and pixel art-textured 3D. No, we’re here to talk about music.
And seriously, just listen to that. It sounds like actual, real-world music. You could put that stuff on a CD with “late ’90s smooth jazz” written in sharpie and people would think you downloaded it off KaZaA. I dare you to go back to Final Fantasy VII and tell me about the quality of the instruments. I know we’re talking about the late ’90s, but what is this, Geocities?
Maybe “smooth jazz” is a part of what brings me back to it, though. I’ve talked before about the sound of “videogame music”, and developers had already started to move more toward an orchestral sound by the late SNES era. Breath of Fire III chose a bit of an odd musical style for a fantasy RPG, so that might be part of what keeps it fresh in my mind. While everyone else said, “How can we make a timeless, classic soundtrack using MIDIs?”, the composers here were asking themselves “What if our game sounded like the Weather Channel?”
There are some hits and misses with this soundtrack, but again, I mostly focus on this one for how it stands out from its peers. The PlayStation era was a time of confusion and transition. Nobody really knew what they were doing. Yet here we have this example of a game whose music and graphics have stood the test of time.
…for some reason. It really wasn’t a very good game. Luckily for us, we’re here 20 years later and can just go to YouTube and listen to the music. We truly are living in the future!