The last time that Square Enix did a direct sequel, many found the soundtrack to be subpar, in a variety of aspects. Rather than utilize the main composers for Final Fantasy X, they opted to go with Takahito Eguchi and Noriko Matsueda to craft the soundtrack for the Final Fantasy X-2. Opinions were split due to the overall style, focusing more on electronic music, and forgoing many of the themes from the original that made it so popular. Skip ahead a number of years and we are brought to the recently released sequel of Final Fantasy XIII. Unlike the last time, the main composer in this case, Masashi Hamauzu was brought back to reprise his role. However, in addition, Mitsuto Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta would be joining him as co-composers. The soundtrack itself focuses on a variety of styles offerings both vocals and instrumentals, ranging from soundscapes and styles present in Final Fantasy XIII to contemporary ones, mainly by the new composers. Given this varied approach, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is most assuredly going to split the fan base, as the last direct sequel did, but is the soundtrack an accomplished one overall?
Although the composer for Final Fantasy XIII, Masashi Hamauzu has a limited role on this soundtrack providing roughly one quarter of the tunes, primarily in soundscapes and styles originating in the prequel, rather than going the contemporary route of his co-composers. The opening sequences and battles in the game focus primarily on those dealing with Lightning. The album opens with "Final Fantasy XIII-2 Overture." Rather than the militaristic approach to "Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII," this theme is a bit more ethereal and dark in nature, focusing on ambient synthesizers, choral samples, and some impressionistic strings work to create a very mysterious atmosphere with a hint of beauty. There are no gigantic orchestrations here like the last score and this remains true for much of the rest of the soundtrack. Following that, "Beautiful Heroes" definitely reminds me of "Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII." It's a blend of more militaristic tones mixed with more stunning violin passages. This exhilarating theme stands as one of Hamauzu's best on the soundtrack.
The main theme for this game, "Final Fantasy XIII ~Wish~," once again serves as the basis for Serah's theme. This is an exquisite theme focusing on endearing piano melodies, romantic strings accompaniment, and brass flourishes and counter-harmonies that bring a lovely texture to the piece. In my opinion, it's a much more beautiful composition than its predecessor's counterpart. This theme shows up again as "Final Fantasy XIII-2 ~Future~," largely keeping the same format as the "Wish" counterpart, however, the second half of the theme focuses more on woodwinds, providing a very lighthearted interpretation of the theme. I'll get to the vocal version of this theme a bit later.
"Knight of the Goddess" is one of the battle themes that's featured in the beginning of the game. Arranged by both Masashi Hamauzu and Ryo Yamazaki, it's quite similar to the way "Blinded of Light" progresses featuring a focus on violin, bold orchestral and piano passages, and a bit of a funk rock groove before the loop. Yamazaki also helps arrange "God of War." It's a theme that features a style closer to Hamauzu's atmospheric battle themes from Final Fantasy X. There's a very ambient presence on this theme initially and I think it really works, as it makes the brass passages stand out more. As the theme progresses, there is a focus on more militaristic percussion and the brass passages that reincorporate "Knight of the Goddess" are quite lovely. It's a very beautiful piece, but one of the less entertaining themes by Hamauzu. Another presumable battle theme is "Eternal Fight." Featuring a wonderful ambience, this one integrates hints of romance, darkness, and tension in a somewhat paradoxical manner. I really like the distorted rock and electronic components that are featured, the static rhythm of some of the strings accompaniment, and the beautiful strings and brass melodies. It's definitely a theme that carries that ambience similar to "God of War," but is executed in a much better way.
The last track in the initial Hamauzu is block is "An Arrow through Time." It's a very pensive strings focused theme that offers a very reflective look at the "Knight in the Goddess" theme. An absolutely stunning rendition of the theme, it offers a very emotional side to the energetic theme on which it is based. "A World without Cocoon" offers a very dark, atmospheric orchestral theme with a piano motif of "Knight of the Goddess" initially, before moving into a bit of a more lighthearted piano/light electronic mixture featuring some choral samples. It's a very intriguing blend of styles, clearly based on the event scene it accompanies, and I think it works quite well. "The Gates of Etro" also features the "Knight of the Goddess" motif, offering a very mysterious, yet airy, take on the theme with its poignant piano, romantic strings, and woodwind work.
