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Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack Album Title: Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Avex
Catalog No.: AVCD-17254 (Copy Protected)
Release Date: March 31, 2003
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


The Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack has been one of the most thoroughly discussed and frequently criticised releases that has come from Square. One of the few Final Fantasy soundtracks not to feature Nobuo Uematsu, instead the masterminds of Racing Lagoon and The Bouncer, Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, took over, creating a soundtrack that was altogether more electronically-oriented, camp, and repetitive than practically all other FF scores available, the accompaniment to a well-hyped but somewhat tasteless game. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, too much for some people to bear and the soundtrack ended up being savaged as a result of copious amounts of negativity by understandably alienated, yet often unfair, critics, many of whom have a natural intolerance for electronic music and chose to dismiss Matsueda and Eguchi as incompetent composers, when they were, in fact, very hurried by producers here and have otherwise proved themselves as a dynamic duo in the past.

True, there are some themes that really sucked, for lack of a better term, and limited development hindered even the most promising themes, though there are plenty of creations that can be classified in the region of 'very good' to 'excellent'. There is, without doubt, a little something in this soundtrack that will appeal to each of its listeners; be it Koda Kumi's vocal tracks, the gorgeous piano opening, the generally agreeable area themes, the profound ending themes, or the occasional enjoyable electronic themes, this soundtrack is wildly inconsistent, but often highly enjoyable. This is something that, though surprisingly obvious, is rarely reflected in analyses of this album, usually disguised angst-ridden intolerant rants or dressed-up fanboyish raves of unqualified support, both of which are equally sickening to the more balanced reader. This might be ironic coming from one that loathes Final Fantasy X-2, though I've always said that the music was its biggest and only asset.


There's little animosity among fans about the quality of the title theme, "Eternity ~Memory of the Lightwaves~," an elegant piano theme written in the spirit of "To Zanarkand" from Final Fantasy X. Despite its simplicity, the fluid nature of the piano lines and soothing nature of its melody make it ideal for relaxation, its ethereal nature being emphasised by the gradual layering and loudening of some light string and synth overtones. Concerned for Yuna's search for her long lost but eternal love, this is one of the few themes that reflects a slightly deeper aspect to the often one-dimensional game. Not every composition is written in such a calming way, though. Yup, straight after, listeners are provided with a bang with "real Emotion (FFX-2 Mix)" and no less than six electronic themes then follow. So, a little about "real Emotion," then. It's a bouncy J-Pop theme created by Kazuhiro Hara, used in the opening FMV for the Japanese version. Though not everyone will love it, its upbeat nature, memorable melodies, superb performance from Koda Kumi, and provocative 'What can I do for you?' lyrics makes it memorable to all and enjoyable to most. Fans of Kingdom Hearts' "Hikari - PLANITb Remix (Short Edit)" will especially like this, though more conservative or easily irritated listeners might not. Still, there's no doubting that it intersynchs well with the opening FMV, showing Yuna provide a vocal performance in the game, and it gets straight to the point: Final Fantasy X-2 and its soundtrack are different to Final Fantasy X's, like it or not, and this is just the start of the fun (and torture).

Rather quickly into the soundtrack, "Yuna's Theme" is given, an amazing contrast from Uematsu's dreamy yet drivelled FFX creation, now bubbly, dance-like, and electronic. It's here that the true controversy begins. It's the old continuum vs. change argument that pops up time after time in FFX-2 discussions, and, indeed, Matsueda and Eguchi really do force change upon the listener. It's a startling statement that Yuna has had a personality transplant and, perhaps more interestingly, that the soundtrack's composers have no intention of following what Nobuo Uematsu and co. offered in the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack. Some ask 'Where have my pretty melodies gone?' or 'Oh no. What have they done to Yuna and her lovely theme?'. Others welcome the change, considering the theme as reflective of her character, enjoying the contemporary harmonies that it provides, and considering it a necessary transformation to keep the soundtrack fresh. One has to ask whether an actual arrangement of the previous "Yuna's Theme" would have worked and could have sounded optimistic. Well, given the melody was based on "Suteki da ne" and the piece was not often used in FFX, Yuna's thematic material needed a revamp anyway, and attempting to directly emulate the previous theme would have seemed completely out-of-place given its naturally melancholic nature. Change was necessary, but not everyone will like it, particularly those who simply don't enjoy electronic elements to scores or can't tolerate the lack of a really memorable melodic line.

