Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Original Soundtrack
March 25, 2015
Download at iTunes
Final Fantasy Type-0 has had somewhat of a turbulent history. Originally announced in 2006 as Agito XIII, the game was meant to be part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series of games, alongside Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV (then known as Versus XIII), and was intended to be a mobile phone game, before it switched development as a PSP title in 2008. Type-0 was finally released in Japan in 2011, and although localization was set for an international release, the game never made it out of Japan, much to the ire of fans and critics alike. However, after many, many years of waiting, Type-0 has finally arrived internationally as an HD remake for the PS4 this year. Alongside this HD remake has come a full re-mastering of the original soundtrack, done in large part by original composer Takeharu Ishimoto, resulting in Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Original Soundtrack being released internationally. Thankfully, the remastered version sounds better than ever, and may even be worth a double-dip to owners of the original soundtrack.
Remasters are certainly a tricky thing. Do too much to a soundtrack, and you risk losing what made it work in the first place. Do too little, and the remaster becomes pointless. Well, I’m happy to say that Type-0 HD, as a remastered soundtrack, is excellent. Takeharu Ishimoto really found the right balance of rearranging his own work. The bulk of the tracks, while still essentially the same compositions, sound distinctly new and fresh. Part of the reason behind this is that Ishimoto really decided to focus on the one element that made Type-0’s score stand out: the use of a choir. The full orchestral tracks have been mastered in such a way that you can tell the different channels and instruments apart, allowing the music to live and breathe naturally, but it’s the choir that really stands at the forefront, making for a very clear and cohesive musical direction. As for the synth-only tracks, Ishimoto has rearranged his compositions to include a synth choir singing in Latin, which surprisingly sounds great and realistic, despite the obvious sampling work going on. Although the louder volumes, and especially the louder bass frequencies, threw me off at first, it became quickly apparent by comparing the mastered tracks to the old ones just how good of a job Ishimoto did on this HD release, which may very well be his greatest work to date, at least in terms of quality. That being said, despite it being a quality release, there are still some foundational problems with the score itself, but more on that later.
The centerpiece of Type-0’s score is its main theme, “The Beginning of the End,” (previously localized as “We Have Arrived,”) and honestly, it’s simply one of the best themes to come out of the Final Fantasy series to date. It’s an exhilarating, breathtaking, and just outright epic choir-driven piece that finds us at the heart of the conflict in Type-0. During its four minute run time, the song continually builds on itself, transitioning from a slower tempo march-like anthem, to a softer, almost tragic lamentation, before engaging into its powerful heroic melody, all the while the choir thunders on with some appropriately engrossing Latin lyrics. Its melody is also incredible, forming two distinct verses that repeat, while the orchestra shapes it in truly dynamic and bewildering ways, along with the choir dramatically intoning each verse, building to the melody’s final verse and crashing climax. “The Beginning of the End” is simply phenomenal, building on what Ishimoto has worked on before (the theme itself is reminiscent of Dissidia Final Fantasy’s main theme) while showcasing arranger Kentaro Sato’s skill, who really flexes some musical muscle with the piece.
Of course, a lot of this is also due to the technical prowess of the performers on display here, namely the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the mixed choir group, Cantillation, whose performances are the true highlight of Type-0’s soundtrack. Along with “The Beginning of the End,” they perform such early tracks as “Tempus Bellum” and “Guided Conclusion,” both equally as compelling. “Tempus Bellum,” rearranges the classic “Prelude” theme in a very soft, yet powerful way, moving from brassy and triumphant statements of the melody, before allowing the choir to very movingly quiet down, making it a profoundly strong opening to the soundtrack. “Guided Conclusion,” on the other hand is a melancholic and tragic arrangement of “The Beginning of the End’s” melody, ending on a darkened note. Though both pieces are short, they leave a lasting impression and set up the rest of the soundtrack well. Early on, we also have “Divine Fire,” another dynamic, slightly faster rearrangement of “The Beginning of the End,” and another great take on the melody. The orchestra also gets one song sans choir with “Time of Tranquility,” a town theme that uses the foundation of the “Prelude” theme and works from there, being equal parts peaceful, dramatic, and triumphant. All in all the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Cantillation’s work is simply fantastic, and it’s made even better now thanks to Ishimoto’s improved sound mixing. It really has to be heard, and these tracks alone almost make it worth the price of admission.
