Final Fantasy XIII OST Review
13 Feb 2010 23:04:25
When I got back home from staying at my parents’ house for a week, I had two packages waiting for me. The first was my Saeko figure. And this was the second:
The limited edition version of the new Final Fantasy XIII Original Soundtrack! It’s such a pretty white box. I’m a pretty big fan of the Final Fantasy series. I own at least one version of every numbered game except for FFXI (the online game) plus many of the other titles in the series (including Tactics and X-2). I also have a good number of Final Fantasy soundtrack CD’s. While I was playing FFIX there was one song that I loved so much that I ended up putting the controller down and let the tune loop at least five times. I had to have the soundtrack, so I got it. The song that I loved so much ended up being titled You’re Not Alone. Then remembering how awesome some of the music was from Final Fantasy VII and VIII, I also ordered them. And since then I’ve picked up the original Tactics, X, and XII soundtracks as well as the two Potions compilations. Now I have the latest entry into the tradition, FFXIII. Here’s the pretty white box again, unwrapped:
Okay, I think I mainly posted that picture just so I could show my computer’s wallpaper. I really like that picture of Haruhi. I uploaded the original (though much smaller in size) to her character page. Anyway, let’s open the box:
The first thing I see is a really nice looking booklet.
And under it is this strange foil wrap covered CD. Hmmm. Well, let’s get into the booklet for now:
It’s a bonus called the FINAL FANTASY XIII VISUAL BOOK.
As you can guess from the title, it mainly consists of pretty pictures.
But it also has what I’m guessing are short staff biographies or something, this picture showing the one for Director Motomu Toriyama.
And this one has Producer Yoshinori Kitase. The first biography in the book is actually for the soundtrack’s Composer Masashi Hamauzu, but that one was two pages of nothing but text so I decided to not take a picture of that one. And aside for these little collections of screenshots from the game, we also have some really nice two page pieces of art like this:
A really cool painting of FFXIII’s main heroine Lightning by Final Fantasy’s original artist Yoshitaka Amano. Sometimes I find his artwork to be a little hit-and-miss when he draws the newer FF characters which he didn’t design himself (some of his pictures of Cloud look really weird), but I really like the ones that are in this book.
Here is a nice full spread CGI picture of the two main characters in the game, Lightning and Snow. I find it interesting that the love story in this game is not between these two characters. It is actually between Snow and Lightning’s little sister Serah who isn’t even a playable character in the game. I think they make a cute couple.
Here is Sazh with his Eidolon (the name for summons in this Final Fantasy) Brynhildr.
Vanille with her Eidolon Hecatoncheir.
Hope with his Eidolon Alexander.
And Fang with her Eidolon Bahamut. In case you haven’t heard, the summons in Final Fantasy XIII are a little weird. Each character has a single Eidolon and they transform into vehicles that the character can pilot. Kind of interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works when I get the game.
The second of three Amano paintings in the book, this time of the seven main characters. Again, Serah isn’t playable, the other six are.
A really cool CGI picture with a lot of stuff going on. Lightning is riding her Eidolon Odin while Snow is riding his Eidolons the Shiva Sisters, Nix and Stiria who combine to form a motorcycle. It looks kind of erotic to me. And Vanille’s riding with him. The cityscape looks really cool. I like the style of this Final Fantasy a lot. It’s nice to see them using a technologically advanced world again after XI, X, and XII didn’t have much technology (FFX had some, but it still has more of a mysticism to it). It’s back in a big way here as it looks much more advanced than even FFVIII was.
Another cool CGI picture, this time with the whole six person party.
A nice set of pictures of Snow and Serah. Again, I think they make a cute couple.
And the final picture from the book, an Amano painting of Snow and.... Lightning? I’m a little confused by this picture. Isn’t he supposed to be with Serah? I’m pretty sure that’s Lightning’s cape and boots there. I wonder if Amano might have been a little confused. I don’t know. Anyway, the last two pages in the book just have a list of the staff and artists who worked on the soundtrack and the back cover just says SQUARE ENIX. Next thing coming out of the pretty white box:
This was a bit of a surprise. I opened up the pretty monochrome foil wrapping to find an audio drama CD called FINAL FANTASY XIII Episode Zero -Promise- Story01 -ENCOUNTER-. Pretty interesting. As the titles suggests, it’s a short story that takes place before the start of the game. I’m not entirely sure since I can’t understand all of the Japanese, but it seems to be a story that switches between Lightning going on a mission and Serah going to buy a birthday present for her sister with Snow or something. The CD is about 23 minutes long.
