Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack
Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack
Square Enix Music
February 23, 2022
Buy at CDJapan
Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack is the soundtrack that contains all of the new music for the 6.0 Endwalker expansion of Final Fantasy XIV before its major content patches. As with previous expansions, the team for the soundtrack is led by Masayoshi Soken. Although narratively the expansion is the end of a major arc, musically there are actually only a handful of explicit references to earlier themes; where appropriate, the game simply reuses older tracks verbatim. This allows the expansion to establish and develop its own musical ideas over the bulk of its 62 tracks (though seven of these tracks come from earlier soundtracks). It is also notable that Soken and the team have decided to not let the area themes be much influenced by the urgency of the narrative, instead having the themes focus on the locales so that they stand on their own. As per usual, the album is available both digitally and on Blu-ray. Minor spoilers to follow.
The soundtrack begins with the opening cutscene track “Endwalker – Footfalls,” itself a medley of some of the new vocal themes for the expansion, peppered with nods to melodies of earlier expansions as well. The track features vocalist Sam Carter from The Architects, as well as Amanda Achen who sang for Shadowbringers. The initial theme “Endwalker” is impressive enough in how understated it is as a melancholy rock track that could have come from the 90’s. Taken on its own it may not seem like much, but as a follow-up to everything that came before it’s surprisingly effective; in many ways it feels like the natural evolution to “To The Edge.” The track only improves as it builds and works in other themes, making it a fitting and rousing start to the end of the major arc. I’m sure many players will find this track elicits many emotions in them, even if it isn’t their usual style of music. Immediately following is the title screen track, “Prelude – Tales.” This has a bit of the “Endwalker” melody sung by a distant Achen, and when combined with the changed harmony for the “Prelude” segment, it’s a nice little atmospheric piece.
Although the other vocal themes don’t show up until much later in the soundtrack, they are motifs for the rest of the soundtrack. Closely related to “Endwalker” is “Close in the Distance,” since they share a chorus melody. Jason C. Miller, who sang for Shadowbringers, returns for this, an even moodier rock track with a fittingly spacious sound. It too is surprisingly effective in context, and is sure to be another fan favourite in a game already full of them. It’s not the sort of theme that one associates with emotional moments in video games, but Soken makes it work incredibly well (in part due to the use of the instrumental and the distorted “Echoes in the Distance” as lead-ups in the game). The other major vocal theme is “Flow” sung by Achen. This track will draw comparisons to “Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” but I find “Flow” to be a much better track with richer harmony and stronger instrumentation. The band version “Flow Together” is also excellent, with a more dynamic performance from Achen to match the energy of the track. As before, her classical voice is still a welcome change from the usual pop singers that appear on vocal themes, and I find her mature and motherly tone especially fitting here. There is also “Home Beyond the Horizon,” the Garlemald anthem which mixes “Imperial Will” with a new melody. It’s an impressive reworking of the cliché evil empire theme into a believable national anthem that has some commonality with sombre European anthems, performed with folk and jazz inflections. Rounding out the vocal themes is the excellent and epic “Answers” composed by Nobuo Uematsu and sung by Susan Calloway, which is a repeat from the Before Meteor soundtrack that still holds up so many years later. The game rarely missteps when it comes to vocal themes, and I’m glad to see that pattern continue here.
Many of the area themes draw from these vocal themes. Some are light and breezy, which usually means forgettable, but here they are helped by their established melodies: “The Ewer Brimmeth” is based on “Flow” and has good growth in sound, while “The Day Will Come” takes its melody from Final Fantasy V (and perhaps also “Besaid” from Final Fantasy X-2). Similar is the playful “The Labyrinth”; some find it grating, but for me it is charming (aside from what sounds like someone sweeping). There is also a grand arrangement of Final Fantasy IV’s “Welcome to Our Town!” with strings and winds, but the simplicity of this piece doesn’t fit in with the expansion well. Other tracks have exotic eastern influence like “Twilit Terraces,” which is the only area theme to be a sombre version for the story; “Vibrant Voices” is its upbeat opposite. Both are based on the “Flow” melody, though this means the eastern influence is mostly surface-level. “Divine Words” is better in this regard since it has its own melody and more nuances in the instruments. The better area themes are more complex in tone: “White Snow, Black Steel” (influenced by “The Burning Sands” from Final Fantasy X?) is a version of “Home Beyond the Horizon” that tempers the desolate landscape with some of the anthem’s folk and jazz inflections; “Sky Unsundered” juggles sadness with hope, while also being a variation on “Close in the Distance” that almost feels like an entirely new song. The settlement theme “Those We Can Yet Save” is a good sombre reworking of the “Endwalker” verse melody, while the other settlement theme “Down the Up Staircase” is simply a repurposing of the dungeon theme from The Far Edge of Fate. The varieties of atmospheres here keep the expansion from being too heavy, but I did feel that they also caused some jarring tonal juxtaposition in the game.
