First there was the initial release of Final Fantasy XIV. Everyone generally agreed that this was a bad idea, and so it was sent away to a detox and rejuvenation clinic until it was ready to rejoin MMO society as a functioning game. Then there was FFXIV: A Realm Reborn, which represented a top-to-bottom overhaul of the game that exorcised the faulty performance, terrible design, and other lackluster features of the original.
Arguably, the best feature of FFXIV 1.0 was its soundtrack, which was created by acclaimed series composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s work on the Final Fantasy franchise stretched all the way back to the 1987 original, and for many fans, it was unthinkable to have a Final Fantasy title without his score driving the audio.
Uematsu’s Final Fantasy XI soundtrack is remembered fondly by many players of that earlier MMORPG, and thus it seemed quite fitting that the man would return to give Final Fantasy XIV that same seal of quality. And indeed, among some circles there was more excitement over Uematsu’s involvement over FFXIV 1.0 than enthusiasm for the game itself.
Going back and listening through the 1.0 tracks, I can attest that they have that classic Final Fantasy sound even more than is present in A Realm Reborn. This isn’t a knock in any way against ARR, it’s just a testimony to how Uematsu’s music glued the first dozen entries of the Final Fantasy franchise together and gave them cohesion.
However, Uematsu wasn’t destined to stay on FFXIV forever. The composer was looking at getting out of the Final Fantasy gig to explore other games, and so additional composers were brought on board to expand 1.0’s offerings, including one man named Masayoshi Soken.
When Square Enix decided that it would take FFXIV offline to overhaul the game, the company had to grapple with the soundtrack as well. The whole idea of A Realm Reborn was, well, rebirth. It wasn’t going to be a glossy makeover of the original, tweaked here and there to make it more palatable, but rather the project was a complete rework.
And while everyone agreed that the 1.0 soundtrack was incredible, if it was kept on for A Realm Reborn it could cause issues. Players might be seeing and experiencing a different MMO, but they’d be hearing the old one and thinking upon 1.0 through that musical association. Regrettably, the 1.0 soundtrack was jettisoned in favor of creating a mostly new score from scratch.
“Bringing closure to the original game and creating a brand new sound for A Realm Reborn was very exciting prospect,” said Soken in a 2017 interview. “We had to create music that would help to clear any stigma that may have been associated with the original, while also creating a sound with not only a completely new image but also a traditional fantasy game vibe. I remember racking my brains quite hard during this process.”
This time, Uematsu would not be involved (although he would create the themes for the base MMO and its two subsequent expansions). Rather, Soken was given the lead composer duties after proving that he was quite capable due to his 1.0 contributions. He got to work and started pumping out track after track of what would become an award-winning and even Guinness World Records-placing soundtrack.
I do want to put in a brief note here that while I’m singling out these two composers for the different eras of this game’s soundtrack, there have been other artists who have contributed to the soundtrack, such as Naoshi Mizuta, Tsuyoshi Sekito, and Ryo Yamazaki.
Soken’s compositions have gone on to cement FFXIV as not just one of the best MMO soundtracks in existence, but one of the best video game scores, period. Yet with a wealth of 1.0 score out there, Soken and Square Enix didn’t want to completely waste that backlog of music, especially after A Realm Reborn had established its identity. Thus, some of 1.0’s score was reintroduced into the 2.0 game in new locations or with reworked variants. Listen closely, and you might catch one of Uematsu’s pieces here and there.
While the soundtrack mostly disappeared from the reimagined game, it wasn’t completely gone. In August 2013, Square Enix released the full score as a 104-track album called Before Meteor. With well over six hours of music, the 1.0 soundtrack delighted old veterans of the early game while making new fans who were seeking even more classic FFXIV.
This feels to me like a good compromise. I can understand why the soundtrack had to go to make way for the rework, but I can also appreciate its artistry and celebrate the fact that it has been preserved for the soundtrack lovers among us.