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Final Fantasy XIII Original Soundtrack - Soundtrack Review

A First Time for Everything

Track Listing
Disc 1
1.Prelude to FINAL FANTASY XIII
2.FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise
3.The Thirteenth Day
4.Defiers of Fate
5.Saber's Edge
6.The Hanging Edge
7.Those for the Purge
8.The Warpath Home
9.The Pulse Fal'Cie
10.Face It Later
11.Snow's Theme
12.The Vestige
13.Ragnarok
14.In the Sky That Night
15.Promised Eternity
16.Eternal Love (Short Version)
17.Lake Bresha
18.The Pulse L'Cie
19.Eidolons
Disc 2
1.Blinded by Light
2.Glory's Fanfare
3.Battle Results
4.A Brief Respite
5.Cavalry Theme
6.Escape
7.Crash Landing
8.Daddy's Got the Blues
9.The Vile Peaks
10.Lightning's Theme
11.Sazh's Theme
12.March of the Dreadnoughts
13.The Gapra Whitewood
14.Tension in the Air
15.Forever Fugitives
16.The Sunleth Waterscape
17.Lost Hope
18.To Hunt L'Cie
19.No Way to Live
20.Sustained by Hate
21.The Gran Pulse L'Cie
22.Serah's Theme
Disc 3
1.Can't Catch a Break
2.PSICOM
3.Hope's Theme
4.This Is Your Home
5.Atonement
6.Vanille's Theme
7.The Final Stage
8.The Pompa Sancta
9.Nautilus
10.Cocoon de Chocobo - Chasing Dreams
11.Feast of Betrayal
12.Eidolons on Parade
13.Test of the L'Cie
14.All the World Against Us
15.Game Over
16.Primarch Dysley
17.Fighting Fate
18.Separate Paths
19.Setting You Free
20.Desperate Struggle
21.Mysteries Abound
22.Will to Fight
Disc 4
1.Fang's Theme
2.Terra Incognita
3.The Archylte Steppe
4.Pulse de Chocobo
5.The Yaschas Massif
6.Memories of Happier Days
7.Sulyya Springs
8.Taejin's Tower
9.Dust to Dust
10.The Road Home
11.Start Your Engines
12.Eden Under Siege
13.The Cradle Will Fall
14.Born Anew
15.Sinful Hope
16.Fabula Nova Crystallis
17.FINAL FANTASY XIII - Miracles
18.Focus
19.Nascent Requiem
20.Determination
21.Kimi ga Iru Kara (Long Version)
22.Ending Credits
Total Playtime: 4:03:27
Composer
Masashi Hamauzu
Arrangers
Masashi Hamauzu
Junya Nakano
Mitsuto Suzuki
Ryo Yamazaki
Publisher
Square Enix Co., Ltd.

As many of you probably know, Final Fantasy XIII is the first numbered entry in the well-known franchise to have absolutely no contribution from series composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu was initially slated to compose the game's theme song, as he did for Final Fantasy XII, but the job ultimately went to Masashi Hamauzu after the former was given the task of composing music for Final Fantasy XIV instead.

The soundtrack is massive, as expected, spanning four discs and containing over four hours of music. The tracks don't feature exotic instruments like African drums or sitars, but Hamauzu was able to keep things very diverse and interesting, nonetheless, as exemplified by the character themes. From the rock-oriented "Snow's Theme" to the melancholic guitar solo "Hope's Theme" to the funky, 11/4 time signature track "Sazh's Theme," Hamauzu utilizes different instrument combinations and composition styles that seem to match the characters perfectly. The pinnacle, perhaps, is "Lightning's Theme," a more lyric and feminine mix of the marvelous "Blinded by Light." The utilization of the said battle theme as a template stresses Lightning's military background, but the presentation and arrangement seem to elbow in the fact that she is not without emotions.

The soundtrack features a good mix of both memorable melodic pieces and excellent ambient tracks. The former, with their distinct and hummable tunes, are usually the ones that are remembered, whereas the latter, with their complex harmonies, rhythms, and textures, tend to be set aside. This is somewhat a saddening yet inescapable fate for the ambient tracks, as a good number of them are musically exceptional and are very effective in setting the tone of the game. Most of the character themes, "FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise," and, of course, the chocobo themes, offer simple yet hauntingly beautiful melodies. "Can't Catch a Break," "The Gapra Whitewood," and "The Vile Peaks," on the other hand, are noteworthy mood setters. The underlying rapid, semiquaver strings in "Lake Bresha" is also worthy of mention.

