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It seems that many fans have claimed to "roll with the punches" when it comes to Final Fantasy soundtracks since the SNES era. I, myself have thought that Uematsu's skills have increased dramatically in almost every respect, and it's my pleasure to announce that the latest FF score is quite enjoyable, for me at least. It's not the best of all the recent ones, but it marks a very stylish view for the music of the series. People who are looking for a more movie-like sound to the music are probably going to be very dissapointed since the music takes a complete, huge turn away from that perspective and lands on a considerably more pop-oriented armature. While this results in a soundtrack that is much more "video gamey" than recent previous installments, it does give the score a "hip" edge that the FF series hasn't visited since its earlier days on the SNES. And even though it reverts back somewhat, the polished skills of the composers give it a sound that is very fresh.
Since this soundtrack does take such a different stance on style, it is no surprise that Uematsu-san has enlisted the help of two other Squaresoft composers, Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Both make intelligent contributions to the overall sound, which makes for a much more interesting listen. Some have said that this leaves a very confused listening experience, and while I agree with this idea up to a point, I think that the different people used on the project each have plenty of ideas to contribute. One thing that I think is very cool about this is that while multiple-composer scores like the ones that Media Ventures churn out are confused and don't work extremely well, Final Fantasy video games are so broad stylistically that the many ideas of different artists almost all work very well, no matter how much they differ.
While Hamauzu and Nakano's tracks add much to the intrigue and the flavor of the score, it is of course Uematsu's contribution that should cause the biggest stir. This time the composer has expanded his musical palette to not only include spiffy electronic stuff, but has tried out for the first time, as many have mentioned, heavy metal. The first thought that most gave to this idea was one of disgust, but ever since I heard about it, I was intrigued by the idea. I should mention that this is the first FF soundtrack since part VII that I have heard in the game before acquiring the CD. The first time I heard the metal song "Otherworld" I almost died laughing. It's not that I thought it was funny, it was the fact that I was so impressed by Mr. Uematsu's effort. The track really came out of left field and it surprised me a lot. After having heard it many, many times at this point, I can probably say that it is one of Nobuo's best tracks ever, even though many people will probably dissagree with me. There's just something about it that is extremely catchy.
The most unfortunate drawback to having multiple composers in this case was the fact that Uematsu's themes tend to get buried in the rock-based music of the other composers. This is kind of sad since there are a couple very good melodies in there, and while there are character themes, they are not really a source of much attention apart from Yuna's theme, which I feel can actually be considered the main theme. There is a great synth-orchestral arrangement of it on the last disc that plays in the game as the party approaches a very important part of Yuna's "destiny". The second-most major theme is the "Hymn of the Fayth" - a very pastoral melody that is heard far too many times throughout the soundtrack. It works every time that it is played in the game, but sadly did not need to be heard on CD in each and every arrangement written for it.
Once again, there is a pop ballad based on the main theme that constitutes the "love theme" of the game. I'm glad to say is that the latest of these in the Final Fantasy series, "Suteki Da Ne" (or "Isn't it Beautiful?"), is my favorite thus far, completely blowing away both "Eyes on Me" and "Melodies of Life". Even though Rikki's voice isn't as strong as either of the pop divas to handle the first two songs in the series, it does match the "soul" of the tune better than either of the others. I like both arragements of the song, though I consider the final orchestral version the be the superior of the two by far.
There isn't really much bad to say about the soundtrack, other than that the composers could have collaborated on ideas a little more closely, but I won't complain too loudly about that. What I'm most dissapointed with is the fact that much of the soundtrack, Uematsu's tracks especially, suffers from a very strong "been there, done that" quality. Not that there's too much borrowing done, but many of the arrangements and chord progressions are almost identical to past FFs. The perfect example I can think of is one of the premiere track on the first disc, "Tidus's Theme". The chord progression at the very beggining is the same as one used in an early track on the FFIX soundtrack, and whenever it started up in the game, I wanted to start humming the "Melodies of Life" theme. Another problem is that the main theme of the Final Fantasy series (the bridge theme, or the prologue theme) is completely absent. It seems that we have seen the last of it. While this seems sad, I can't say that I feel all bad about it.