The booklet has a nice picture of Serah on the back. The booklet actually has the script for the audio drama inside which is pretty cool. It’d be nice to have an English translation. It’d also be nice if the English release of the game had a Japanese voice option, but I don’t think it does. I might end up buying the original Japanese release of the game eventually. I really like the voices of the characters.
And the last thing in the box is finally the actual 4 disc original soundtrack.
It has a pretty nice picture of Lightning riding Odin on the back.
The CD case unfolds into this really long case with each CD in its own little square. Here are discs 1 and 2 with Lightning then Serah and Snow.
And discs 3 and 4 have Vanille and Hope then Sazh and Fang.
Then there’s one last square in the CD case which includes the lyrics to the main vocal themes in the Japanese version of the game, Eternal Love and Kimi ga Irukara sung by Sayuri Sugawara. Kimi ga Irukara is going to be replaced by a pre-existing song by British singer Leona Lewis called My Hands. This makes me a little sad, but oh well. Another reason to buy the Japanese version I guess. You can actually hear My Hands in the background of this really cool trailer. I guess it’s not a horrible song. Could be worse.
Another picture of the outside artwork from the CD case and the plastic slipcover that goes over it.
And here’s part of the outer portion of the case when it’s all unfolded including part of the track listings. One of the really nice things about this CD is that it includes the original Japanese title and an official English title for each track. Made it so much easier to put the titles in to rip the discs to MP3 on my computer instead of searching online for translations of the titles. Although I was kind of confused that one of the songs had two English titles. Disc 3, Track 22 has the title Choose to Fight in the Japanese spot and the title Will to Fight in the English spot. Weird.
The last two pictures I have are of the CD cases with the CD’s taken out.
Under each CD is another picture of the characters that are one each disc plus lyrics to the other vocal songs included on the soundtrack.
Okay, so I’m finally finished going through all of the packaging and what comes with the Limited Edition of the soundtrack. So how is the actual music? Well, it’s a little hard for me to judge such a large volume of music at one time, so I’ve been listening to this soundtrack constantly whenever I’ve been at my computer for the past few days to get it ingrained in my brain before I start to think about its quality. The first thing I can say about this music is that it makes very nice background music to pass the day with.
As I’ve said already, the music for Final Fantasy XIII is composed by Masashi Hamauzu. A large amount of the soundtrack is orchestral and performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir. The orchestral pieces sound very nice and sound more like they’re part of a motion picture score than music to a Japanese RPG. It is also significant to note that this is the first soundtrack to a numbered entry in the Final Fantasy series that composer Nobuo Uematsu had no direct hand in creating. He had a smaller part in creating the music for Final Fantasy X & XII, but this is his first time being almost totally out of the picture. The only remnant of his music I found in Final Fantasy XIII was the use of the Chocobo tune he originally created, though Hamauzu definitely makes it his own here.
One of the major elements of many Final Fantasy soundtracks ever since FFVII has been character theme songs. All seven of the main characters in FFXIII have their own themes, all of which are very unique. Snow’s Theme is a heavy instrumental rock tune which reminds me of some of the music from FFX, namely a song called Confrontation. This is probably my favorite of the character themes. Lightning’s Theme is a very pretty string and piano song which starts off very calm, then the tune picks up a bit near the end, but never gets out of control. Sazh’s Theme is a laid back jazz beat starting out with just bass and percussions then it brings in piano, acoustic guitar, brass, and other sounds as the song progresses. Serah’s Theme is the shortest of the seven with a run time of only one and a half minutes. I guess it’s appropriate since she’s not a playable character. But she also has a very unique theme in that it’s the only one that has vocals. It’s very pretty. Hope’s Theme is a very calm acoustic guitar tune which sounds a little sad. It reminds me a bit of the music from the Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou anime, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Vanille’s Theme is similar to Hope’s in that they’re both very simple, but hers uses piano instead of guitar and feels a bit happier to me. And finally Fang’s Theme is a big orchestral piece which sounds similar to a military march. She must be a very impressive woman. It’s kind of weird listening to and reviewing the soundtrack to a video game which I haven’t played yet, not knowing how these theme songs relate to their respective characters and such.