However, here we come to the first stumbling block in Type-0’s score. “The Beginning of the End,” along with the other performances set the standard really high for the soundtrack, and while the rest the tracks present are great by themselves, it really does feel like the album peaks way too early on. Part of the problem is that, no other theme is really quite as developed as “The Beginning of the End,” which gets rearranged over and over again throughout the album. For example, “Horror of the Abyss” and “The Vanishing Soul,” are slower more tragic takes on the theme, while “Wings of Fire” and “Arms of Steel” are march-like variations of the melody. While the added effects and synth-choir really make these tracks stand out and sound a lot better, variations on the main theme abound throughout the soundtrack, and really overpower whatever fledgling theme Ishimoto tries to compose. Themes like “Untainted Eyes,” “Machina Kunagiri,” “Rem Tokimiya,” which do get developed over time, with such rearrangements as “The Azure Spirit,” “Kind Tears,” and “Machina and Rem,” unfortunately just don’t hold a candle to “The Beginning of the End,” both in style and substance. Despite their bettered sound mixing, these tracks follow Ishimoto’s occasional tendency to compose in minor keys, giving a lot of its central themes a sadder, depressing sound.
Speaking of Ishimoto’s compositional approach, although the majority of the soundtrack is composed in an orchestral style, a lot of tracks break into hard rock, which have additionally gained a remastered treatment. Ishimoto has gone out of his way to re-perform all the guitar-oriented tracks, and the quality behind them really shows. Tracks like “Servant of the Crystal,” “War: The White Weapon,” and “War: Howl of the Dreadnought,” have less of an amateur feel to them, sounding much more professionally done, and are above all are fun to listen to. They still feel very much like previous compositions in Ishimoto’s repertoire, especially the battle tracks from Crisis Core and the Dissidia games. I find that Ishimoto’s band music is at its best when it focuses more on the acoustic side of things. “Machina Kunagiri” and “Rem Tokimiya,” despite being underdeveloped themes are still very pleasant to listen to, and Ishimoto’s formula for these kinds of pieces still works quite well. However, perhaps the best rock band piece here is “War: The Quiet Bloodbath,” a more subdued, sad track that incorporates a portion of the main theme to great effect, weaving the melancholic melody with some alternative guitar playing. Additionally, in typical Ishimoto fashion, there a few arranged pieces for piano and violin duets, including alternate takes on “War: The Quiet Bloodbath,” “Machina Kunagiri,” and “Rem Tokimiya.” They are lovely to, despite them still being very dark and pessimistic. The arrangements really help give the pieces a bit more footing, but again the melodies just don’t stand out that much.
The rest of the soundtrack, is for the most part, relentless explorations on war, sadness, and loss. Type-0 really does contain some exciting synth tracks, such as “Three Hours that Changed the World,” “War: Warrior Worth a Thousand,” “War: Pursuit,” and “Soar,” but the album oftentimes resorts to gloomy tunes, or rearrangements on the main theme, which start to become tiresome, especially during the main three hour runtime of the score. It lends to an extremely focused and consistent soundtrack, mind you, but it really is missing a more romantic classical touch, a la Uematsu or Hamauzu. Which is why, whenever the soundtrack does break out into a rearrangement of one of Nobuo Uematsu’s themes, it’s actually quite a needed respite. “Crystal Guide Us,” is another elegant arrangement of “Prelude,” and actually fits very well with the overall atmosphere of Type-0. The “Chocobo” theme also gets its obligatory arrangements with “The Earth Under Our Feet” and “Chocobo!” It’s a little jarring to hear the normally cutsy theme be used in militaristic arrangements, but it’s always a fun theme to hear. Occasionally though, the soundtrack will slide too far to sound more casual, such as in the rearrangement of the “Moglin” theme, which honestly sounds out of place here. This even happens to one of the arrangements of “The Beginning of the End,” with “A Day Like Any Other,” which takes the melody and warps it to be a jaunty, silly theme that wouldn’t be out of place in something like Kingdom Hearts, but just does not work with the rest of Type-0 in the slightest.