Now, my final complaint, as it has been with the last several Final Fantasy soundtracks, is that the synth sound quality is an abomination, especially in this day of 128-bit systems. The ordinary Playstation was never tapped to its true sound potential with the Final Fantasy series, even though it deserved to be, and now that we are even beyond that, we cannot seem to have sound quality that is even up the the true standards of yesteryear. Everyone responsible for the synth of the FF series has a lot to answer for, and this may include Mr. Uematsu himself since he seems to think that his music is carried just fine over the mediocre sound that we have heard from the series for years. Sorry, but the sound quality is unacceptable and we fans deserve more, but not as much as these greatly talented composers who are content to let everyone hear their music in a poor way.
The Final Fantasy X soundtrack is not quite all I was hoping for, but considering what we possibly could have gotten without the tried-and-true formula of solo Uematsu, I am quite pleased with the result. This latest soundtrack is not likely to blow you away, but it is fairly enjoyable on a strong, if not slightly superficial level.
The future of fantasy.
Reader review by James McCawley (2001-12-25)
After scoring all nine of Square's ever more complex and relentlessly produced Final Fantasy games, culminating in a gargantuan five-disc, 150+ track score for Final Fantasy IX, for the 10th installment and debut of the series on PlayStation2, series composer Nobuo Uematsu evidently and sensibly decided to hell with tradition, it was time for a little help.
Uematsu reached his apex for me with FFVI and has since struggled to varying degrees. I found VII generally excellent, but with some misguided and failed efforts at experimentation, VIII wildly inconsistent - several inspired tracks nestled among many more intolerable ones - and IX more assured and well crafted, but a bit shallow and workaday. However, IX evidently cost him far more of his energies than he could recover in time for X. The decision to bring on co-composers Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano was felicitously timed, for had Uematsu carried the soundtrack alone, it would have been the most disappointing and unmemorable Final Fantasy score since the series' inception. The choice of composers was also fortunate as Hamauzu and Nakano, the two current brightest lights at Square, both possess strongly individual and idiosyncratic harmonic styles that have imbued their past scores with inimitable musical voices, and now change the soundscape of Final Fantasy with a myriad of new flavors.
Hamauzu takes center stage. After rescuing the SaGa series from the mediocrity of Kenji Ito and providing Square one of its finest scores ever in SaGa Frontier II, Hamauzu here saves FFX from what's unquestionably Uematsu's flattest, most uninspired work to date, leaping chamelonically across a dynamic and volatile aural topography in full grasp of a refined harmonic palette and sharp ear for attractive, original tone colors. From the abstract downtempo beauty of "Bisaido Island", the sparkling and impressionistic "Splendid Performance", the energetic techno of "Blitz Off", the martial atonal orchestral snarls and shrieks of "Crisis" and the lonely, hypnotic minimalism of "Wandering Flame", Hamauzu doesn't have a single poor or even derivative track. His work infuses the Final Fantasy brand with fascinating new sounds which have no prior equivalents, and alone makes the soundtrack compulsory listening.
Nakano's contribution is slighter, but still a positive asset. His mellow and beautifully atmospheric music perfectly complements Hamauzu's more complex and focused style, and adds considerable color and texture to the score's overall effect. While a few of his tracks are somewhat uneventful, he comes up with some wicked standouts. The cold, mesmerizing "Illusion" seems to freeze the very air its sound waves pass through, "Luca" plays soaring strings and rugged bass against an ingeniously syncopated, off-kilter guitar and percussion rhythm, and "Summoned Beast Battle", my favorite battle theme in the whole FF series, interpolates the Song of Prayer motif and the chord structure from Illusion within a blistering, climactic orchestral setting.
