Final Fantasy XIII -Lightning Returns- Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XIII -Lightning Returns- Original Soundtrack
November 21, 2013
Buy at CDJapan
For the third game in the series, the stunning team of Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Mitsuto Suzuki return to provide the score to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The game closes the trilogy and follows Lightning as she ventures through the four remaining areas of the world to rescue souls at the request of God before the end of the world in 13 days. In terms of the soundtrack, it is a departure from the experimental pop that permeated the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XIII-2, returning to orchestral pieces with some new rock, electronic and experimental influences. Part of the soundtrack is recorded with the very capable Video Game Orchestra, and across the board there are strong performances. The score itself contains pieces unique to each of the four areas of the world, in addition several battle tracks, a number of character themes, a few event pieces, and several references to songs from the past games throughout. Overall, a polished, eclectic, but not always cohesive score accompanies the final chapter of the controversial Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.
In general, the team maintain much of the sound the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy has become known for, but offer plenty of twists in styles and moods along the way. The soundtrack opens with a bang with “Lightning Returns”, a booming orchestration blending Americana-influenced orchestration with dazzling electronic parts. The production values really shine in this piece, with pulsating beats blending with stand-out solos to create a Final Fantasy piece worthy of modern day. “The Final 13 Days” is a varied composition encompassing much of the trilogy’s signature qualities, while “Equilibrium” also gives a sense of going on a new venture despite its slightly stale structure. Showcasing the ethereal sounds the trilogy has become known for, “The Ark” is a pretty, not to mention important, theme written for piano and chorus. Between all these optimistic anthems and gentle reflections, “The Evil Savior” twists things into an unsettling, hopeless cue. This sets a darker scene for much of the rest of the soundtrack, taking us into the first of the four areas: Luxerion.
Written by Masashi Hamauzu, the tracks dedicated to Lightning exploring Luxerion are mostly ambient. “The Cathedral” creates a striking atmosphere with its sweeping strings over the foreboding organ, as does “The Warren” with its high improvised piano line contrasting with the active bass. “The Sleeping City” and “Reverent Souls” are effective in context, but a tad overlong on the soundtrack release given their sparse content, the latter spanning over eight minutes and never really going anywhere. For the more melodic tracks, “Sunset Prism” is an effective slow melancholic piece, “Midnight Eternal” brings in some tasteful noir jazz, and “Luxerion” really draws in the listener with its bustling strings and piano over an interesting progression, standing out as the greatest of Hamauzu’s contributions here. Each of the these tracks is fairly different stylistically, but there is some interesting repetition, rhythmic work, and added sound effects which unite Luxerion’s tracks and bring the listener’s mind back to the countdown timer ever-present in the game.
The first half of the second disc covers what is heard in the Dead Dunes, and was primarily written by Mitsuto Suzuki. Most of these tracks, for example “Desert Awakening” and “The Dead Dunes”, capture the exotic scenery and scope of the area by blending Middle Eastern instruments with orchestral elements and moderately paced drums. While most tracks are rich and melodic enough, they didn’t particularly engage me. Particular low-points are “Graveyard of Dreams”, a melancholic ambient piece that fails to leave an impression for most of its playtime, and “Fang’s Theme – The Boss”, a particularly odd piece amidst a sea of mediocrity. After the largely excellent vocal themes from Final Fantasy XIII-2, I also found “Desert’s Lullaby” unappealing; the composition is inherently quite dreary, but these problems are emphasised by a bizarre choice of vocalist and the excessive nine minute playtime. The only exception is “Bandit Gang Monoculus”, which is quite good with its cool guitar and loose feel. Still, it is certainly the weakest of the four areas of the game, musically speaking.
The Wildlands area is covered in the remainder of the second disc. These tracks are distinctively orchestral, drawing from cinematic and classical influences. Reflecting the growing maturity of Naoshi Mizuta, “The Last Surviving Wilderness” and “The Wildlands” are both grandiose and give a good sense of the scale and liveliness of the area, while “Prowlers of the Night” brings some playfulness even to the mysteriousness of the night. The standout track here is “Sunset Path”, which brings out a guitar and a soulfully played woodwind instrument for a peaceful track brimming with emotion. It’s tracks like these where top-notch performances and recordings complement the inspired compositions, bringing them to greatness. Aside from these orchestral pieces, the cute “A Carefree Existence” plays in the Moogle village, and two incarnations of Nobuo Uematsu’s chocobo theme are present in this area, both jazzy and playful with plenty of improvisation that make them solid (but by no means definitive) entries into the Chocobo repertoire.
Back to Suzuki, the final of the four areas is festive Yusnaan, on the first half of the third disc. Most tracks here, for example “Awaiting the Festival” and “City of Revelry”, are characterized by strong, shifting tribal rhythms and a large variety of instruments overtop. The focus on rhythm detracts from the few melodic lines that there are here, but there are some interesting instrumental choices and mixes throughout such as in “The Glittering City of Yusnaan” and “Ouroboros Festival” that, when mixed with the impressive and hypnotic percussion, make the section fairly alluring. However, these themes have such a distinctively different tone to the other setting themes that they stand out in a somewhat odd way; following a string of lighter tracks, including several Chocobo theme arrangements, a long period of the soundtrack loses much of the dark, ethereal atmosphere that characterizes the rest of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. These tracks often feel like a tangent, rather than an addition to the bigger picture.
