Death Unto Dawn: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack
Death Unto Dawn: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack
Square Enix Music
September 15, 2021
Buy at CDJapan
Death Unto Dawn: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack is the second soundtrack from the Shadowbringers expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, covering music from patches 5.1-5.55. Following previous releases, the soundtrack is available either digitally or on Blu-Ray with accompanying visuals and mp3 downloads of all of the tracks. Although there are 84 tracks clocking in at over five hours in length, at least 34 of these are recycled material both from other Final Fantasy XIV projects and elsewhere, so that the value of the entire product will depend on how much material here is redundant for the buyer. Light spoilers up to and including Shadowbringers about boss battles and raids are contained in this review.
The soundtrack begins with previously released tracks from earlier albums for Final Fantasy XIV, mostly band arrangements. They are fairly inessential even in themselves, being very similar to the originals, though the “Metal – Brute Justice Mode” arrangement is at least faster than its original, while the “Ultima” arrangement later on in the soundtrack is a great take on the series favourite. There is also “Footsteps in the Snow” unchanged from Before the Fall, though its inclusion is at least appropriate given one of the new tracks later on. There are also seven tracks from Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age for the Bozja relic content, which are all solid and fit in ok with the sound of the game, as well as “Gogo’s Theme” directly from Final Fantasy VI.
But the bulk of rereleased material, 23 tracks, comes from NieR: Automata, used in the alliance raids. Most are unchanged aside from how they are cut, through a few tracks are notably different such as “City Ruins – Rays of Lights” which now has harmonies at the chorus, and the instrumental version of “Weight of the World” was previously unreleased. These tracks are excellent and cover a variety of atmospheres from epic battle tracks to eerie atmospheres and heartbreaking ballads, but more notably there are three new collaboration tracks made for the raids by NieR’s MONACA sound team, mixing together Final Fantasy XIV themes with NieR themes. The first and best of these is “Weight of the World – Prelude Version,” a battle theme rendition that is built from the NieR: Automata sound. It’s the epic version of the track that the original game never got, and it ends up being quite moving thanks to the choir unleashing on the main melody. “Torn From the Heavens/The Dark Colossus Destroys All” is more straightforward, as both were already battle tracks. The two halves are kept fairly distinct, and “Colossus” is shifted from 6/8 to 4/4 time to match. The last track is “Kainé – Final Fantasy Main Theme Version,” with the main vocal theme actually coming from NieR Gestalt and Replicant, though the arrangement also has nods to Drakengard’s “Thirteenth Chapter” bells. Again the two halves remain quite distinct and I don’t think the melodies really complement each other. It would have been better if one of the two were been reharmonized, but individually the two themes sound quite nice in this rendition.
As for the rest of the material, it will perhaps be best to group it by content. For the main story content, much of the new music is devoted to new dungeons and duties, ranging from good to stellar. They all draw from existing themes, such as “The Grand Cosmos” which is a predictably epic take on the Lakeland melody, or “Freshly Glazed Porxie” which is a playful circus-themed arrangement of “Matoya’s Cave,” and “Seven Flames” from 1.0’s “Pitfire” which has good instrumental variation but doesn’t fix the repetitive melody. I’m more appreciative of the climactic “Where All Roads Lead,” which makes an epic medley of all of the major area themes from the first Shadowbringers soundtrack, but retains a lot of instrumental nods to the original themes so that they don’t just disappear into yet another orchestral climax. I also like the ways each melody is adjusted to work in the medley. And then there is Daiki Ishikawa’s incredible arrangement for “Floundering in the Depths,” with the melody daringly taken from Satasha’s “From the Depths.” It is a delightful and charming arrangement that begins conventionally but then surprisingly pivots to a jazz band, continuing the musical realigning of Ascians with jazz music. It also works amazingly in context, making my jaw drop when I first heard it in-game. It’s great to see the game continue to defy conventional genres.
Of the remaining main story tracks, there is first a lovely piano arrangement of Final Fantasy III’s “Eternal Wind.” It is fairly slow and simple, especially compared to the usual more complex piano night themes, but it is also very effective in context, and I like that it still makes use of the original accompaniment motif. Similar is “Forever at Your Side,” which is mostly piano but has some light orchestra. It too is rather simple and quite sentimental, which works for a game that wears its heart on its sleeve. I’m glad they they are both piano-centric, as cutscene tracks in the game work best in this idiom; most other instruments tend to be of lower sound quality in the libraries that the team uses, and cutscene tracks is where these deficiencies have tended to show the most.