Unfortunately, the winners from Uematsu's studio comprise a short list, and none achieve any special prominence or memorability. "At Zanarkand", the solo piano opening theme, is an agreeable piece but is also too simplistic and unassuming for its own good, and represents the melody's least interesting arrangement in the score. "Quiet before the storm" has an evocative, melancholic sound quality to it and is the most elaborate of Uematsu's tracks, even if he falls back on the cliched cadences and predictable chords we're hearing far too much of in his music now. There is also a solid and lively regular battle theme, one of the better ones in the series, the moody solo piano "Path of Repentance", and an effective orchestral epilogue with a suitably apotheosized appearance of the opening theme. Then of course, there is the now expected main vocal theme, "Suteki da ne" (Isn't it wonderful?) - tolerable this time, and certainly less obnoxious than Melodies of Life or the execrable Eyes on Me, but cut from the same cloth all the same. Uematsu still relies on an overly sappy melodic line, with perfunctory, predictable harmonies and the same slow pop ballad rhythm I find indigestible. In addition, vocalist Rikki has a rather irritating lilt to her voice which makes the vocal performance less than pleasurable. Uematsu also gives us the rather dubious bonus of a second vocal song, "Otherworld", an unutterably ghastly White Zombie ripoff that's really going to hurt us when aliens come to judge the overall dignity of our species' art.
The rest of Uematsu's tracks simply sound like the work of a man with a chronic sleep deficit and a deadline over before it started; underdeveloped, trivial ideas, assembled out of stagnating recycled phrases and melodic gestures from Uematsu's past, and presented in spare, simpleminded arrangements. Tidus, Yuna and Aaron's Themes, My Father's Murderer, and Jyoze Temple are good examples, among many others, of why caffeine overdose and creative thought do not mix. It's left to Hamauzu and Nakano to put Uematsu's themes in their best light.
Despite my indifference to the Suteki da ne theme, Hamauzu manages to transform it into one of the most beautiful tracks in the set: "Spiran Scenery", a recreation for solo guitar with syncopated latin rhythm and graceful jazz harmonies. The clarity of the guitar sample and Hamauzu's meticulous addition of dynamic and rhythmic expression make for the best and most convincing synthesized guitar I've ever heard in a game. Nakano comes up with a colorful adaption of Zanarkand, "Sprouting", with exotic percussion and a curious accordion-like lead that gives the piece an ingratiating French pop flavor. Even beyond straight rearrangements, both composers incorporate subtle quotes and references to the main themes into many of their own pieces, strengthening the score's thematic consistency and cinematic quality. The only fly in the ointment is the preponderance throughout the CDs of "Song of Prayer" tracks, a brief modal a cappella theme evidently written to accompany the spirit summonings. A few are given evocative arrangements, such as one for male chorus in Hindemithian quartal harmony. Had all been arranged uniquely, the repetition of this theme could have been justified, but most are simply monophonic, solo versions, distinguished only by differently ranged singers; it's a copout and a cheap way to enlarge the tracklist.
As far as sound quality, evidently the PS2 soundchip is not a huge advancement over PS1's. Although the sound programming and sample quality is only a moderate step up over FFIX, Hamauzu and Nakano get around the absence of revolution by experimenting with unique and unconventional electronic based sounds. Meanwhile Uematsu sticks largely to the same limited acoustic instrumental palette he's never strayed far from, and his tracks sound the weaker for it.
Overall, the quality of Hamauzu and Nakano's music is so fresh and immediate, it handily supercedes any ill will engendered by Uematsu's sub-par tracks, and he does at least have a few that rise above the murk. Unlike most structures, music scores are not only as strong as their weakest links. Final Fantasy X is a diverse and richly textured score, for me the most memorable of the Sony generation Final Fantasy's, whose scattered disappointments are held in check by the virtues of the music surrounding. Give Uematsu time to recuperate his abilities, and a return of this composing trio would be unstoppable.
This is one that grows on you.
Reader review by Nick Melton (2002-04-04)
It was obvious that many devoted fans of the Final Fantasy music genius Nobuo Uematsu were somewhat less than enthused when Square announced that two more composers would be working on the soundtrack for their latest entry in the FF series. I must admit that I was one of them. Nonetheless, I immediately got the soundtrack.
