Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
August 1, 2001; May 10, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
The score to Final Fantasy X saw series’ composer Nobuo Uematsu require considerable help to complete one of the series’ soundtrack for the first time. Presumably exhausted after the massive score to Final Fantasy IX and overwhelmed by demands from producers for a stylistically and emotionally rich soundtrack, he mostly churned out unoriginal and underdeveloped works for this title. Many of his compositions, including the main theme “Suteki da ne,” were created in a mad rush. Having evidently lost his touch, and on road to create by far his worst Final Fantasy soundtrack, Nobuo Uematsu made the wise move of making a cry for help leading to the involvement of two collaborators in a late stage of the production. Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano were wise choices. Despite neither being involved in a prominent game prior to Final Fantasy X, they were able to nourish a disappointing score with their stylistic individuality and technical expertise. The duo’s input didn’t stop the score being the most inconsistent Final Fantasy soundtrack to date, but gave the score musical worth and emotional depth, while also rejuvanating the somewhat stagnant nature of the series’ music as a whole.
The thematic basis of the soundtrack comes from two major themes. Used at the introduction of the game, “Zanarkand” is a heartrending solo piano piece. “Suteki da ne”, by contrast, is an Okinawan love ballad sung by Rikki. The themes boast memorable melodies from Uematsu and thoughtful integration into the game, with the love theme also benefiting from rich orchestration (especially in its ending theme version) from Shiro Hamaguchi. Boththemes are extensively rearranged throughout the soundtrack. As with his work on Final Fantasy IX, many of Uematsu’s arrangements are bland and superfluous, for example “Braska’s Daughter”, “Yuna’s Theme”, and “Revealed Truth”. But between them, Hamauzu and Nakano succeed in using all three themes in meaningful ways. Hamauzu’s rich pseudo-orchestral instrumental rendition of “Sutaki da ne” in “A Fleeting Dream” radiates a special aura while conveying the themes of love, sadness, and hope running through the original song and indeed the game as a whole. The same theme is manifested with more subtlety in “Spiran Scenery,” Hamauzu’s complex unplugged guitar arrangement. Nakano moulds “Zanarkand” into the world map theme “Movement in Green”, a tapestry of organic and percussive elements.
Another recurring leitmotif throughout the soundtrack is the “Hymn of the Fayth”. The hymn serves to represent Yevon and in turn is used to convey the themes of religion, death, and treachery cycling throughout Spira. In its original form, the hymn is a modal chorale highlighting a memorable melody from Uematsu and choral writing from Hamauzu. While simple, it’s also inspired, meaningful, and polished. Its most impressive rendition, however, is the choral and orchestral arrangement “The Sending” which is used in one of the most moving sequences in the series’ history. It is also arranged in several instrumental pieces to mixed results, the impressionistic “Macalania Woods”, ominous “Moment of Truth”, and foreboding “Grand Maester Mika”. The hymn also receives numerous other a capella renditions in the soundtrack courtesy of Hamauzu. Two of these are fascinating, namely those to represent Yunalesca with its quartal tenor harmonies and Spira with its canonic vocal use, but the rest bring little new to the originals and in fact considerable impede the flow of the soundtrack. Hamaguchi and Uematsu conclude the soundtrack with the ending theme, an emotional rollercoaster written for full orchestra that recapitulates the “Hymn” and “Zanarkand”.
