It seems that many fans have claimed to "roll with the punches" when it comes to Final Fantasy soundtracks since the SNES era. I, myself have thought that Uematsu's skills have increased dramatically in almost every respect, and it's my pleasure to announce that the latest FF score is quite enjoyable, for me at least. It's not the best of all the recent ones, but it marks a very stylish view for the music of the series. People who are looking for a more movie-like sound to the music are probably going to be very dissapointed since the music takes a complete, huge turn away from that perspective and lands on a considerably more pop-oriented armature. While this results in a soundtrack that is much more "video gamey" than recent previous installments, it does give the score a "hip" edge that the FF series hasn't visited since its earlier days on the SNES. And even though it reverts back somewhat, the polished skills of the composers give it a sound that is very fresh.
Since this soundtrack does take such a different stance on style, it is no surprise that Uematsu-san has enlisted the help of two other Squaresoft composers, Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Both make intelligent contributions to the overall sound, which makes for a much more interesting listen. Some have said that this leaves a very confused listening experience, and while I agree with this idea up to a point, I think that the different people used on the project each have plenty of ideas to contribute. One thing that I think is very cool about this is that while multiple-composer scores like the ones that Media Ventures churn out are confused and don't work extremely well, Final Fantasy video games are so broad stylistically that the many ideas of different artists almost all work very well, no matter how much they differ.
While Hamauzu and Nakano's tracks add much to the intrigue and the flavor of the score, it is of course Uematsu's contribution that should cause the biggest stir. This time the composer has expanded his musical palette to not only include spiffy electronic stuff, but has tried out for the first time, as many have mentioned, heavy metal. The first thought that most gave to this idea was one of disgust, but ever since I heard about it, I was intrigued by the idea. I should mention that this is the first FF soundtrack since part VII that I have heard in the game before acquiring the CD. The first time I heard the metal song "Otherworld" I almost died laughing. It's not that I thought it was funny, it was the fact that I was so impressed by Mr. Uematsu's effort. The track really came out of left field and it surprised me a lot. After having heard it many, many times at this point, I can probably say that it is one of Nobuo's best tracks ever, even though many people will probably dissagree with me. There's just something about it that is extremely catchy.
The most unfortunate drawback to having multiple composers in this case was the fact that Uematsu's themes tend to get buried in the rock-based music of the other composers. This is kind of sad since there are a couple very good melodies in there, and while there are character themes, they are not really a source of much attention apart from Yuna's theme, which I feel can actually be considered the main theme. There is a great synth-orchestral arrangement of it on the last disc that plays in the game as the party approaches a very important part of Yuna's "destiny". The second-most major theme is the "Hymn of the Fayth" - a very pastoral melody that is heard far too many times throughout the soundtrack. It works every time that it is played in the game, but sadly did not need to be heard on CD in each and every arrangement written for it.
Once again, there is a pop ballad based on the main theme that constitutes the "love theme" of the game. I'm glad to say is that the latest of these in the Final Fantasy series, "Suteki Da Ne" (or "Isn't it Beautiful?"), is my favorite thus far, completely blowing away both "Eyes on Me" and "Melodies of Life". Even though Rikki's voice isn't as strong as either of the pop divas to handle the first two songs in the series, it does match the "soul" of the tune better than either of the others. I like both arragements of the song, though I consider the final orchestral version the be the superior of the two by far.
There isn't really much bad to say about the soundtrack, other than that the composers could have collaborated on ideas a little more closely, but I won't complain too loudly about that. What I'm most dissapointed with is the fact that much of the soundtrack, Uematsu's tracks especially, suffers from a very strong "been there, done that" quality. Not that there's too much borrowing done, but many of the arrangements and chord progressions are almost identical to past FFs. The perfect example I can think of is one of the premiere track on the first disc, "Tidus's Theme". The chord progression at the very beggining is the same as one used in an early track on the FFIX soundtrack, and whenever it started up in the game, I wanted to start humming the "Melodies of Life" theme. Another problem is that the main theme of the Final Fantasy series (the bridge theme, or the prologue theme) is completely absent. It seems that we have seen the last of it. While this seems sad, I can't say that I feel all bad about it.
Now, my final complaint, as it has been with the last several Final Fantasy soundtracks, is that the synth sound quality is an abomination, especially in this day of 128-bit systems. The ordinary Playstation was never tapped to its true sound potential with the Final Fantasy series, even though it deserved to be, and now that we are even beyond that, we cannot seem to have sound quality that is even up the the true standards of yesteryear. Everyone responsible for the synth of the FF series has a lot to answer for, and this may include Mr. Uematsu himself since he seems to think that his music is carried just fine over the mediocre sound that we have heard from the series for years. Sorry, but the sound quality is unacceptable and we fans deserve more, but not as much as these greatly talented composers who are content to let everyone hear their music in a poor way.
The Final Fantasy X soundtrack is not quite all I was hoping for, but considering what we possibly could have gotten without the tried-and-true formula of solo Uematsu, I am quite pleased with the result. This latest soundtrack is not likely to blow you away, but it is fairly enjoyable on a strong, if not slightly superficial level.