Word is that Final Fantasy XIV got started on the wrong foot. It was rushed to release, and that’s always bad news. But perhaps, just perhaps, the game can be understood as being in an “extended” beta, with the true release coinciding with, say, its entrance to the PS3 platform.
Case in point: the full FFXIV OST hasn’t been printed yet. On the day of its official PC release, Square Enix released two EPs for the game, “Battle Tracks” and “Field Tracks.” Here we will talk about the “Battle Tracks” EP.
The good news: Uematsu is back. And when I say he’s back, I mean he’s really, really back. The signature style you’ll remember from previous FFs, even the old NES and SNES titles is here, but with upgraded synths. Some of those synths may be overkill to listeners, who are now either accustomed to intentionally retro “chiptunes” or else real-instrument recordings. I’ll admit there are moments where I felt like I was listening to an ’80s film score while indulging in the Battle Tracks. But I’m okay with that. What matters most is that Uematsu’s melody-making is still strong.
But the album does open with one “performance” piece. It’s actually a six minute orchestral recording of the Final Fantasy Main Theme. You know, the recurring theme from the series that isn’t the Prelude (or the Chocobo Theme). It’s a powerful melody, and this new recording is a perfect way to open one’s eyes to the fact that this long-running series still has potential, and its star composer is still willing to bring his signature sound to the series, even though he has gone freelance.
After that opening track, the onslaught of battle music begins. “Beneath Bloodied Banners” appears to be the standard battle theme, as evidenced by the rhythm and tonal structure of the piece (a variation of many older battle themes, and surprisingly similar to the FFVII standard battle theme in many ways). I think many Uematsu fans will immediately fall in love with this new score after giving this song a few loops through.
“Nail of the Heavens” is an awesome boss battle theme with harmonic-third guitar work throughout the piece. It’s an incredible rock track, but it isn’t dark. This is like, inspirational hair metal. It’s Dream Theater but without the overpowering of technical prowess. Totally, totally awesome.
“In the Shadow of the Colossus” … wait a second. Did you say Shadow of the Colossus?! Slow down. This track sounds nothing like the sweeping orchestral work of Ko Otani. This is a synth-heavy piece that relies on keyboard-emulated trumpets and other brass to deliver the melody. The crunchy guitar parts that break up the sections of the piece remind me of the “Compilation of FFVII” works (Advent Children, Crisis Core). A surprising addition to this very medieval-themed MMORPG.
“The Forest’s Pulse” is another synth-heavy battle piece, but this one has more of an electronica sound to it, thanks to the 16th-note pattern running in the background. Melodically, the piece is very simple, but the bells and whistles help build it into something greater. “Bathed in Woodsin” – a track title that suggests we’re still working in a forested area for the music – takes a distinctly different approach. The melody is delivered by a high-pitched bell (that generally hits on the two accented beats in a 6/8 measure). In the background we hear some solid drum work and some more of that crunchy guitar stuff. At one point in the song the guitar gets to hold the melody, but for the most part, it’s the chimes. All in all, the “wooded” music is the most palettable music on the disc, but also the most forgettable.
Now it’s time to get to know the dunesfolk! “Quicksand” seems to be the standard battle theme. It sounds something like a Tarantella in style, but with rock infused (gotta have rock infused with an Uematsu battle track!). This is one of the more lengthy tracks on the disc, coming in at nearly five minutes. I have to say, I like it! But what I like even more is “Desert Moon Defiled.” Why? For starters, the song is in a frantic, irregular rhythm (7/8 time signature). This is very uncommon for Uematsu, who tends to keep his battle themes in either common time or 6/8. Now, part of the song is in common time (4/4), but the most enjoyable part is the riff-laden, drum-heavy irregular time signature section. Cheers to Uematsu for writing this one. I absolutely adore it. “The Black Mages” may have disbanded, but you can bet that there will someday be live rock concerts of FFXIV battle themes, and that this one will sound awesome. Maybe they’ll be “The Thaumaturges” …?
It’s fitting that the disc ends with an extended version of the “Victory Fanfare,” another series classic melody. The final track runs at just under a minute, and the style of the arrangement here is like that of a marching band.
If these nine tracks reappear on a full OST, fans will be smacking themselves on the forehead for buying this disc. But, in the off chance that the full OST does not include all (or even some) of the 34 minutes of music found here, well, it will have been a wise investment indeed. Otherwise, this disc is merely a foretaste and a consolation only for the most impatient fans. Count me among them.