Hitoshi Sakimoto as a composer has had his name grace that of several Final Fantasy titles in the past and the present, most notably that of the subseries “Tactics,” that, as the moniker may indicate, comes with a deliberate style of gameplay and story. Sakimoto’s style of composition is noticeably more bombastic than what is expected of Uematsu, the main series’ regular composer. As the man that replaced Uematsu for the first time in the main series history with Final Fantasy XII, he was, and may still be, held to higher standards. Did he succeed?
First, a small history lesson on the publisher of this album: Tofu Records. Tofu was a US record label associated with Sony Music Entertainment Japan that focused primarily on the licensing and publishing of Rock and Pop music by popular Japanese bands such as L’arc-en-Ciel and Puffy AmiYumi. As similarly niche game companies here in the US had done first starting out, Tofu Records ran the risk of low profits and bankruptcy by not catering to wider demographics; in one of its last acts as a company they had signed a deal with Square Enix to publish a soundtrack CD of their then-latest blockbuster, Final Fantasy XII. This locally produced CD includes 31 total tracks, and in a bid to drum up hype for the soundtrack and game, one track was revealed per day via IGN until the album’s release. Now, with this many tracks on one CD, the choice was made to have nearly all of the tracks included in this album loop only once or often not at all, an issue that was present even on the full OST release in Japan. This is, effectively, the follow-up to Tokyopop’s often derided Final Fantasy soundtracks. However, unlike those Tokyopop release hobbling the works of Uematsu, Tofu Records cannot be held in as much fault. Whereas nearly every piece that Uematsu had composed for the Final Fantasy series could almost instantly be considered a classic to where any abridging would be seen as an egregious sin, Sakimoto’s work here, to be blunt, just wasn’t as consistently good. It could stand to be concentrated. To use an analogy of fruit, it’s not so much as the two composers are just apples and oranges to each other, but that with Uematsu as an accessible, universally appealing apple (in the world of videogame music anyway), Sakimoto is a watermelon. There is a lot of his work to go around, but you may not even know if he even appealed to your palette unless you tried the concentrated taste of a watermelon-flavored hard candy.
The more memorable tracks were among the shortest on the album, and were in even shorter supply. Some notable examples include “Penelo’s Theme,” a rare instance of something from the game’s soundtrack that could be hummed, or the very brief “To Be a Sky Pirate” that stars out beautifully, enough to be used with old trailers for the game even, but is never expanded upon, which is a true shame as Sakimoto working on a piano piece in his usual epic style is certainly a very interesting concept. Certainly, it cannot be argued that Sakimoto’s work here is not grand in execution, but Sakimoto’s forte is clearly not in establishing melody, but immersion, and the first track “Opening Movie (FFXII Theme)” is indicative of this. The fast pace, the grandeur, the recurrence of a main theme to be used throughout the game’s score are all present here and well-paced in time to the game’s introductory scenes. However, most of the tracks present are strictly for gameplay and thus do not have the same structure as the introduction, and without context of the game, most of the music felt almost soulless and ineffectual. I sincerely doubt that Sakimoto’s work today could have have existed in the 8-bit era, back when having a catchy tune and working with what tools were available were everything to a good videogame soundtrack.
Something this album does have over its original release (relative to its audience) is its inclusion of the English version of “Kiss me Good-Bye” by Angela Aki on the main CD, and the inclusion of a DVD with the Japanese music video of the song. Outright, I will say that the DVD is far from something to treasure. The sole piece of content included is a single four-and-a-half minute Japanese music video. A lack of DVD content and the wide availability of the short video on the internet have both quickly rendered the included DVD as a complete waste of space. I used to enjoy the song, and it was a highlight of the album for me as one of a few pieces composed by Uematsu to make it into the game, but even that has faded with age. The contrast was obvious. with incredibly trite lyrics that the writer felt needed to have rhyme with the very last line preceding them, lyrics that have seemingly little to no correlation with the characters or events that had been witnessed by the player, it was incredibly hard to listen to it a mere two years after its release without groaning or chortling at the sheer immaturity of it.
Overall, I cannot honestly recommend owning this album. I was able to get my copy for about $3 as a fluke over a year ago, and copies today regularly go for several times more on sites such as Amazon and Half.com. While this is an option if you have been hankering for a legal way to own some of the more noteworthy tracks from the game for a reasonable price, wouldn’t you rather put that money towards Final Fantasy XIII’s upcoming soundtrack instead? Hamauzu’s work on XIII certainly comes across as less of a scattershot effort than Sakimoto’s, and one that doesn’t need to be distilled or concentrated to be a satisfying experience in one sitting.