I have to admit that with all of the negative and skeptical press Final Fantasy XI has received ever since being announced at Square’s infamous Yokohama Millennium Conference in January 2000, along with the fact that I didn’t consider myself a fan of Naoshi Mizuta, whose score of Parasite Eve II was a truly monotonous affair, made it rather hard to look forward to the game’s soundtrack. Luckily, I ended up pleasantly surprised by this two CD set.
On the one hand, while the music is reminiscent of previous old school Final Fantasy installments (in particular the Super Famicom games and Final Fantasy Tactics), it also has a distinctive, special flair that should fit well into the virtual world of Vana’diel. Contrary to its predecessor’s sometimes upbeat and creative tones, Final Fantasy XI’s soundtrack offers its listeners more mysterious and darker tunes while never getting monotonous. Anybody who doesn’t know what kind of soundtrack he or she is listening to could easily mistake the first 40 seconds of the Opening theme as well as the “Prelude” (both composed by Nobuo Uematsu) for tracks from a previous installment. Of course Final Fantasy’s infamous battle theme makes its return, this time in several different versions. Even though I would refrain from calling any of them a favorite of mine, they still sound as great as ever to true fans of the series. Sticking to another Final Fantasy tradition, character themes are back. Eight different character themes are used to introduce the game’s races (Humes, Elvaans and Tarutaru each have one theme for female and male).
Mizuta’s “Vana’diel March,” which features Esperanto vocals, is of almost epic proportions and shows that the man definitely is capable of doing better than his first solo project, Parasite Eve 2. More than half of the 51 tracks found on the two CDs are composed by Mizuta, among which I found the previously mentioned “Vana’diel March,” “Galka” and the mysterious “Castle Zvahl” in particular noteworthy. “Tarutaru Male” is a more light-hearted track, which allows the listener to guess about the true potential Mizuta has.
The pieces scored by Kumi Tanioka are generally the most light-hearted on the soundtrack. “Hume Female” and “Tarutaru Female” serve as the best examples to that rule. Nonetheless, her work isn’t confined to light-hearted tracks. By scoring what is apparently the game’s final battle theme, “Awakening,” and the gloomy “Shadow Lord”, just like Mizuta she shows off some of her talent. Last but not least, let’s take a look at the tracks scored by the grand master of Final Fantasy music, Nobuo Uematsu. The few tracks he has scored (only 11 out of 51) are as solid as ever. This is particularly true for the Opening Theme and “Repression.”
While I was rather skeptical about this soundtrack prior to purchase, I can only recommend it to any fan of game music. Mizuta and Tanioka have both proven that they can indeed deliver great game music and Nobuo Uematsu has once again produced a more than solid Final Fantasy soundtrack. After Yasunori Mitsuda’s recent work on both Tsugunai and Xenosaga left me rather unimpressed, this soundtrack was a welcome and positive surprise. Whether Kumi Tanioka and Naoshi Mizuta can close the gap that still lies between them and composers like Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda or Yoko Shimomura remains to be seen. Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack was at least a huge step in the right direction.