I was disappointed at first. The tracks not written by Uematsu all seemed to lack melodies (except for a few obvious exceptions - "Travel Company" by Hamauzu and "Summoned Beast Battle" by Nakano to name two). There were a few good tracks here and there by these two newcomers - Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu - but all in all, I was disappointed by what they had done.
Nobuo, though, did terrifically. The battle theme of FFX is my favorite out of all the normal battle themes, and "Brass de Chocobo" is my favorite chocobo arrangement. He also wrote the best one of the final battle song trilogy. He also wrote all of the character themes (which are fabulous), "Suteki da Ne", and the gorgeous "Ending Theme" (orchestrated courtesy of Shiro Hamaguchi). When I considered these facts, I saw it was obvious that Nobuo should have written this OST alone. I needn't say any more about Nobuo - it should be quite obvious now what I think about his work on this OST.
This was my initial impression.
But then something strange happened - the pieces by Nakano and Hamauzu began to grow on me. "Hurry!!", by Nakano, is one of the tracks that I listen to over and over again, despite its lack of melody. "Travel Company", by Hamauzu, is one I listen to quite a bit, and "Decisive Battle", also by Hamauzu, is quite enjoyable. Nakano has also thrown in a bunch of memorable tracks - "Enemy Attack" and "Summoned Beast Battle" to name two.
Yes, this OST takes several listens to get you to like it. Yes, this OST is experimental. The track "Otherworld" proves it (yet another leap for the FF music world). But all in all it is wonderful - fabulous character themes by Nobuo, exciting hurry themes by Nakano, and atmospheric and slow tracks by Hamauzu - make this is an exciting and ultimately rewarding listening experience. Warning: This OST isn't for everyone! Just because I like it doesn't mean you will! But now that I've said, go take a listen and see the new direction FF music is taking.
A new kind of Final Fantasy soundtrack.
Reader review by Roko Zaper (2001-12-25)
'Final Fantasy music is either going to change or brake...' I thought to myself as I contemplated the release of the 10th Final Fantasy soundtrack. It was later I found out that this time around Nobuo would be joined by 2 lesser known Square composers. I was certain this was where the 'change' would come, but to my suprise I discovered that even Nobuo's sense of his own music had changed. My advice; those who underestimate change are better off looking elsewhere for a soundtrack, while the rest of us have a chance to experience something truly new and outstanding.
There are 2 characteristics that distinguish this effort from any previous Final Fantasy soundtrack. Firstly, the heavy use of percussion in both ambient and more action-orientated tracks. And the reliance on two instruments to carry the soundtrack; piano and guitar. The strings of the past, so closely associated with Final Fantasy music, have only a minor role to play this time around. If I had to sum up the style of music this soundtrack brings across I would say it is electronic with a symphonic edge.
The change in Nobuo's music is already evident in the first 5 tracks; in which we are presented with a trance-like version of the 'Prelude' and 'Otherworld', a driving heavy metal song sure to raise a few eyebrows. What suprised me was not the inclusion of such styles but just how well Nobuo handles them. For e.g 'Otherworld' sounds as real as any other heavy metal song I've heard, proving yet again Nobuo's versatility as a composer. But how well do these 3 composers complement each other ? Although there are exceptions, this seems to be the general rule: Hamauzu and Nakano seem to be in action/ambient mode for the most part; dealing out fast-paced action music and more slower ambient statements. This forces Nobuo to give the soundtrack a melodic backbone, which he does, but some could argue the end result is a somewhat less melodic soundtrack than fans of the series are use to. Evidence for this is provided by the fact that even some of the character themes are ambient in nature (Seymour's and Lulu's theme).
