Final Fantasy XII Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XII Original Soundtrack
May 31, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
From the moment Square Enix began marketing Final Fantasy XII, the game was heralded as a new direction for the series. From what has been seen thus far, both in media and in the game’s demo, the game is keeping that promise. In many ways, the game, set in the Ivalice and under the direction of Square Enix’s fourth development team, resembles the Final Fantasy Tactics universe than the worlds of the mainline series. In keeping with that notion, it is not surprising that Square chose Hitoshi Sakimoto to score the new incarnation of Ivalice after scoring approximately half of the original Final Fantasy Tactics. This score certainly differs from the other mainline soundtracks due to the startling stylistic differences between composer Nobuo Uematsu and Sakimoto. Sakimoto’s soundtrack is on the whole far more dramatic than any soundtrack featured in the main series, and features some of the series’ most exciting musical moments. It is a fitting score for the series’ new direction, but there is a degree of storytelling that seems to be missing from the soundtrack as a whole. Still, it is certainly a soundtrack worthy of joining other masterpieces under the Final Fantasy name.
itoshi Sakimoto HAS in fact wrote the majority of the material on this album. The strength of the album is in his handling of atmosphere and of environment. Also, though in his own distinctive way, Sakimoto has continued the long tradition of stellar Final Fantasy battle themes, with a large number of varied tracks contributing solely to that purpose. The game’s most endearing theme is introduced in “Opening Movie (Theme of Final Fantasy XII)”. The piece is a gripping and cinematic introduction to the whole of the soundtrack, and it introduces a lot of the colours you can expect to hear throughout the album.
The theme pops up here and there on the album, varying in effectiveness and subtlety. It is used in the background of the opening to “The Dalmasca Estersand”, and appears later in the body, although in a very ornamented manner such that the theme is really only musically present in the piece. The character of the theme itself does not impact the piece all that much. One of the more notable occurrences of the main theme is in the game’s final battle track, “The Battle for Freedom”. This track, which is a standout among a group of stellar battle themes (and would have even without the main theme), is the album’s longest. Fortunately, it is one of the album’s few longer tracks that deserves its length. It nears nine minutes, and does not loop until around 6:20, and even still, Sakimoto does not repeat the segments entirely as in the beginning. The loop point is a bit awkward, but it is a small blemish on a wonderful track. It starts with a pensive introduction that gradually builds to a violent and Stravinsky influenced theme at 2:23. The main theme is introduced at 4:20, and its heroic colour is a marked yet appropriate contrast to the other violent colour the piece possesses.
“The Battle for Freedom” is on its own as a battle theme in this game, as it spends time developing more than one major mood. Most of the other battle tracks are essentially monochromatic, although they remain effective. One of my favourite battle themes on the album, “Battle Drum”, for example, never departs from its driving, ominous percussive thunder. Which is not to say the piece goes nowhere, simply that it focuses its energy towards creating one scene, and it succeeds quite well. With unfamiliar percussive sounds, inspired rhythmic activity, and a dark, accented brass line, “Battle Drum” creates an effect entirely its own. The loud and energetic “Esper” is another stand out among a list of sparkling dramatic pieces. No piece on the album creates a sense of fearful awe quite as well as this. From the metallic percussion providing the background atmosphere, to the striking choral sound, to the rich string line that moves from the accompaniment motif into the foreground with ease as the choir departs, there’s a sense of effortless power dripping throughout the piece. It’s the kind of power that doesn’t even need to exert itself to send mere mortals from one galaxy to the next.
Sakimoto’s monochromatic atmospheric pieces are spot on as well. “To the Place of the Gods” is lightly orchestrated features Sakimoto’s unmistakable prowess for creating mystic melodies and suitable accompaniment for them. The piece’s B section at 1:16 swells into one of the majestic moments on the album. Unfortunately it never seems to go nearly as far as it seems to want to go. Still, the majesty is present, and the mysterious beauty of the first portion of the theme is overwhelming. “Rabanastre Downtown” takes us to a totally different environment. The entire piece has an Eastern colour, but does not fall victim to shallow mimicry of ethnic music that plague both movie and game music pieces of such a nature. Though the composer’s desired reference is clear, his personal identity is also clearly present as well.
With so many strong tracks on the atmospheric side of things and so strong on the environmental side of things (I’ve only listed very few favourites from a remarkable cache of them on this soundtrack) I would have expected to enjoy this album a lot more than I did. What made this album ultimately unsatisfying to me was the lack of emotional material that really drew me in. The only character theme that really drew me in was “Penelo’s Theme” which seems very suited to the character she seems to be, although I get the feeling there’s more to her character than the piece lets on. “Ashe’s Theme” is musically interesting, but fails to make me feel anything for the character. It seems to be trying too hard. There’s plenty of contrast in the theme, most of the piece being dramatic and driven with a drop of mystery and a very pleasant theme given some time as well. The problem is moves so quickly that it doesn’t feel honest and often feels melodramatic.
There are also two tracks on the album entitled “Sorrow”. Neither track really tends to grab me in a sorrowful way. They have moments that suggest sorrow (especially in the Imperial version) but they move so slowly to the meat of the material and still seem to hold a lot back. While I appreciate Sakimoto’s subtlety, there are times where music needs to really throw its heart out there, and I feel this soundtrack as a whole is far too emotionally reserved. Most of the emotional statements in the album come in small pieces such as “Separation with Penelo”, “Basch’s Reminiscence”, and “The Dream to be a Sky Pirate”, but none pass one minute and all feel like they are being rushed to their conclusion.
