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The Musical Direction of Final Fantasy XIII

Editorial Written by Don Kotowski

As most in the gaming community are well aware, this week Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete was released in Japan, the limited edition of which came with a small demo of Final Fantasy XIII. Used mainly to showcase the new battle system, it also showed a small peek into the musical direction of the game, which is being composed by Masashi Hamauzu. For those unfamiliar with Masashi Hamauzu, he helped contribute themes to Final Fantasy X, alongside Nobuo Uematsu and Junya Nakano, as well as score the Final Fantasy VII spinoff, Dirge of Cerberus. Nobuo Uematsu will nevertheless create a vocal theme for the game, however.

Before moving onto my thoughts of the music featured in the demo, I figured I'd give a little history. Most people know the Final Fantasy series music by Nobuo Uematsu and many were disappointed that Hitoshi Sakimoto was scoring the music to Final Fantasy XII. This was due to the fact that Nobuo Uematsu left Square Enix to form his freelance company, Smile Please, and the fact that the director of Final Fantasy XII also was responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics and Sakimoto is his composer of choice. Considering I wasn't really a fan of Sakimoto, for the most part, I was a little apprehensive about the final soundtrack. However, upon listening, I found it to be an extremely beautiful work that offered a lot of color. It is, still to this day, my favorite Sakimoto soundtrack.

Given that, I'm also not the biggest fan of Masashi Hamauzu. Yes, there are works of his that I enjoy, mainly SaGa Frontier II, Unlimited Saga, and a few select pieces here and there from Final Fantasy X and Dirge of Cerberus, but he isn't a composer whose works I look forward to. Having only heard trailer themes and website themes up until this point, I was hopeful, yet still apprehensive, for the soundtrack, as I didn't dislike anything thing put forth. So, yesterday, when I was able to watch the a live stream of the demo, I put my Hamauzu "hate" aside and decided to see where Hamauzu was going to take the music in the series.

The demo itself features quite a few themes, including two area themes, two battle themes, and a few event themes. The event themes are a bit difficult to discern, due to the fully voiced dialogue, but from what I could gather, there seemed to a dark, ambient piano theme that played at times. In addition, the opening scene's music is the rarer of the themes on the official website. The area themes provided a huge contrast between one another. In the area in which you control Lightning, the area theme gave off a Final Fantasy X vibe, at least to me. Focusing on piano and violin, it provided a dynamic theme with electronic undertones to give it a rather unique feel. The main melody of the theme was simply stunning and the violin solo towards the end of the theme was unexpected, but ultimately welcome. For the area in which you control Snow, the theme was much more militaristic and majestic. Given the fact that Snow is in charge of a resistance group, I can see why Hamauzu made this choice. Focusing on brass and strings, with some calming woodwind additions, it gives off a sense of urgency, yet at the same time, it also offered something peaceful.

The battle themes were also quite interesting. The normal battle theme is easily recognizable as the theme heard in the trailers. Focusing on violin and electric guitar riffs, it provides an energetic pace to the quickened battles. The battle theme itself is quite short, but considering the quickened battle system, it seems appropriate. However, the gem of the demo music, in my opinion, was definitely the boss battle theme. It was an exquisite combination of sounds, ranging from arching orchestral motifs to militaristic percussion to chaotic piano passages, akin to "Collapse" from the FolksSoul Original Soundtrack. It is truly a beauty to listen to and it is definitely one of the best boss battle themes in the series, at least since Final Fantasy VIII. In interviews, the developers have stated that there will be a new arrangement of the victory fanfare, though it was not included in the demo.

In the end, despite being the skeptic I am when it comes to Hamauzu, I am really looking forward to the rest of the soundtrack. From what I've heard, Hamauzu manages to make many of his themes a bit more accessible than some of his previous works and he is giving his own unique spin on the Final Fantasy series. It's funny how composers with whom I'm not the biggest fan tackle a major title in the Final Fantasy series and they seem to shine more so than others.

However, that's not all! The demo also came with trailers for Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII. The former, composed by Yoko Shimomura, didn't provide any new music per se. The trailer starts out with music from the most recently released public trailer and features heavy choir and orchestration. However, after that, it moves onto a new arrangement of "Somnus". As opposed to the original, there is a much deeper focus on the piano with some violin accents. It's definitely more emotional than the original version and I wonder if this is the definitive version now.

The trailer music for the latter, composed by Takeharu Ishimoto, was quite hard to hear, due to the tons of dialogue. From what I could discern, there seems to be a new "Prelude" arrangement that combines piano with a more militaristic approach, a march-like tune that seems to be heavily rock influenced, and a very dark piece that is led by strings. The verdict is still out on how I feel about this, as there are no clean samples, but given his track record, I'm not too hopeful. Well, that's it for this small report. If you'd like to hear the music, you can find demo videos on YouTube now.