Final Fantasy XIV Field Tracks :: Review by Chris
In September 2010, Square Enix at last continued Final Fantasy's online saga with an all-new title Final Fantasy XIV. For the first time in ten years, Nobuo Uematsu returned as the sole composer, taking the series' music back to its routes. In addition to some headlining instrumental and vocal epics, he created a wide range of acoustic field themes and rocking battle themes for the title, in collaboration with arranger and synthesizer operator Tsutomu Narita. Eager to milk their franchises, Square Enix released two albums to celebrate the release of Final Fantasy XIV, each featuring a handful of tracks. The Final Fantasy XIV Field Tracks features the series' prelude and seven setting themes from the game.
Above all, the Final Fantasy XIV Field Tracks demonstrate that Nobuo Uematsu has not forgotten the series' routes while creating the soundtrack for the MMORPG. The initial track, "Prelude - Remembrance", is a straightforward and unpretentious arrangement of the series' defining theme. The slow harp arpeggiations and wistful choral melody convey plenty of spirituality and nostalgia. It seems fitting that the track offers no grandiose orchestrations or Hollywood production values in order to represent the series' return to form. The track need not have been six minutes long, but the duration surprisingly flies by while leaving listeners in an elevated state afterwards.
The setting themes of Final Fantasy XIV largely build on the approach Uematsu established on the series' first MMORPG Final Fantasy XI. "On Windy Meadows", for instance, creates the essence of a worldly adventure with a combination of mellow, scenic passages and a heroic, personal chorus. Once again, the composition is built upon some simple unobtrusive ostinati throughout, though it is the beautiful flute and violin melodies that captivates listeners. The production values are far from cutting-edge here the arrangement somewhat lacking intricacy and the synth coming from the last generation but this modesty is once again somewhat nostalgic and charming. Regardless, the melodies and development are still good enough to captivate and move listeners.
Plenty of consideration was given to suitably portraying the areas of the game. "Emerald Labyrinth" creates a sense of darkness and mysticism using a combination of carefully acoustic soundscaping and, of course, one of Uematsu's trademark augmented chord progressions. Much like "The Phantom Forest" did in Final Fantasy VI all those years ago, this composition creates even more atmosphere in the labyrinth than do the visuals themselves. "Aetherial Slumber" is also a more ambient track created with slow-building chord progressions. However, the emotions created here are warm and dreamy, thanks in part to guest arranger Kenichiro Fukui's electronic soundscaping.
The large-scale maritine city of Limsa Lominsa are portrayed with a suitably thick march-like orchestration. Final Fantasy XI players will no doubt have had enough of marches by now, but this one has some unique charms, including an grandiose melody befitting of the series' name and an intricate secondary section. "Born of the Boughs" offers features a very different approach to represent the forest nation of Gridania, filled with lyrical melodies and frivolous touches characteristic of Uematsu's own lively and curious personality. "The Twin Faces of Fate" meanwhile represents the desert setting of Ul'dah with a range of ethnic instruments, but it is not a stereotype either filled with individualistic touches and presenting a balanced picture of a fairly complex setting.
"Twilight Over Thanalan" offers the emotional climax of the album. Those who watched Final Fantasy XIV's trailers or experienced Distant Worlds II's premiere will already have heard the melody of this theme. However, what is perhaps more impressive is its mature treatment here. Most of the track is dedicated to gorgeous interplay between solo piano and strings, which is always guaranteed to capture the hearts of mainstream video game listeners. However, Tsutomu Narita also offers intermittent dabs of thicker orchestration between the more intimate moments, as if to reflect the epic scope of what is still a personal adventure.
To summarise, the music featured in the Final Fantasy XIV Field Tracks is largely likeable. It's memorable, atmospheric, diverse, and modest, not to mention fitting of the image of Final Fantasy. What is less impressive is the corporate strategy of releasing two incomplete commercial promotional albums prior to an announcement of an official soundtrack. Consumers would be much better waiting for the larger and richer full soundtrack release, perhaps coinciding with the PlayStation 3 version of the game. It has the potential to be another excellent Final Fantasy score from Nobuo Uematsu.
Overall Score: 8/10