Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Original Soundtrack
Square Enix Music
July 19, 2017
Buy at CDJapan
Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Original Soundtrack is a re-recording of the Final Fantasy XII score made for the remaster of the game, here done with many live instruments while the original consisted mostly of orchestral libraries. Lead composer Hitoshi Sakimoto has also provided eight new tracks in addition to three extra tracks, although there are a couple of omissions from the original soundtrack as well. The soundtrack was released on Blu-ray and digital formats, with visuals from the game accompanying the music on the Blu-ray release. A limited edition release also features different packaging and a bonus CD of new arrangements. For the main disc, the arrangements are all very close to the originals, the big difference being the use of live strings and other solo instruments. Although it is not the proper full orchestral re-recording that the score deserves, the result is still quite good and worth the time for fans.
For those already familiar with the original Final Fantasy XII soundtrack, there aren’t many surprises here in the new recordings. None of the tracks have been substantially altered in structure or instrumentation, so the biggest changes come from the quality of the instruments, the performances, and the mixing. In this way the new tracks do not risk alienating fans of the original. Thus the soundtrack is largely improved; strings sound much more textured and lush, solo instruments are crisper, legato lines are better connected, and the score as a whole has more oomph to it. Melodies in big tracks like “The Archadian Empire” are much better articulated, the solo instruments like those of “On the Riverbank” really shine, while a textured track like “The Sky City Bhujerba” gains a wonderful thickness to it, and emotional tracks like the two “Sorrow” pieces are more moving. The re-recordings also help the listener to more easily discern the individual elements of each track; this brings out the details and intricacies of Sakimoto’s score, particularly the manifold variations of the main motifs of the game, which at times were less obvious or even muddled in the original soundtrack. For example, in tracks like “The Cerobi Steppe” and “To Walk Amongst Gods” I’ve noticed many more instruments and musical lines that I hadn’t before, enriching my experience of the tracks.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any issues; sometimes the brass and choral libraries still hold the tracks back, particularly on battle tracks like “Discord: Imperial” and atmospheric tracks like “Nalbina Dungeons”. Sometimes the live strings seem to fumble a bit too, such as on complex tracks like “Boss Battle”. Sometimes it isn’t so much an objective issue as it is perhaps subjective preference; I prefer softness of the original “Lowtown”, but that is not to say that the new version is really worse. As a whole, the positives easily outweigh the negatives here, and the Zodiac Age versions mark an improvement for most tracks, even if there is still room for even more improvement.
As for the new tracks, they expand upon the sound of the original soundtrack with some new melodies. The new battle tracks, “The Guardians”, “Fury of the Entites”, and “The Ultimate Trial” are all suitably frenetic and intense, but there are some minor issues in the performance where the difficult rhythms threaten to get ahead of the performers. On their own these tracks don’t stand out much, but they are welcome additions to the soundtrack since original had few dedicated battle tracks. “Tchita Uplands” is an upbeat track that is fine but also isn’t too remarkable. The slower tracks fare better, where Sakimoto’s ability to create complex atmospheres through harmonies and instrumentation is on display. There’s “Lying in Wait” which maintains suspense underneath the light, augmented harmonies, then “Gloom” which manages to be alluring and mysterious while tinged with sorrow, and “Memories Eternal” which is sweepingly sad with a sense of foreboding. But the highlight of these tracks is “The Zodiac Age”, which is the only one of the new tracks to use the main motifs of the score in any obvious way. Essentially it is a closing medley using the motifs, but even here Sakimoto works new variations into the set. The track is exciting and epic, and has a more celebratory atmosphere than “Ending Movie” had. There are three other new tracks, not newly written for the remaster but not included in the original release either. “Vaan’s Resolve” is too short to make an impression, while “An Untimely End” is just an alternate version of “Shadow Play”, but “Vayne’s Words” is a lovely and warm variation on the main motif.
For those encountering the score of Final Fantasy XII for the first time, there is a lot to like here, which we’ve written a lot about elsewhere. It should be approached differently from most other Final Fantasy soundtracks, as Sakimoto’s style is a huge departure from that of series veteran Nobuo Uematsu. Whereas Uematsu built emotional scores from prominent, lyrical melodies above straightforward harmonic progressions, Sakimoto was at this time a more motivic composer utilizing complex harmonies and rich, often cinematic orchestral textures. His score is therefore much more unified and can require time to appreciate, while Uematsu’s tracks are more immediate and individually memorable.
