After the initial launch of Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix kept a steady stream of DLC coming along, culminating with the March 2018 update that brought some finality to the multiplayer “Comrades” DLC, as well as the bevy of small updates that came with “Royal Edition.” This “Volume 2” soundtrack was also released that month. But seriously … five discs? The more surreal thought for me, at the time, was the possibility of a just-as-large “Volume 3.” However, as FFXV fans discovered later in 2018, almost all of the planned DLC was canceled. I imagine a final soundtrack, perhaps digital-only, will be released for Episode Ardyn. But we can all bid farewell to music for Luna, Aranea, and Noctis.
Some fans of the FFXV soundtrack have panned the Volume 2 soundtrack for being a mixed bag. I am referencing a variety of posts from forum users, with sources ranging from reddit and GameFAQs to vgmdb and even RPGFan’s own Discord server. “Mixed bag” seemed to be the metaphor du jour. I understand the frustration: this is not a unified set of music, as it is not all from the same lead composer (as the base game had Yoko Shimomura). But “mixed bag,” you say? I truly do not see it this way. Rather than a mix of good and bad songs spread evenly over the length of this soundtrack, I envision five separate parts of a whole. And, to utilize a potent metaphor, I turn to the realm of food. Some readers will know of my fondness for food metaphors in music reviews, but let me assure you, this is the first time I’ve come up with one so interesting, that it will be worth reading, if only to understand what exactly is going on with this massive collection of music.
And so, here it is: FFXV OST Vol.2 is a four-course meal … with leftovers to take home.
I imagine Ignis would be proud of my metaphor. In turn, I am impressed with the musicians who worked on Episode Ignis! But we will get there, eventually. Without further ado:
The Appetizer: Episode Gladiolus
The key disparity between the Gladiolus disc and all the others is obvious: look at the disc times. Seriously, 26 minutes? That’s nothing compared to everything else. However, quantity does not dictate quality, and a shorter work can have a strong impact. Considering NieR composer Keiichi Okabe wrote the theme song and did the Gilgamesh (Big Bridge) arrangement, there is already reason to hope for an excellent appetizer. And whether you wanted something fancy like bruschetta with fig spread, or something as simple as bread sticks, you will likely be pleased by this starter course.
While Okabe’s signature styles are clear to the ear, and are certainly fitting for what is the most stoic, serious version of Gilgamesh in the FF series to date, the majority of the music for this short disc was composed and arranged by Tetsuya Shibata. Like Shimomura before him, Shibata is a previous Capcom music team member (Monster Hunter, Devil May Cry), and later went freelance with Yoshino Aoki to form UNIQUE NOTE (Aoki wrote track 3 for this expansion). Those who have played the previous games Shibata contributed to will no doubt recognize the still in tracks like “The Spirits Converge” and “Shield.”
This tasty treat’s “flaw” is that it is so short. However, while given the brevity of the actual DLC scenario, it makes sense. And, given Square Enix’s decision to package all of this music together, I think I’m happy to have a small precursor to get me going.
Soup and Salad: Episode Prompto
Prompto’s theme song for the Episode Prompto DLC, composed by Naoshi Mizuta, may be one of my favorite compositions in this whole set. It’s a great thing to hear. But Mizuta’s contributions pale in comparison to that of composer/arranger Yoshitaka Suzuki, who packs this loaded disc — the longest in the set at nearly 75 minutes — with more filler than one can handle.
Think about this: often at a restaurant, you are presented with the option of soup or salad. But have you ever been to a restaurant that, without even asking for your consent, brought both soup and salad to your table? It’s very overwhelming, especially when you consider that there is plenty more to go. And while salads may have diversity in texture and flavor, the experience gets tired. So, too, with many soups.
This is my problem with Episode Prompto. There are some great moments, accentuated by a tasty crouton, a spicy pepper, or maybe a tasty solid bite within that soup. For me, Takuro Iga’s expert piano arrangement of track 9, “Lost in the Snow,” is one of those key moments. In contrast, having not one but two versions of “Orbital Insanity” was more than I could handle. Send it back, I say!
Before moving forward, I must give a nod of approval to “Crazy Motorsleigh,” whose title is a thinly veiled homage to FFVII’s “Crazy Motorbike.”
The Entrée: Comrades
Wait, the multiplayer expansion is the main course?