Exactly what else has been changed, for better or worse? Well, to the dismay of many fans, Matsueda and Eguchi did not directly integrate any of the previous soundtrack's themes. Considered an arrogant move by some, this is explained both by the producer's need to give a musical regeneration of Spira and also that arranging themes that Final Fantasy X's trio created; Final Fantasy X-2 was a cheap production in so many ways and paying unnecessary music rights would have only worsened the near-bankrupt Square's problems. As a consequence, the sensitive "Rikku's Theme" has been replaced by a really camp brass-based dance theme, the memorable yet overplayed "Song of Prayer" has been replaced by a hackneyed synth vocal chorale sung mostly in unison, and the airship themes have been replaced by the catchy electronically-oriented "Sphere Hunter Gullwings Group" and "Help Store Gullwings Group," two of the more eccentric themes that do not immediately annoy. Perhaps most shockingly, the victory fanfare is replaced for the very first time in the series' history in favour of a series of slick jazz-flavoured electric guitar riffs, "Mission Complete," that stupidly precedes the similarly styled "Mission Start." The "Chocobo" theme does feature, but in a barely recognisable form, hideously twisted into some sort of hip-hop brass theme complete with 26 seconds of development and a random women shouting inaudibly. It's unbelievably bad and the theme's original melodic material was almost certainly utilised so sparsely and vaguely so that Nobuo Uematsu didn't receive any rights for the composition.

The battle themes only emphasise the change in nature of the soundtrack, but are less successful as an overall entity given that they can be offensively generic in places. The normal battle music, stupidly titled "YuRiPa Fight No. 3," is basically an overdriven electric guitar playing an unremarkable, fragmented, and underdeveloped solo against a static bass line. Though the idea of integrating a hard rock style to a Final Fantasy battle theme was a good one, compare this to the superbly developed and inventive Zako Battle tracks from Racing Lagoon and a massive regression is witnessed; the theme grows old very quickly, if it has any impact in the first place, that is. All this said, it does reflect the intensity and excessive franticness of the ATB-based battles that occur in the game well, hence fulfilling the duo's main aims. The boss battle music, "YuRiPa Fight No. 2," is more memorable and definitely reflects the intensity of the battle well, but still suffers from major development problems, hardly doing anything interesting beyond the initial distorted guitar riff. As for the opening battle music and blitzball theme, "YuRiPa Fight No. 1," it's more melodic and accessible than the other two, though still reflects lack of refinement and the composer's apparent lack of time on the project, hardly comparing to Masashi Hamauzu's equivalent theme in FFX. This is the most disappointing area of the soundtrack, though luckily everything fits the game reasonably well and some have praised the change.

Where Matsueda and Eguchi succeed beyond doubt is creating setting themes that are mostly fitting and appealing. Gone is Hamauzu's electro-acoustic mastery, Uematsu's ethereal melodic progressions, and Nakano's delicate layering of forces that respectively depicted Besaid, Kilika, and Luca, but the successors are all pretty good. "Besaid" is based around a fresh, melodically simple, and rhythmically intricate solo piano melody that grows richer as more forces enter. It perfectly depicts life in a simple, tropical, peaceful, and isolated island and has very refreshing 'new age' vibes. "Kilika" also relates well to the rebuilt town, having an exotic and adventurous feel, well-supported by inputs from panpipes, a didgideroo, tuned percussion, and a Matsueda-esque jazzy bass line (of all instruments they could have chosen, huh?), while "Luca" feels appropriately busy with its jolly melodies and has an appropriate seaside-like feel. Music relates to scene further in "Macalania Forest" (a mysterious and minimalist attraction that (shock, horror) actually develops wonderfully), "Guadosalam" (a theme with an Eastern feel with its shamisen melodies, though less subtle than its original), "The Calm Lands" (a 'new age'-influenced solo piano piece that represents Spira's rejuvanation), and "Zanarkand Ruins" (a creation that remains melancholic as a result of the composers' trademark heartrending bagpipe lines). Even "Bikanel Desert," an unpleasant pile of overdriven electric guitar riffs, works amazingly well within the game to represent the overwhelming and oppressive nature of the sweltering heat.