As usual there are a number of night themes, and a couple break away from the pattern of night themes being piano arrangements of the day themes. “The Nautilus Knoweth” is still guitar-led as was the daytime “The Ewer Breweth,” but is stripped down with slightly altered harmony and some improvisation; the difference ultimately isn’t huge, and I would’ve have preferred a larger departure. “Perfumed Eyes” has “Vibrant Voices” continuing into an active nightlife, and has a fun vibe helped by a strong and colourful bassline. The rest are piano solo or piano-centric arrangements: “Dreams of Man” and “Stars Long Dead” are straightforward renditions of “The Labyrinth” and “Sky Unsundered” respectively, but the delicate performances separate them enough from the originals. The arrangement of “Neath Dark Waters” is similar, though this comes straight from Scions & Sinners. “Black Steel, Cold Embers” nicely fills out the harmony of “White Snow, Black Steel” and also sports lovely improvisation towards the end. A highlight is “Prayers Repeated,” an impressionistic and texturally rich take on “Divine Words,” full of trills and, notably, the sounds of the piano keys amplified for texture. Although not strictly a night theme, “One Small Step” isn’t far off from the others with a wonderful variation on the “Endwalker” melody and an impressively varied instrumental given its steady spacious and lonely atmosphere. Although these arrangements don’t reach the creative level of those from, say, Shadowbringers, they still carry on the tradition of enjoyable and even moving night themes for Final Fantasy XIV.
The expansion also comes with a handful of new cutscene tracks. I was very glad to hear that a few were piano-centric, since this allowed the expansion to use many such themes within the same scene while preserving some continuity. The cutscene renditions of “Answers” and “Flow” (titled “Each Drop”) are both solid piano arrangements, as is the “Imagination” arrangement from Duality. The team largely stays away from the lower quality sounds for tracks with more instruments, though I was disappointed in how simplistic their atmospheres were: “The Last Stand” is another breezy guitar theme, this time for the “Endwalker” melodies, and doesn’t rise above being merely pleasant; “What Comes of Despair” is a typical ominous track with a tired descending chord motif, which I felt undercut the nuances in the narrative’s villains; “Dynamis” tries a little too hard for the heartstrings and lacks depth; “Tremble” is mostly just atmosphere. Others are a bit better: “Spoken without End” is an ok medieval pastiche on the “Endwalker” melody; “Heroes Forge Ahead” has good layering of “Endwalker” motifs and is rousing enough when it doubles as a battle theme; “Shade’s Delight” is playful and humorous, but I felt that it was too out of place in the main story. The best track here might actually be “From the Ashes,” an organ-centric arrangement of “Answers” that is actually lifted from Before the Fall. The biggest disappointment is the credits track, “The Tale of the Star,” which is an arrangement of the “Final Fantasy Main Theme.” It is rather mediocre, not doing anything particularly groundbreaking with Uematsu’s original melody, nor even employing a real orchestra; it hardly seemed like a fitting end to a major arc. Overall the cutscene tracks are a bit better than those of previous expansions, though they are still among the weakest offerings on this soundtrack, with the exception of those piano tracks and “Heroes Forge Ahead.”
As expected, there are also a number of dungeon tracks, largely arrangements of the field themes, and mostly pretty strong. The best of them are of the usual electro-orchestral hybrid sound with a piano lead: “Garlemald Express” is a great combination of downcast piano, dark synths, and ominous orchestral elements; “Miracle Works” has nice additions to the “Sky Unsundered” melody to give the track consistent momentum in this more urgent context, along with a detailed instrumental. The orchestral tracks are more mixed: “Tower of Zot” is a beefed up arrangement of the Final Fantasy IV theme but is still slight in substance; “The Aetherial Sea” is a grand and epic take on “The Labyrinth” that is let down by the quality of the sound library; “Of Countless Stars” has a good rhythmic variation on “Close in the Distance” that makes it feel weighty and epic; “As the Sky Burns” is a good combination of exotic percussion and intense strings, but is lacking melodically. In other genres, there is the Journeys version of “eScape” which isn’t significantly different from the original, and “Carrots of Happiness” which is a fun and jazzy take on “One Small Step” that could have used some improvised passages to really elevate it and alleviate its repetitiveness.