But the highlight perhaps of the entire disc is “To The Edge,” the battle theme built from the Amaurot melody with elements of “Shadowbringers” weaved in. Although this too is a vocal rock track, lead composer Masayoshi Soken goes for a much slower pace here than the frenetic and epic rock tracks that we are used to hearing; there is still intensity, but it is restrained, which is very refreshing. The vocalist here is Jason C. Miller, who brings a distinct 90’s rock vocal that I never would have guessed would work with the Amaurot melody, but it does wonderfully. The grungy elements are balanced by complementary synth work, coming together in a track that is very layered and surprisingly emotional given how measured and steady it is on the surface. It was already impressive enough when it released, but the revelation that Soken was in hospital while working on this song has given the track further meaning for many, propelling it to quickly become a fan-favourite. Altogether, this is all a very satisfying musical capitulation to the Shadowbringers expansion and story.
The rest of the disc is dedicated to optional content. The more minor of these include the various beast tribe themes, which are arrangements mostly of area themes from Shadowbringers, as for example “Watt’s Anvil” is an arrangement of the Kholusia melody, though “The Garden’s Gates” actually derives from “What Angel Wakes Me.” As in previous expansions, these themes can be charming with their folksy instrumentation and lighter atmospheres, but their intentional roughness and lack of polish means that they’re not my favourite to listen to outside of the game. There are also some tracks for events like “Starlight de Chocobo,” but these are largely short and perfunctory. The Ishgard Restoration tracks are more notable: “The Mendicant’s Relish” is a nice positive medley of key Heavensward themes, and “Hearthward” takes this idea even further with its celebratory take on the main Ishgard melody. There are very satisfying reharmonizations, and the instrumentation is quite nice too. The new version of Final Fantasy VIII’s “Shuffle or Boogie” is alright and features a new palette of instruments with some attitude, but ultimately isn’t as charming as its original. The arrangement of Final Fantasy IV’s “Lunar Whale” is also nice but inessential. There are also two new PvP themes, which reach back to A Realm Reborn’s “A Fell Air Falleth,” but also add a bit more to the mix: “A Fine Air Forbiddeth” is a solid orchestral track that has plenty going on to sustain it, while “A Fierce Air Forceth” is a fun rock version that brings things into Primals territory.
A handful of new tracks are also written for the Bozja relic content, in addition to the tracks from Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. The excellent “Gangos” establishes the melodic leitmotifs in the settlement setting, with similarities to “Civilizations” in its tribal instrumentation and lead female vocal, though “Gangos” is considerably heavier in atmosphere, and I love how the track changes as it goes, even adding some electronic elements. “Wind on the Plains” serves as the standard orchestrated version of the theme, but it is in the battle themes that the motifs shine. “Blood on the Wind” is a solid rock version that is mostly carried by the melody but has good rhythm changes. “The Queen Awakens” on the other hand is a rock-orchestra hybrid that adds mean distortions to the vocal, along with many new ideas and figures in the accompaniment like additional chanting and swirling strings. There’s a lot going on in this multi-faceted track, and it really earns its runtime. Lastly, “Wrath of the Harrier” is a banger of a synth rock track that also brings in the melody of “Wrath of the Eikons,” which is a great complement to the “Gangos” melody. Even if you don’t do the Bozja content, be sure to check these tracks out.
A few themes are also written for the optional trials. The only one that isn’t a battle theme is “And Love You Shall Find,” a track that is focused on piano but notably includes a child humming. Like with “Eternal Wind” and “Forever At Your Side,” this track is surprisingly simple as far as the piano goes. Melodically, it mixes the Empire themes “Imperial Will” and “Penitus,” and the melancholy reharmonizations of both are interesting. The battle track “The Black Wolf Stalks Again” has Takafumi Imamura doing another rock arrangement, but this time he works in soulful guitar solos and fantastic synths to make a moody battle theme that is still a banger. The other track, “In the Arms of War,” is not quite as memorable, even though it is a reworking of “Ultima.” It incorporates new melodies and counterpoint into a less oppressive atmosphere, but somehow there isn’t a lot here that makes me want to return to it. I’m surprised that we didn’t get more music for this content, but a couple of solid tracks is alright, though they don’t together measure up to the tracks from Stormblood‘s optional trials.
