I just spent a lot of money for seven songs.
Okay, that’s not quite fair, or right. Priceless Remembrance is a Blu-ray disc whose primary appeal is a series of video montages that tell the stories of Final Fantasy XI in a cinematic way, without having to grind hundreds of hours into leveling the perfect avatar.
In Tab-01, Square Enix put together 75 minutes worth of videos showing off the “main” content of FFXI. The first three video segments show starting characters from San d’Oria, Bastok, and Windurst, all moving towards Jeuno. In video segment 4, “The Brine,” we see our brave adventurers board a ship from Selbina bound for Mhaura, and watch as they get attacked by pirates along the way. “On Fate’s Wings” gives viewers a thorough tour of the capital city Jeuno, and it frames the plot so that the viewer can understand what is to come (hint: The Shadowlord!).
Then, in “The Darkness Without,” we travel from Xarcabard to Castle Zvahl, and then to the epic final fight against the Shadowlord, accompanied by the classic battle theme “Awakening.” Afterwards, on the final video segment, we get a series of happy ending montages with Vana’diel Marches 1 and 2 as the background music.
Tab-02 more succinctly tells the tales of the five “major” expansions. There’s no Abyssea or mini-stories here. You get Zilart, Promathia, Aht Urhgan, Wings of the Goddess, and Adoulin, with each story being told in 12 to 15 minutes. These videos aren’t as comprehensive in terms of story or music as Tab-01, but they’re a great edition to this disc.
Finally, we get to the part that I am more qualified to talk about: the music section. Sadly, Tab-03 is a music folder with MP3 files encoded at VBR v0, instead of WAV or FLAC or even CBR 320k MP3s. Such a lossy audio format is not becoming of this expensive item or its Blu-ray format. Ah well…
The first half of Tab-03 is actually the once-digital-only EP, Forever Today. Well, they also added a bonus track at the beginning: an instrumental (karaoke) version of Forever Today. If you want details on those tracks, I provide my thoughts on that EP in the review linked above.
From track 10 to the ending, we have all-new music that was created for the game’s super-finale scenario, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel. It starts off with a valuable, if too familiar, instrumental version of the classic vocal theme “Distant Worlds.” A flute covers the vocal melody during the verse for this arrangement, and a clarinet handles the chorus; it is definitely stunning.
Track 11 is the “ep” (Electric Piano) version of the ending vocal track “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel.” While it boasts the crazy length of the definitive version (just over 10 minutes), and the ’80s, old school sound of Mizuta on the electric piano is nice, the song is lacking something special, making it distinctly inferior to the “real” version. We’ll get to that later, though…
The next four songs are all related to the new environments, cut scenes, and battles created just for the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel endgame content. And may I say, they are absolutely beautiful. Given the limitations of the game’s internal sequenced audio, these pieces feature some of Mizuta’s most insightful, densely layered audio across all of the many hours of music he has composed for FFXI.
For starters, there’s “Iroha.” It’s dark and brooding, something equivalent to “Promyvion” from Chains of Promathia…but the minimalism is less irritating here because Mizuta offers a softer lead instrument and a lot of subtle layering above and below the melody. Very smooth, very intelligent.
“The Boundless Black” opens with low- and mid-range piano and strings, and as a melody begins to form, it suggests a bastardized “response” melody to Distant Worlds, always repeating the first four notes, but then drifting somewhere else entirely for the remainder of the phrase. Percussion of any sort remains silent until nearly 90 seconds into the piece; when it does enter, it’s not overbearing, but its presence helps to build the piece from something merely moody to something memorable, something hummable. The backbone beat paradoxically allows the listener to reinforce the melody. Once again, very intelligent work.
In “Isle of the Gods,” we are treading closer to a forbidden place. The mix of light, bright string instrumentation with timpani rolls and booming bass tell us that we’re treading and holy ground, and we might just be unwelcome visitors here. The first minute is reminiscent of the classic “Mana Shrine” from Kenji Ito’s Seiken Densetsu (FF Adventure) OST, but once the darker and more bombastic stuff breaks through, “Isle of the Gods” comes into its own.
And now, for the biggest surprise of all, “Wail of the Void.” Listen to that audio sample. What do you hear? Does that sound like resolution, like end credits kind of music? It does, kinda-sorta, I think. Surprise! It’s the final battle music! Mizuta, you trickster, you pulled a fast one on us!
Seriously though, some of my favorite battle themes are the slow ones that trick you. Think “People Seized with Life” from Chrono Cross or “Hepatica ~ KOS-MOS” from Xenosaga Episode III. Listening to them outside the context of the games, you’d think they were music for introspective, sorrowful cut scenes. The twist is that the sorrow is present even as the battle rages on. And that’s what we have in the final moments of the final story content of Final Fantasy XI. Wow, that’s a lot of finality.
But wait! Speaking of finality, we cannot ignore the title track, the big 10 minute vocal number that will forever remain in my heart. “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel,” the vocal track, opens as a classy pop ballad sung by duo Phantasmagoric (RiRiKa and MARiE). The song begins as something original, but when we hear the chorus, the melody is immediately recognizable by any FFXI player: it’s the very first Vana’diel March, but it’s no longer a march. It’s something far more beautiful, far more precious.
And as we continue to listen to this wonderfully orchestrated vocal ballad, something incredibly special happens. Just before the halfway point, an octave-spread (man and woman) unison chorus comes in, singing the classic Vana’diel March melody while the featured duet vocalists improvise above and below the theme. And who is this giant chorus? Credited as “The Adventurers,” they are the thousands of FFXI players who chose to participate in the song. I myself am in that mix somewhere, which may make it a conflict of interest for me to even be commenting on how good the chorus sounds (yeah, we sound good!). Tonelico of Leviathan Server is belting it out, and the refrain is repeated nearly a dozen times as the rest of the instruments fade out, leaving only the chorus of adventurers to bring closure to the series. How absolutely fitting.
So what’s the selling point of this blu-ray? I think it’s twofold: 1) for the die-hard player, it encapsulates some of the best experiences of the entire game, and it has the unique position in a collector’s set of holding the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel content (unless they release a second box set, which could happen); 2) for people who have little or no experience with FFXI but want to get a condensed, experiential view of the game, the videos offer just that — though it works a lot better for Japanese audiences, given the Japanese text used. In any case, I’m glad to have it in my collection if only for “Iroha,” “Wail of the Void,” and a vocal track with my own voice layered somewhere in there.