Beyond the main themes, Nobuo Uematsu’s other contributions to the soundtrack tend to disappoint. This is particularly evident from the character themes (with the exception of Lulu’s). Tidus’ so-called theme provides a tender prediction of the protagonist by projecting a run-of-the-mill melody upon chord progressions and instrumentation that sound recycled from his previous works. “Rikku’s Theme” and “Oui Are Al Bhed” are equally bland, misfitting pieces that combine a typical Uematsu melody with a bossa-nova basis. Even worse is “Seymour’s Theme”, a desperate hybrid of Final Fantasy VII‘s “Those Chosen by the Planet” and Final Fantasy IX‘s “Wicked Melody” featuring the diminished chord progressions and ‘We Will Rock You’ style bass line Uematsu has relied on time and time again. It’s arranged in samey ways no less than four times during the duration of the soundtrack. But the biggest offenders on the entire soundtrack are “The Trials”, and “Ridess the Shoopuf”, and “Djose Temple”. Though thankfully sparsely used in the game (unlike the grating “The Trials”), “Djose Temple” might well be the worst piece of music Uematsu has ever created with its gimmicky minimalistic sounds and directionless melody. The only rival for this crown is “Ridess the Shoopuf”, a goofy and charmless track that I am forced to skip every time.
Thankfully, Uematsu does manage to produce some gold on the soundtrack. “Normal Battle” adopts Uematsu’s standard format for creating regular battle themes, but it sustains in-game use fairly well thanks to its catchy melodies and excellent progressions. His other battle theme, “Seymour Battle”, transforms the hideous “Seymour’s Theme” into an electrifying remix complete with techno beats and electric guitars. Perpetually upbeat and moving, it’s Uematsu at his finest (and cheesiest). But perhaps Uematsu’s most audacious effort here is his heavy metal theme “Otherworld” performed by vocalist Bill Muir; while it has its detractors, this song is impressively executed and synchronises wonderful with the opening FMV. Other highlights include “Silence Before the Storm” (perhaps Uematsu’s best forest theme to date with its breathtaking soundscapes and chord progressions), “Jecht’s Theme” (written in an American country style complete with steel-stringed guitar solos from Tsuyoshi Sekito), and “Via Purifico” (a melancholic arpeggio-laden piano piece). Other tracks such as the militaristic “Bravely Forward”, adventurous “Mi’ihen Highroad”, and uplifting “The Blitzers” are quite enjoyable, but still far from the artist’s best. The Prelude and Chocobo themes also return, the former a superficial technopop rendition from Hirosato Noda, the latter invigorated with a bold brassy arrangement.
Of the soundtrack’s three composers, Hamauzu’s contribution is the strongest. His varied contributions span everything from the vibrant techno fusion “Blitz Off,” to the breezy impressionistic orchestration “The Splendid Performance,” to the nationalistic cinematic underscore “Tragedy”. Some of his tracks are quite abstract, such as the “The Travel Agency” with its minimalistic piano lines and percussion cross-rhythms or “Beyond the Darkness” with its Shostakovich-esque cello scribblings. Even his individual pieces often hybridise multiple styles into one. A particularly good example of the strength of Hamauzu’s fusions is “Besaid”; hybridising a melodic piano part, discordant bass undertones, and a decorative electronic descant, Hamauzu reflects Besaid’s scenery, atmosphere, history, and uncertain future all in one. His compositions are very often deeply inspired by the imagery of the game. This is exemplified by the way jazz-influenced bass clarinet lines harmonise with the luscious string descant and drifting ethnic flute part in in “Wandering Flames”. It provides a perfect depiction of a dim yet everlasting flame through profound musical means — a symbolic light that glows when everything else has gone dark. The dichotomous elements of “Assault”, specifically sweeping string lines against a thunderous bass, perfectly reflect the rebels invading the order.