These successes aside, there's no denying that there are some unbelievably horrendous creations here. "Machina Faction," used in Djosé, and "Thunder Plains" take the biscuit for exemplifying the dire effects of underdevelopment, the former adhering to a pathetic, cheesy, and ever-repeating one-bar electric guitar riff far too strongly, the latter looping after just 30 seconds despite being used in one of the biggest areas in the game, featuring nothing but lifeless electronic rubbish that insults Hamauzu's original FFX creation anyway. "Paine's Theme" not only fails to represent the character's mysteriousness with its light jazz feel, but is structured incoherently and has a wretched xylophone opening that constantly infuriates. "Anything Is Impossible With LeBlanc!" is THE single most obnoxious piece of music that has been featured on a Final Fantasy soundtrack, though, even more repugnant than "Chocobo." With inane chants and buzzing, a shameless 0:33 seconds of development, and little to no harmonic or melodic progressions, this track sounds musically infantile, is unrepresentative of LeBlanc's annoying yet hardly intolerable character, and is most inspiring to listen to while cutting one's ears off, the human body's natural defense mechanism to being subjected to such utter rubbish. It's no wonder people started sending Matsueda and Eguchi death threats after listening to these creations, especially after their compositions actually led to numerous instances of self-mutilation, but let's not ignore the bigger picture.

The soundtrack does have a definite touching side beyond "Zanarkand Ruins" and Eternity. Koda Kumi's "1000 Words" is the most upbeat Final Fantasy love ballad to date, but still has a sensitive aura, relates extremely well to the game, is flawlessly performed, and backed up by pleasant instrumentation. It's fresh and original, albeit not in the same way as "real Emotion." Its orchestral version is finely crafted and demonstrates Takahito Eguchi's strength as an orchestrator, while its piano version is another in a long line of solo piano pieces that succeeds at capturing the casual listener by employing a 'less is more' approach, despite paling to its Piano Collection version. A modification of the theme also appears in "Abyss of the Farplane," the last dungeon theme that won the hearts of thousands. Although atrociously underused in the game, the rich orchestral build-ups and delicate piano lines in "Shuyin's Theme" make it the most profound creation on the soundtrack — sinister yet gorgeous, endearing yet agonising, warm yet evil... Another heartrending theme used in dark circumstances is "Yuna's Ballad," another solo piano creation with several superior arranged versions that represents Yuna's anguish during battle following a distressing revelation in the game. Less successful is "Akagi Party," which has a deep melody, but goes nowhere thanks to its motionless harmonies and little development, and "Eternity ~Band Member Performance~," which feels cheesy, is poorly implemented, and loses the depth of the Memory of the Lightwaves version by simply being too upbeat.

The technical side of the album — Keiji Kawamori's synthesizer operating, in particular — is usually very strong. A massive improvement on the variable Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack's synth and a reflection on an increase in ability on Kawamori's part, the orchestral samples are convincing and often beautiful, the electronica sounds clean and refreshing, and, as has been pointed out by several people, the brass use is superb, reflected by Rikku's bubbly theme especially. However, Kawamori's tendency to make electronic samples very brash and pronounced can be counterproductive in some themes, to the extent where wildness becomes irritating and boldness becomes oppressive. "Gullwings Group March" is the best example of this. The composition is actually rather good, carrying a fun and well-developed melody, featuring all sorts of humourous sound effects from seagulls, fireworks, and whatnot, and having all the right features for it to be an upbeat march, yet sounds simply repulsive unless listened to in a very particular way. This is no fault of the composers, but rather Kawamori's execution, which is so over-the-top that the theme simply feels forced on the listener to the extent that they might just fall off whatever they're sitting on. Technically, it's excellent, but it's also tasteless. Implementation like this does nothing to improve the accessibility of an album overall.

The second half of the soundtrack principally comprises of music intended to reflect an increase in the game's intensity. They're a mixed bunch. Barely anything distinguishes "Tension," "Confusion," "Summoned Beast," "Clash," and much of "Great Existence," all of which are underpinned by hackneyed brass motifs and string suspensions, thoughtless timpani use and bass lines, and overall derivative attempts at creating a horror sound that isn't actually too powerful at all. Not only are they collectively repetitive, but most become tiresome even individually, rarely exceeding a 30 second loop. "Infiltration! LeBlanc's Hideout" and "Labyrinth" are better, boasting the fun yet slightly intimidating atmosphere every 'sneaky' theme should have, though the underdevelopment issue remains and they're too similar to each other. The experimental "Anxiety" is more musically inspired than any other creations on the soundtrack; featuring a colourful array of forces, it includes sporadic occurrences of flugelhorn fanfares, dissonant suspended string notes, and even the synthesised sounds of heavy breathing. Haunting piano solos are used to introduce "Great Existence," "Nightmare of a Cave," and "Vegnagun Starting," which, despite being underpinned by very simple romantic harmonies, sound impressive and flashy. Though they're all effective, "Vegnagun Starting" is the most imposing, featuring synth choir, heavy percussion use, brass backing, and, best of all, really juicy intricate organ lines to represent an intense battle after its introduction.