Of the opening tracks, “Opening Movie” is the most important to understanding Sakimoto’s score. After a percussion opening, the orchestra breaks in to introduce the central motif of the score, an eleven-note melodic figure that will undergo many variations throughout the rest of the soundtrack. Over the course of “Opening Movie”, many other recurring motifs are also introduced, so that the track sets the stage for everything else to come in a very rousing manner. The central motif later features very prominently in the exciting “The Dalamasca Estersand” and “Flash of Steel”, and is one of the many building blocks for tracks like “Cooperation: Resistance”, “The Razor’s Edge”, “Nalbina Dungeons”, “The Mosphoran Highwaste”, and others. In contrast to these is the Archadian Empire motif, the other prominent motif also introduced in “Opening Movie”. Not surprisingly it is heard in all of the “Imperial” tracks, though what is surprising is the mileage Sakimoto is able to get from it, changing its rhythm or harmony to make it foreboding in “Gathering Storm”, mysterious in “Black of Night”, sombre in “Sorrow”, and even sweet in “Cooperation”, just to single out a few. There are many minor motifs in the score as well, and part of the fun of the soundtrack is noticing them more and more as time goes on.
The rest of the soundtrack is quite varied, and showcases Sakimoto’s talent in orchestration and instrumentation through detailed arrangements. The field and area themes are multi-faceted to account for the fact that they often have to double as battle tracks. These range from bombastic orchestral cues like “The Dalmasca Estersand” and “Giza Plains” to richly percussive tracks like “Tomb of Raithwall” and “Jahara – Land of the Garif”. But my favourites are the more slower or more atmospheric tracks, like the lush “Eruyt Village”, the dreamy and exotic “The Salikawood”, the delicate “The Cerobi Steppe”, and “To Walk Amongst Gods” which has some of the more memorable melodic segments of the score. Town themes are also quite charming, like the bright “Streets of Rabanastre”, and a personal favourite, “Lowtown”, which captures the balance between the offbeat culture of the lower community and the metropolis that looms above it. The few offerings from other composers, like Hayato Matsuo’s “The Forgotten City” and Masaharu Iwata’s “The Feywood” fit in to the score well too.
Not all of the tracks work; some like “The Clan Hall” and “Training in the Sewers” are overbearingly bouncy and positive, and some of the dungeon themes like “Into the Fortress” and “The Barheim Passage” are fine at creating atmosphere but are not all that fun to listen to out of context. Some tracks are overstuffed with disparate ideas, like with “Ashe’s Theme” (though that one is perhaps at least excusable as reflective of her character). The few dedicated battle themes are also complex and ambitious, like the excellent “Boss Battle”, “The Esper”, and “Life and Death”, but their looping nature hurts them, and I feel they would have greatly benefitted from having definitive and climactic endings for their soundtrack versions. But these are just a few minor issues, and by no means mar the score.
The last thing to be discussed here is the Blu-ray format of the release. Like Square-Enix’s other releases in this vein, the score can be enjoyed in a Blu-ray player accompanied by visuals, or else it can be downloaded as mp3’s. But like with the others, the visuals here are nothing to write home about, especially for those who have already played the game. The booklet is fairly meagre, although the limited edition packaging is quite nice. For many it will suffice to just pick up the digital version of the soundtrack, especially given the steeper price of these physical editions.
Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Original Soundtrack is a great update to a complex score, one that was much needed and for the most part quite successful. The live strings and wind instruments make a huge difference in many tracks, although it would have been nice to have a proper full orchestra and choir too. The new tracks are fine but not groundbreaking, and though “Kiss Me Good-Bye” and “Symphonic Poem – Hope” have been glaringly omitted, they hardly needed re-recordings and can still easily be picked up digitally. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s score holds up after all this time; it is still rare to come across a cinematic score that isn’t just perfunctorily atmospheric, but rather manages to also be rich and complex. Although I can’t hum as many tracks from here as I can other Final Fantasy soundtracks, I still find myself coming back to this one often, hearing and appreciating new things each time that I do.
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Posted on June 27, 2020 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on June 27, 2020.