I don’t see a lot of chatter about it, but from talking with some of my Final Fantasy XIV-playing friends, Stormblood was at best “OK.” It was an adequate expansion full of adequacy, and that adequaciousness spread over the soundtrack as well. I didn’t hate Stormblood’s score, I just had much higher expectations coming off of the amazing Realm Reborn and Heavensward offerings.
So now that we’re in the game’s third expansion, the crucial question for me is: Does Shadowbringers return FFXIV to its heights of musical glory, or does it do the job and nothing more a la Stormblood? My opinion is that it’s somewhere in between. There are a few absolutely fantastic tracks, many very good ones, and plenty of forgettable pieces. But overall, I see Shadowbringers as another positive notch on Composer Masayoshi Soken’s belt.
I’ve picked seven tracks to share with you today — give them a listen and let me know what you think in the comments!
After a bombastic opening, the familiar Final Fantasy harp strings are heard, nostalgia is rekindled, and all is right with the world. There’s a certain pattern to Final Fantasy themes, and this one falls in line with a lot that came before it, which makes it hard to critique. You either love this sort of theme or you don’t. Most times that FFXIV starts dipping into intense vocals, I tune out, but I love that this track starts working in the electric guitar to give it a rock-and-roll vibe. It’s a bit rusty and gnarly at the edges (again, those vocals), but at the core it’s a pretty fun ride.
So here’s a weird thing about FFXIV’s score: It never feels quite integrated into the game as it should be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s often fantastic, but it’s like you’re playing the game AND listening to the music for it rather than both together. The score makes no qualms about being bold in a way that’s hard to ignore it, and that creates a slight dissonance that can serve to lift one out of the game rather than deepen the immersion. Anyway, my opinion.
In this track, which is a lovely piano bit that typifies the peaceful night tunes that FFXIV offers, it’s like this poor chocobo is running around while a frantic piano player is chasing it from behind, banging away on the keys all the while.
Give me a boss theme like this over some choir angry-chanting any day! The pulse-pounding beat is soon joined by a distorted voice that sounds just like the one that Anthem included in its OST. I quite dig it, to be honest, and this whole track has to be amazing background music for drawn-out fights against monstrous foes.
If you haven’t heard this track by now, then you’ve probably heard people raving about it. The Rak’tika Greatwood theme is most assuredly the breakout track of Shadowbringers and another great entry into the canon of memorable zone themes in FFXIV. It’s uplifting, catchy, and moody in the best of ways to the point where it becomes a total earworm that you don’t want to ever dislodge. Someone in the comments noted that this has a touch of Enya to it, which I can see. Doesn’t bother me at all!
A little bit techno and a lot rock, The Twinning creates one of those breathless, nonstop themes that won’t relent until you win or die trying. Is it overpowering for use in the game proper? Perhaps, but you have to admit that this would be perfect if you wanted to make a FFXIV montage video featuring all of your best moves.
When I first heard this track, a wave of dizziness washed over me. It took me about six seconds to figure out that this is another one of those Final Fantasy throwback remixes — in this case, the terrific “Vamo’ Alla Flamenco” from Final Fantasy IX. Man, I loved that game (and that game’s soundtrack), and I’m super happy to see it brought back for the kinetic Dancer’s theme.
“Kholusia Everlasting Light”
I felt like we needed to end on a quieter, more introspective track, and this one certainly fit the bill. It’s a pretty enough track on the surface, but right underneath lurks something else. Something not as comfortable and friendly. Something even a little unsettling and terrifying. That’s a hard trick to pull off in a track, and I found that this one rewarded a lot of relistens.