While I generally do like the Final Fantasy tunes, especially the earlier 8-bit era stuff and Final Fantasy IX, I haven't seen it as an infallible series in regard to its music. I think along the way Nobuo Uematsu's become this person who can Do No Wrong in the gaming community, which has stifled an honest look at both the highs and lows of his soundtracks.
I don't want to be all about hero worship or mindless bashing today; I want to examine a fairly good but not perfect soundtrack that represented Final Fantasy's first foray into MMOs. Along with Uematsu, Naoshi Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka shared composing duties on this project. There's some terrific stuff here that you'll listen to after the jump, but there are a lot more completely forgettable (and sometimes annoying!) tracks that have been shoehorned into FFXI's expansive game. So let's come down to earth and see what Final Fantasy XI has in store for us.
Final Fantasy games are well-known for having certain traditions, characters, and themes that are carried from one title to the next, and the score is no different. Every title has a victory theme, chocobo theme, and yes, an airship theme. I loved the one back on the NES for its optimistic, adventurous tone, and so I was looking forward to hearing FFXI's version.
While upbeat, this theme is decidedly more relaxed. It's good "road trip" music for cruising the skylanes, with relaxed percussion and light, fluffy melody. It might be weird to say, but this track sounds like something that you might hear over the end credits of a kid's show. Not bad, but definitely not a serious-sounding ditty.
2. Mercenaries' Delight
Another Final Fantasy musical motif is that of a "we gotta boogie outta Dodge!" running theme. Usually it's employed when something's about to blow up real good and the heroes have to escape, but it can also perform double-duty by being the music that kicks off an assault on an enemy fortress.
Anyway, that's what Mercenaries' Delight is (at least to my ears). It's very fast-paced and excited like a dog that knows it's about to go on a walk real soon. If you're not careful, your speakers may puddle a little under the strain.
3. The Republic of Bastok
You know what is great about this music? It's just so easy on the ears. Trust me, in the past few months I've gorged myself on MMO soundtracks, and there are way too many fantasy tracks that are grating and headache-inducing to listen. Then I pop in some Final Fantasy XI and it's like being sung to sleep by a Lilliputian glee club.
The Republic of Bastok is airy and charming, not to mention quite soothing. Hey, sometimes you want adrenaline-pumping epic tunes, and sometimes you want a laid-back melody that simply sounds good. I can appreciate the full spectrum here.
4. Roar of the Battle Drums
Let's switch gears here with a track that is definitely not laid-back. What were you expecting with that title, anyway? Roar of the Battle Drums begins with, duh, a lot of drums and a simple, urgent melody. I like it, but it could be tiring if I heard it in a loop nonstop in a game. That's why I like combat music that knows when to pipe up and especially when to fade out.
5. Wings of Dawn
Even though I chose this song and have listened to it four times in a row right now, I'm kind of drawing a blank on what to say about it. It starts quiet, then gets Star Wars-type grand on us before transitioning into a pretty standard (if enjoyable) action riff. What I liked about it best is the brief female vocal that props the track up in the background.
Ultimately, it's an in-one-ear-and-out-the-other tune that's the audio equivalent of popcorn: enjoyable but quickly forgotten.
6. Dash de Chocobo
What? I couldn't do this list and not include that stupidly infectious chocobo tune. Seriously, I don't know what Final Fantasy's obsession is with these ostrich/chicken hybrids and the goofy-as-hell music that comes on when they appear. Maybe it's a cultural thing and I'm not meant to understand, but I'm a Detroiter -- if a giant chicken carrying a sword-toting, spiky-haired teen wandered down 8 Mile with this sort of silly music going on, he'd probably disappear into a van before he got to downtown proper. Lots of money to be made on chocobos, especially if you breed them... or so I hear.
That's it for my list! Now it's time to turn it over to you. I know that Final Fantasy XI's music is a favorite of many of you, so which tracks make you sing with joy?
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!