Final Fantasy XI Rise of the Zilart Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
The Final Fantasy XI franchise has been updated with new extensions approximately every 18 months by Hiromichi Tanaka's third Square Enix production team. The first extension Final Fantasy XI Rise of the Zilart revealed new areas and developed a plot concerning the intention of two Zilart princes attempting to become Gods. Naoshi Mizuta returned to single-handedly create around 20 new pieces of music to accompany the new areas, events, action sequences, mini-games, etc. Working closely with synthesizer operators Ryo Yamazaki, Hidenori Iwasaki, and Hirosato Noda, he set out to produce a high-quality acoustic soundtrack displaying many continuities with its predecessor.
Opening with a lively number, "Kazham" portrays a jungle paradise city introduced to the expansion. A brisk acoustic guitar ostinato gives rise to finely synthesized woodwind melodies that give a hint of the unfamiliar. The theme comes together very well, featuring many beautiful moments and sustaining a motivating drive. "Yuhtunga Jungle" finely portrays the tonberry-infested jungle that blankets Kazham's landscape. Focus is placed on a catchy ethnic-influenced bass riff that punctuates a slow developing ethnic flute melody. The rhythm perfectly sets the pace of the exploration while the lengthy development represents its vastness. However, those who found "Castle Zvahl" to be mind-numbingly long in the main soundtrack may find the 8:16 playtime obnoxious. In parallel, the reedy woodwind melodies and rustic guitar of "Rabao" capture one's contentment at the desert oasis. However, "Altepa Desert" is much more exhaustive, mostly featuring enigmatic cor anglais melodies against a barren marimba ostinato to accompany wandering through the enormous surrounding expanse.
Music sets a duality of moods in the grotto town "Norg" with inquisitive jazz-influenced clarinet primary melodies leading to a dusky secondary section. "Ro'Maeve" asserts a fascinating musical identity by contrasting smooth woodwind melodies with a detached accompaniment composed of pizzicato strings and muted acoustic guitar chords. The chorale "Hall of the Gods" is one of the few pieces to deviate from the acoustic soundscape of the soundtrack, depicting the resting place before the ascent into the floating island. "Tu'Lia" perfectly depicts this setting with feathery soundscapes and minimalistic accompaniment while "Ve'Lugannon Palace" asserts a serene spiritual identity at the Gate of the Gods located there; neither piece is particularly dazzling on a stand-alone basis but they are nevertheless two of the finest scene setters of the franchise. Arguably the gem of the soundtrack, "The Sanctuary of Zi'Tah" beautifully portrays a crystal-enlightened forest during its extensive fluid development; it notably deviates from Mizuta's ostinato-based approach in favour of a more dynamic acoustic guitar accompaniment.
The battle scenes for this extension are accompanied by a healthy variety of new themes. "Battle Theme #3" is reminiscent of other normal battle themes featuring resolute brass melodies, bold string accompaniment, and an especially dark interlude. Using similar instrumentation, "Battle in the Dungeon #3" distinguishes itself with brisk pace and lyrical drive assuring an exciting listen. "Tough Battle #2" imposes obsessive dissonant orchestral motifs against irregularly measured ostinato and percussion cross-rhythms; the result is disorientating and unpleasant, but also especially compelling. The final battle theme for the extension, "Belief", is an epic chimera of the others. Here, Mizuta blends an irregular ostinato pattern like "Tough Battle #2", engaging trumpet melodies like "Battle in the Dungeon #3", and richly flavoured interludes like "Battle Theme #3". Despite the formulaic approach to the composition of these battle themes, each is sufficiently individually characterised to be enjoyable on this soundtrack while sustaining the distinct sounds of Vana'diel.
The rest of the soundtrack mostly features miscellaneous event themes. Highlights include "Grav'iton", which brings back memories of "Mhaura" with its soothing guitar-supported flute melodies, and "Fighters of the Crystals", a pressing motivating action cue written in a similar way to some of the battle themes. The Chocobo theme also makes its first of four appearances in the Final Fantasy XI soundtrack series with "Dash de Chocobo"; one of my favourite renditions of the theme, the theme is able to breathe with its interpretations on solo Eb clarinet and acoustic guitar against a dainty percussive line. Moving towards the end of the soundtrack, the portrayal of the antagonist in "Eald'narche" creates uncertainty with the inherently simple construct of repeated marcato string notes and layered suspended brass notes. Finally, "End Theme" uses a classically-oriented combination of legato string arpeggios, wistful woodwind melodies, and reflective brass fanfares to create a lovely if understated conclusion to the extension soundtrack.
The first extension for Final Fantasy XI features a very well-produced soundtrack. Naoshi Mizuta develops the acoustic sound of the franchise and embellishes his occasionally mundane ostinato-based style to produce a series of successful setting, battle, and event themes. Though the album is less diverse than its predecessors and features fewer obvious highlights, Mizuta makes up for this by producing a consistent and fitting effort that becomes more appreciable with time. Thanks to the three synthesizer operators, his compositions also use some of the most realistic and enjoyable samples available. Widely considered the most accessible and well-rounded extension soundtrack, I would highly recommend purchasing it for those who liked the Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack and have discounted the Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack Premium Box as an alternative.
Overall Score: 8/10