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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Original Soundtrack: A Palace of Pleasure (Review)

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Square Enix has been really good lately about throwing convention out the window. Actually, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not as people would argue that the Final Fantasy VII spin-offs hurt the series more than helped it, and after watching a trailer for Final Fantasy X-2 where Yuna jumped in slow motion while firing dual pistols, I didn’t come within 10 feet of the game. Despite these things, I’m kind of excited about Final Fantasy XIII-2, in part because they’re ignoring convention.

Featuring music by Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, Mitsuto Suzuki, and a few others, is the Final Fantasy XIII-2 soundtrack diluted and unmemorable or a successful experiment?

Find out in our review after the jump.

First things first, this isn’t your standard Final Fantasy soundtrack. You’ve likely heard by now that you’ll be hearing a pretty eclectic mix of music, from jazz to rock to hip-hop to rap to orchestral. I’d say it’s certainly the most funky and electronic-oriented Final Fantasy soundtrack to date. Oh, and about every other track is a vocal theme. Despite the different styles presented here, the production values are very high, and the different styles of music really play together quite nicely and somehow manage to avoid feeling fragmented.

I’m sure people are wondering what the composer breakdown is. Hamauzu and Suzuki handle approximately a quarter of the tracks each while Mizuta gets nearly half. Before you get nervous about that, continue reading through the different artist breakdowns below. There are some other people who contribute as well, including GEM Impact’s Yoshitaka Suzuki, arranger Sachiko Miyano, and recording artist Shootie HG among others.

Let’s start with Masashi Hamauzu. He opens and closes the album, which seems appropriate for continuity purposes. He gives us a similar cinematic orchestral style to what was done with the original Final Fantasy XIII score, although his dark and electronically infused “Final Fantasy XIII-2 Overture” had me surprised given how upbeat his overture for the original game was. It isn’t until the end of the album in “To a Land of Hope” that the original overture appears in an emotional string-based arrangement.

“Final Fantasy XIII-2 ~A Wish~” is more in line with what I was expecting, coming as a beautiful orchestral theme with a great melody. It’s repeated a few times throughout the score, taking on a similar role to “The Promise” from the original score.

Other tracks of Hamauzu’s that stick out are “Knight of the Goddess” with its battle-like sound, not too unlike “Flash of Light,” although that one is admittedly hard to top. “Eternal Fight” is one of my favorite tracks, moving along decisively with string stabs and a ride cymbal to lend a cool ambiance. “Serah’s Theme ~Memory~” gets vocals by Frances Maya, and proves Hamauzu’s prowess as a pop composer, while “Lightning’s Theme ~Unguarded Future~” is a mellow and distant piano arrangement of her theme from the original title.

It’s then on to Mitsuto Suzuki’s contributions which are not surprisingly electronic-oriented and very abstract. One thing of note on this album is the addition of ‘aggressive mixes’ for certain tracks that are heavier versions of their original themes. Suzuki interestingly blends his regular and aggressive mixes with no gap, creating a continuous listening experience that is pretty cool to experience.

Suzuki also deals with a lot of vocals in his tracks. Not too unlike his work on Neurovision and other solo works. “New Bodhum” is kind of a pop vocal track, while “Historia Crux,” one of my favorites, gets super funky. “Parallel World” sports ethereal female vocals and “Groovy Chocobo” is very abstract with light bossa nova-style female vocals calling out, “chocoboooo…” Finally, “Limit Break!” is a somewhat cheesy electro-heavy metal with gutteral male vocals, electric guitar and rock percussion that grew on me over time, and I bet it’s great in-game.

That leaves us with Naoshi Mizuta who provides most of the biggest surprises of the album. He’s really stepped up his game here and has done an excellent job with his productions to conform with the overall quality of what has previously been done with Final Fantasy XIII. It’s hard to classify his contributions because he takes on so many different styles, but let’s jump in.

In terms of an orchestra, “Paradox” is an impressive piece with these highly melodic string stabs that create this moody atmosphere and remind me of film composer Craig Armstrong’s work. This piece is also a key theme, finding its way into many pieces throughout the score, which is a good thing. Another piece, “Caius’s Theme,” which Mizuta works on with Sachiko Miyano, sports a defiant ascending melody, choir, string stabs, and lots of brass. It’s completely epic and amazing. One of the final battle themes also stands out for its ascending melody, reminding me of “Awakening” from Xenogears. On a more playful note, there’s “Fighting Pudding with Pudding” which is both elegant and fun.

Mizuta delves into rock with tracks like “Run” and “Last Hunter” that had me thinking I was hearing Tsuyoshi Sekito here, while “Xanadu, Palace of Pleasure” and “Win or Lose” visit jazz territory with the former being ultra funky and playful as one of my favorite tracks on the album and the latter being more traditional in approach. I’d love to hear an entire jazz album produced by Mizuta after hearing this.

He also gives us some vocal themes with “Noel’s Theme” and “Recollection for the Future,” both coming as sweet piano solo and female vocal ballads, and “The Song Written in Time” stands out with its acoustic guitar and female ‘la, la, la-ing,’ creating a very beautiful and soothing sound. There’s also hip-hop with “Worlds Collide,” the battle theme I mentioned from the demo at E3, and a weird talk-rap in “Invisible Invader,” which is not as bad as I was expecting, but still strange. I prefer the aggressive mix on the latter with its more explosive percussion, even funkier bass, and less effects on the vocals so they stand out more. Finally, “Yeul’s Theme” is what I see as the definitive vocal theme of the album, featuring melancholy acoustic guitar and beautiful and touching vocals by Joelle that talk about protecting the one you love.

There are funky electronic pieces with “Ruined Hometown,” with icy and razor-like synth sweeps and ‘cool’ synth arpeggios and “Plains of Eternity” which is a very cool electronic track with sweet vocals that is another of my favorites.

To mention a few other tracks, I can’t get away without mentioning “Crazy Chocobo” by Shootie HG. It’s honestly a track that I normally wouldn’t like because it’s so silly and over the top, but the chocobo theme has become so stale over the years that this heavy metal screaming and guitar work is just incredibly funny to me. The lyrics are amazing, screaming, “So you think you can ride this chocobo?” It’s a lot of fun.

I should also mention Yoshitaka Suzuki who arranges one of Mizuta’s tracks and works with him on two others, lending his cinematic Hollywood sound that he was likely brought on board to contribute.

Finally, the limited edition of the soundtrack comes with a special DVD. It contains an E3 2011 trailer with voice acting in Japanese as well as an exclusive 7-minute music trailer featuring footage from the game as well as key themes from the soundtrack, acting as a sort of music video.

And that leads me to the packaging. The regular version is kind of standard fare for Square Enix titles, but the Limited Edition is quite a beast. Each disc comes housed in a separate DVD-sized case that must be unfolded to gain access. It’s complicated and hard to put back together, so I’ll get into that more with a future unboxing video.

In all, however, I am incredibly surprised and impressed by this soundtrack. Hamauzu returns and gives us more of the same (a good thing) while Mitsuto Suzuki lends his unique style to the game and Naoshi Mizuta really shines with his diverse contributions. This is a fantastic soundtrack that I can’t wait to hear in-game. Mizuta has really outdone himself, offering what’s easily his best work to date both in terms of production and composition, and I’m looking forward to more like this from him in the future.

I highly recommend checking it out if the eclectic style speaks to you. It’s available from Play Asia (LE and regular) and CD Japan (LE and regular).

Let us know what you think of this dramatic departure as well as Naoshi Mizuta’s contributions.

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