Vana’diel is very much alive.
Skeptical? It’s easy to be, but Final Fantasy XI has been running for well over a decade, with four major expansions and six add-on scenarios to date. This past week saw the worldwide release of the game’s fifth expansion pack, Seekers of Adoulin. Naoshi Mizuta has returned once again to pen the game’s score, and it’s a solid blend of familiar and fresh that suits the narrative theme of exploring uncharted territory.
“A New Direction” is the album’s perfectly-titled opening track. This song combines the series’ traditional “Vana’diel March” sound with deep strings, trumpets, and drums that raise the curtain on a new chapter of adventure. I really enjoy “Breaking Ground,” a energetic piece with a melody that alternates between piano and marimba played against rocking bass guitar. “The Pioneers” takes it down a notch with its shanty-town sensibility, featuring banjo and accordion in a surprisingly catchy arrangement that sounds like something out of Wild Arms. The status quo is shaken up once again with “The Sacred City of Adoulin,” a dignified town theme with bells and woodwinds that evokes Koichi Sugiyama’s work on Dragon Quest.
We shift from the stately to the savage with “Into Lands Primeval — Ulbuka.” Although it creates an appropriate mood, I found its use of drums and tribal flute somewhat tepid and forgettable. Thankfully, combat in the land of Adoulin is made far more exciting with “Steel Sings, Blades Dance.” This piece is more dynamic than the battle themes of past expansions, employing heavy percussion and tambourine alongside a fantastically invigorating string melody. The mood is then made somber by “Arciela,” a melancholy piano/violin piece with a motif I fully expect to hear revisited later in the game’s life. The relaxing “Mog Resort” comes as a very pleasant surprise, featuring female vocals layered in with low flute and gentle guitar that had me closing my eyes and imaging a breeze sweeping across an endless stretch of plains.
I don’t have much to say about “Water’s Umbral Knell,” an ambient, creepy track that I can imagine playing in a dank cavern. Likewise, “Hades” is an epic battle march that feels like it belongs in Ivalice rather than Vana’diel. Both are solid tracks, but I could take them or leave them. The Adoulin portion of the album ends with the sinister “Keepers of the Wild.” Its tense beginning evokes the classic “Flight of the Bumblebee,” while the frantic main melody utilizes the same set of instruments from “Steel Sings, Blades Dance.” It’s not the best boss theme in the series, but it’s not too shabby, either.
Two bonus tracks from the game’s Voidwatch questline, added after the finale of Wings of the Goddess, round out the package. “Where It All Begins” is a soft, dreamlike piece that comforts the listener with plaintive harp and synth. In stark contrast is “Provenance Watcher,” which begins with a similar sound profile before ramping up into high-stakes boss theme territory. Mizuta plays it a bit safe with this one, as I could scarcely tell it apart from his older boss tracks.
Without a doubt, this album will appeal most to Final Fantasy XI players, though it is also a fine demonstration of how Mizuta has evolved as a musician. As I listened, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by what kinds of adventures this music could accompany. A few days later, here I sit, with my account reactivated and an insatiable itch to embark on another journey in Vana’diel. Should you remain steadfast in your decision to stay separate from the game, perhaps this soundtrack can at least prompt you to reminisce about bygone days while appreciating FFXI’s “new direction.” (Pun intended.)