Final Fantasy XIV’s Grand Score Shows Masayoshi Soken Is Every Bit Uematsu’s Equal

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Final Fantasy XIV’s Grand Score Shows Masayoshi Soken Is Every Bit Uematsu’s Equal

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’re talkin’ about how Final Fantasy XIV’s incomparably huge soundtrack manages to whip arse in so many different ways. So many.

When you think of Final Fantasy, one of the first names that comes to mind is long-time series composer Nobuo Uematsu. But in the time since the MMORPG’s second coming as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (playlist / gameplay / VGMdb), Uematsu has contributed sparingly to the game. There are rare exceptions, like “Dragonsong,” the heartbreaking theme of the Heavensward expansion, but most of the game’s oversized soundtrack is the work of Masayoshi Soken, a composer who I think deserves to be considered every bit Uematsu’s equal.

Having at one point earned a Guinness World Record for having more original songs than any other video game (Runescape has since claimed that crown), for a time Final Fantasy XIV had gaming’s most expansive soundtrack. Indeed, there are an incredible 438 tracks on this playlist.

Let’s (start to) listen:

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

And FFXIV’s soundscapes are impeccably tailored to their environments. “Serenity,” a laidback piano melody that effortlessly captures its namesake emotion, plays early in the game as you make your way through a mystical forest. The snowy city-state of Ishgard’s days are backed by the dueling of lush harpsichord and booming organ in the day theme “Solid,” which smoothly transitions into the subdued yet haunting harp and guitar solos of “Night in the Brume.”

But Soken’s atmospheric tracks aren’t limited to only classical vibes. Consider the smooth elevator jazz of “Shadows Withal,” the warm dreamy synths of “Sands of Amber,” or the Cocteau Twins-esque vocals of “Civilizations” (a song so grand Fahey gave it its own write-up just last week). I’ll never forget the first time I strolled into the Rak’Tika Greatwood and heard those famous words, “La-hëe døh gå râ eví foh la la-hëe.”

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

Soken often says his primary focus in composing is to enhance the gameplay experience. A great example would be the way he implements music into the phases of certain boss fights. Take “Footsteps in the Snow / Oblivion,” the dual themes for the primal Shiva. During the first phase, it’s all orchestra, moody piano, and chanting in what I can only assume is Latin. Not an atypical Final Fantasy theme, but then Shiva freezes your party with her trademark Diamond Dust attack. She floats ominously overhead, and as soon her heel clicks against your forehead the ice shatters and a sudden drum fill leads into a raucous pop-punk song that wouldn’t be out of place in NANA.

A similar moment occurs between “The Hand That Gives The Rose” and “Unbending Steel” when fighting the insectoid god Ravana. As phases shift, sinister waltzing violins give way to thunderous horns and operatic throat singing detailing Ravana’s conquest for blood. A perfect match for the giant sword-wielding beetle deity’s penchant for screaming “Rejoice in the glory of combat!”

Across dungeons, raids, and trials, Final Fantasy XIV’s music rarely feels like mere “background,” but rather an essential part of each area’s identity, solidifying it as a distinct memory for the player. When I think of the Great Gubal Library, I remember the lo-fi free jazz of “Ink Long Dry” as you make your way through halls of ancient tomes. The Twinning dungeon is so heavily associated with the pulse-pounding electro-clash of “A Long Fall” that it’s regularly memed:

Where Masayoshi Soken truly impresses is his ability to make every boss fight an excuse to pen an anthem of a different genre. “Metal – Brute Justice” explodes with what sounds like Daft Punk going ska. “Sunrise” could seamlessly pass for a shonen anime opening song. The fairy pop of “What Angel Wakes Me” is sickly sweet and a consistent earworm in our household. One of my favourite songs in the game is “Weight of the World – Prelude,” Soken’s reimagining of NieR: Automata’s ending theme used for the final fight of the Nier crossover raid, in which he transforms Keiichi Okabe’s mournful ballad into a bombastic uptempo choral arrangement interlaced with Uematsu’s classic “Prelude.”

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

I’ve only gotten into Final Fantasy XIV this year, but I can’t think of another game’s music I’ve been so consistently drawn to. I’m currently taking a break from playing the game until its next expansion in December, yet still I find myself wanting to listen to its songs, which I find at turns invigorating and calming.

There’s a lyric in Ramuh’s theme “Thunder Rolls” that I can’t get out of my head, “Lift thine heavy head and vanquish thy sorrow.” I think when this pandemic finally ends, that’s likely to be one of my first new tattoos.

That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Do you have a favourite Final Fantasy XIV track? Does it whip arse? If it does whip arse (it probably does), tell us about it in the comments below. See you tomorrow!

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