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Day Five: Derek Heemsbergen's Music of the Year
Known in certain elite circles by other names – you may have heard of The Dark Hamburger – Derek Heemsbergen hosts Rhythm Encounter alongside Stephen, and has an undying love for Falcom games and music. He also helps remind some of us that Final Fantasy XI is not only still going, but still sees musical releases.

Turns out that 2013 was an excellent year for Final Fantasy music, as Derek's top 5 includes 4 titles from Square Enix's venerable series, both old and new. Now go forth, and read about Derek's favorite music of 2013.

5) Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin OST
Composed by Naoshi Mizuta
One of the first albums I got my hands on in 2013 was the soundtrack to Final Fantasy XI's fifth expansion. My fond memories of adventuring in Vana'diel came flooding back as I heard Mizuta's latest work for the aging MMORPG. While a few of the compositions are a bit safe, there are some great pieces on this short album, and the music does a good job of playing up the "exploring uncharted wilderness" motif.

Favorite Tracks:
Breaking Ground
The Pioneers
Steel Sings, Blades Dance

Also See Our Review: Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin OST Review

4) Ys Zanmai/Sora no Kiseki Zanmai
Composed by Sound Team JDK
Of the three Zanmai albums that Falcom released last year, these two tickled my fancy the most, and I can't decide which one I like more between the two. Both albums sport fantastic production values and arrangements that respect their source material while still punching the intensity up several notches. I love that I can always look forward to arrangements of Falcom's best material, and because North America is still so behind in terms of Kiseki series releases, an ever-growing collection of music (Sora no Kiseki Zanmai included) continues to whet my appetite year after year.

Favorite Tracks:
[Sora no Kiseki Zanmai] Hollow Light of the Sealed Land
[Ys Zanmai] The Depth Napishtim
[Ys Zanmai] The Last Moment of the Dark

Also See Our Reviews: Ys Zanmai Review & Sora no Kiseki Zanmai Review

3) Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin
Composed by Nobuo Uematsu, Arranged by various OCRemixers
A colossal collaboration between a multitude of talented independent musicians, Balance and Ruin is an album that I still have a hard time believing exists. Overclocked Remix put an immense amount of effort into making this release possible, and their hard work paid off in spades. A huge variety of styles make this eclectic album appropriate for almost any mood, too. It's a nostalgia-ticklin' good time, no matter how big of an FFVI fan you happen to be.

If you only listen to one track from this album (which would be silly, but hey, I'm not your dad), make it The Impresario. Sweet son of a submariner, that song is glorious.

Favorite Tracks:
Gobble, Snarf, Snap (Phantom Train)
Train Suplex (Decisive Battle)
The Impresario (Opera Sequence)

2) Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII OST
Composed by Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, Mitsuto Suzuki, Nobuo Uematsu
The conclusion to the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy hadn't quite made it to North America when the OST was released, but that didn't stop me from importing this album and voraciously devouring it on the game's Japanese release day. It's remarkably different from the past two games' soundtracks, but that's what makes it so irresistible — it's full of dark, atmospheric tracks punctuated by powerful melodies that shine like radiant flashes of light. It's incredibly immersive stuff, perfectly suited to both the game's narrative themes and its status as the final title in this controversial sub-series. I can't get enough.

Favorite Tracks:
Noel and Yeul -The Promise-
Savior of Souls
Nova Chrysalia

Also See Our Review: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII OST Review

1) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Composed by Masayoshi Soken
Masayoshi Soken quickly rose into the ranks of my all-time favorite composers last year with his astonishingly beautiful work on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. His compositions are exciting, dynamic, and full of love for Final Fantasy's rich history. Whether it's a playful nod to a past title in the form of a fleeting motif or an all-out arrangement, he takes great care in treating beloved tunes with the respect they deserve. His original music is sophisticated and catchy, melding extremely high production values with aural elements that feel distinctly "Final Fantasy." It's tough to put into words what makes the FFXIV: ARR soundtrack so special, but suffice to say that it puts a big, dumb smile on my face, and that's enough to make it my favorite game music of 2013.

Favorite Tracks:
Answers (Binding Coil of Bahamut version)
Battle Theme (From Final Fantasy II)
Thanalan Field Theme

Non-Gaming Notables
Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy
This album has far and away the most amount of plays in my music library over the past year. I'm a lifelong lover of chiptunes, and Anamanaguchi are masters of their craft. Insidious, chippy hooks combine with shredding guitar (and in the case of Prom Night, alluring vocals) to create such absurdly catchy tunes that I've tapped into my steering wheel enough to leave marks. (Not really, but I wish that were true.) I also got to show my love for the 'Gooch by backing their Kickstarter and attending a live concert of theirs back in July. Rumor has it that they're working on new music, and I can't wait to hear what they have in store.

Favorite Track:
Pastel Flags
Aivi & Surasshu - The Black Box
Rhythm Encounter co-host Stephen Meyerink and I were fortunate enough to interview the wonderful Aivi Tran last year, and I've become an even bigger fan of her music in the interim. The Black Box caught me off guard with its beautiful mix of chiptunes and piano — not to mention a delightful remix of my favorite Katamari Damacy song, "Lonely Rolling Star." I wish Aivi & Surasshu all the best in their future endeavors, and I hope they have time to put out a new album when not toiling away on charming Cartoon Network show Steven Universe.

Favorite Track:
Lonely Rolling Star (Missing You)
Yasuda Rei - Best of My Love & Let It Snow
I'm a diehard fan of Genki Rockets, a Japanese "virtual band" headed by vocalist Rachel Rhodes, whose music was featured in games like Lumines and Child of Eden. In July of 2013, however, Rhodes struck out on her own to begin a solo career under the name Yasuda Rei. Her two singles to date, "Best of My Love" and "Let It Snow," still feature gorgeous vocals, although the instrumentation has moved in a more poppy direction. I'll admit, I miss the electronic influence her songs had when she worked with Genki Rockets, but I'm still in love with her voice and will continue to follow her career, wherever it may take her.

Favorite Track:
Best of My Love






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