Final Fantasy XIV -A Realm Reborn- Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XIV -A Realm Reborn- Original Soundtrack
March 26, 2014
Buy at CDJapan
Revamped from the ground up, A Realm Reborn takes place one year after the apocalyptic events that concluded Final Fantasy XIV. It was made largely, if not completely, in response to the first game’s failure to meet the expectations of either Square Enix or the company’s fans. A Realm Reborn was met with substantially more success, receiving strong reviews and selling beyond expectations internationally. Having recently celebrated its first anniversary, game continues to be updated on a regular basis, to the delight of its two million players. As happy as I was to hear the Before Meteor score, which brought back traces of the trademark Final Fantasy mood and style, I was overjoyed when I first heard the score to A Realm Reborn, which easily stands up to any previous Final Fantasy album. The MMORPG’s sound director Masayoshi Soken, who previously composed for the patches of the original game, returned on a mission to compose the sequel’s soundtrack, and he succeeded.
Almost every piece of criticism I had for Before Meteor, the soundtrack to the original Final Fantasy XIV, is addressed in Soken’s A Realm Reborn — to the degree where I would place this soundtrack on the same tiers as some of the earlier Final Fantasy games in terms of originality, thematic content, and execution. The instrumentation in this score is fresh and vivid, with many tracks disposing of the synth material omnipresent in the Before Meteor album. Soken places an emphasis on live orchestrations with numerous new tracks packed with variety. To achieve this, he worked closely with Filmscore’s Nobuko Toda and Yoshitaka Suzuki — who serve as the orchestrators and cinematic co-composers here — as well as a team of instrumentalists and vocalists.
Perhaps the best part of the score, however, is Soken’s dedication to themes, taking several strands of melody lines, from the series classics to Final Fantasy XIV reprises, and spreading them across multiple tracks to create a far more cohesive album than Before Meteor. Many of the tracks are medleys — “Spiral,” “And You!,” and “On Westerly Winds” all contain fragments of other tracks, including the iconic Final Fantasy Prelude and the Final Fantasy Main Theme, which up until this point have never worked their way into a single Final Fantasy game more than once. In Masayoshi Soken’s goal to force A Realm Reborn to be one of the staples of the Final Fantasy games, or at least regain some of the lost status of the original XIV, his move in bringing these old themes back to life worked beautifully, at least for creating a substantial — and nostalgic — soundtrack. Soken also uses themes of “Answers,” the lyrical song played at the end of Before Meteor, in many of the tracks, including “Spiral” and “And You!,” to create a strong sense of continuity between the previous game and this one. Moreover, many of the tracks from the original game are not only repeated in this album, but rearranged and developed into several tracks.
The Prelude shows up in several forms throughout the soundtrack. Soken took several of the themes of the Final Fantasy series, and made them exclusive to Final Fantasy XIV in this score. Two Preludes show up — one in “Preludes – Rebirth,” the title screen of the game, which a short but thoughtful rendering of the classic theme, implemented with a massive, sweeping orchestra including bells, choir, and a brassy harmony to the main melody in the Prelude. “Prelude – Discoveries,” which takes place in the character selection stage of the game, is an incredibly bold and innovative take on the Prelude, using gentle percussion shakers and low strings to add a tribal, jungle flavor to the traditional melody. This second realization of the Prelude is not only unique, but effective, giving the game its own identity while maintaining a reputable place in the Final Fantasy musical universe.
Additionally, in continuation with the Uematsu legacy, Soken takes several older themes from very early games and revamps them. “Battle on the Big Bridge Reborn” is a rendition of the classic Gilgamesh battle theme from Final Fantasy V, wildly different from the version that shows up in Final Fantasy XII with its rock emphasis; clearly created for the hardcores, the track is a hidden one that only shows up as a password-protected MP3 file upon entering the Blu-Ray disc into a computer. The main battle theme from Final Fantasy II shows up as “Battle Theme 1.x,” a delightful rendition with a jazzy, crunchy chord progression and a lively violin melody. “Crystal Cave” from Final Fantasy III becomes “Hubris,” which plays in a part of the Crystal Tower area with an ominous melody repeated over and over, on a series of different instruments, from oboe to horn; this theme returns in a battle melody of the same area entitled “Ever Upwards,” this time with more syncopation, energy, and fanfare. “Tumbling Down,” one of the many boss battle themes of Final Fantasy XIV, is an arranged and orchestrated version of the boss battle theme from Final Fantasy III.
