Square Enix Album Sales
Editorial Written by Chris Greening
Below is a list of the sales figures for Square Enix's top-selling albums. It omits the sales figures for pre-PlayStation era soundtracks, which are not available. There are a lot of trends and surprises to be observed so be sure to read on for an analysis.
The popularity of Final Fantasy is obviously reflected in these figures. Final Fantasy albums take the top eight spots and continue to dominate the list with even unsubstantial albums. The great popularity of the PlayStation era titles is evident with the sales figures of their accompanying soundtracks all exceeding 100,000 copies. Most fans would have predicted that the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack would be most popular, but the Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack easily leads. The inclusion of a pop song for the first time in the series probably tipped the balance and the striking "Liberi Fatali" also convinced many people to purchase the album. In addition, the game enjoyed a much more exuberant publicity campaign than Final Fantasy VII and the less commercially successful Final Fantasy IX. The music of Final Fantasy X is of similar popularity to the PlayStation era series and, perhaps carried by the vocal songs, the much-criticised Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack also sold very well.
There is a clear decline in the sales figures of Final Fantasy soundtracks with time. While some would instantly attribute the sales figures of Final Fantasy XII to the absence of Nobuo Uematsu, they are essentially equivalent to the gloriously received Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Original Soundtrack released six months earlier. Though there is negative bias due to their relatively recent release dates, this is insufficient to explain the five- to ten-fold sales decrease; an album's sales figures in the first few weeks after release usually greatly exceed the total sales subsequently. Final Fantasy still continues to sell with recent releases like Final Fantasy III, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII, and Dirge of Cerberus Final Fantasy VII attracting good sales figures compared to other releases. Some albums seem to be ignored by fans, however, such as Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy Origins, and, not even making the top 30, those of the Crystal Chronicles and Tactics series.
The decrease in Final Fantasy album sales is representative of the unfortunate decline in video game music sales as a whole. In the last five years, there has been a ten-fold decrease in the sales figures of most game music albums and very few albums have sales figures exceeding a few thousand. This is disproportionate with the increase in the awareness, popularity, and critical acclaim of video game music as a whole. It is an inevitable consequence of the massive effect of Internet piracy, which has had a greater impact on video games soundtracks than both mainstream and film music. This is largely due to the emergence of large direct download sites such as Galbadia Hotel and Kingdom Hearts Insider in the last two years, which attract tens of thousands of leechers a day and go largely unregulated. The increasing use of torrents, RapidShare and related programs, and, to view vocal singles, YouTube is also having an effect. At present, Square Enix still provides a steady flow of album releases, but the continued decline in sales figures is increasingly affecting their sales strategies.
Outside the Final Fantasy series, there are obvious winners. Dragon Quest music is massively popular in Japan so it's unsurprising that the latest albums in the series each received around 20,000 sales. The popularity of Kingdom Hearts is also evident. Maybe the most surprising additions to the list are the Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song, Seiken Densetsu Legend of Mana, and SaGa Frontier II soundtracks given their games sold relatively poorly. Attractive reviews of their soundtracks may have inspired veteran fans of the series or their composers to make these purchases. On the other hand, why the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack sold a mere 4,200 copies despite its reputation and the popularity of the series is a mystery. It is an insult to Yasunori Mitsuda that meagre efforts like the Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack sold twice as much. Outside the top 30 are all the soundtracks for Square Enix's stand-alone titles, mostly in parallel with their game sales figures. It's no wonder Square Enix are being increasingly sluggish with their DigiCube reprints.
Another revelation from the sales is that arranged albums simply don't sell well. The Black Mages' albums lead the way with sales figures exceeding 10,000, though their sales only compare to an average Final Fantasy soundtrack. Out of all of Square Enix's orchestral and piano albums, only Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec and Final Fantasy X Piano Collections sold more than 2,500 copies. Even before the days of widespread Internet piracy, creating an orchestral arranged album was a big financial risk and it is no wonder none have followed Final Fantasy VIII's. Fortunately, orchestral game music is still enjoyed in live venues and attendances of over 2,000 are enjoyed at concerts such as Dear Friends and Distant Worlds. The first such live concert, 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy, enjoyed good sales figures for its album recording. The subsequent higher quality recordings for More Friends and Distant Worlds haven't sold as well due to their redundant tendencies. Piracy has a detrimental effect on such productions as well and widely distributed fan recordings of terrible quality do nothing to capture the powerful performances at various events.
Unsurprisingly, vocal songs are mostly a great financial success. High-profile vocal songs are attributed to many of the best-selling soundtracks and often minimal or redundant albums such as Square Vocal Collection, Final Fantasy X Vocal Collection, and Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack have achieved very good sales. The best-selling singles are "Hikari" (600,000 copies), "Eyes on Me" (500,000 copies) and "real Emotion" / "1000 Words" (280,000 copies) in part due to their high-profile vocalists. Good sales are attributed to "Suteki da ne" (130,000 copies), "Redemption" (125,000 copies), "Hoshi no Nai Sekai" (110,000 copies), "Passion" (110,000 copies), and "Melodies of Life" (100,000 copies). "Kiss Me Good-Bye" (60,000 copies) and "Why" (60,000 copies) were less successful but still sold more copies than their respective soundtracks. Square Enix have been aware of the income and publicity that singles can bring since Final Fantasy VIII and it is now commonplace for a vocal piece often composed by the singer itself in contrary to Nobuo Uematsu's ballads to appear in even their low-profile RPGs.
In conclusion, the sales figures of Square Enix's soundtracks are mostly proportional to the popularity of their supporting games. The peak of financial success came during the PlayStation era when Square consistently impressed with their composer team. Despite the continued success of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts soundtracks, all sales figures have diminished in parallel with the growth of mass piracy. It is unfortunate that the era game music looks set to receive widespread acceptance is also the one that it will become financially limiting to release many albums. Square Enix have not adopted the absistence approach of Nintendo and Sega since they have always received relatively high music sales compared to other game companies. However, piracy increasingly disfavours the publishing of low-profile soundtracks, domestic soundtracks, and orchestral albums. To compensate, there will be more prominent use of copyright-protected digital releases, more proaction against pirate sites, and a continued influx of musical releases associated with vocal pieces and the three main popular series.