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In November, Final Fantasy XV, the latest installment in a videogame franchise that has been praised for its expansive fantasy environments and immersive gameplay since the first title of the main series debuted in 1987, dropped. The dedicated fan base often cites the soundtracks as an essential part of what makes their favorite games a memorable experience-easily being able to associate places in the storyline with its distinct accompanying music. Most of the now iconic pieces that travel with the player throughout the past games were scored by Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s contributions to Final Fantasy has cemented his status as a legend in video games and perhaps the most well-known name in video game scoring. Final Fantasy XV will be the second installment in the main series that is absent an original Uematsu composition, a decision fit for a franchise with developers bent on reinventing the series. Final Fantasy XV is relying on industry veteran Yoko Shimomura along with some additional musical star-power to make the game’s score a noble addition to the Final Fantasy catalog.
Yoko Shimomura’s pieces for Final Fantasy XV will undoubtedly be under a microscope, but it would be hard to argue a more qualified candidate to entrust the latest Final Fantasy with. An industry staple since the late 80s, Shimomura packs credentials that include action-thriller Parasite Eve; JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicals and Legend of Mana; and the Kingdom Hearts series that has been closely linked to Final Fantasy for over a decade. Shimomura herself has stated that as she composed the soundtrack over the last decade, the pieces needed to fit the themes of comradery and brotherhood that the four main characters maintain and develop over the course of the game.
Production may have taken 10 years, but Shimomura executed her mission with one of the most spectacular introductions in all of Final Fantasy. Following the game’s initial cut scene, the four heroes are caught in the blistering desert heat with a car that has run out of gas. It’s the kind of disaster that can only be remembered fondly if it was spent with friends. The comradery of the moment is set to Florence + The Machine’s cover of Ben King’s “Stand By Me,” a track that has been used countless times to accompany scenes of friendship. Florence Welch’s beautifully soft crooning humorously juxtaposes with the party’s growing frustrations and hurled insults between one another. There is a remarkable feeling of genuineness between characters-something video games often struggle to create. “Stand By Me” is brilliantly utilized in this moment for humor, but also to set the expectation that these are not four individuals thrown together by fate like in past Final Fantasies. Florence + The Machine’s “Stand By Me” is one of the series defining moments to come from Final Fantasy XV because it immediately creates the feeling that this is going to be a different adventure than in past installments-exactly what the developers had envisioned.
The Final Fantasy series has always been dependent on exploring vast monster-infested areas. An immersive ambient track that loops smoothly is essential to aiding the feeling of being lost in whatever endless forest, desert, or frigid climate the player finds themselves. Shimomura delivers plenty of those depending on the area and climate that the player is in, but where her work really shines is in the battle themes. The battle theme as well as the boss theme are thrilling enough to push the pace and raise heart rates just as much as the fast-paced action that unfolds on screen. Matching the excitement of the action without distracting from the action is essential for a good battle theme, and Shimomura’s piece memorably accomplishes that feat. Hearing the theme over and over again will hardly be an annoyance, but those with keen hearing are likely to enjoy the powerful horns, driving percussion, and fluttering woodwinds. Yoko Shimomura’s compositions are just as effective during the party’s brief moments of relaxation. The lush atmosphere and soothing Spanish guitar of Camping Theme shows Shimomura is comfortable using a variety of instruments and injecting the soundtrack with some sonic diversity.
The first screen that greets the player to Final Fantasy XV reiterates the developer’s vision by stating, “A Final Fantasy For Fans and First-Timers.” Enlisting a pop star like Florence Welch to record tracks for Final Fantasy was a proverbial olive branch to new fans who would otherwise be turned off by a strictly instrumental soundtrack. For a casual listener, Yoko Shimomura’s pieces may not stand out on their own the way a Florence + The Machine track will. However, the sheer volume of tracks Shimomura produced for Final Fantasy XV have a variety to them that make each worth exploring. From densely layered orchestral pieces to minimal piano compositions, there is a song expertly crafted on this soundtrack to invoke just about every emotion and setting possible. The diverse instruments and moods create a remarkably versatile track list that shallower soundtracks are unable to compete with. There is a track on this deep soundtrack for the video gamer, soundtrack fanatic, or the person just looking to diversify their various playlists for everyday life.
Shimomura has balanced her own compositions with the work of others to create a videogame soundtrack that goes as deep as any game in the series. While the quality of the pieces will be unfairly tied to the quality of the game itself, Shimomura’s mission to honor what has been successful for the series in the past and incorporate modern flair is largely successful. It is difficult to predict how receptive the fans will be to Shimomura’s pieces, but one thing that can be counted on is that Youtube metal bros will be uploading their covers of these tracks quickly. Thankfully for the bros, Yoko Shimomura did not use too much wah pedal on the soundtrack already.
TJ Kliebhan is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. He really likes Boris. He also met Bruce Springsteen once. Along with Vinyl Me, Please, his work has appeared on Noisey, The A.V. Club, Chicago Reader, and others.
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