The nature of the tracks change as fluidly as the tracks themselves. “Greenwrath” sounds like a product of Yoko Shimomura, bringing back some of the synth feel from XIV Kingdom-Hearts-style, featuring a piano and ambient strings to create a rippling chord effect, with the piano managing to stay at the forefront without sounding like a solo instrument. “Intertwined” uses another method to create a similar effect, first using low brass instruments for a uncertain and misgiving melody, and is later met with a more confident piano in a response melody. The piano is laced with strings and very subtle vocals, not distinguished enough to stand out as being either live or synthesized, and the piano part as a result becomes a prominent line without quite being a solo. Plenty of original battle themes make their way onto this track, including a series of battle tracks relating to each area. “The Land Breaks,” “The Land Bends,” and “The Land Bleeds” are all examples of battle themes specific to certain area, integrating and molding the areas theme to a more driving and forceful setting.
Between such masterpieces, some of the musical humor typical of the earlier Final Fantasy soundtracks returns in this score. “Flibbertigibbet” and “A Curious Breed of Botherment” share a theme but through different variations. The melody itself sounds like some mild Hungarian Dance, but the background is more typical of a children’s ghost story computer game, or a Danny Elfman film. “Flibbertigibbet” is subdued and delicate, but “A Curious Breed of Botherment” opens with some haunting melodic percussion and later falls into a whirling string dance-like pattern and crescendos while maintaining a childlike, cartoonish quality. “Ruby Sunrise” and “Ruby Moonrise” are another set of tracks that take on a lighter tone, playing at Costa del Sol — both the location and music are loosely modeled on the corresponding setting in Final Fantasy VII. “Sunrise” utilizes a light acoustic guitar to establish a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere, while “Moonrise” picks up the tempo for a more festive air. Both incorporate a percussion instrument that sounds like a rainstick filled with shattered glass instead of the traditional beans or stones for a bright and flashy effect, adding spice and originality to the tracks.
These types of pairings are another one of Soken’s strengths in this soundtrack. Several of the tracks have a counter track or variation track in the same fashion as “Ruby Sunrise” and “Ruby Moonrise,” or “A Curious Breed of Botherment” and “Flibbertigibbet.” Most of these tracks have hints in the title to relate them to each other, but not all. “Dance of the Fireflies” and “Wailers and Waterwheels” are the night and day themes of Girdania, one of the areas of XIV, two differently stylized versions of a very lyrical melody. The former incorporates pizzicato strings and an oboe to create distinctive melody and harmony layers, with one line always serving as a clear accompaniment. The latter develops beautifully, staying interesting over its twelve minute playtime (with a single loop being just over six minutes) through its added ornamentation and variation. The melody returns in “Where the Heart Is” and “Where the Hearth Is,” subdued acoustic guitar tracks played during indoor settings and introduced with a brief excerpt from the Prelude, once again demonstrating Soken’s ability to weave leitmotifs together to create unique and thematic atmospheres atmospheres.
With the Blu-ray spanning some 406 minutes and 119 tracks, the soundtrack is absolutely filled with content and reflects the epic scope of A Realm Reborn. While there are plenty of brief event tracks along the way, some tracks are especially rewarding in their scope and content. The 14 minute epic “Penitus” is a perfect example. Described by the site’s webmaster as a “perfect fusion of Uematsu, Soule, and Huelsbeck”, it’s a complete fusion of styles — spanning heroic orchestral sections, tear jerking piano writing, and, just prior to the loop, an uplifting electronic segue. It’s a top-heavy track, with the harmonisation often being quite functional, but it doesn’t matter as the melodies are so rich (among them a variation of “Answers”) and the soundscaping so beautiful. Just before the loop, all the parts come together and the effect is nothing short of magical. This track is also excellently integrated into the dungeon it is used in, The Praetorium, capturing the full scope of the location; in contrast to most of the dungeon themes here, the transition to battle does not interrupt the music here and hence the track plays right the way through, much like Hitoshi Sakimoto’s grandiose works on Final Fantasy XII.
