Wednesday, November 24, 2010

YouTube Variations: "One Winged Angel"

The original "One Winged Angel" was the final boss music in Final Fantasy VII. It was, at the time, probably the single most impressive thing a video game console could do. I couldn't tell you what the first game was to use such a rich orchestral composition, but I can tell you FFVII was the first I played. The song loses some of its impact as the stupidity of the fight reveals itself -- the boss, Sephiroth, has a move that ought to be called "Shaggy Dog Apocalypse," wherein he destroys the entire solar system over the course of several minutes in order to deal truly inconsequential damage -- but it stands out as the key example of how, in spite of all its excesses and goofiness, that was a game with some real and lasting power. Here's the original recording:

And here's a link to a fan-created Stepmania version of a tarted-up arrangement because why not?

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the song, composed of course by Nobuo Uematsu, is the sense of play; yes, it's epic, but its angularity and blatty horns keep things light, supple, and faintly ridiculous. Some sections are gloriously ridiculous in the sense of pursuing their drama fearlessly -- take the section around 5:30, for instance -- and then some are just plain funny (6:14 and onward) and undercut the drama of the moment in a way that actually enhances it. The mixture of portent, apocalypse, rapture, epic, and hilarity is really effective, and frightening, a bit deranged. This is, for gamers in my generation, about as iconic as it gets.

Now let's look at what YouTube has done with the song. Tragically you can't embed the incredible live performance by Nobuo Uematsu's band The Black Mages, which captures all the weird majesty of the original while adding certain metal flourishes and orchestral textures that play well live.

Here YouTube user HCBailly rebuilds the song in Mario Paint. There's something pretty spectacular about seeing the whole thing laid out in boats, planes, cars, mushrooms, power flowers, and eventually cats. (Here's a version of another iconic FFVII song by the same guy; apparently he does a lot of these.) If you're not impressed by this you're not paying attention.

There are several orchestral versions on YouTube but this one is clearly the best for reasons I could better explain were I better-educated in music; the Eminence Symphony version, by contrast, suffers partly from a worse recording, but also seems to understand the song's dynamics and tone much less. The performance is rote, the ear is drawn to the wrong places at the wrong times, and the choir isn't nearly loud or commanding enough. What you begin to suspect is that they basically don't give a damn about the song. This version's problem is simpler: they're playing it insanely fast. I can't figure out what the hell they were thinking.

There are some misheard lyrics videos. I like this one best.

This acoustic guitar version does a nice job of negotiating the richness of the song, the complexity, the controlled chaos, and the necessities of adaptation to one instrument. (Note: This guy's channel is great.)

There aren't words for how wrong this one is. I sort of love it. I guess the singer is "the worlds virtual diva." Oh lucky world! I'm more partial to this cover in the style of Animal Crossing's K. K. Slider. It's funny how much of its gravitas the song retains in this format. The affect is mainly somewhat flattened, although clearly we can only read it as a joke; as I've said, it was always a joke.

This is one of the better remixes I've heard. It brings out interesting elements of the original, adds a few decent touches, compresses it, doesn't feel like a waste of time.

There's about ten billion more versions, but let's close with one played on the erhu. Really love how this twists and bends the song:


  1. Final Fantasy VII is my all-time favourite game. The music is by far the best game music I've ever heard. This was a fantastic post! I loved the orchestra version - I don't think I've come across that particular one before.

    My sister recently bought all the sheet music and is learning to play a lot of the pieces, including One Winged Angel - it looks impossible!

  2. After seeing the erhu version I guess we have to believe anything is possible.