Tsuyoshi Sekito’s works are perhaps not the first that might come to mind when thinking about Square Enix’s stable of regular musicians. He’s been around for years and occasionally seems to fly under the radar despite the scope of his contributions, which range from the Final Fantasy XIII sequels and pre-A Realm Reborn XIV, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance to smaller titles like Rise of Mana and The 3rd Birthday… and still more.
Enter Final Fantasy Explorers, Square Enix’s still-unlocalized foray into multiplayer monster hunting. I’m a fan of Sekito’s work, so an entire Final Fantasy under his command sounded like a great chance to get some distinctive musical flavor in this offshoot of the main series. And for the most part, that’s what the official soundtrack delivers. With the exception of some well-produced but mostly forgettable filler tracks, there’s a great set of motifs forming the backbone of many of these songs, along with some lovely original material that really encapsulates the spirit of the series. The first track (the main theme) is an uplifting and adventurous tune called “Explorers” that also establishes the core melody on which several later songs riff, and you’ll likely recognize it if you’ve seen any of the promotional videos or visited the game’s official website. “Steps Toward Victory” is a great song that takes the same motifs as “Explorers” and repackages them into a much more action-heavy piece.
While most songs aren’t reworkings of old-school Final Fantasy music, Sekito has absolutely channeled the spirit of the series (at least as I think of it) in much of his original material. “On the Path of Predecessors” is a great example of this, with a charming melody that works with the weightier strings to deliver that fusion of adventure and drama that many of Uematsu’s scores did so well. “The Wolf’s Heaven” mixes Sekito’s signature guitar riffs with some dramatic strings, traditional Japanese shamisen-style sounds and the backup choir present in numerous other songs, creating one of the most evocative and exciting tunes on the soundtrack. In fact, the themes in the middle part of the album seem as though they’re designed to accompany battles with the Final Fantasy eidolons (or primals or espers or whatever we’re calling them this time around), and they’re uniformly excellent and inspiring.
Speaking of excellent, in an age where so many Final Fantasy soundtracks are offering a chance for new composers to put a spin on Uematsu’s venerable chocobo theme, Sekito’s synthesizer rock arrangement stands out as one of the best. It suits the high adventure of Explorers in particular, and is exploding with the kind of energy one would be expected to experience while riding and/or (probably) chasing after the big yellow birds.
The music winds back and forth between exciting battle themes and softer, more mood-setting pieces. None are overtly bad, though some, like “Fluctuation of Sight” are a bit unexciting, especially in comparison to the better material on the disc. The last few original tracks amp up the drama and the tension, but are perhaps a bit more traditional in their approach than the very exciting battle themes from the middle section. The album finishes out with the somewhat baffling inclusion of truncated versions of battle themes from earlier games in the series. While these do appear in the game for sequences involving the classic characters, their inclusion on the album, unchanged from any other release aside from being clipped, seems at best somewhat pointless and a worst a tease of what could have been some rockin’ Sekito-helmed remixes. They don’t detract anything from the album, though, so it’s hardly worth getting too upset about, other than in regards to the missed potential.
Really, it’s easy for me to break this one down. This is a great effort from Tsuyoshi Sekito, and one of the most unpretentious and, quite truly, fun Final Fantasy soundtracks in a while. It has its share of inoffensive yet forgettable filler, but the good tracks are really good, and the whole thing smacks of that series spirit many of us love so much. You could do worse than adding this one to your collection.