Now, there are a few motifs and themes that appear in quite a number of tracks. Where others scream "lack of creativity," I scream "unity."

The crotchet-dotted crotchet-quaver-quaver-quaver motif appears most prominently in "FINAL FANTASY XIII - Miracles," but also finds itself in "Vanille's Theme," "Defiers of Fate," "Blinded by Light," and other tracks as well-made variations.

The theme from "FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise" is one of the most frequently appearing theme in the soundtrack; almost too frequent, in my opinion. While the melody is remarkably good, having six mixes of almost exactly the same music can be aurally saturating.

Perhaps my favorite motif in the soundtrack is the crotchet-minim tied to quaver-quaver-crotchet-minim tied to quaver-quaver-crotchet-crotchet-dotted crotchet-semiquaver-semiquaver-minim fragment which features a dramatic Em7-Dadd9-Bbmaj7 progression in the latter part. When I heard this segment way back in the E3 2006 trailer, I literally had to catch my breath. "Blinded by Light" and "Lightning's Theme" both feature this fragment prominently, but it appears in many more tracks. The brevity of the segment, as well as the sheer sense of austere majesty that it evokes, ensures that it does not elicit the same response as the theme from "FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise," despite being incorporated just as many, if not more tracks that the said theme.

Perhaps the greatest show of unity occurs in "Determination," a track that is played near the end of the game. In this track, all three motifs I had just discussed are combined into a single, 33-second segment. The fragments flow into each other seamlessly, as if they were created that way from the beginning. It is exceedingly emotional, with the rubato execution of the transition form the "FINAL FANTASY XIII - Miracles" fragment to the one from "FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise" bringing me close to tears.

Now, as much as I adore the soundtrack, it is not without its flaws. Aside from the overmixing of "FINAL FANTASY XIII - The Promise," there are several tracks that start out great, but wane as they progress. While not exactly terrible, some of the tracks just seem to appear scarce when placed next to the other tracks I've mentioned thus far.

"The Hanging Edge" features an eerie, dissonant, staccato electric piano base that conjures in the player a sense of tension. Disappointment, however, rears its ugly head when the violin enters. The said instrument presents itself as blaringly off-key, and even features a segment wherein it appears to attempt to correct itself using glissandos, but ultimately fails. I was at a loss as to why it was there. To provide more dissonance? It was overkill, in my opinion. Another such track is "The Sunleth Waterscape." The quasi-disco vibe that is evoked by the insistent mid-pitch percussion beats and scalar passages that appear eight measures into the track get your feet tapping and summons within the player an adventurous outlook. And then a voice enters, singing about stepping into rainbows. I literally winced when I first heard this.

While "Primarch Dysley" is spot-on as a theocratic leader's main theme with its regal character and sheer grandiosity, it somewhat falls short in establishing itself as a track worth remembering. It is only in "Born Anew," a fiery, Latin-based battle anthem which utilizes parts of "Primarch Dysley," that the full potential of the theme is realized. In the same vein, "Glory's Fanfare," the new victory theme, doesn't sound particularly glorious, though this is most likely due to its length. Other relatively unremarkable tracks include most of the fal'Cie and l'Cie entries in the soundtrack.

It has been inferred by many players, fans and haters alike, that "Kimi ga Iru Kara" would suffer the same fate as Uematsu's all-in-all average, dreadfully placed "Kiss Me Goodbye." I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it actually complements the final scenes quite well and the song itself, while not overly remarkable, grows on you as you listen to it. The gorgeous instrumental segment plays just in time for the game's final scene and the passionate bridge enters just as the screen fades to black, heralding the credits. The sychronization is laudable. I'm actually quite curious as to how the final scenes will be altered to accommodate Leona Lewis's "My Hands."

All in all, I must say that Masashi Hamauzu did a pretty amazing job with this soundtrack. He had the burden of composing for one of the greatest RPG franchises in the world's first ever installment in the current console generation, and this time, without the franchise's trademark composer. The pressure must have been immense, but he delivered magnificently. The tracks are diverse and musically outstanding; the album, thematically unified; the sound quality, fantastically lush and absolutely divine. Though there are a few misses here and there, they can be easily dismissed given the epic scale of this opus. Without a doubt, Final Fantasy XIII will be a benchmark in gaming history, if not for its graphics and technical merits, then perhaps for its exceptional soundtrack.



Musicianship
Sound Quality
Production Value
4.5/5
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