The soundtrack's conclusion is surprisingly excellent and likely the most consistently strong area of the soundtrack. In theory, the final battle themes are disappointing; they cannot possibly compare to Final Fantasy X predecessors, are underpinned by a descending progression of three chords, feel quite understated, and share a little too many similarities with the near-endless list of formulaic tension-creating themes listed above. In context, though, thanks to excellent execution, they basically satisfy. "Destruction" features some intricate string descants to maintain the pace and create interesting cross-rhythms, while the combination of fine nuances, a rhythmical complex bass line, and classically-oriented phrasing in "Demise" ensures it is a captivating and solid effort. Together with the orchestral and piano renditions of "1000 Words," two orchestrated pieces constitute the music used to accompany the ending. "Ending ~Until the Day We Meet Again~" develops excellently to encompass all sorts of emotion, sounding proud yet unpretentious, representing a sentimental farewell from the world of Spira. It doesn't compare to the album's final track, though, "Epilogue ~Reunion~," which revisits the "Besaid" theme in orchestral form and sounds simply perfect thanks to Eguchi's swell orchestrating. These ending themes, though quite brief and very understated, stand up to series' tradition and are incredibly emotional in conjunction with the game, even for someone who detests the game, as well as on a stand-alone basis.


The Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack's failures are numerous and cannot be easily forgiven. How did "Thunder Plains," "Machina Faction," and "Chocobo" became so astonishingly bad, with total lack of development combining with terrible innovation in the worst way possible? How and why did Matsueda and Eguchi completely disregard the somewhat limited tastes of most Final Fantasy gamers by creating compositions like "YuRiPa Fight No. 3" that are pretty inaccessible even to the most open-minded listeners and reflect a massive musical regression from similarly styled compositions from The Bouncer and Racing Lagoon? For every hit like "Shuyin's Theme," "1000 Words," or "Under Bevelle," why is there a bad counterpart like "Anything Is Impossible With LeBlanc!" (*vomits*), "Akagi Party," or "Clash"? Indeed, the inconsistency of the quality and accessibility of the soundtrack is unbelievable.

Lest anyone forget, though, that Square was partly responsible for this, their cheap budget and tasteless intentions for Final Fantasy X-2 meaning Matsueda and Eguchi didn't have original Final Fantasy X themes available to utilise, lacked live performances to enhance even most of the album's most special themes, and had to evoke a camp, superficial, and fake feel to so many of their compositions. To Square, Final Fantasy X-2 was a marketing ploy and they didn't care too much about its quality, the oh so commercially valuable vocal themes aside, so long as it sold. And it did, undermining the reputations of the company, Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, and much of what Final Fantasy X represented in the process. It is especially saddening that the reputation of the score's composers slumped so much, as few realize just how marvellous their two major previous efforts were. While exactly what happened for the duo to slump so much remains unknown, being rushed almost certainly had something to do with it. They don't deserve to rot in hell for what they created, contrary to a minority's thoughts.

The soundtrack really isn't all bad, though. As emphasised earlier, there really is a little something for everybody. Of course, many of the piano and area themes are warm and accessible, the vocal themes are probably the best to feature on a Final Fantasy soundtrack, and the soundtrack's conclusion is sensitive and endearing. Looking a little deeper, hilariously upbeat themes like "Sphere Hunter Gullwings Group," "Help Store Gullwings Group," and "Rikku's Theme" can be delightful when one is in the right mood, while alternative creations like "Anxiety," "YuRiPa Fight No. 2," and "Yuna's Theme" should appeal to certain audiences. The soundtrack is recommended, especially for those who played and enjoyed the game, though any listener should expect to find as many abonimable creations as masterpieces amd be prepared to press the 'skip' button rather frequently. One warning, though: To avoid potential disfigurement, always avoid "Anything Is Impossible With LeBlanc!" — its nonsensical name is truly its best feature.

Overall Score: 6/10