The bane of the soundtrack’s mastermind is that his works may be too subtle for some listeners to appreciate. Final Fantasy gamers have grown up with Nobuo Uematsu’s works, which are a diverse and fruitful bunch, yet almost always accessible given they’re so explicit in their melodies, stylings, and emotions. Whereas Uematsu is clearly inspired by pop music, Hamauzu in contrast takes a more classically-oriented approach in common with his wider works. While Hamauzu is capable of creating rich melodies — exemplified especially by the two-tiered “Servants of the Mountain” and the piano-led “Thunder Plains” — he treats them in a very different way to Uematsu’s. His melodies are often subtle and fragmented, protrude against seas of harmonies and unusual timbres, and are framed within pieces that will be stylistically unfamiliar to many listeners. His pieces are more considered than Uematsu’s, but less pronounced and not immediately digestible. An extreme example of this is “Peril”, an intensely dissonant piece inspired by modernist composers. It works wonderfully during the assault on the Al-Bhed’s home, but will be a massive turnoff for casual listeners. Likewise, the battle theme “Challenge” is a distorted, grungy fusion of rock, electronic, and orchestral elements. It’s pretty breathtaking in the climactic battles it is used in, but again will be a turnoff for some listeners. Perhaps most ambitious of all is his final boss theme, “Final Battle”. An abstract, shimmering, and misleadingly lyrical piano concertino, it is dominated by angular Stravinsky-esque piano lines and rasping orchestration that recapitulates the Hymn.
Junya Nakano’s contributions are even less accessible than Nakano’s. The majority of his contributions could be considered ‘ambient music’, i.e. creations that fit scenes well but are not necessarily intended for stand-alone listening. His themes usually have no distinct melody to speak of, often lack clear harmonic progressions, or indeed much of a sense of a musical form or tonality. In general, the composer carefully layers forces upon each other to create colourful timbral contrasts. Continuous percussive rhythms and other pulses drive the compositions in a repetitive but often effective way. “Underwater Ruins”, for instance, captures a sunken airship with its electronic bass lines, rising bubble sound effects, and ethereal suspended chords. It’s not the most interesting or innovative composition, but it fits the scene quite well and creates much out of relatively little. “Creep”, on the other hand, builds up from near-nothingness up to its ominous climax featuring synth vocals. His ultra-efficient composing approach is also reflected by “Twilight” and “Gloom”. The former is nothing more than a series of suspended string chords that each grow in dynamic before duskily moving to the next. “Gloom” on the other hand is composed almost entirely of an exotic array of percussion. Enjoyable? No. Interesting? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.
Arguably Nakano’s best is “Guadosalam”. This theme combines a series of tribal-influenced percussion cross-rhythms with a wailing ethnic flute melody and eerie vocal chants. A theme that blossoms from little, it paints a perfect image of Guadosalam: organic, alien, and deathly. Another artistic creation, “Phantoms,” paints an image of boundless ice scene of a icy and boundless scene with impressionistic synth pads, gliding string melodies, and complex percussion cross-rhythms. Also superb is “Luca,” a warm rhythmically- and timbrally-driven theme for a seaside town. Nakano also excels on his action themes, creating one of the series’ most foreboding boss themes to date with the thick, percussive “Enemy Attack”, as well as two highly effective hurry themes in “Run!!” and “Pursuit”. He saves his best to last with”A Contest of Aeons”, a vast, bold, and intricate penultimate boss theme that cannot be done justice in mere words. But between such masterworks, Nakano also delivers a pile of excruciating drone pieces. Lacking any of the interesting timbral and rhythmic characteristics of aforementioned pieces, “Leap in the Dark” is nothing more than a tremolo string motif, a suspended high string note, and mundane tribal percussion rhythms repeated for 30 seconds. It is an overplayed and bland addition to the game. This, in addition to the similarly styled “The Temple Players,” “The Void,” and “Decision on the Dock”, fail to leave an impression in the game and cripple parts of the soundtrack.
The Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack may be the most inconsistent Final Fantasy soundtrack, but this isn’t just because it features a lot of rubbish. The score’s saviours Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano create numerous masterpieces between them and introduce fresh new styles to the Final Fantasy series. Nobuo Uematsu was the weakest link, but nonetheless offered solid thematic material for his collaborators to utilise. The soundtrack may be full of surprises, but it’s also timeless thanks to its numerous individual pieces. The Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack is a must-have. While the collective experience may disappoint, the highlights will not.
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Posted on December 28, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on December 28, 2015.