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 “Field Tracks” EP.
The Battle Tracks EP opened with the FF series Main Theme, so it’s not surprising that the Field Tracks EP opens with the Prelude, which is the other big recurring theme of the Final Fantasy series. This six minute version features bells, chimes, harp and choir. The tempo is kept slow, and it isn’t a stretch to say that there’s something “spiritual” about this version of the piece.
“Navigator’s Glory” has this excellent opening with orchestral bells, winds, and strings. It starts soft and then crescendos before the percussion hits you like a ton of bricks. After that, the piece is very march-like, very strong and statured. This is a piece that can get stuck in your head.
“On Windy Meadows” – this is when I knew Uematsu was truly back in business. The structure of the piece reminds me of one of the town themes from Final Fantasy V, but the shakuhachi (Japanese flute/recorder) part, which carries the melody, is excellent. I hadn’t heard shakuhachi in a game that was so memorable and realistic since Shiren the Wanderer. Rest assured, we’re in good hands in FFXIV thanks to Uematsu. This was the track that most assured me he is no less skilled, and is indeed more skilled, than ever before.
“Born of the Boughs” is a fun, simple piece that thrives with the addition of auxiliary percussion. Various scrapes, slaps, jingles and whistles give a liveliness to the andante-tempo piece. Very soothing, but very enlivening at the same time.
“Emerald Labyrinth” is awesome. You hear the name of the track and you can immediately guess at how the piece will be written: minor/diminished/augmented chords everywhere; orchestral bells; reverse and reverb effects. You could write such a track equally well for an “ice cave” environment piece. But it’s beautiful, and it shows Uematsu’s versatility.
“The Twin Faces of Fate” features some of Uematsu’s most ethnically experimental music in a Final Fantasy title. The sound is in many ways reminiscent of certain FFXI themes, including those that Naoshi Mizuta wrote. The instrumentation has a lot to do with the piece’s ability to convey moods of wonder, curiosity, and “other”-ness (yes, it’s a word now). At 6 and a half minutes, it’s a lengthy piece, but it’s one you can definitely “chill” to. Highly recommended bit of music.
“Twilight Over Thanalan” is orchestra with piano. This is one of the most haunting, romantic tracks I’ve heard in ages. I am taken back to some of Uematsu’s less-remembered, but still quite powerful, melodic pieces from FFVIII and FFX. It also reminds me a bit of the Shenmue Orchestra disc.
Track 8 is the final track on the disc. “Aetherial Slumber” is, well… it’s a weird one to be sure. It’s 7 minutes long (the single longest track between the two EPs). Let this one loop long enough and it will grow on you. It’s an ambient, electronic, new age piece of music. The fact that Uematsu can write this sort of music alongside everything else he’s done, again, speaks to his versatility. But outside of going to bed or taking in the visuals of the zone where this music plays in-game, I don’t think I can handle listening to it too long.
So what have we learned between this disc and the Battle Tracks EP? We’ve learned that Uematsu has still “got it.” Anyone who says that Uematsu’s time has passed is too pessimistic, and perhaps too delusional, to take seriously. In one sense, yes, I’m just happy that one of my heroes in composer-land is still pumping out great music. On the other hand, I’m also happy that one of my favorite franchises has a solid soundtrack to rest upon (not that FFXIII was subpar or anything; in fact, Uematsu has quite a contender on his hands in the form of Hamauzu!). We will see if the rest of Uematsu’s compositions for this game can match the quality of the 17 tracks chosen across the 2 EPs. Cross your fingers.