The Last Story will be the first Uematsu composition I’ve heard wherein he isn’t linked to Square in some way. Logically, no difference in quality should be expected, since Uematsu seemed to do much of his own work without direction. However, since Final Fantasy isn’t involved in some way, will he take a different approach? This reviewer doesn’t think so. He certainly maintains the same quality, since few composers can motivate me to play a game just with the music alone. Let’s be honest: most people buy games–or at least try the–because of gameplay, plot, or graphics. Music typically takes a backseat to everything else. With Uematsu, though, I know just how much what he composes enhances the plot and total package of a game. People don’t go out to a steakhouse to sample herbs and spices; they want a good cut of meat, proper seasoning, and just enough red in the middle to keep it juicy. Uematsu is the difference between a highway diner and five star restaurant.
I haven’t played The Last Story, and I typically preface my soundtrack reviews by stating that having not played the game, I probably won’t laud the soundtrack appropriately, since linking music to specific parts of the game enhances the experience. This isn’t the case in this instance. I can’t exaggerate over to the other end of the spectrum and claim that playing the game could potentially hurt how I feel about the music, because Uematsu’s work stands on its own quite well, with or without a controller in hand. For those in love with strings and soft woodwinds, you will love this soundtrack.
Uematsu’s past can’t escape him. He has been accused of regurgitating sounds in the past, not that I think this is a bad thing. Regardless, I definitely detected hints of previous works here and there within this album. A specific example is A Mad Dash. Just listen to that and try not to picture Tidus in a fighting stance, shifting weight from side to side. In fact, throughout the soundtrack, I heard bits of Final Fantasy X. What felt especially nostalgic–and not necessarily to FFX, but overall–were the tracks in minor. In this soundtrack especially, Uematsu seemed to try to join woodwinds with slow strings. Another theme I found throughout was an emphasis on echoing percussion. These sounds paired together create some excellent imagery, as if residing in a tranquil meadow or deep green grove.
Speaking of imagery, one of Uematsu’s many strengths has always lied in hurried tracks–those tunes that instill a feeling of immediacy. If you don’t get the hell out of that reactor, you’re done. Sure, the clock’s tickin’ and the annoyingly constant random encounters create urgency, but without the music demanding a quick escape, something would be missing. Evil Beast has that exact same feeling. The track name implies a boss battle, but why shouldn’t boss battles offer a panicked feeling, helping your body pump out adrenaline?
When I first listened to this soundtrack, I intentionally didn’t look at the track list until I had a good idea about what a track was trying to communicate: are we in a battle, a cave, or a dark forest? How about mythic ruins? Ruli Castle sounds familiar to something out of Final Fantasy VII, but it carries with it that forgotten civilization feel to it. The piano is capable of conveying so many different feelings. Fallen Nobles comes immediately after Ruli Castle, and, like the previous track, it creates some fantastic, haunting melodies. Unfortunately at about 1:15 it gets a little silly, which seems completely inappropriate. Even one of the RPG composer gods is fallible.
Although the soundtrack seems reminiscent of Uematsu’s previous work, he is not without some surprises. Bout of Arena ~ Battle Banquet has a sort of salsa feel to it. To date, I don’t think he has ever dabbled in castinettes, but I could be mistaken. Either way, the track sounds wonderful, and the unique instrument choice isn’t overdone; its use is quiet at times, and complements the rest of the track quite well. Invitation to Madness also feels like an experiment in that it almost sounds cartoony–like Scooby Doo-cartoony at first. The track grounds itself after a minute or so, but it’s still not indicative of Uematsu’s previous work, which is always good to see; I’m glad that this old dog can still learn some new tricks–forgive the dog metaphor, Uematsu-sama! I get the inkling with this track that he may miss The Black Mages, though.
In the same vein as the aforementioned experiments, The One Who Rules All incorporates a good portion of Buddhist-esque chanting, leaving a sort of ominous atmosphere. Following is a hardcore, synthesizer laden track that has an uncanny sound to RPG battles of olde. I have to reiterate that this is not a weakness–Uematsu’s music has a strong foundation, and double dipping never hurt anyone, except germaphobes. Oh, and don’t let the random screaming later in the track freak you out too much. This is no One-Winged Angel, but it certainly rocks.
The music in RPGs is often overlooked. I have friends who mute RPGs and play CDs of their favorites bands, and I know others who view music as “extra.” This may often be the case–that music serves to accentuate an already vivid plot or solid game design. However, a few noteworthy games boast a soundtrack that makes the game. The legendary RPGs of our past may not have been the same without certain pieces included–a riveting battle theme, somber character theme song, or thunderous overworld number. I don’t know what kind of game The Last Story is, but I know that if the writing and gameplay mechanics parallel the music composition, it’s a must have.