Another example of the scope of the soundtrack is shown by one of the boss battles, in which the player must defeat Titan, a recurring figure in several Final Fantasy games, comprises a series of themes that shift fluidly as the battle progresses and Titan’s status degenerates. Unlike the Before Meteor album of the original Final Fantasy XIV game, electric guitar is rare on this album, and the Titan battle themes stand out for this very reason. “Weight of a Whisper” is the initial track of the Titan battle, relatively melodic for the series of following tracks. As the battle progresses, the pieces become heavier and more metallic. “Weight of his Will,” the track for the second stage, incorporates a torrential pulse and muffled vocals, while “Weight of the World,” the music of the third stage of the battle, brings in a stronger bass holding down a steadily moving tonic note. The fourth stage is an unusual break in the pattern of rising electric intensity; while certainly intense, “Heartless” incorporates a female chorus layered over the guitar in a series of suspended notes delaying an inevitable cadence, which does not come until the fifth and final track, “Under the Weight”: an eleven minute long metal journey bringing elements from the previous tracks to create a shifting track consisting of rock, death metal, and spoken word. The five tracks together create a cohesive battle series, reflecting the nature of staged-based Final Fantasy bosses.
Other themes connote certain areas of the games but remain background music, despite the dramatic or forceful nature of the tracks. As with “Penitus”, “Brothers in Arms” features a very well executed choral section that make for pieces saturated in energy and drive. “Brothers in Arms” sounds a little like an opening theme of the Fable series, opening with heavy percussion of various rhythms to create an effect of contrasting tuplets while in actuality using a simple 6/8 meter. The choir enters in full force, singing a rising pattern without any real thematic material. The effect is nevertheless powerful, and in a soundtrack filled with motifs plaited together in so many ways, the occasional piece without any distinctive theme can make just a significant an impact as a noteworthy theme. A further choral highlight is “Ultima”, for the final boss of the main game — Ultima Weapon. The first 80 seconds constitute a gorgeous a capella chorale, before capturing the decisive battle by contrasting ferocious percussion and tribal chants with richly shaped melodies and heroic orchestration. The percussion line sounds somewhat cheap and repetitious in places, but the track is otherwise a spectacle to the behold. Another gargantuan, “Tenacity” does not use any vocals, but maintains a clear and flashy pulse and a two-and-a-half minute long crescendo that culminates in a staggered, slowed rhythm before the loop repeats.
As evident from some of the descriptions, the tracks generally have longer loops than the average video game track. One of the longest looped pieces stood out drastically from the rest as particularly impressive and thoughtful composition and implementation: “Sultana Dreaming,” the Ul’dah area night theme, sounds like a high-quality nineties film score, recorded on equally high quality instruments. The piece begins with a series of open chords on piano, beginning a six-minute loop of piano, gentle arco strings, and a series of other plucked instruments to create a delicate and refined area theme. The piece borders on ambient, but maintains a strong enough melody line to keep it moving. The harmonies and melodies are indistinguishable from each other and the instruments, ranging from flute to piano to harp, are interchangeable and fluid. “Sultana Dreaming” is one of those rare gems that, had it appeared in the soundtrack of any game more widely received, would have been not only a fan favorite, but a long-remembered piece, and a fitting one to conclude the XIV score’s review.
A Realm Reborn was met with far more favorable reviews than the previous game, and its soundtrack is no different. Those fans who gave up on Final Fantasy XIV should come back to enjoy A Realm Reborn and experience the truly fantastic score by Masayoshi Soken. One of the biggest Final Fantasy scores to date, this soundtrack has it all: the instrumentation is exquisite, the thematic elements are artistically woven together, and the styles of the music vary each track. Soken also perfectly marries a modern orchestral feel suitable for next-gen video games, with the help of Nobuko Toda and Yoshitaka Suzuki, and the melodic focus and classic reprises of Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy scores. For those old-school fans of Final Fantasy music, this soundtrack differs greatly from Final Fantasy XII and XIII, bringing back those qualities of older Final Fantasy games that put the music of the series on the map while still capturing the huge landscapes of the game. It’s a pity that Square Enix elected to release this album exclusively in Blu-ray format, but the music is well-presented and complete. Hopefully this album is an indication of future scores in the series to come.
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Posted on September 23, 2014 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on September 28, 2014.