I had been looking forward to this soundtrack’s release for quite some time. Naoshi Mizuta, who had actually impressed me with his compositions in the FFXI OST and its first expansion, “Rise of the Zilart”, was announced as the composer for “Chains of Promathia”, the MMORPG’s second expansion (which was heralded as being a much larger expansion than the first). As soon as the soundtrack was printed, I ordered it along with some other VGM goods from CD Japan and eagerly awaited what I hoped to be Mizuta’s greatest work.
I was sorely disappointed.
My favorite aspect of Mizuta’s compositions was the clever use of strong, raw instrumentation: catchy marimbas, tribal drums, horns, that kind of stuff. There is a minimal amount of such work on this soundtrack. In its place we find some boring, repetitive string-work. Seriously, this album is filled with synthesized strings (that don’t even sound PS2 quality), and they are all pretty bland.
This is not to say that every single track is terrible. No, I have actually found a few tracks that I really enjoy, and I sampled the majority of them for all to hear. For example, “Onslaught” makes strong use of pitched percussion and a familiar “FF battle” introduction, what with the trilled flute ringing out above a rhythmic background of drums and strings. The song continues from here and only gets better and better. It’s a strong piece.
Other pieces, such as “The Celestial Capital”, are also strong compositions. This specific piece actually runs for a solid seven minutes, allowing for the total track to be looped once (explaining the disc time’s outrageous 78 minutes). This piece uses a voice-esque synth for background chords and then sets up a melody using guitars and another sort of mysterious space-age synth. The result is rather pleasing, and I had no trouble listening to the whole seven minute track: I’d have to say I enjoyed it.
Another little treat on this disc is the bonus track: a live recording of “Gustaberg”, performed by the “Star Onions” (a.k.a. Kumi Tanioka with other Square-related composers helping out, such as Tsuyoshi Sekito on guitar). It’s a mid-paced, softer rendition of an already mild song: but I can’t help but bounce my head to it. Of course, the credit goes to Tanioka and not Mizuta for this track.
I hate to do what I have done: I’ve gone and said bad things about what I believe to be a good composer. Yet, I must be honest; this soundtrack has let me down on multiple levels, and I’ve actually had to search for the good in it to enjoy it at any level. For the hardcore FFXI gamer, perhaps the nostalgia associated with these melodies will make the music much more worthwhile. As for me, I haven’t spent any quality time with FFXI (or any MMORPG for that matter), so I am not familiar with these pieces in context. The only thing that keeps me holding on to this one are the few pieces I’ve enjoyed and the simple yet stunning packaging: the front cover and disc are both this dim, shiny gold. Screenshots of different areas abound in the insert, and it makes me want to try this expansion out: but the music doesn’t attract me to the game very much. If you want to get a good taste of Mizuta, go after the two-disc OST or Rise of the Zilart before purchasing this soundtrack.