Sometime earlier this year I posted my review of XENOBLADE CHRONICLES on SoundtrackCentral and Adam was generous enough to publish it. Given that I was so blown away by this soundtrack, I had high hopes for the sequel.
I have to admit that handing the job over to a composer better known for his work on Anime series like ATTACK ON TITAN was a rather curious move from the start, but I had hopes nonetheless.
As it turns out, XBCX is a nature of a different beast in terms of music. While there are some beautiful tracks to be had, Hiroyuki Sawano's score is otherwise mostly bombastic, pounding, and heavily aggressive rock-flavored fare. For the most part, considering the (literally) alien nature of the game's atmosphere, it seems well suited to the primal themes of survival against wild beasts. Having said that, his score has a wildly rebellious attitude to its style, mostly in the form of providing vocal tracks to situations where one wouldn't expect them. "Black Tar", in its attempts to sound gritty and hard-edged, ultimately comes across as goofy, especially in the rap lyrics which come across as the opposite of mature with lines such as "this world sucks!" Reactions may be similarly divided about the theme for New Los Angeles, which again tries to use vocals to provide a similar tone. Again, it comes across as unintentionally silly.
In spite of its occasional misfires, though, this isn't to say that XBCX isn't capable of turning out an occasional standout tune or two. The opening theme which begins the score, "MONO.X" is a brilliant and epic piece, especially the choral driven moment toward the end of it. And while "The Key We've Lost" is yet another vocal track, this one gets a pass for achieving a similarly epic tone with its rock-heavy flair. Although part of it might be that I'm overly familiar with these two pieces since Nintendo used both of these songs to hype the game during the trailers at E3.
The tracks I liked best were some of the quieter ones, notably "Sylvalum"; this piece in both its daytime and nighttime versions is utterly gorgeous, painting a mystical, ethereal quality from the start. Oddly, my favorite tracks might have to be the piano ones on Disc 4. Although not as instantly recognizable or memorable as the original, these tracks are a refreshing break from much of the score's rambunctious flavor.
That's not the entirety of my review as I will be spending time on it before I decide it's ready to be published here, but my opinions on Sawano's work is that it is a rather curious and simultaneously fascinating work. It's an interesting effort for a debut score from an Anime composer, but its experimental and sometimes overeager nature may understandably divide people expecting another score in the same caliber as XBC. I can't say I'm disappointed with the soundtrack; it fits the atmosphere of the game well, but I wouldn't elevate it to the same level as the original. That said, its gorgeous tracks do make it worth a look.