The soundtrack is held together by two exceptional themes; 'Yuna's Theme' ( heard in 'Isn't it Beautiful ?' ) and the main theme of Final Fantasy X ( first heard in 'To Zanarkand' in blissful piano form ). Unlike some previous main themes of the series, the themes here aren't overused and are a joy to hear when they do appear. Although some of the more traditional aspects stand out like Nobuo's new take on the chocobo theme and Tidus' theme, it is more the experimental tracks that captivate the listener. The playful 'Bisaido Island' and the tranquil 'Wandering Flame' are just two examples. However, for some the inclusion of such ambient tracks may well be the soundtracks biggest flaw. To be certain, none of these tracks hurt the soundtrack like some tracks did Final Fantasy VII and VIII but there is a clear loss of emotional focus in places. In my opinion this is more a drawback of all soundtracks that span 4 discs than a lack of sound compositions.
Despite a few atheistic issues, Final Fantasy X is a perfect example of a soundtrack that shines where it needs to. 'Isn't it Beautiful ?', which is given an almost innocent tone by Rikki's distinctive voice is by far the most appropriate song the series has had while the final battle themes and the ending are definite highlights of the series as a whole. First of all Nobuo gives us 'Seymour Battle', a fast-paced creation with memorable melodic segments. I am sure everyone will agree this track could have only been composed by one man. Next, Nakano delivers 'Summoned Beast Battle', an affair of epic proportions that the series hasn't experienced since 'One Winged Angle'. But Hamauzu's 'Decisive Battle' is really the cream of the matter, a symphonic masterpiece with ingenious bursts of piano. To be sure, the final battle themes alone should give fans reason to celebrate. The 'Ending Theme' is at last understated and ranks as one of the most touching ending themes ever composed.
The most important thing of all is that Final Fantasy X provides something that is both new and aspiring. As I mentioned before thare will be many that will no doubt oppose the changes the series' music is experiencing. Fine. However, those with a wider sense of progess will no doubt hail the soundtrack as one of the most original and creative works to date. I for one will certainly be embracing this new direction the series is heading in. So to fans everywhere; Change has come. Change is good.
A great Final Fantasy soundtrack, but Uematsu should compose by himself.
Reader review by Robert J. Funches (2001-12-25)
For the first time in the Final Fantasy series, Squaresoft/Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu is joined by two other composers, Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Sure, they added two more people to make music, but the familiar feel of Final Fantasy VI through IX is now gone. It's not just due to the fact that the series has taken on a more futuristic setting, but many of the songs in the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack have lost Uematsu's unique style.
The CD opens with a short dialogue from Tidus before going to "At Zanalkand," which has been incorrectly dubbed as the Jump Festival Music. This second track is a beautiful piano solo that is both easy enough to play on your own piano and has a melody that can be found throughout the CD set without being too repetitive (think FFIX and "Melodies of Life" or FFVIII and "Eyes on Me"!). The third track is a techno mix of the famed Final Fantasy Prelude and definitely worth listening to.
Track 9 is the battle theme, which doesn't quite sound like you're fighting monsters and other Final Fantasy creatures. The battle theme is a little more bouncier than the FFIX battle theme, yet it is still in the minor key. How someone can compose a theme like this is completely unexplainable.
Track 17 on the first CD is "The Men Who Live For Blitz," which apparantly plays sometime during the Blitzball mini-game in FFX. The first time you listen to it, it almost sounds like a World Map theme, since the music moves along at a good pace. Surprisingly, some parts of this track don't sound synthesized, showing the increase in the synthesizer technology.
On the second CD, the only tracks worth mentioning are Yuna's Theme (track 1) and the Chocobo theme. Yuna's Theme is the melody heard in Suteki da ne, and the Chocobo theme has been jazzed up. Unlike other versions of the chocobo song that have received similar treatment, this track is one of my personal favorites.
The third CD is a literal dumping ground for the tracks I despise: pure background music where instruments change notes every five seconds, and endless variations on "Song of Prayer" that all sound the same! If you're thinking of trashing this CD, please keep it for the very last track, the original version of Suteki da ne. Featuring Okinawan singer Rikki, Suteki da ne (Isn't It Beautiful) has piano, violin, and guitar, among other beautifully played instruments. Most will recall Yuna's theme; the two are both the same song. A similar version is on CD 4 and is mentioned later.
