Motoi Sakuraba is well-known for two things: composing music for the Tales series and having a penchant for sticking to a very rigid musical formula. Tales of Xillia’s soundtrack, like its predecessors, was created in Sakuraba’s signature style and does little to distinguish itself from his other works. The music itself is certainly inoffensive; it seems appropriately suited to the game’s atmosphere, and a few tracks dance with greatness, but the album as a whole is distressingly bland.
Several tracks, such as 1-14, 1-17, 1-21, and 2-5 have a distinctly Asian flavor thanks to gratuitous use of the flute and mandolin. I found myself unconsciously associating them with Milla and her homeland based on trailer footage of her summoning elementals within a pagoda-style room. None of the songs are especially captivating, but they express the intended feeling well enough.
I’m not sure why Sakuraba created so many different pieces to convey a sense of danger, urgency, or foreboding, especially considering they all sound similar to one another. Tracks 1-8, 1-11, 1-12, 1-19, 1-23, 1-26, 1-31, 2-7, 2-9, 2-13, 2-17, 2-18, 2-19, 2-24, 3-4, and 3-10 all fall into this category, but because there are so many tracks in this style, it’s difficult to discern which songs are suited to generic dangerous situations and which should be played at pivotal moments in the story. Track 3-11 is a clear standout from the rest of these because, while it starts out quiet and ominous, it quickly becomes a stirring piece that shouts, “Rally yourselves! The final confrontation is at hand!”
Another area where the album falls a bit flat is in the excess of slower/ambient tracks. Once again, these pieces have such little variety that it’s difficult to imagine connecting any of them to a particular town or dungeon in the game. Tracks 1-15, 1-16, 1-18, 1-20, 1-22, 2-4, 2-10, 2-14, and 2-21 could be used interchangeably in any number of in-game locations, and despite the tracks being pleasant enough to listen to, they come off as thoughtless and dull.
Most songs on the album utilize the instruments in Sakuraba’s “safe zone” of drums, bass, and low chorus, but a few successfully experiment with piano and saxophone. Track 3-5 is a wonderfully mellow jazz piece that conjures images of a relaxed bar or restaurant. Likewise, track 3-6 exudes a film noir vibe that is different from almost everything else on the album in a very good way.
The battle tracks are by and large the highlights of the album. Track 1-9 appears to be the standard battle theme, with some synth and fast-paced guitar riffs that do a great job of pumping the listener up. Track 1-13 is a bit lighter and more playful, suited for less serious battles, but still carrying a strong melody. Track 2-1 is led by violin and might suit a battle against an elegant, but deadly foe. The adrenaline-pumping synth and guitar harmony of track 2-3 makes it sound like something that would play during a confrontation with a long-time rival. Track 2-11 is frantic piece that implies high stakes and no time to lose. Track 3-7 is somewhat slower, once again being headed by violin, and feels nostalgic while conveying a sense of unshakable resolve. Tracks 3-2 and 3-16 both have an intensity that would be appropriate for the final battle. Each track manages to have its own identity despite the relative lack of variance in Sakuraba’s compositions.
As a huge fan of the Tales series, I’m surprised at how indifferent I was to much of this album. It honestly seems like Sakuraba is content to keep composing the same music over and over. Still, I have no doubt it works in conjunction with the world of Tales of Xillia. As a game soundtrack, it meets my expectations, but as individual pieces of music, most of the tracks fail to inspire.