I was excited to listen to this soundtrack; not only is it a Final Fantasy work, but Takeharu Ishimoto composes all of the original pieces for the game and guides a team of arrangers to tackle tracks from games past. Though he is relatively new to being an official composer for Square Enix, Ishimoto is making a name for himself with several successful games like The World Ends with You and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. I greatly enjoyed the wide range those two soundtracks offer, and they show how versatile Ishimoto can be.
The Dissidia 012 soundtrack spans three discs and covers rearranged and original tracks from the franchise as well as Ishimoto’s original pieces. It’s certainly a wide array of music, but I was still a little disappointed. There are tracks that grip me, but they’re nestled between tracks that lack luster to set them apart – they have the right foundation, but nothing special to catapult them anywhere. I found the mixed quality to be distracting in my first listen-through, but I also felt the album had enough strong pillars that it was worth listening to again.
There are a total of 24 original tracks, and their quality is slightly checkered. The album’s solid instrumentality in pieces like “Lux Concoriae,” “The Threat,” and “Final Resolve” is brought down by unexceptional tracks such as “Reform,” “Heroes,” and “Peace of Mind.” These lackluster pieces grow redundant fairly quickly and don’t hold much of the listener’s attention outside of playing the game. Certain songs fall short of their contemporaries on the soundtrack, and they don’t have the lingering effect that is characteristic of other pieces.
However, Ishimoto does provide some stellar tracks befitting the Final Fantasy experience and excels at conveying various sentiments that are expected for the title. With pieces like “Lux Concordiae,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Final Fantasy,” Ishimoto captures the majestic element of the game. He is able to musically create an ominous presence approaching through “Tension” and “The Threat.” For sweeping battles of great proportion, Ishimoto offers the first half of “Carmen Lucis,” which is one of the most memorable tracks on the album. He presents complexity with wide range of emotion (“-ending-“) as well as simplicity with a single theme (“Troops”) and all in all produces a tailored cut for the soundtrack. I especially enjoyed “Canto Mortis” and “Cantata Mortis,” which are absolutely remarkable; intense, dark, Latin pieces that really seal the deal in conveying the conflict between Good and Evil.
Another track worth mentioning is the ending piece. It is the longest and probably most passionate track on the album. It does an outstanding job at expressing the variety of feelings at the end of a hard-fought victory; there is the sense of elation, regret, triumph, and loss, all composed beautifully while flowing in and out of each other.
All told, Ishimoto delivers a decent selection of original pieces. Whereas some don’t have enough flavor to set them apart, he definitely shines when needed and shows the skill that got him this project.
The arranged tracks are also plagued by inconsistent quality. A track either comprises the best elements of its original, then takes it to the next level, or it is a pale comparison to its first-run self. There’s not too much in between – some have heart and others seem half-baked.
The staff does a good job at varying the musical selection of the arranged tracks. There are edgy rock pieces like “Chaos Shrine” and “Battle 1” that deliver ripping guitars and intense drum beats, but then manage to incorporate strings and horns for that pragmatic feel only an orchestra can provide. “Force Your Way” and “The Final Battle (Track 38)” give high speed electronic beats that pump the blood for battle and victory! And of course there are plenty of grand scheme pieces that emphasize the crushing conflict of Good vs. Evil; “Pandaemonium” has an intense feel, while “Battle with an Esper” reaches for the heavens as the choir sings skyward.
Some of the arranged tracks really captivate, and they naturally stand out in the album. For instance, “Into the Darkness” is a dark waltz with a hauntingly ominous tone and such an eerie effect that it can’t help but surpass its original. “Fight 1,” contrary to the title’s lack of creativity, is amazing! I’m a sucker for piano music, and this track pulled on those preferences. It has an forceful feel and delivers notes at a fighting pace; it goes to show that all you need is some light percussion, a little complementary string, and a star piano to produce an epic effect. “Phantom Forest” is enjoyable for similar reasons – not many songs use the harpsichord these days, and it really sets the mood for the piece. “Find Your Way” also has a hypnotic trailing piano that is perfect.
Many of the other arrangements (more than I’d like to admit) lacked the impact that their original scores gave them. I could go into detail about the disappointment that many of these tracks hold, but I’ll only highlight a few. Some, like “Julia,” should have toned down the background accompaniment and let the focus fall strictly on the piano in order to leave a more dramatic effect. Others, such as “Dungeon,” seem less refined or grand compared to their roots and lose the appeal of their first productions. The most notable compromise (in my opinion at least) is the recreation of FF IX’s “A Place to Call Home.” The faded melody and background fluff really eliminate the emotional impact of the song. Time and again I found tracks that felt more compelling in their original format than they did rearranged. Even the tracks for FFVII seemed a bit neglected in production, which left a sore spot with me.
Altogether, there are tracks that carry me off to battle, fighting alongside the likes of Zidane and Cloud and soaring to victory over the foiled plans of Chaos and his minions. Yet there is a good chunk of the album that lacks polish and begs for a more loving treatment. There are certain tracks that compel the listener back, but the album on the whole is too held down by blundered remakes that it prevents a good review for the entirety. However, when going track by track, it’s easy to pick out the songs that are well worth listening to by themselves.