Review: Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn & From Astral to Umbral

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has garnered a lot of praise as a reboot of what–according to soundtrack nomenclature–is called the Before Meteor version of Eorzea. The Before Meteor soundtrack was good, but having heard great things about the new A Realm Reborn material, I was excited to dig in.

Then I realized that the Blu-ray disc that houses the soundtrack contains over eight hours of music. So I thought to myself, why not review this eight-plus hours of music, and review the piano and rock arrangement album at the same time? What’s another hour of music at that point?

Does the new music live up to expectations? Read more below.

First of all, A Realm Reborn contains a ton of new music, but also features some returning pieces from Before Meteor (thankfully the playful musical-style “Good King Moggle Mog XII,” my favorite track from Before Meteor, is intact). This is also Masayoshi Soken’s biggest project at Square Enix to date as the lead composer on the project. I loved his work on Nanashi no Geemu, but nobody has heard much from this “synthesizer operator” at Square Enix. He’s joined by Film Score (Nobuko Toda and Yoshitaka Suzuki), who bring a cinematic flair to the table as well.

In terms of the music, overall, many of the zones feature lengthy tracks that break the ten-minute mark. These tracks aren’t just ambient in nature, but sometimes highly varied and melodic, which I thought was impressive and smart given the extended duration that people tend to heard this music when grinding in an MMORPG. There are also a ton of references to past Final Fantasy music, from multiple instances of “Prelude,” classic Final Fantasy III tracks (battle theme and dungeon theme, which are awesome), that classic Final Fantasy battle theme bass riff, and even other surprises. There are also recurring themes, in that an area will have a set track with a distinct motif that may be repeated in the edgier battle track that accompanies that area, which is a nice touch. The last thing I’ll say about the approach is that a lot of the music tries to stay out of the way, which is appropriate for an MMORPG, and that it never takes itself too seriously, and is generally upbeat and easy going.

To call out a few of my favorites of the 120 tracks featured, I love the beautifully layered “Sultana Dreaming,” the adventurous “A Sailor Never Sleeps,” and the whimsical “Whalers and Waterwheel.” “Promise of Plunder” sounds a little Sakimoto-esque, while “Below” gets a little industrial. A couple of my favorites are “Smoulder” and “Pitfire,” which share a melody, with a grittier vibe in the former and exotic instrumentation in the latter. “Where the Heart Is” is upbeat and has a tropical flavor, while “Where the Hearth Is” is bubbly and dreamy with its swaying guitar and strings. “My Soul To Keep” is a bit ominous with the use of organ, but still not too serious. We get heavy metal with “Under the Weight,” emotional with “Forever Lost,” and explosive and cool in “Emperors Wont.” “Ultima” is a powerful boss battle theme with a catchy melody and epic choir, while “Primal Timbre” offers synth pop with added brass. And… “Battle on the Big Bridge Reborn?” You’ll have to hear it for yourself, but I love the rock organ and smashing percussion.

Then there’s my favorite track on the album: “Penitus.” I was curious about the track even before listening, as the 19:12 run time had me intrigued. It doesn’t disappoint as an amazingly epic orchestra/synth pop hybrid track. It’s tense, it’s cool, and of course, always fun.

Then there’s the arrange album, From Astral to Umbral, which is half piano collection, half rock band. The piano portion visits a lot of tracks that didn’t stand out to me on the original soundtrack, but actually makes me enjoy them a lot more. The beautiful and soft passages of “Serenity” ease you into the album with some great contrast between bass and high notes, while “To the Sun” and “A New Hope” are jubilant adventures, the former with some great rhythmic variation.

The rock portion of the album, performed by in-house band The Astrals, also impressed me. I’ m usually not one for metal, but the style of the group aligns more closely with ‘90s alternative rock, which I’m all about. “Primal Judgment” feels distinctly grunge with overdriven guitars, while “Fallen Angel” works in choir and some great guitar riffs. My favorites are the last two tracks, however, which sport female vocals. “Thunder Rolls” is slow and mellow, with a melancholy vocal performance with lots of reverb to lend it a sense of space, while “Oblivion,” easily my favorite track on the album, is catchy and features a powerful vocal performance.

Having never played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, I can at least say I’m a fan of the music. I really like the overall atmosphere and stylistic decisions that went into the score. It looks like nostalgia plays a big role as well, which I don’t think anyone can object to. The arrangement album also offers new takes on themes that you may have overlooked from the original soundtrack, so I’d recommend checking out both albums (both on Blu-ray).

You can pick up the original soundtrack and arrange album on CD Japan.

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