If it’s possible to be over-saturated with Masayoshi Soken’s immense talents, I have yet to reach that level. After composing most of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s 120-track album, XIV’s Sound Director has continued to create new music for the game’s several major updates. Since ARR (aka 2.0) released in August 2013, every three months or so saw a major patch that, along with adding additional story and battle content, brought new music. Patch 2.1’s music was included in the ARR soundtrack release. The latest album, Before the Fall, contains all of the music added to FFXIV between 2.2 and 2.5 (the last patch before the Heavensward expansion). At over 60 tracks, there’s a lot to cover!
Before we discuss the music, the multimedia aspects of Before the Fall need highlighting. Once again, this FFXIV album comes on a Blu-ray disc, with an interactive visual menu & slideshow for every track, along with the option to pull mp3s to your computer either via your Blu-ray drive, or over your home network (say, from a PS4). The slideshows are built in meticulous fashion: They’re not a collection of images that randomly display, but rather, every single track has game images specific to that song, slowly panning and zooming (thanks Ken Burns!). That means all 61 tracks have hand-selected images, animated in a specific fashion. Even better, every song with lyrics has said lyrics displayed on-screen as they’re sung, something that’s especially helpful for harder-to-hear words, or, you know, because Thunder Rolls is in Latin.
Before the Fall Screen with Lyrics
On top of this, there are two videos on the disc — a piano concert by Keiko, who was responsible for the “piano” half of the From Astral to Umbral album, and a video of Soken’s band, The Primals (they play primal music). The Primals made up the other half of the aforementioned album, and this concert took place at the Tokyo FFXIV Fan Festival, held in December 2014.
As you can tell, this is an impressive as hell package, into which a lot of work went. And that’s before we even get to the music itself, which also benefits from the sheer storage space of the Blu-ray format; several key themes are extra-long here, with the primal themes featuring multiple loops and 8-10 minute track times. It’s the kind of thing only feasible on Blu-ray, and how we can get a single disc with almost four and a half hours of music.
Almost every patch features a primal (or summon to old school Final Fantasy fans) as a central battle/character. Through the Maelstrom (2.2) was all about Leviathan. The lord of the seas features a hard rock theme with “Leviathan!” chants as the primary vocal. Soken revealed in 2014 that this song was originally recorded with female vocals. Game director & producer Naoki Yoshida felt the song would fit its use in-game better with male vocals. With a looming deadline and a need to re-record the lyrics, Soken sang the song himself! That’s dedication. One of the most noteworthy tracks on here is the original version, Through the Maelstrom (Female Vocals) (track 14). Whether or not this version is better, I can’t decide. I think the Soken-only version indeed fits the battle better, as Leviathan doesn’t have the ethereal quality that other primals do, where the female vocal work seems more fitting. It’s still great to hear an alternate version though, so I’m glad it was included here.
The other most noteworthy 2.2 tracks are definitely Soken’s arrangement of Final Fantasy V’s legendary Battle on the Big Bridge, and the two tracks that accompany 2.2’s biggest boss battle, Tempest and Rise of the White Raven. These latter tracks were also on Before Meteor, while Gilgamesh’s battle theme was a hidden track on the A Realm Reborn soundtrack. If you don’t have either, this is a great album to pick up, as they’re all incredible tracks. I talked about Rise of the White Raven in my Before Meteor review, calling it a “must listen.”
One of Patch 2.3’s standout tracks is Thunder Rolls, Ramuh’s Latin-vocal theme. Starkly different from other primal themes, it has a mysterious quality with stunning vocals by Akane Ikeya that just gives me chills every time I hear it. This section of the album has a shocking amount of quality music, though. As 2.3 allowed players to enter the Crystal Tower, a throwback to FFIII, there are some gorgeous renditions of FFIII music that accompany this area in Out of the Labyrinth and Shattered.
The beautiful closing song of this section has been a long time in coming: A Light in the Storm is a strangely-renamed version of Through the Gloom. This song was a short (less than 2 minutes) intro theme to one of the newer dungeons added to the game, and was so popular with fans, Soken created a full-length version. Through the Gloom / Long Version was a 5-minute track on the Square Enix Music Sampler Vol. 9 promo album in 2014. A Light in the Storm is a new, EIGHT-minute version of this fantastically haunting melody, finally available on a commercial album. Do I have any idea what the vocals are saying? Nope, but they sure are pretty.