By the time we hit the final stretch of the album, dramatic synth tracks, such as the first part of the final boss theme, “Tempus Ratio,” may start to sound tired, even with the upgraded sound quality. Thankfully, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Cantillation return during the climax of the album to deliver some more stunning performances. First off is “Tempus Finis,” a major theme towards the end of Type-0, and another arrangement of the main theme. “The Beginning of the End,” had some march-like moments, but “Tempus Finis” takes the cake by being a quieter anthem that grows, as do the volumes of the choir in dramatic flourishes. Their performances also lead us to the second half of the final boss theme in “Vermillion Fire,” which takes several themes and melds them together into a very rapid-fire and emotional song. In a dazzling display of orchestral fury, “Tempus Finis,” “Rem Tokimiya,” “Wings of Fire,” and “Machina Kunagiri,” all get blended in a truly awesome and dynamic battle sequence, before “The Beginning of the End” takes over in spectacular fashion. It’s a fantastic final boss theme, though I will say that because of the choir getting more attention in this remastering, some of the memorable percussive elements get somewhat lost in the mix. Closing out the main section of the Type-0 HD Soundtrack is the eponymous “Type Zero,” a somewhat standard orchestrated end credits sequence that again rearranges several of the main themes, including “Wings of Fire,” “Untainted Heart,” “Tempus Finis,” “Rem Tokimiya,” “Machina Kunagiri,” and “Show of Power,” before giving a grandiose reprise of “The Beginning of the End,” and dissolving quite beautifully into a meaningful statement of “Prelude,” bringing this beautifully done orchestral medley to a close. It’s a fantastic recollection through Type-0 and, in my opinion, it may be Takeharu Ishimoto’s greatest composition to date. Be sure to check out this medley, as it contains the fundamentals of the Type-0 soundtrack.
However, we’re not quite done with this album yet. Type-0 also includes several vocal tracks, though unfortunately, “Zero,” the theme song by Bump of Chicken which gets several arrangements in-game, is still nowhere to be found on the soundtrack, even with the re-release. Its shame to see it only appear as a single elsewhere, but thankfully the song can be found on iTunes for download. Included instead on the soundtrack is “Colorful-Falling in Love,” performed by SAWA, Chris Ito, Reina Tokura, and Yumi Yoshitaka. I mentioned earlier about some tracks not meshing well with Type-0’s consistent style, but “Colorful” really has no reason to be here. Yes, it makes sense why it’s in the game, but what you have here is a very typical J-Pop song, with annoyingly saccharine lyrics, and a mostly catchy beat. Included is also the English version, sung entirely by SAWA, which unfortunately sounds worse thanks to the cringe worthy English lyrics, and somewhat of a lack of energy from SAWA. Additionally all the performers return for the newly composed “My Diamond,” and I cannot begin to express how interchangeable “Colorful” and “My Diamond” are. Despite slightly different lyrics, it’s essentially structured the same, and comes with my same set of complaints. The only vocal track that really stands out and fits with Type-0 is “UTAKATA,” a dramatic rock song, commissioned specifically for this HD release. With a strong performance by Chris Ito, and some excellent composition from Ishimoto, “UTAKATA,” is a fantastic song and is definitely worth checking out.
Lastly, included are a bonus few tracks from Final Fantasy Agito, a mobile game developed as a successor to Type-0, which has yet to make it to the West. Besides the aforementioned “My Diamond,” we have “Forbidden Fruit,” a fast paced punk-rock song. Although the screamo sections of the song are really grating, the rest of it is genuinely a fun ride. Ishimoto really loves to experiment with his rock band leanings. The real highlight to this bonus sections is yet another new arrangement on Type-0’s main theme with “FINAL FANTASY AGITO,” and “FINAL FANTASY AGITO: The Beginning of the End,” not just because of the usage of the main theme again, but because of the new direction that Ishimoto is taking it. It’s synth-only, but it sounds new and impressive, giving the theme a more traditional Japanese-styled arrangement, while still maintaining the heroism that made the melody work in the first place. These bonus tracks are a pleasant surprise to have included on this HD re-release, and perhaps we’ll be hearing more out of Agito in the near future.
To conclude, there are two releases available for the Type-0 HD Original Soundtrack. The first is the digital version, which is readily available for download on the iTunes store for $20. There is also a localized Blu-Ray release that collectors may be keen on buying. Included on the Blu-Ray are trailers for the game, a music video for “UTAKATA,” and mp3 downloads of covers from Ishimoto’s rock band, Death March. Though fans of Ishimoto’s rock style may enjoy his band’s covers, it’s really not essential to the overall experience of the soundtrack. However, casual fans may want to stick to the digital release, as the Blu-Ray version comes at a heftier price tag of $60. Either way, I fully recommend both fans of the Final Fantasy series and newcomers to take a listen to Type-0 HD’s soundtrack. All around it’s a great remastered soundtrack, featuring some stellar performances, and although it may at times lack certain depth and variety, Type-0 HD makes up for it by featuring one of the most cinematic and exhilarating main themes to ever grace the Final Fantasy series.
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Posted on May 13, 2015 by Julius Acero. Last modified on May 13, 2015.