Whereas battle themes were often the highlights of earlier expansions, here they stick to established sounds and don’t stand out so much. The mid-boss theme “On Blade’s Edge” is an arrangement of “Endwalker” that follows the grunge rockestral sound of Shadowbringers, while the other regular regular battle and boss themes “Unbowed” and “Finality” are orchestral arrangements of the same. These are fine, but I did feel that “Finality” stumbled with its bland handling of the “Endwalker” verse melody. There is also “From Below,” which is simply the “Torn Form the Heavens” segment of the opening theme with an additional “Prelude” section, which I felt wasn’t really enough to make it stand on its own; I actually tired of it quite quickly in the game. The major battle themes are all orchestral, and also mixed in results. “Endcaller” is the strongest, with many small new figures mixed in with “Endwalker” variations that give the arrangement a great pace. The choir is also powerful, eliciting a strong desire to sing (and shout) along. “Your Answer” on the other hand is disappointing as an arrangement of “Answers,” as the brass handling of the melody is rather lifeless. Only towards the end does the arrangement shine, but as a whole the original track is simply better. “The Final Day” is a medley of the previous final boss themes, and it feels like a victory lap: it’s fun, but has nothing really new. “With Hearts Aligned” is the climax track, putting together a solid arrangement of “The Maker’s Ruin” with the “Song of hope” section of the opening cinematic. I would have liked more of that vocal section, as it is a great melody and arrangement, but alas this is all we get of it.
Last on the soundtrack to be discussed are the closing three tracks which are dedicated to the raid content. “Where Dæmons Abide” is the area theme, an interesting track that goes through various moods and instruments, beginning with an ominous organ and shifting to a lighter piano with vocals peppered throughout. No melody really stands out as it is mostly atmospheric, but it’s a promising theme that can be developed later on, and it establishes a sort of darker baroque style for these tracks. The battle themes, “Ancient Shackles” and “Hic Svnt Leones,” are similar in their shifting of moods and segments. “Ancient Shackles” goes from orchestra with choir to harpsichord with organ, to brighter piano, to the “Where Dæmons Abide” motif, to a combination of all of these. Again it isn’t melodically very strong, but the shifting atmosphere is interesting, and it holds up better as a standalone track than it does in the game. “Hic Svnt Leones” is the Primals band version of “Ancient Shackles,” but in its conversion it becomes less compelling than the multi-faceted original. It’s not a bad track and has room to grow on you, but hopefully the ideas here will be more developed in the later patches.
For those who choose the Blu-ray option, there are a few bonuses in store. As usual, the tracks can be viewed with accompanying visuals, though these are largely just screenshots and don’t hold much interest. The booklet includes Japanese translations of the lyrics, including a new translation for “Answers.” Then there are the twelve performances by the Primals from Digital Fan Festival 2021 in China and 2022 in Seoul; these are crisp recordings with better visual quality and video editing than previous releases, though the arrangements are not significantly different from those other releases, and the lack of live audience means the usual live energy isn’t really there. The highlights are director Naoki Yoshida coming out to stoically sing “Amatsu Kaze,” and the instrumental solos on “To The Edge.” There is also a music video for “Endwalker,” but the music video and live performances are already available online. The other bonus is a chiptune rendition of “Endwalker” (which is also available on the digital edition), with great textures and a nice insertion of “Prelude.” In themselves these are not bad bonuses, but they do not make the physical edition an essential purchase since they are easily enjoyable elsewhere.
The soundtracks for the expansion of Final Fantasy XIV each have different strengths: A Realm Reborn established the diverse musical palette, Heavensward was the heaviest on recurring leitmotifs, Stormblood brought in new colours and styles, while Shadowbringers created new emotional heights for the game with musical storytelling. The strengths of Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack lie in the excellent vocal themes which are some of the best yet. These are thankfully the focus for the bulk of the rest of the soundtrack, so that even though the other tracks do not adventure sonically as in other expansions or are not as strong in themselves, Endwalker achieves a focus similar to Heavensward while being more varied in tone. I did feel that the variety didn’t always work in favour of the expansion’s narrative or tone, though this is less of an issue for the soundtrack as a standalone listen. The formulas that make these soundtracks successful may be starting to wear a bit, but the Endwalker soundtrack still delivers memorable themes in spades, making for excellent accompaniment both in the game and outside of it.
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Posted on February 26, 2022 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on February 26, 2022.