Final Fantasy XIV -Before the Fall- Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XIV -Before the Fall- Original Soundtrack
Square Enix Music
August 26, 2015
Buy at CDJapan
Before the Fall: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack contains the music from the 2.2-2.5 patches of A Realm Reborn: Final Fantasy XIV. Most of the music is composed by the lead composer Masayoshi Soken, supplemented by a scattering of themes by series regular Nobuo Uematsu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Ryo Yamazaki. Like the other releases for the game, the release is on a single Blu-ray disc, housing high-quality audio files as well as mp3 files that can be obtained from the disc for personal use. Also included a number of visual elements to accompany the music, and bonuses. The album was also released on iTunes in many regions, but without the visuals and bonuses.
First it should be mentioned that one quarter of the tracks (16 out of the 61) are repeated from previous Final Fantasy XIV albums. Eleven of these come from Before Meteor, mostly battle and boss tracks like “Fury”, “Tempest” and “Rise of the White Raven”, but also with some light tracks like “Moonfire Faire”. Many of these are by Uematsu, and Yamazaki’s only composing contribution (“Meteor”) falls in here as well. These are decent to great tracks but they aren’t crucial to the feel of the album, and thus feel redundant to those who already have them. Some of them have slightly altered names, but they don’t have any other changes besides track length differences, and nothing substantial is lost in the shortening of any of the tracks. Also recycled are “Battle on the Big Bridge”, “Pa-Paya”, and the vocal Primal themes, though these were only included as bonus tracks on the A Realm Reborn and From Astral to Umbral Blu-ray editions respectively.
The Before the Fall proper starts with the first of new Primal tracks (all of which were composed by Soken), “Wreck to the Seaman” and “Through the Maelstrom”. The former is merely an instrumental track with emphasis on ritualistic percussion; it’s atmospheric, but that’s it. “Through the Maelstrom” is a rock track in line with the previous Primal songs, sung by Soken. The verses are pretty decent, but the incessant repetitions of “Leviathan!” can be pretty grating, and the looping of the track doesn’t help this. The original version absent from the game with female vocals by Srisombut Preechaya on the verses is included later in the album, but it isn’t significantly better or worse. The later “Thunder Rolls” with Ayana Ikeya’s vocals is a much better theme and ranks among the series’ best. Although it lacks the punch of the other Primal themes, being a mostly lighter and slower orchestral rock piece, it has a unique composition with some very unexpected turns in the melody and progression that give it a real otherworldly flavour. The first of Shiva’s two themes later on, “Footsteps in the Snow” is orchestral with some choral elements, but while it has some good bits it doesn’t come together into anything grabbing. Its main melody shows up in the rock theme, “Oblivion”, where it works better at the faster pace and with the verses helping the rest of the track. It’s a female J-rock track with Ikeya supporting Ayumi Murata, and while the style may not be to everyone’s tastes, it works well enough and is another entertaining entry into the Primal themes.
Also special are the new songs written for the continuation of the Crystal Tower Raid, which are some of the arrangements of existing material from the Final Fantasy canon of music on the soundtrack. Ambient and battle versions of Uematsu’s “The Crystal Tower” appear as “Out of the Labyrinth” and “Shattered”. The former has some partocularly nice moments with a piano and soprano on the melody, and the orchestral arrangements for both are quite good. Uematsu’s “The Dark Crystals” is also present as “Blind to the Dark” and “Hamartomania”, both taking similar paths of arrangement but differing mainly in intensity of the background accompaniment. Both tracks have a solo violin take the lead, which helps the melody stand out. This sound carries into “The Reach of Darkness”, the wonderful new version of Uematsu’s “The Final Battle”. It’s great to see these tracks get attention, and they are done justice. There are a few other tracks that are remixes of old Final Fantasy songs as well. The “Prelude” gets another rendition here as “Game Theory”, a lounge-y version of the track that is quite good, having enough original content and jazzy improvisations to set it apart, even if some of the instruments are lower quality. The staple Chocobo theme has a few incarnations such as “Sport of Kings” and “Gateway to Paradise”, but the only really noteworthy one is “Big-boned”, the Fat Chocobo theme, which is suitably wonky and rather over-the-top ridiculous with many deliberate mistakes. I appreciate it for taking more liberties with the source melody than most other renditions of the theme. “Eternal Wind”, “Four-Sided Circle (Gold Saucer)”, and “Magiteknical Difficulties (Terra’s Theme)” are all fine renditions too, though none are particularly surprising in how they play out.
Aside from these special themes, there are a couple of other boss and battle themes that are on the soundtrack. Uematsu’s “Persistence” is decent if a bit short without much development, and at times stylistically draws on some of his earlier works like “Bombing Mission”. Soken’s “Blood for Blood” is a full out rock track which is serviceable, but not as remarkable as his Primal themes. Soken’s “From the Ashes” is much better, using the “Answers” theme on an underlying organ like a dirge, while some other elements like vocals and piano play around overtop. It’s much more subdued than most battle themes are, but that uniqueness helps it stand out, and it certainly is still able to set the right atmosphere in the game. The closing “Primogenitor” is a great track, using choir and orchestral elements with a focus on piano. The track begins quietly and steadily builds as it goes, and I love the short detour it takes as the piano abruptly changes the pace and style of the piece momentarily. It too never really reaches the typical frantic battle energies, but those kinds of themes already exist in bountiful amounts, and these quieter battle tracks still do a good job of characterizing their subjects.
