I will be honest and admit something. When I learned that Nobuo Uematsu, the music composer for the Final Fantasy series was resigning in 2004, I was a bit skeptical of how the soundtracks for the game series would turn out. Though Final Fantasy XI was the last soundtrack he composed, he still makes music here and there. Now comes Final Fantasy XIII, composed by Masashi Hamauzu.
Final Fantasy XIII was the first of the series to not have anything created by Nobuo. Though he was kind enough to give the Final Fantasy theme to Masashi, Nobuo did not participate in the making of this game’s score and honestly, I had mixed feelings about this soundtrack. Before I get into I do want to point out that yes Final Fantasy XIII did come out almost a year ago but it is important to learn how Masashi had compared to Nubou being that future iterations will likely lead on this path.
First off the soundtrack has some great packaging design. This thing is big, boasting 4 disks and 85 tracks with great artwork across each panel of the fold out box but enough about that. There are some powerful pieces that do stand out, but not many are really all that memorable. At least not in the way previous Final Fantasy soundtracks have been. Now, that’s not to say it was a bad score, I still listen to the soundtrack and actually enjoy it a lot.
Environmental themes – When it comes to environmental themes, tracks like “A Brief Respite” and “The Sunleth Waterscape” definitely give you that Final Fantasy feel and make you imagine that you’re really there. They just have this emotion like you’re listening to the original Final Fantasy theme, which I appreciate and think of it as a tribute to the theme.
Action themes – I must say, were done really well. They kept the pace moving and actually made the scenes more exciting to follow. “Blinded by Light” and “Defiers of Fate” are a couple of my favorites. Infusing classical and technological instruments just made everything come together in a powerful way. You felt that rush as people were running, there was fighting going on, they just kept you watching and getting into what was going on.
Emotional themes – In Final Fantasy, it’s all about the emotion. And its music is a major part of how the player receives that scene and you know you can count on the music delivering when it comes to a Final Fantasy game. The bittersweet sound of the acoustic guitar in “This Is Your Home” is beautiful to listen to but sad at the same time. “Atonement” captures that same feeling with the delicate song of the violin.
Character themes – Every character has to have a theme right? For the most part, I felt each of the characters’ themes matched their personalities. Though there were some I liked more than others and doesn’t anyone else find it funny that Serah was the only one that had a theme with vocals? I will admit that Serah’s and Hope’s themes were two of my favorites and just so happen to be two of the melodies that are most repeated throughout the score.
Prelude and Ending themes – I will say I do miss the Final Fantasy theme but I think the Prelude was done extremely well considering. It kind of reminds me of the industrial themes like that of Final Fantasy VII. I have always loved the combination of digital and classical music and the Prelude has a very nice balance to it. The Ending theme is beautifully composed in a traditional Final Fantasy style with a full orchestra and accommodates all of the different themes used in the entire score. Again, I do wish the Final Fantasy theme was part of it.
Love themes – Another element of the series are the love songs. FFXIII gave us, in the Japanese version, two vocal love themes which mainly surrounded Snow and Serah’s relationship as well as the close friendship between the members of the group: “Kimi ga Iru Kara (Because You Exist)” and “Eternal Love.” Both songs are sung by Sugawara Sayuri. The international version of the game had “My Hands” by Leona Lewis from one of her albums. I am a believer in keeping everything in its original form and while I do like “My Hands” a lot, I think Square-Enix should have kept “Kimi ga Iru Kara” and “Eternal Love” as the love theme songs. “My Hands” just sounded a little too pop-ish for my tastes as a Final Fantasy fan.
Chocobo theme – Chocobos are one of the icons of the Final Fantasy series and even have their own song. I, however, found that this game’s version was not a very good rendition of it. Honestly, the one from Final Fantasy VIII was the best rock version and didn’t even need lyrics. I just feel adding vocals to it just took away from the iconic theme.
Least Favorites – There were some tracks that just seemed a bit out of place for me. My least favorites were “Can’t Catch a Break”(sounds a little too jazzy for me), “Battle Results” (another case where I would have loved to hear the theme we are all used to), and “The Yaschas Massif” (sounded like it was trying to hard to be the song from Costa del Sol in FFVII).
My final thoughts – Overall, this soundtrack was pretty good and it does have a lot of replay value (for many of the tracks). As a score on its own, I appreciate the sounds and the feelings I get from the composition. As the newest addition to the long line of scores to the Final Fantasy series, there could have been a few adjustments or one more step some of the tracks could have taken to make it just a bit better. Definitely not a bad first project for Square-Enix’s newest composer. Congrats, Masashi Hamauzu, I cannot wait to see your next work!