One last 2.3 bit real quick: I’ll save you my never-ending rambling about how much I love Nobuo Uematsu’s Answers (that rant is in my Before Meteor review), but Before the Fall includes a unique version in Answers – Reprise. This muted and foreboding version of ARR’s main theme was used in the closing moments of the dismantled 1.0 version of the game. It made a comeback, fittingly, in ARR’s one-year anniversary in-game event as a reminder of what once was. It is, I believe, a little known musical piece of FFXIV history, and I’m very glad it’s been included here.
Patch 2.4 brought two huge things to Final Fantasy XIV: The finale of the Binding Coil of Bahamut, and Shiva, who proved to be the most fascinating of all primals thus far. I’ve discussed Shiva’s main theme, Oblivion before, and while its J-Rock vibes are not for everyone, if you’re into it, you’re gonna be into it. The lyrics are a bit… well, depressing, and I just find the juxtaposition of lyrics about letting death take you over guitars and an upbeat vibe so fascinating. It adds a very uncertain feeling to the battle with Shiva, while keeping your blood pumping.
Shiva has two themes, however — the battle initially is fought over Footsteps in the Snow (I’m so glad this track has a name now, so I can stop calling it “the first Shiva song”). My fellow Free Company members debate on which of these songs is better often, because Footsteps is an amazingly evocative song. You battle Shiva in an ice and snow-covered outdoor amphitheater. She’s one of the few primals who is a legitimate character, and while your characters don’t really want to fight her, it becomes the only solution to a growing problem. Somehow, this conflicted feeling, the lonely and ice-cold setting, and the burden of what must be done is captured so well in this song. I really do adore Oblivion, but I have to admit it doesn’t work on as many levels as Footsteps.
As for that whole Final Coil of Bahamut thing, the final battle is punctuated by Answers in glorious fashion, which is not on this album. What is here is From the Ashes, which is essentially a slow, heavy, deep pipe organ rendition of Answers that accompanies a battle with Phoenix, the second-to-last boss in the Coil. There’s some massive story events that take place which, even more than Shiva, make you really wish this wasn’t a battle that had to be fought. It’s a somber determination that drives the Warriors of Light into this battle, and the orchestration used here is simply perfect.
Patch 2.5 lacked a new primal theme, but offered up something all-new to FFXIV in the Gold Saucer. Not only are the concept and name straight out of Final Fantasy VII, but so is its theme, Four-sided Circle. You must know the tune by now, and love it or “I can’t take any more of it,” this song is the Gold Saucer and nothing else would do. 2.5 does feature some of my favorite new dungeon themes, however, in Tricksome and Silver Tears, both bass-heavy and dramatic, suiting their locations perfectly.
Oh yeah, and Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI made its FFXIV debut here, in Magiteknical Difficulties. As if I needed any more reasons to love Soken.
Finally, Patch 2.5 included the finale to the three-part Crystal Tower arc, pulling another location from Final Fantasy III into the modern day with The World of Darkness. The melancholy theme of Blind to the Dark plays, with prominent string instruments setting the mood of a world that’s literally engulfed in darkness, threatening to encroach upon the world of light. FFIII’s final boss, the Cloud of Darkness, is here, and her theme, The Reach of Darkness echoes some of the same ideas: Strings take center stage here in a dramatic backdrop to an “end of the line”-type battle. Simultaneously inspiring and foreboding, this song capped a nearly-year-long wait to see the entire Crystal Tower saga to a close, and the finale wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying without it.
There you have it. Before the Fall features mostly new tracks to Final Fantasy XIV, never before released on any album. Some tracks have been heard on the previous XIV albums, but their place in the game’s story makes them welcome additions here. The generous length on some of the best tracks is incredibly welcome, the presentation in a Blu-ray player is second-to-none, and Masayoshi Soken continues to amaze and impress me. If you don’t own any FFXIV albums and were to buy only one, I feel Before the Fall is the place to start. There are enough incredibly strong tracks on here across so many styles and moods that you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth.
If you’re still not convinced, listen to that second “secret” track, which originated in the classic and hilarious 16-bit Titan battle video that Yoshida’s team created in 2014. (If you end up buying the album, you’ll need a password to download the secret tracks, which is “ii” – without the quotes. Thank me later. 🙂