Of course, the best is on the last CD. There, you'll find the final boss theme (track 18), which, unfortunately, could be better. The same mistake I mentioned in the battle theme appears here for the final boss music, to less of an extent; the song simply could be darker. And when I mean dark, the person playing piano sounds like a three year old pounding on the keys endlessly. This is one heck of a track, though, and is a great orchestration to listen to. It ranks pretty high up with FFVII's "One-Winged Angel."
Right after the final boss theme is the ending theme (track 19). It is based on "At Zanalkand" and is one of the best orchestrations throughout the entire series. However, the music from the original Final Fantasy game (the string music heard normally at the end of the credits) is gone, replaced by another piece of unknown origin. It's nice, but it would be better keeping a Final Fantasy tradition.
The 4-CD set wraps up with the orchestral version of Suteki da ne. Once the orchestra was added, the song lost a lot of its original feel, especially the beat. My personal favorite is the original version with a pop style to it, but if you like orchestra, this track is still a great arrangement. The last track gives this soundtrack a very good close.
The FFX Original Soundtrack probably ranks as my second or third favorite Final Fantasy soundtrack, since a lot of the tracks here are very repetitive and don't seem to do much except change notes every couple of measures. Hopefully Squaresoft will wake up and realize that maybe Uematsu is old enough to write music by himself that actually sounds like the old Final Fantasy music we all know.
This may be the end. So I want to tell everything...
Reader review by Andrew Oldenkamp (2001-09-16)
That phrase opens this latest Final Fantasy Opus (an English translation) and really says many things about this soundtrack. First, this soundtrack marks the end of Uematsu working solo, as he is joined by Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu (of Saga Frontier 2 fame). Secondly, this soundtrack firmly shuts the door of the once proud style that was created in Final Fantasy VI and opens a door into a more modern style Final Fantasy.
The second track "To Zanarkand" is a beautifully simple melody that is one of the main themes. What follows is an interesting mixed breed.
The first example of this fact is the version of the prelude that is included on disc one. It sounds like a rave remix of the crystal theme. I won't comment any more here, I'll let the listening public decide on what they think.
Another example of this is track 5, titled "Otherworld", a heavy metal rock piece. The irony of this piece is that it doesn't sound as out of place as you would think it would.
The battle track (track 9) is sadly not my favorite battle track. It is just way too upbeat and doesn't convey the feeling of an intense battle taking place.
Skipping ahead to "Song of Prayer", this track is a purely vocal track which is featured through out the soundtrack with only minor variations. While it is a good vocal piece, it would have been more interesting with different harmonizations in each of the repetitions. So, once you have heard the first incarnation you've heard them all. There is one exception to this rule with track 3 on disc two, which features some instrumentation in the background.
No Final Fantasy soundtrack would be complete without a rendition of the chocobo theme. This time it comes as a big band jazz number. It actually is quite a catchy arrangement (if you like jazz).
Continuing in the traditions set by Final Fantasy VIII, this game features a vocal song. The song is called "Suteki Da Ne" or "It's Beautiful, Isn't it?". The track has a lovely melody and good instrumentations. And you get two incarnations, like Final Fantasy VIII, one on disc 3 and one with a full orchestra on disc 4. The latter is not to be missed.
The battle tracks on disc 4 showcase everything that the normal battle music is not. The tracks are, as in track 9, upbeat and bouncy, but have a hint of menace and intensity.
Finally, the soundtrack rounds out with a beautiful ending theme which uses material from "To Zanarkand" and the "Song of Prayer", et al. The one dissapointment is that the main final fantasy theme is nowhere to be found here or anywhere.
To sum up the other tracks on the soundtrack, they have a distinct electronic sound to them, but it fits with the motif. The character themes are very well done, with different approaches to each. Of note, Seymour's theme is of a very mysterious nature, which would fit in with the villain that he is.
Is the soundtrack good, that depends on your perspective. If you were the type who didn't like the change in feel from Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy VII, this may not be the soundtrack. But if you are interested in a new experimental work, this would be just the ticket.