One of the town themes featured on the album is composed by Hamauzu and with additional arrangement support by Ryo Yamazaki. "The City of Academia" a very ethereal track, featuring an electronic backing, plenty of solo violin, and some brooding piano chords. It's an extremely beautiful track and definitely one of Hamauzu's best on the soundtrack. A related theme, "Theme of the Academy" has a very martial sound to it, however, at the same time, it features wispier woodwind sections with romantic strings, providing for a very inviting soundscape. "A Broken Wonder" is a romantic piano piece that brings back memories of Final Fantasy XIII Piano Collections. There's a touch of sadness in the theme and as the theme progresses the addition of strings and woodwinds help accentuate this feeling, but provide a sense of hope at the same time.
Hamauzu is also responsible for the character themes related to characters introduced in the first game. "Hope's Theme ~Confessions~, co-arranged by Ryo Yamazaki, is a beautiful theme featuring a bit of a light jazz tone, a rustic atmosphere, and some contemplating piano and strings work. I much prefer this to the original rendition featured in the prequel. As mentioned earlier, the main theme of the game is the basis for Serah's theme. Her theme, like the prequel, is a vocal rendition. Titled "Serah's Theme ~Memory~," sung by Frances Maya, is an extremely beautiful take on the original. While it doesn't differ too much from the themes that feature this melody already, the addition of the vocals brings a sense of warmth to the mix and the expanded piano work really complements the melody quite well. "Lightning's Theme ~Unguarded Future~" features some arrangement work by both Hamauzu and Mitsuto Suzuki. It's a beautiful, melancholy piano rendition of her theme, featuring some light electronic and strings accompaniment. Out of all the Lightning themes in existence, this is probably my favorite. Lastly, "Tears of the Goddess" also features Lightning's motif, continuing with the light electronic accompaniment, but focusing more on endearing woodwind and strings work to provide a very solemn tone.
The ever-popular "Chocobo's Theme" makes its return for this game and is arranged in a variety of ways. Before moving on to the ones that most people will find more successful, the "black sheep" of the family, "Crazy Chocobo," arranged and sung by Devil May Cry's Shootie HG, is by far the most polarizing rendition of the theme to date. Done in a heavy metal style with matching vocal performance, it is definitely a bold take on the original, but most people have found the theme to be a bit of a joke. I am not the biggest fan of the vocals, mainly due to the cheesy lyrics, but the style is a refreshing take on the usually lighthearted renditions featured throughout the series. "Rodeo de Chocobo," arranged by Kengo Tokusashi, is probably used during the chocobo races in the casino, if I speculate correctly. This is an interesting theme, featuring a bit of the spaghetti western style I'd associate with the title, but at the same time, I definitely sense some tropical influence as well, mainly due to the steel drum usage. It's a fun rendition of the original and I think most fans will enjoy this one.
Suzuki is responsible for about a quarter of the soundtrack as well. One of these is my favourite rendition of the chocobo theme on the album, "Groovy Chocobo." The intro to the theme has a bit of a funky jazz approach before adding some strings work that provides a bit of a choppy rendition of the theme itself before moving onto a lighthearted electronic arrangement with glockenspiel as the main instrumentation and the occasional "Chocobo" vocal sample. The funk breakdown in the middle is also quite enjoyable. His two fanfare themes "Glorious Fanfare," played when you get 5 stars as your battle result, and "Congratulatory Fanfare," for any other battle result, provide different atmospheres. The former is more in-line with the prequel's theme, focusing on a more ethereal sound and piano although the tempo is a bit increased. The latter, on the other hand, sounds like it could be a victory theme in a shmup, with its increased tempo and a more much varied electronic approach. The game over theme "Empty Solitude," is a reflective electronic piece that really gives off that sense of defeat, although not in a brooding or extremely depressing way.
Suzuki is also responsible for a variety of area themes. The first "Neo Bodhum," reminds me in many ways of a modern Besaid in terms of style, albeit more contemporary and pop-influenced in approach. I really like the combination of the more electronic components with the rustic nature of the acoustic guitar in the accompaniment. I love how Suzuki implements the violin in many of his tunes and the way he distorts this heavily making it almost sound like a distorted saxophone at times is pretty genius. I also feel that Origa's vocal work complements the wispy nature of the tune. The aggressive mix counterpart of this track, played when enemies are in the area, seamlessly transitions on the soundtrack and provides a more psytrance-like accompaniment, some vocoder implementation of the lyrics, and a more energetic approach. It would definitely work in a Ridge Racer game.