Actually, yes! Think about it: you sink the most time into this DLC if you want to finish it, it features a bevy of original compositions from the series origin composer Nobuo Uematsu, and it even features additional composition and arrangement from classic JRPG protégé Tsutomu Narita. Even the newcomers to this incredible mix stick the landing with true-to-form FF battle music themes, as heard in tracks like “On the Defensive” and “Urgent Mission.” There are some calm moments, as in “Hunters’ Haven” and “Cheers!” Like many entrées from well-established restaurants, there’s a lot to take in, and you may not be able to finish it in one sitting. But there are many aspects of this main dish to visit.
Perhaps the most exciting bit is the epic concluding section. Tracks 14 through 17 are textbook epic VGM. This is where Uematsu’s compositions shine most, with epic battle themes and a Gospel-esque ending theme “Choosing Hope.” There is this climactic moment in the ending vocal track where the vocalist sings: “I chose hope when all hope had seemed lost.” If that doesn’t embrace the encroaching darkness theme from the time people are clinging to dear life during “Comrades,” I don’t know what does. It is simple, but sweet Lucis, is it poignant. It’s poignant like a hint of citrus cutting through a savory dish.
The Dessert: Episode Ignis
Paul Hollywood (of Great British Bake-Off / Baking Show fame) defines a dessert as something that you could not possibly eat after a meal, but its appeal forces a kind of second wind to keep eating. If it can motivate you to keep going, despite your better judgment, it must be a very good dessert.
Not only is Episode Ignis by far my favorite DLC for FFXV (and probably one of the best episodic DLCs I’ve played for any game), it sports a wildly indulgent soundtrack. This is thanks to a singular piece, penned by veteran composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenogears, among others). That one piece of music is the Episode Ignis main theme. The main theme gets reused no less than six times throughout the soundtrack. In fact, of the five audio samples provided in this review, four of the five samples contain the iconic four-measure leitmotif established for Ignis. However, if you listen, you can see how its usage varies. Though the lead instrument tends to stay the same — sweet sweet violin melody! — the tempo, the overall musical context, and the other sections of each piece of music differ significantly. This is primarily thanks to arranger Tadayoshi Makino, who deserves a great deal of praise for making a smooth, cohesive “dessert” soundtrack.
Think of it this way: when you eat a bowl of ice cream or a piece of cake, each bite can taste equal to the last (not unlike the “soup” portion in Prompto). The difference here is that this tastes so good, you keep coming back for more. That’s exactly what Mitsuda and Makino pulled off. I keep coming back for more. I’ve listened to this disc many more times than any other disc in FFXV OST Vol.2, and more than the entirety of FFXV OST. Simply put, I love this disc like I love my favorite dessert (tiramisu). Just listen to the samples. You’ll get the idea. And if you’ve already played the DLC, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Leftovers: Royal Edition
Leftovers are what you make of them. The mere fact that one would take the time to box up the unfinished food rather than have it tossed suggests the food was good enough to enjoy another time. For me, when it comes to leftovers, this is the only time that the “mixed bag” metaphor used by other reviewers truly applies. Royal Edition itself was a series of mini-expansions to FFXV: expanded fishing opportunities, some bonus optional boss battles, a racing minigame, that sort of thing. In many ways, this is just an extended arrangement of music from the original game. Seven of the disc’s 15 tracks have Yoko Shimomura credited as the original composer, most of them featuring arrangers adding their own touch. Similarly, the Omega battle theme includes some of Uematsu’s work, including a brief but obvious reference to Lenna’s Theme from FFV.
There are understated themes, and there are over-the-top bits. Maybe you’ll be content to throw out the leftover soup, but you want to finish that eggplant parmesan. So, maybe skip by the first half of the disc, and enjoy the epic finale. It’s your call; it’s your leftover package. Royal leftovers.
Good Meal: Now What?
Well, I imagine an Episode Ardyn soundtrack will be released separately, perhaps for the anime “Prologue” and the in-game DLC combined. Also, there is a Blu-ray variant of this soundtrack that puts all five discs into a single Blu-ray, and then there is even more music on a second Blu-ray disc (FFXV OST did this as well). I can’t even fit the latter into my food metaphor. Maybe something about going grocery shopping after spending all that money on a single, fancy meal?
No matter what may happen from here, I can say this for certain: regardless of its flaws, this soundtrack is a meal that reflects some of Ignis’ best stat-boosting campfire cookouts. Though it may not be much of anything like the original FFXV OST, Volume 2 has so much to offer, I would encourage fans not to let it pass by.