Final Fantasy XI – Music from the Other Side of Vana’diel, the game’s very first arranged album, has arrived. The Star Onions (a band originally forumlated in order to perform in a concert celebrating the release of Final Fantasy XI Chains of Promathia, September 2004) are responsible for both the arrangement and performance of the pieces. The various members, who include Naoshi Mizuta (Parasite Eve II, Rockman & Forte) and Kumi Tanioka (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon 2), provide an eclectic approach to musical arrangement, spanning the main game and both expansions: Rise of the Zilart and Chains of Promathia.
With a playtime exceeding 2200 hours in Final Fantasy XI, I approached this album with a mixture of burning curiosity and morbid hesitation. After hearing these songs in-game literally hundreds of times over the past couple years, one cannot help but manage to become intimately familiar with them, almost to a fault. I listened, and…
…well, the album could be described as a “mixed bag” – not only because of the track selections, but because of the wide variety of musical genres which are drawn upon and weaved into the arrangements. The album, unfortunately, does not have a clear theme in mind; tracks such as “Awakening,” an intense synth-heavy piece which accompanies the Battle with the Shadowlord (Rank Mission 5-2 – Xarcabard, Land of Truths), are sandwiched uncomfortably between the jazz-influenced arrangement of “The Sanctuary of Zi’tah” and the easy-listening arrangement of “Selbina.” As a whole, Music from the Other Side of Vana’diel jumps around much more than anticipated, with the rollercoaster ride coming to a conclusion with the soul vocal rendition of “The Grand Duchy of Jeuno,” to which Aundrea Hopkins lends her vocal talent (Bemani fans may recognize the name from her various collaborations with good-cool). In its own right, each track is a masterpiece; however, they have understandable difficulties coming together to form a cohesive whole.
I recommend Final Fantasy XI – Music from the Other Side of Vana’diel in the same manner which I would recommend Chrono Trigger – The Brink of Time. It’s an unusual compilation, that’s for sure. But it’s good stuff.