Though the majority of the soundtrack is devoted to musical ideas new to the series, a few of the Uematsu’s most popular tracks have been revisited in Final Fantasy XII. The Sakimoto treatment of these tracks is generally quite good, although not an awful lot is done with the most endearing of the themes. Uematsu’s venerable “Prelude” is orchestrated by Sakimoto as the opening to “Loop Demo” and is one of the more conservative arrangements. The addition of what seems to be a children’s chorus and some metallic percussion help add to the magic of the piece. “Final Fantasy ~FFXII Version~” is even more conservative, with percussion being the only major change to the original piece.
The evidence of Sakimoto’s authorial powers is far more pronounced (as in pronounced at all) on his visitations of “Victory Fanfare”, “Chocobo”, and “Clash on the Big Bridge”. The most successful of these arrangements are Sakimoto’s two takes on “Chocobo”. The first of the two, “Chocobo FFXII Arrange Ver. 1”, resembles the traditional cutesy Chocobo image, and manages to put even more humour into Uematsu’s melody through its cute orchestration and rhythmic energy. “Chocobo ~FFXII Version~” has moments significantly darker than most “Chocobo” renditions to date, but through great rhythmic vigor and frequent grace notes in the woodwinds help lighten the mood and keep the charm of the piece intact. “Victory Fanfare ~FFXII Version~” is hampered by a terrible lead trumpet sample, but otherwise does a good job of transferring the memorable melody into a new game.
“Clash on the Big Bridge ~FFXII Version~” is without doubt my biggest disappointment of the tracks borrowed from earlier Final Fantasies. The original “Clash on the Big Bridge” was one of my favourite Uematsu compositions — both appropriately chaotic as a battle theme, but light enough in character to suit the bumbling Gilgamesh. Sakimoto’s rendition attempts to pull the track further to the dramatic side, but fails to create an intense enough atmosphere to rouse me, and in the process, robs the piece of all the charm and character it once possessed. The cause isn’t aided by a lifeless trumpet lead, but the piece mainly deconstructs because of poor accompaniment. Besides some wonderful brass countermelodies, the remainder of the accompaniment is dry and lacks resonant intensity or any piercing quality, robbing the piece of the effect of Sakimoto’s increased dissonance. The piece is at its best when the xylophone is taking centre stage, implying both the chaotic atmosphere Sakimoto was pushing for, and the humorous original. Unfortunately, compared both to an outstanding original, and the stellar battle tracks on this album, “Clash on the Big Bridge ~FFXII Version~” is a disappointment.
The old guard is wrapped up with Uematsu’s only new composition for the album, the game’s vocal theme, “Kiss Me Good-Bye”. With the tradition of Final Fantasy vocal themes, “Kiss Me Good-Bye” could have ended up far worse. Though I don’t list “Kiss Me Good-Bye” among my favourite tracks on the album, a strong performance from Angela Aki grants some honesty to the theme. The music itself isn’t especially grating, and is actually one of my favourite Final Fantasy vocal themes in terms of harmonic and melodic material. However, the tradition of over-orchestrating these pieces hasn’t died away yet, even with the switch from Shiro Hamaguchi to Kenichiro Fukui as arrangers, and all of the honesty you’re going to get out of this piece is coming out of Angela Aki’s mouth.
In addition to revisiting old themes, some of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s old co-workers make appearances on the soundtrack, although they constitute only nine of the one hundred tracks this soundtrack offers. Hayato Matsuo (most famous for his work on Ogre Battle) and Masaharu Iwata (of Final Fantasy Tactics) contribute some solid tracks to the soundtrack. Of all the pieces offered by Matsuo, the timbrally motivated “Abyss” is my favourite. The variety of sounds is quite expressive, and though bordering on atonal, the music taken only as notes seem to make a great deal of sense and leave the impression of an abyss in one’s mind. “Seeking Power” has a sound unlike any other on the album that juxtaposes an understated sinister feeling with one of complete wonder that is very effective.
Though Iwata only composed two tracks, they are both among the best on the album. “The Sochen Cave Palace” is one of the most beautiful tracks in the game. From its suggestive choral opening, to its melodic core carried by the flute, there is a stately and chilling beauty in “The Sochen Cave Palace” that is unmatched on the album. Iwata’s second contribution, “The Feywood”, is a haunting action track that pulses with the intensity of battle, but retains the mystical feeling that suggests a haunted forest. A highly recommended piece for accessible listening.
The final piece of music not composed by Sakimoto on the album is “Symphonic Poem “Hope” ~Final Fantasy XII PV ver.~”, which was contributed by Yuji Toriyama, and Robin Smith. The piece is quite beautiful and affecting up until the third major segment of the piece beginning around two minutes which is simply too cute to speak to me. The opening of the piece is quite beautiful though. Take note that this version is shortened from the one available in the five moment single dedicated to the Symphonic Poem.
Final Fantasy XII is a very accomplished and musically interesting soundtrack. The amount of ground covered is quite impressive, and the sounds within evoke a wide variety of moods and environments. However, I ultimately feel that the music fails to provide the psychological insight and emotional directness that a soundtrack ought to have. There’s a lot of great, picturesque music here, and the battle themes are exceptional. The music is well produced, but it occasionally seems to indulge in itself a bit too much, and seems to have some sort of obligation to give music to obscure instruments, even if they don’t particularly fit. Still, it’s hard to condemn this album, and it’s a very solid effort. By both Final Fantasy’s standards and Sakimoto’s standards, it’s better than most. It just fails to give that emotional push that makes a truly great soundtrack.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on August 1, 2012.