The first song that really stood out to me during my first listen of the soundtrack was the song Chocobos of Cocoon - Chasing Dreams. As I said before, Hamauzu really made Uematsu’s Chocobo theme his own here. The radical difference in this song reminds me of what was done to the Final Fantasy Prelude theme in FFX (apologies to anyone who doesn’t get these references to previous Final Fantasy soundtracks). This version of the Chocobo theme is a bouncy techno song complete with auto-tune vocals. Very strange but catchy. There is also a second more traditional version of the Chocobo theme on the soundtrack called Chocobos of Pulse which is primarily made up of jazz percussion and brass instruments. I guess Pulse has “better” taste in music than Cocoon?
Another interesting song is called Blinded By Light. I’m assuming that this is the basic battle music for the game. I think it’s already my favorite default fight music in the history of Final Fantasy, mainly because it’s different and not as repetitive as most of Uematsu’s basic battle music. This song is actually like a super heavy version of Lightning’s Theme.... Wait, actually it sounds like they combined Snow and Lightning’s character themes! Very cool. You can actually hear the song in this trailer from all the way back in 2006. The fanfare tune this time around is very basic, though. It’s an 8 second little ditty that’s barely even noticeable. The Battle Results song is pretty nice, though.
One thing about this soundtrack in general that really stands out is the number of songs with vocals. There are a total of 11. Now, Final Fantasy X actually had 14 songs with vocals, but two of them were the same pop song theme with one being the orchestral version. And then 11 of the “vocal” songs (Farplane Sending and the 10 Song of Prayer summon themes) were all just basically different variations of the same chant. The other vocal song, the hard rock opener Otherworld, was the only really unique vocal song in FFX. But Final Fantasy XIII on the other hand has 11 vocal songs of which only two (Ragnarok and Fighting Fate) share the same words. All of the other songs have unique and real lyrics (as the pictures of the CD case show) meaning it has 10 unique vocals compared to FFX's 3. The vocal song that really stands out the most for me is Choose to Fight (Will to Fight). If the title is any indication, it’s probably special battle music for one of the boss fights. It’s a fusion of a heavy bass techno beat, orchestral strings and soft haunting vocals. I really look forward to hearing it in game.
Now I just got the March issue of the US gaming magazine Game Informer in the mail today and it includes their review of Final Fantasy XIII. They gave it an overall grade of 9.25 out of 10 and said that the only real downside of the game is the story, which seems kind of disappointing, but I’ll see for myself when I play it. They also said that “the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as previous games in the series,” and with that I think I both agree and disagree. On one hand, yes, it doesn’t have many memorable songs that measure up to A One-Winged Angel (FFVII), Liberi Fatali, Maybe I’m a Lion (FFVIII), You’re Not Alone (FFIX), or my all time favorite character song Auron’s Theme (FFX). But on the other hand there is a lot of good stuff here and score music is not always meant to stand out. Sometimes it should just be there in the background complementing the scene it accompanies. And there’s also the fact that I haven’t even played the game yet. I have listened to this four disc soundtrack from beginning to end four times already and some of the songs have already grown on me, but only time can tell if they evolve into classics. That is the definition of “memorable” after all.
And with that I think I’ll go ahead and end my review. If you’re interested in hearing some of the music, here is a trailer for the soundtrack and a quick breakdown of the songs that they have playing:
0:06 - FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise
0:35 - Defiers of Fate
0:43 - Forever Fugitives
0:49 - Serah’s Theme
0:56 - Feast of Betrayal
1:01 - Vanille’s Theme
1:09 - The Archylte Steepe
1:15 - Fang’s Theme
1:22 - Blinded By Light
And if you’re interested in seeing more of the game, Game Trailers has a lot of Final Fantasy XIII videos you can watch. Personally I’m trying to avoid as much information about the game as possible so I don’t have anything spoiled and can have a very fresh experience during my play through.
So that’s my review of the Final Fantasy XIII Original Soundtrack. Hope it was enjoyable and informative. If it wasn’t, I’m sorry. I’ll try harder next time. =P