There are many battle themes, some playing for certain types of battles and for certain areas of the world, and they are scattered throughout the soundtrack. Most combine rock and orchestral elements with impressive balance, but they can be a bit similar sounding at times. Generally they are very upbeat and also have good progressions through their sound, never getting to repetitive on their own. Of the ones that are particularly notable, there is foremost “Crimson Blitz” which is an exciting rock update of “Blinded By Light”, with more dynamics and a great performance from the solo instruments. “The Showdown” also uses that melody a bit more freely, with even more energy and intensity. “High Voltage” is also a great battle track, which has a great synth melody with some attitude infused into it. Other tracks such as “Death Game” and “Chaos Infusions” bring plenty of energy to action-packed sequences in the game, while featuring some experimentation from Suzuki. They’re likely to be select tastes, but certain beam with creativity.
Although the main cast all returns, only a few of them receive character themes and some are considerably different from their previous incarnations. The two new versions of “Lightning’s Theme” are stripped down and based more on the original harmony than its melody. These new themes for Lightning are simple, earnest, and familiar despite not having the original melody. The revisits of Noel and Yeul’s themes at the end of the first disc are more sombre versions of their originals, somehow even more haunting and moving than they once were. “Sazh and Dahj” is a new piece which starts off playfully before giving way to a more intimate theme that reflects their arc in the game. “Lumina’s Theme” is appropriately mysterious for the character, and it also has some references to other themes. Fang and Snow receive new themes, and while the aforementioned Fang’s is simply a very odd and jarring failure, Snow’s is now a reflective piece with just a brooding guitar and hopeful piano, and it is a great representation of what his character has become. It’s a shame not to see more overt references or evolutions of previous character themes, but what is presented here is quite good, and some of the older series’ themes make appearances in the next section.
As the soundtrack approaches its conclusion, there are several important situational themes that start to bring the soundtrack together. Although there are a few uninteresting pieces, most of these tracks feature good, if not excellent work. Restoring coherency to the experience after the often-muddled second and third discs, “Nova Chrysalia” is a beautiful ethereal piece and “The Angel’s Tears” is a dreamy meditation. Both tracks hearken back to the trilogy’s roots. “Endless Lives”, on the other hand, is a great experimental piece more reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII-2. There are also several arrangements: “The Song of the Savior – Grand Finale” is a spectacular cinematic take on “Blinded by Light”; “Meeting You” is a welcome instrumental take on the Ark’s theme brimming with emotion; and “A New World”, which offers a moving cinematic arrangement of Lightning’s new and old themes mixed with Vanille’s theme, Fang’s theme, and “The Promise” from the first game. A number of tracks on the climactic four disc are surprisingly ambient, and unfortunately do not stand out much, for example the all-too-reserved “Beginning of the End” and “The Soulsong” from Hamauzu. However, “A Sacred Oratorio” is a beautiful choral piece with a memorable melody and solid arrangement.
For the final boss themes, Mizuta’s “Divine Love” sets the stage with an exciting orchestral piece with the choir, but Suzuki’s “Almighty Bhunivelze” is the high point of the series: an epic and daring 13-minute work for orchestra, chorus, and organ, complete with references to themes of the Ark, “Caius’ Theme”, “Saber’s Edge”, “Fighting Fate”, and others. It sounds chaotic at times, but that is simply a reflection of the prominent recurring element of the series, chaos. It may be a bit misunderstood by some, but for those who can appreciate the concept it should prove to be an invigorating and rewarding listen, standing up next to the most memorable final boss themes of the entire Final Fantasy franchise. The remaining tracks of the album are fairly typical ending cinematic and credits fare, among them two ten minute medleys. Yet they feature so many references and callbacks to not only the score of Lightning Returns but also to the other (great) themes of the series, the closing section succeeds at closing out the series on an emotional high.
Any issues of the game and series aside, the soundtrack for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a largely enjoyable, well-produced score that is effective in the game but also listenable outside of it. It covers many genres and styles and is not always cohesive, but the variation helps set it apart from the soundtracks that came before it in the series. However, it also features a surprisingly large number of lowpoints compared to other soundtracks in the series. The overlong ambient tracks and misguided vocal themes make the soundtrack a chore in places, while the light-hearted centre of the soundtrck is incohesive with the dark first and fourth discs. What’s more, many of the tracks for Dead Dunes and Yusnaan don’t have good melodies, unique sounding as they are. The themes of Luxerion and the Wildlands are much more memorable and better conceived. There are plenty of battle themes and they are quite good and exhilarating, if a bit too similar to each other at times. Character and event themes are generally quite good, and the final disc (again aside from ambient cues) is fantastic and has great callbacks to the central themes of the previous games. Although its a bit uneven, the score to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a solid effort from Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Mitsuto Suzuki, and fans of the previous scores should absolutely check out the evolution of their work here.
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Posted on September 17, 2014 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on January 19, 2016.