There are many new dungeon themes as well, all composed by Soken. These cover many atmospheres, like the eerie “Dark Vows” with its soft strings and choir, eventually devolving into a pressing piece with some ghostly ritual sounds. There are the more grand and adventurous themes like “Riptide”, pulling out the more typical orchestra sounds, but these don’t stand out much. Some have unique characteristics like the more playful segments of “Forgotten By the Sun” or the oriental flourishes of “Faith in Her Fury”, but then there are tracks like “Rouse Out!” and “Unworthy” which are very standard. “A Light in the Storm” is an updated version of “Through the Gloom” which plays out at first very similarly before bringing in a short cameo on violin of the central battle theme (“The Land…” melody), and a few other new melodies for the piano and vocals later on. The track somehow still manages to feel repetitive, but I did not mind its inclusion. More deserving of mention is “Scars of Battle”, a very charming and tranquil dungeon theme that focuses on a simple piano melody with some supporting elements like reversed musical samples that make for an intriguing atmosphere. “The Warrens” is also a very soft and simple piano-centric theme that does a great job of evoking a sunny day after a large snowfall. Musical it hardly goes anywhere over its extended runtime, mainly just varying the different sound effects that play around the piano, but that’s alright for a track that perfectly characterizes and captures its still setting.
The remaining tracks cover new areas, characters, and cutscenes. Uematsu’s mysteriously playful “Breathless” and the glum “Far From Home” both suffer from low-quality instrument samples that are really glaring amongst the other, more polished tracks on the album. “Now I Know the Truth” also has strange sounding samples of what I can only guess is imitating a bagpipe, but the composition of the track is strong enough to keep me coming back to it, carrying with it a sort of sadness but also a feeling of determination. Naoshi Mizuta’s only track, “Gluppity-schlopp” is a bit of an odd track with a variety of instruments that don’t quite sound like they should go together, but that seems to be the point of the track, and it manages to stay listenable. Soken’s “Thicker than a Knife’s Blade” is a good track that seems to loosely draw on “The Scars of Battle” in instrumentation and melody, coming out as another charming but rather track. The Ninja’s theme “The Edge” is a nice piece that is suitably oriental in sound, and interestingly carries a waltz feel to it, more noticeable later on.
Two bonus tracks are included on the album, only available as mp3s. The first is a preview track for the Heavensward expansion, and is the theme for the Great Dubal Library. It is the most interesting track for Final Fantasy XIV to date, utilizing a jazzy vintage piano throughout with a small jazz ensemble, and working in many abrupt tempo changes with glitchy samples thrown about. It carries an unsettling atmosphere since it is so unpredictable, but it comes together incredibly, making for a unique and memorable theme, and I look forward to seeing how future songs for the game will draw from this. The other bonus track is a chiptune rendition of the final Titan theme “Under the Weight”, used in this fun little video that was released a while back. It’s a fun rendition of the theme, and I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind seeing other tracks get this treatment as well.
As a Blu-ray, the album comes with a host of other content as well. Like the other albums, there are images (mostly screenshots) that play for each song, each having a connection to the tracks, but as usual they aren’t particularly special or interesting, and are very redundant for those who have played the game. However, the disc also has concert footage from the December 2014 Tokyo FFXIV Fan Festival, and it is quite substantial. The video quality isn’t amazing as it is rather grainy, but it is certainly serviceable and the editing is good. Pianist Keiko performs the entirety of the piano arrangements from the From Astral to Umbral album, even donning a white Ascian garb for a portion of it. She plays well throughout, and although there isn’t really much happening visually, it’s nice to watch. Soken also informally performs arrangements of “The Scars of Battle” solo and “Torn from the Heavens” as a duet with Keiko, with some humorous surprises in both. These latter tracks are not particularly polished performances, but they’re amusing and endearing. Soken’s band The Primals perform (with dark Ascian garbs) each of the band tracks of From Astral to Umbral, as well as “Good King Moogle Mog”, all with their original singers. The band does a fine job, but the vocalists tend to vary in quality. Ayumi Murata is alright on the lead for “Oblivion”, but Ayane Ikeya is very noticeably off-pitch during “Oblivion” and “Thunder Rolls”, perhaps a result of nerves. She does better in “Fallen Angel”, even doing the higher “ah”s and the cackling at the end to great effect. Fox’s “Good King Moogle Mog” is understandably a bit unstable, but he keeps it together and the quirkiness of the performance helps it. There are also encore performances of “Under the Weight” and “Through the Maelstrom” with some alternate instrumental solos, but they didn’t feel like important inclusions since they were already performed once, and the songs are repetitive enough as it is.
Before the Fall: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack is a rather mixed bag of tracks that has its share of really great material, but also a portion of very forgettable fluff. The new Primal tracks and the continuation of the Crystal Tower tracks are the main draw to the album, along with a couple of the battle and dungeon themes, but outside of that there isn’t too much that is noteworthy. Part of this stems from the lack of recurring themes to tie tracks together, which is part of what made the A Realm Reborn soundtrack so great. The sound library for the tracks still is noticeably lacking in quality some places, and the score would have benefitted greatly from having a real orchestra to make them not only sound better, but also more dynamic. Don’t let the runtime of the album fool you in regards to the amount of content of the disk, since many of the tracks are simply looped and many are recycled. The visuals that play on the Blu-ray still aren’t anything special, though the inclusion of the piano and band concert is a nice bonus. It might not be worth it for anyone who already owns the From Astral to Umbral album, and half of the band performances are rather flawed, but for those interested it helps a bit to justify the steep cost of the album. For everyone else, you’re probably better off just picking out your favourite tracks from iTunes if you can.
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Posted on February 24, 2016 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on February 27, 2016.