Despite the lack of interest in Final Fantasy XI Online, it doesn’t mean there should be a lack of interest in the soundtrack as well. Not much was known at all about the score to Squaresoft’s first online game other than that Nobou Uematsu would return; as well, Yasunori Mitsuda had been asked to contribute, as well. Unfortunately, as his schedule was busy with Xenosaga at the time, he was unable to do so. Like Final Fantasy X, the score was composed by three contributers: Uematsu himself, Naoshi Mizuta (who wrote the majority of the tracks), and Kumi Tanioka.
What we have in this two-disc soundtrack is an excellent set of songs. Though much shorter than any Final Fantasy soundtrack as of late (not many online games have a huge collection of tunes like a traditional Final Fantasy would), the score is impressive. Like any FF score, there are, as always, battle themes, opening themes, and even character themes. Without looking at track names, one can pick out the opening and battle themes easily. Whether FFXI overall has that Final Fantasy feel, is really left up to opinion, though I’d say Uematsu’s own tracks maintain that feel better than the others. The ‘FF Prelude’, naturally, is present here, the only difference from the traditional Prelude being an ever so slight echo in the background.
As mentioned before, there are individual themes for each character class and gender; ‘Elvaan Male’, ‘Hume Female’, and at least a couple of other classes, as well. Though not exactly the highlight of the album, the characters’ themes are all very much upbeat, especially the female classes. ‘Elven Female’ however, almost seems out of place here with its beat, which almost sounds like modern pop. Well, as modern as the early ’90’s, anyway. The album is well-balanced in both the pace and feeling of the songs, and the latter is truly there in quite a number of tracks. A very good example of this is Uematsu’s ‘Recollection’, a very pretty medley of harp and strings.
Often you’ll hear tracks that might remind you of past Final Fantasy songs, or even of each other. Mizuta’s two Battle Themes are fairly similar, down to the instrumentation, with the first having a more upbeat feel, although both can be picked out as the battle themes without even looking at track names. ‘Chateau D’Oraguille’, while not one of Uematsu’s tracks, starts out rather similar to ‘Northern Crater’ (FFVII), and ‘Heaven’s Tower’ is a true Final Fantasy town (or field) theme. I loved the simplicity of ‘Mhaura’; it has this peaceful type of charm, as do a few other slow tracks, but especially this one.
Even after Final Fantasy IX‘s (Uematsu’s last solo score) rather disappointing soundtrack, this and Final Fantasy X both hold proof that he hasn’t lost his touch completely. Although the female character class themes may stick out like a sore thumb, still, the three composers’ works fit together quite well. Listening to this score over and over almost makes me wish it went on for as long as a typical Final Fantasy soundtrack. I wouldn’t dare call it perfection, but in the end the length of this score itself just might be that. For those Final Fantasy fans who plan to pass the game up, I’d advise them not to pass up on the soundtrack. Honestly, I’d advise just about anyone not to. However, if you’re looking for the Limited Edition, you’ll be out of luck if you didn’t pre-order or get your hands on it shortly after it was released.