Game Music, Reviews

Go-Go Retro Uematsu! Final Fantasy XIV Field/Battle Tracks (Review)

September 27, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Go-Go Retro Uematsu! Final Fantasy XIV Field/Battle Tracks (Review)on Twitter

We hope you enjoyed our unboxing video of the Final Fantasy XIV Field Tracks and Battle Tracks mini-albums last week. It should have given you an idea of just how unique the packaging is for these two discs, but we’ve since given both albums an exhaustive listen and are ready to discuss Uematsu’s return to the Final Fantasy series.

While Field Tracks and Battle Tracks do not present the Final Fantasy XIV soundtrack in its entirety, they certainly do give the listener and idea of what to expect. The albums are due out on Wednesday of this week in Japan, so get ready for a blast of nostalgia.

Hit the jump for our impressions.

First of all, these are being called “mini-albums” by Square Enix as each disc contains around 40 minutes of music. As their respective titles would suggest, Battle Tracks contains music from some of the game’s battle sequences while Field Tracks contains what I’d imagine are some of the overworld themes. Each disc also contains an introductory track that doesn’t really fit the theme of each album, but will certainly bring that sense of nostalgia to a boiling point.

Battle Tracks is my favorite of the two albums. Nobuo Uematsu is renowned for his battle themes, and what we have here is no different. Given that Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, you’re not going to get a tidily packaged battle themes that you remember from previous games in the series that he worked on, but more so along the lines of Final Fantasy XI.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The album opens with “Opening Theme,” a lengthy arrangement of one of Uematsu’s most well known compositions, “Final Fantasy.” This track was absent from Final Fantasy XIII, so even though this song has been arranged time and time again, it brought a huge smile to my face to hear it here. We get a march-like take on the theme, complete with snare drums and lots of brass. You’ll note right from the start that this isn’t the most convincing orchestral sound, and it actually feels like a step back from the quality sound heard on the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack, but it’s definitely nostalgic, sporting a distinctly “gamey” sound along with most of rest of the music on both discs. It’s a strong start that yells to the listener, “THIS IS FINAL FANTASY!”

From there, we get into some of the battle themes. We get a rockin’ blend of electronic guitars and synthesizers that I like to think of as a cross between The Black Mages and Uematsu’s work on Lord of Vermilion. “Nail of the Heavens” borders on Castlevania territory with its Gothic chorus section, while the interestingly titled “In the Shadows of the Colossus” could easily be a recording from The Black Mages. I love Ueamtsu’s rock percussion, and the use of a strangely unconvincing synthesized guitar alongside more realistic instrument injects that retro element alluded to earlier, and I love it. “Quicksand” is my favorite of the bunch with its descending synth lines that feel almost like a taunt among the wailing electric guitars and heavy synths. This album offers some great battle music, and while not all of it is as memorable as some of the early Final Fantasy battle themes, they’re all solid, and the album even ends with the classic Final Fantasy “Fanfare” which should again bring a smile to your face.

I guess this is a good time to bring up the fact that Uematsu has teamed up with arranger Tsutoma Narita on both of these albums.  I’ve never heard of this person, but they certainly add a lot to Uematsu’s compositions.  Uematsu himself is responsible for all composition and production, and while we don’t get much in terms of live instrumentation, Narita does an excellent job bringing Uematsu’s rock-based compositions to life.

Field Tracks, on the other hand, starts with an absolutely gorgeous version of “Prelude” which features layers of piano and harp covering the memorable arpeggios while belltone accents and choir add an ethereal quality to the piece. It’s one of my favorite arrangements of the theme, which is saying a lot given how many times it’s been done. Then again, I’m a sucker for anything with belltones in it.

We then delve into the field themes proper. “Navigator’s Glory – The Theme of Limsa Lominsa” is as epic as they come, sounding like a subtle nod to the memorable “Vana’diel March” from Final Fantasy XI with its deliberate yet joyous execution. We then get to my favorite track on the album, “On Windy Meadows.” I like to think of this one as an Asian-inspired take on Uematsu’s popular FFXI track, “Ronfaure.” It’s a soothing piece with a thoughtful melody and layers of instruments that harmonize perfectly. Uematsu get mischievous with pizzicato strings and toy percussion in “Born of the Boughs – The Theme of Gridania,” abstract with the glassy filtering effects in “Emerald Labyrinth,” and takes a vacation to the tropics with “The Twins Faces of Fate – The Theme of Ul’dah.” Another favorite is “Twilight over Thanalan,” an emotional piano and strings theme that many may recognize from early Final Fantasy XIV trailers. It’s a truly powerful piece of music that I’m surprised didn’t develop into the game’s vocal theme. The album closes with the dreamy “Aetherial Slumber” whose droning pads and fluttering melody sound like a perfect accompaniment to an underwater expedition, and Square Enix fans may be interested to know that Kenichiro Fukui is actually responsible for the arrangement on this track.

Aside from the first trailer that was released for the game, I haven’t heard much from Final Fantasy XIV. I didn’t bother looking into the soundtrack leak, and the build we saw at E3 didn’t have much in the way of music. That makes the mini albums my first experience with Uematsu’s latest score, and I have to sayI’m excited to hear more. There will undoubtedly be a complete soundtrack release in the future, but this will give fans a taste of what to expect, and even though it’s a small taste, it’s a substantial one that will leave you with a lot to digest. While Masashi Hamauzu set an amazing precedent with the quality heard on the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack, I love the retro sound that Uematsu has adopted, so if you’re a fan of classic game music and of Uematsu’s melodies, you should definitely pick these up.

I already covered the packaging in exhaustive detail in our unboxing video, but needless to say that these are unique in that regard. They won’t sit too nicely on your CD rack, but at least they’re fun to look at. The liner notes within are also printed in English, which is a great treat for fans in the West.  If you’re curious to hear what Nobuo Uematsu has been up to, I recommend picking up both albums at Play-Asia (Field and Battle Tracks) or CD Japan (Field and Battle tracks), even if you have no interest in playing the game itself.  Despite their short length, the price is right at less than $17.00 USD a piece.

What do you think of Square Enix releasing mini albums in advance of any official announcement regarding a complete soundtrack release? Are you surprised by Uematsu’s approach to Final Fantasy XIV’s soundtrack?

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