With Final Fantasy Brave Exvius being a mobile release, anticipation surrounding the soundtrack might be lower compared to other titles in the series. If this describes your attitude (as it did mine), then prepare to be pleasantly surprised: this music could easily have accompanied a “major” release. Noriyasu Agematsu’s series debut, with the assistance of additional arrangers (including fellow Elements Garden member Evan Call), is an ambitious, epic and vibrant soundtrack that remains true to Final Fantasy’s heart and soul, living up to Uematsu’s grand legacy.
Square Enix have made considerable effort to ensure the music’s sonic diversity and polish. Unlike some previous mobile releases, Brave Exvius’ soundtrack features a wide range of live instruments, from classical mainstays to electric guitars and banjos, appropriately accompanied (or replaced) by ambient synths and electronics. Despite this diversity, the classical instruments typically take the spotlight, and the soundtrack’s overall character is reminiscent of the series’ more medieval Super Nintendo entries, which is definitely a positive.
The production team deserves special credit: instruments are clear and audible whilst meshing harmoniously with one another. The strings in particular sound fantastic, with their united thickness enhancing those soaring, epic moments. Heavy yet sensitive use of reverberation emphasizes the smooth textures of strings and woodwinds whilst adding additional shimmers to piano keys and plucked strings, providing additional beauty. Atmospherically, the strong reverb grants pieces an otherworldly quality that pulls in listeners like the music is calling out from another dimension; this quality is present from traditional high fantasy numbers like “Peaceful Village” and “Tree of Tales” to darker sci-fi mood setters such as “Not of This World” and “The Suspicion.” Finally, the production also excels by keeping the percussion and electric guitars lower in the mix: besides ensuring clean interlocking between instruments, excessive cheese is avoided, which is one thing that (for me anyway) can be persistently annoying about modern JRPG music.
Aficionados of Final Fantasy music or RPG soundtracks in general won’t be too surprised by the soundtrack’s content. All the required RPG staples are accounted for, from town themes to battle tracks to exploratory pieces. (I took great pleasure in successfully predicting when particular tracks would appear during gameplay.) Given the genre’s demands, and especially with a title like Final Fantasy, composers typically only have opportunities to stand out via the content’s delivery (rather than innovating within the content itself). Fortunately, Agematsu doesn’t disappoint here.
One highlight is the opening piece “Moment of Recall,” as it especially personifies the soundtrack’s spirit of ambition combined with reverence for tradition. Straightforward and intimate, the arrangement revolves around a single (admittedly long) verse. Uematsu’s famous “Prelude” appears for the verse’s second and fourth iterations, but it is largely subservient to the keys and strings that provide the piece’s structure, melodies and emotive progression. This leads into the grandly orchestrated “To the Horizon,” where heroic horns, soaring strings and whimsical woodwinds are supported by a simple marching-band rhythm: a perfect expression of the anticipation of embarking on epic adventures and exploring distant locations. The transition between these tracks is seamless, and the soundtrack couldn’t have introduced itself more strongly.
My sensibilities favor peaceful and atmospheric pieces, but here I particularly enjoyed being carried away when the music was bold, vibrant and triumphant. Boldness and vibrance emerge less obviously in tracks like “Rain in Forest,” where experimenting with compositional structure creates tension and movement: things slow down and speed back up, instruments suddenly retreat with only a sole piano remaining, and then unexpectedly they return. Despite this, the track’s pulse remains and never reaches a jarring halt. This piece also highlights a masterfully utilized compositional technique that appears throughout the soundtrack: transferring the melody between instruments, in this case from guitar to orchestral strings. All of these elements convey the feeling of exploring a rainforest, as well as the wonder and trepidation that might accompany such a journey.
Like Uematsu’s “Prelude,” which features as its own song and as a connecting motif in “Great Voyage,” other series staples appear, including the opening motif for many of the series’ battle themes and the traditional closing track “Final Fantasy.” Of particular note is Agematsu’s take on the Chocobo theme (“Amigo de Chocobo”), where the country vibe previously explored via this beloved tune is taken to new levels: the melody is cheerfully whistled while accompanied by frantic banjos and ukuleles, and a tambourine and tuba ground the liveliness. Besides being an enjoyable rendition of a classic Final Fantasy piece, it also encapsulates the soundtrack’s energy and sonic diversity.
The best parts, for me, were the incidental details that seemingly appear from nowhere whilst entering naturally: the note-bending surf guitar cutting through the mix in “Amigo de Chocobo,” for instance, or the brief bursts of piano and soft cymbals quickly coming and going in “Shadow of Doubt,” like ideas suddenly coming to mind during reflection that might either resolve or merely amplify the uncertainty the music already conveys with its mournful cello and echoing synths. These subtle flourishes establish and enhance the pieces’ distinct characters, revealing Agematsu to be a master of atmosphere, which strikes me as being of greatest importance where soundtracks are concerned. It is also refreshing to see percussive sounds utilized for atmospheric rather than rhythmic effects.
If you have reached this point of the review, then presumably you have an interest in Final Fantasy and/or RPG music generally. You know what you’re in for and you just want it done well. Given that information, I can confidently predict that you will enjoy Brave Exvius’ soundtrack, and I recommend that you listen to it at your earliest convenience. If you’ve played the game and weren’t impressed, I assure you that the music sounds very different when played on an appropriate listening device (and at a higher audio quality). Hopefully Square Enix holds onto Agematsu’s phone number for a “major” release.