The remaining tracks are for the raid series, continuing the theme of arranging Final Fantasy VIII tracks while also revisiting old Final Fantasy XIV trial themes. There are two new themes: first the slow piano track “Treasured Memory” which is pretty short and mostly serves to introduce the motif for the battle counterpart, “Promises to Keep,” which is another competent but rather typical bombastic orchestra-and-choir affair, though the orchestrations here are more detailed and dynamic than many similar tracks for the game. As for the Final Fantasy VIII tracks, these hew too close to the originals to be remarkable, making only minor improvements. The tracks mostly stick to their original structures and instrumentations, though they are also augmented with extra strings, choir, or rock elements for more impact. These don’t always work, as for example I found the strings of “The Extreme” to be too punchy when they needed to be smooth. But I do like that “Don’t Be Afraid” has a very Final Fantasy XIV-esque piano breakdown, and I was surprised by the inclusion of “The Legendary Beast,” a deeper cut from the original soundtrack. I also appreciate that they even took the time at all to remake the tracks to fit into the Final Fantasy XIV sound, and they are by no means bad in themselves; I was simply hoping for fresher takes.
Thankfully, the new arrangements of earlier Final Fantasy XIV trial themes yield more compelling results. The first is Takafumi Imamura’s “Twice Stricken,” a great electronic remix of “Thunder Rolls.” The wailing vocals of the original fit in perfectly, and the synths chosen really match the electricity theme, not to mention the track simply has great energy to it. “Primal Angel” is also neat, combining “Primal Judgment” with “Fallen Angel.” The originals have since become overshadowed by the later primal themes, but this is a good way to bring them both up-to-date, emphasizing and layering different rhythmic profiles to make up for the melodic weakness of the originals. Then there is Soken’s “Return to Oblivion,” which isn’t so much a remix of “Oblivion” as it is a completely new track built from the same source: the aforementioned “Footsteps in the Snow.” This is a very addicting new track that actually follows the melodies and rhythms of “Footsteps in the Snow” much closer than “Oblivion” does, which is a neat way to build the track. I have to applaud the production here, which combines icy piano and synths, a dance-y bass line, thick parallel vocals by Reven, busy percussion, and a touch of electric guitar to make a very unique track. Even the repetitive nature of the melodies doesn’t hamper the song, but rather enhances the feeling of relentless oppression and desperation. It also helps that the track is incredibly catchy. I had already expected to like these remixes after what we got on the first Shadowbringers soundtrack, but these exceeded my expectations.
As always, a few words need to be said about the format, though it is largely a repeat of what has been said for previous releases. The Blu-ray release, though nice and compact, is still a frustrating experience. The accompanying visuals are unremarkable screenshots, and here meagre bonus content is just two tracks that are readily available elsewhere: “Shadowbringers” is from the previous soundtrack, and the arrangement for “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” from Scions & Sinners. And there is still the issue of how the format influences the content: to justify the inflated Blu-ray cost, Square-Enix continues to pack in redundant material, even into the digital release, which only does a disservice to the excellent new material. A leaner package at a lower price would be much more preferable.
I never enjoy giving graded scores to Final Fantasy XIV soundtracks, because there is always a conflict between the content and the product, and Death Unto Dawn: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack is no exception. Much of the new material here easily ranks among my favourite of the entire Final Fantasy XIV catalogue thus far, from the Bozja tracks to the new raid themes to the incredible climactic “To The Edge,” but as a whole product it is hard to recommend because of the redundancy of the rest of the material and the imposed constraints of the Blu-ray format. Certainly it is worth picking up individual tracks from digital storefronts, but for most the whole package won’t quite be worth it. As far as music for patch content goes, I found this to be much stronger than the patch music of the earlier expansions; I just wish Square Enix would get their act together with how they release said music.
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Posted on February 1, 2022 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on February 10, 2022.