Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Your Hands: Leona Lewis's FFXIII Theme Song

By Dan Apczynski 

Square-Enix recently destroyed the barrier separating beautiful women pop music and video games with the news that ever-bleeding UK vocalist Leona Lewis loves Final Fantasy XIII. It goes without saying, of course, that her [non-platform-specific] love of the game is the result of her fascination with “running around the land,” and in no way tied to the fact that her song “My Hands” has been tapped to be the game's theme song.

Knowing a thing or two about the addictive nature of previous Final Fantasy chapters, my initial reaction told me that the song was probably about cortisone injections to relieve game-related repetitive stress.

Needless to say, this was not the case. Let’s take a line-by-line look:

Awake in the morning
Tired of sleeping
Get in the shower
And make my bed alone

Okay, let’s hold it right there. We’re already flying in the face of our collective folk knowledge of what it means to be a gamer. Given a choice, what gamer wakes up in the morning? And showers? Square-Enix must be aware that this is seriously challenging some gamer norms.

I put on my makeup
Talkin’ to the mirror
Ready for a new day
Without you

Ohhh, I get it. This song is about feelings. Look, Square-Enix, I don’t want to be caught pretending to be all macho, but do we remember what happened last time we made a game about our feelings? We ended up with FF8. Is that really what we have to look forward to? Because argh. Onward to the pre-chorus…

And I walk steady on my feet
I talk my voice obeys me
I go out at night
Sleep without the lights
And I do all of the things I have to
Keepin’ you off my mind
When I think I’ll be alright
I am always wrong

I suppose one read here could be that Lewis is trying to buck her harrowing addiction to JRPGs. I know some people who went through this while, um, running around the land in FF7. There’s a huge volume swell here—maybe the imminent chorus will tell us more.

My hands don’t want to start again
Your hands no they don’t want to understand
My hands they just shake
They try to break whatever peace I can find
My hands they only agree to hold
Your hands and they don’t want to be without
Your hands and they will not let me go
No they will not let me go

Okay, okay, fine. If the lyrics haven’t done it already, the ginormous leap in track volume has answered all of my questions. We’re definitely dealing with feelings here.

Most interesting is how this song plays into the overall trajectory of the Final Fantasy franchise. Discussing this post recently, Kirk mentioned to me—I’m paraphrasing, Kirk, forgive me—that he felt the song fit perfectly with the Final Fantasy aesthetic. (Yeah, that's about what I said. I'm such a FF rookieKirk) This got me thinking about the degree to which that aesthetic has shifted over the last decade.

I’m a veteran of the series (since the beginning, baby—RedWizard4Life), and it actually took some thought before I decided that Kirk’s appraisal was dead on. Final Fantasy has grown from a pixelated nerdgasm into something very different—airbrush-perfect characters awash in sound and scenery so utterly dialed in that their very presentation evokes an emotional response. Lewis’ song plays into this with pitch-perfect aplomb; the “instant beauty” of its soft-loud-soft-loud structure is a simple (if appropriately synthetic) fit.

Personally, I’m interested to watch it all shake out. Between the screen grabs I’ve seen, this theme song, and Leona Lewis’s own wooden endorsement of the game, I can’t help but feel like we’re being prepped for a game that will reach across the aisle to bring non-gamers into the fold. Couple that with early reviews lambasting the game’s extremely linear play and townlessness and I have to wonder—will an audience of Cloud loyalists fall in line?


Tim Mackie said...

Now, I'm a fairly young person, so I can't remember Final Fantasy at the very beginning. My first experience was with FF6 a few months before 7 came out, and I loved that one. I've since gone back and at least tried all of them from 1-10; the only one I never finished was 2. Even in those 13 years since I first played FF6, I've seen the series change into something completely different. FF8 forecasted it, and FF10 cemented the shift from a series fundamentally about swords and sorcery (give or take a few guns and giant robots) to a series of vaguely interactive chick flicks with occasional swords and sorcery (or guns and giant robots). Look at FF12: according to my oh-so-reliable sources, Vaan only became the main character after they realized he appealed more to the target market. As a reasonably longtime fan of the series, that was when I realized that I was no longer the target market.

It looks to me like the Final Fantasy series is doing less reaching across the aisle and more jumping over to the other side. I would also agree fully with Kirk's assessment of the song's relationship to the game; it falls completely in line with what they've been doing for almost the past 10 years. (I like to cut FF9 a little slack because even though its hero is modeled similarly to Tidus and Vaan and there are several romantic subplots, they're just that: subplots, not nearly as central to the story as in 8 and 10.) And yes, in case you couldn't tell, I am a little bitter about that. I feel vaguely betrayed by Square Enix, and as a result, I have no intention of playing this game.

Good article as always. Keep it up, people.

Dan the Man said...

Thanks, Tim! Also: WORD.

Final Fantasy used to be such a gamers' game. And FF6 was an especially strong chapter--it's pretty much neck-and-neck with FF7 as my all-time favorite.

My disdain for FF8 was strong enough that it prompted me to skip a few. And I used to be such a fierce advocate for the series! (To be fair, this isn't the first time I heard that I missed out on FF9).

Despite my skepticism, I'm actually looking forward to checking back in with the series. If I get burned, you'll be the first to know!