Editor’s note: “Altana no Shinpei” (loosely translated “Crusaders of Altana”) is known as “Wings of the Goddess” in North America and Europe.
Final Fantasy XI continues to perform beyond expectation, and as such, a fourth expansion has come to pass. Again, Naoshi Mizuta is the only composer. This expansion takes place in the past, thanks to the help of series favorite Cait Sith. Rediscovering the original continents of Vana’diel is made all the more enjoyable with a new set of music to go with it.
Mizuta’s battle themes continue to use intense, sometimes complex rhythms to accelerate one’s heart rate. “On this Blade,” for example, runs on a 7/8 time sign signature, with almost random emphases put on various up- and down-beats using brass and percussion. The regular battle music, “Clash of Standards,” lives up to expectation as well. The only battle track that I don’t enjoy anymore is “Roar of the Battle Drums,” but that’s only because I’ve been through too many Campaign Battles to enjoy it anymore. Any regular FFXI player has heard far too much of this song.
After multiple listens, I get the feeling that Mizuta intended to make this score sound less like a “Final Fantasy XI” soundtrack, and more like a “Final Fantasy” soundtrack in general. Allow me to give some examples. “Griffons Never Die” sounds like two parts FFVII and one part Chrono Cross. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that in songs like these, Mizuta wanted to imitate and honor his predecessors, perhaps because this expansion itself is focused on the past. Track 16, “Royal Wanderlust,” has a jazzy sound that also reminds me of FFVII. Then, I hear a touch of Sakimoto-esque FFXII in “Kindred Cry.” It might just be the synth operation, the sounds selected, but I really feel that Mizuta is intentionally borrowing from the other “greats” of Square Enix history.
Even with the throwback sounds, there are enough Mizuta staples to remind FFXI fans of the “good old days.” His instruments of expertise include pitched percussion (xylophone/marimba), acoustic guitar, and flutes. Songs like “Echoes of a Zephyr” and “The Cosmic Wheel” make good use of these instruments, as do many other tracks on the OST.
And where’s the most recent “Vana’diel March,” the title screen music for this expansion? This time, we find it titled “Wings of the Goddess,” the final track of the OST proper. I was extremely pleased with this title theme; it may be Mizuta’s best.
The bonus tracks are actually three missing tracks from the Treasures of Aht Urhgan OST. These three tracks were written for the last two battles in the expansion’s linear plot, as well as the ending cut scene. They were missing from the previous OST because, of course, they had not been written at the time of the OST’s release. Of these three tracks, almost everyone will agree that the final battle track “Ragnarok” is the cream of the crop. Anyone who’s actually made it to this battle and experienced the music in the context of this extremely difficult fight will agree that it simply needed to be released. The ending cut scene music is also nice, but not nearly as memorable.
I don’t know how to summarize this OST. I dare not rank it against the previous FFXI soundtracks, because I cannot decide where it would go. Certainly not first, but certainly not last. It is consistently good, but rarely is it mind-blowing. One thing is for certain: Mizuta has grown. From his VGM debut (the underwhelming Parasite Eve 2 OST) to the present, Mizuta has honed his skills to the point where I imagine he can take on nearly any project. I just hope Square Enix uses him for something other than FFXI in the near future.