When Hironobu Sakaguchi left Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) and struck out on his own, he left behind the series he had created, Final Fantasy. Nobuo Uematsu, the series’s renowned composer, also left shortly after. Uematsu’s score for Sakaguchi’s first new creation, Blue Dragon, was a good effort, but as a more comical score, it didn’t attempt to match the scale or grandeur of some of his best work. For Mistwalker’s second game for the Xbox 360, Lost Odyssey, Uematsu’s talents were once again enlisted. Final Fantasy music fans have been wondering if Uematsu will “make a comeback,” and live up to the standard he set. Several have set their hopes on this score, a more serious effort than Blue Dragon.
As with his previous Xbox 360/Mistwalker effort, Uematsu has collaborated with arrangers Satoshi Henmi and Hiroyuki Nakayama throughout the entire score. Uematsu was never the greatest arranger himself, and he always had others orchestrate for him, so this can help at times, and these two seem to complement his style fairly well. The majority of the game’s score features live instrumentation, which especially leans towards oboes and bassoons, but several of the tracks utilize synth. The score is varied, and makes use of glockenspiel, harpsichord, xylophone, and sitar as well as the usual trumpets, flutes, and strings.
“Prologue” opens with a gentle clarinet line which segues into the main theme. The theme itself is a rousing march, with a standard Uematsu A and B part structure, but the subtly shifting orchestration throughout keeps the piece from feeling repetitive. “Battlefield” features turbulant winds and string tremolos, and a driving march rhythm moves steadily, until a final stormy section closes the piece in dramatic fashion. Comparisons can be made to other Uematsu work, but it never feels derivative. Likewise, “A Mighty Enemy Appears!” brings Final Fantasy IX’s boss theme to mind, but from the triangle roll at the beginning to the absurd trumpet trill at the end, it feels fresh. “Battle with the Demons” features synth sounds perfectly integrated with its brass and wind parts; instead of feeling jarring, they feel like a natural part of the track.
The score doesn’t entirely consist of driving, militaristic themes, however, and Uematsu composed a number of pensive, brooding, and calm pieces as well. The melancholy waltz-like flutes of “Invasion” and the sad variation on the main theme in “Parting Forever” add balance to the score. “Ruins of the East” features an affecting oboe-flute duet punctuated by deep, resonant bells. The pieces conjure emotion, but never tread into sentimentality or melodrama; the careful orchestration accentuates the mood without attempting to wring artificial emotion out of it.
Not all of the tracks succeed, however, and several of them are quite dull. Several variations on the theme introduced in “Gangara’s Plot,” as with many of Uematsu’s villain themes, tend to sound more repetitious than menacing, and “March to War” never seems to arrive at anything. None of this music is really bad, but parts of it tend towards mediocrity.
“Roar of the Departed Souls,” like Blue Dragon’s “The Seal is Broken” and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’s variation on “One-Winged Angel,” combines rock band with choir. While the device has been overused, Uematsu utilizes it here to unique effect. The piece opens with Final Fantasy VI-like bursts of voice over the drone of an organ, but as this piece uses real voices, this creates a very odd, almost disturbing, sound. After this section finishes, the guitars and drums break out full blast, and Uematsu holds nothing back. The choir, after reflecting the previously seen chords of Gangara’s theme, enters a more melodic passage, a variation on “Seth’s Theme”. This is repeated. However, the key subtly shifts, and this time, it sounds darker. The final section features a voice talking over a slower version of the first chord section. The effect is striking, sounding like something from Shadow Hearts.
Uematsu composed three vocal themes for Lost Odyssey, one of which is featured here as a bonus track. Each of them gets an instrumental arrangement as well as its vocal version. The first of these, “A Return, Indeed…,” is a longing 6/8 song sung in Japanese by vocal duo FLIP FLAP. Their voices complement the melody perfectly, and Henmi’s arrangement sticks mostly to piano and guitar, but it functions very well. Scottish singer Sheena Easton sings the other two songs, “What You Are” and “Eclipse of Time”. The first of these is an utter disaster on every level. The translation of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s lyrics is sappy and trite, the melody does not convey the same feeling as the lyrics, Henmi and Nakayama’s arrangement is a neusea-inducing Disney song meets 80’s pop ballad monstrosity, and Easton’s performance doesn’t fit either the words or the tune she’s singing. “Eclipse of Time” fares better. The lyrics aren’t quite as bad, and the light arrangement complements Easton’s soft performance. It’s not a great song, but it’s a decent one, and it functions well to close out the album.
It contains mis-steps throughout, but they feel few and far between in this strong and varied soundtrack. Uematsu has not written anything this good since Final Fantasy VIII, and this score hopefully marks a return to form. The most uptight of Final Fantasy purists could gripe, but Uematsu’s work here should reach any fan’s standard.