Boss Fight Books: Final Fantasy IV (#28) – Sebastian Deken

5 out of 5

I haven’t played any of the Final Fantasy games, and I doubt I ever will. I remember my friends obsessing about it, and watching them play it on their I’m-jealous-but-I’m-also-a-Genesis-owner-so-I-won’t-show-it SNES, and wondering where that cute moogle character would play into things, but then rolling my eyes because the narrative and graphics couldn’t possibly best my beloved Phantasy Star series. How does FF III (a.k.a. IV) tie into previous FFs? It… doesn’t? Pshaw! Nowadays, I have a fledgling interest in checking some of the 16-bit era games out, but I look forward to what the series has grown to, and I kinda lose that interest. Thus – doubting I’ll ever get past the hump and learn to love FF.

Video game music appreciation is a more recent obsession, thanks to the proliferation of labels over the past several years that’ve catered to my collector-y needs for fancy packaging and exclusive releases and whatnot. That’s expanded my exposure to stuff that’s not just released on 100 copies of swirl-colored vinyl, and given me familiarity with classic composers from the NES, Genesis, and SNES heydays. …But the more operatic and classical stuff, such as Nobuo Uematsu’s FF IV score, eludes me. I don’t have the ears for it. And though I can state with less assurance that ‘I never will,’ there’s so, so much music to listen to in my queue that the chances are low.

So I don’t like yer game; I ain’t listenin’ to yer music. And after reading Sebastian Deken’s Boss Fight Books’ entry on FF IV and its music, I’m still not inspired to change those opinions. …But I was absolutely enmeshed in reading Deken’s take on the subject, and was transported in that way that skilled writers, speakers, teachers are capable of enacting: I care about something that I otherwise don’t care about. I’m interested to hear your opinion, and Deken speaks to it in such an engaging fashion that it’s not just entertainment – jokes and good stories – but also education, granting insight on the bits and pieces (in this case some technical musical specifics) that inform his opinion.

The quality of this BFB entries exceeds that, though: many of the books, even the ones I’d consider the best or better than average, tend to lose the thread at some point in the chapters – there’s a general desire to use the game’s story as an outline for the book, and it doesn’t always sync with whatever the thesis is. By forefronting the focus on music, Deken is able to more effectively sequence things so that his explanations evolve with our understanding of / appreciation of FF – starting with the power of music in general, then looking at overall themes, then drilling down a bit more directly into characters, and then we’re prepared to understand the importance of how those collective themes evolve over the course of the game, before diving into something very specific: the in-game opera. We get a sense of the whole story by doing this without it being repetitive, and Deken skillfully applies the same “tone” he uses for his music lessons to the game explanations – it’s conversational but respectful; detailed but not exhaustively so. It works if you know the game (and operatic / musical terms), and if you don’t. You can understand what he’s pointing out in his sheet music comparisons without having to be able to read sheet music.

This will be a hard Boss Fight book to follow, as much of its success owes to the writer’s skills and not solely its structure, but I would still encourage entries along these lines going forward: by diving into a specific passion, and how it was inspired by a particular game, Sebastian Deken breaks down fandom in a freshly immersive fashion, without losing the connection to his focus – the power of the game’s music – or to gaming culture.