The best Suzuki theme on the entire album, in my opinion, is "Eclipse" and its aggressive mix counterpart. The original opens up with deep, brooding piano and violin work, providing an exquisitely captivating theme right from the gate. The entire track features some ethereal vocal and electronic work, but the violin clearly is the star of the show, providing much of the melody. It works so wonderfully with the piano and electronic components of the composition, especially when it starts to get a bit heavier. It's an extremely satisfying exploration. However, the aggressive mix is probably even better. It's an edgy electronic/rock hybrid that manages to accentuate the atmosphere established in the original with its trance/drum n' bass focus. This dual of themes somehow manage to convey deep emotions and rich scenery on the field, while still capturing a sense of adventure. "Labyrinth of Time" is another favorite of mine. It's an electronic piece that really manages to provide a bit of a jovial atmosphere with what, to me, sounds like a bit of a tropical and jazz influence. The melody is also quite enjoyable with its use of lighthearted synthesizers to create this spacey soundscape.
"Parallel World" and its aggressive mix equivalent is also another great area theme by Suzuki. I really like the ethereal nature of the original tune, focusing on wispy vocals by Origa, the atmospheric approach to the melody, and the occasional strings accompaniment. It's a beautiful theme that really manages to draw the listener in. The aggressive mix, on the other hand, is much faster paced and focuses on a piano and vocal rendition of the melody mixed with synthesizer as backing. The last of Suzuki's area themes that have an aggressive mix counterpart is probably the weakest of his area themes, in my opinion. "Augustia Tower," is a very ambient theme, focusing on some sustained strings work combined with some futuristic electronic beeping, similar to what you may hear in a sci-fi movie and a giant control panel. At least, that's how I imagine it. As the theme progresses, it becomes a bit more complex and a bit more industrial, but it never truly grabs the listener, like his previous themes. The aggressive mix focuses more on melody with an aggressive electronic beat, but it doesn't really improve upon the original too much. In fact, I prefer the original version to this version.
There are two more themes from Suzuki that bear mentioning. The first, "Historia Crux," featuring Origa on vocals, is a tune that has been used in trailers and on the website before. It features a very diverse progression, ranging from an ethereal opening, to some more orchestral sections with electronic backing of course to the climax. This section features powerful vocal work, although the "Time and Space" repetition part of the lyrics can get a bit overbearing at times. Lastly, "Limit Break!" is the only solely composed battle theme by Suzuki, at least based on what I hear on the soundtrack. It's another theme that may split opinions, given it features the vocal work by Shootie HG, but the easiest comparison is to compare it to some of the music you might hear in the Devil May Cry series fused with something you might hear in the more action packed themes in Vanquish. It has that rock/electronic focus that provides some intensity to the mix. In addition, I really like the more subtle, softer electronic components of the theme. It's definitely one that may take some time to grow on those, especially those not familiar with the series I mentioned.
The main composer of the soundtrack is Naoshi Mizuta and, in my opinion, this is the first soundtrack in which he truly shines even if it is to the chagrin, for the most part, of what many people hold dear about music in the Final Fantasy series. Responsible for many of the games major themes, such as character themes, battle themes, and area themes, he offers a diverse array of soundscapes, some more tradition and some more experimental. "Paradox" is more akin to something you might hear from Masashi Hamauzu with brooding orchestral tones and mysterious strings work. "Battle Shot" features a piano lead with ethereal synthesizer that helps accentuate that mysterious atmospheric sound, while "Book of Prophecies" and "Stigma of an Oath" interpret the same motif from "Paradox" a bit of a darker atmosphere, with the former doing so by sinister electronic components and the latter with tense orchestration. Such thematic continuity definitely strengthens the thematic basis of a collaborative soundtrack.
Mizuta's battle themes offer a diverse array in and of themselves. The first Mizuta battle theme, "Giant Impact," is one of the boss themes of the game. It features a brooding electronic component and is quite ambient and atmospheric in nature. In many ways, it is reminiscent of an aggressive Junya Nakano in terms of sound, especially through the layering of the strings and electronic elements. Another action theme, "Run" certainly gives off that atmosphere. It's easily one of the best themes on the entire album, featuring a jazzy rock soundscape. I really like the overall flow of this piece, from the violin focused melody to the groovy accompaniment, to all the amazing solo instrument sections, particularly the piano. I swore this was arranged by someone else, since it sounds so unlike Mizuta, but most of his tracks here are all arranged by the composer himself. Another shocking theme from Mizuta is definitely "Last Hunter." This theme features some slick rock passages mixed with more exquisite violin passages. It's a fantastic combination and really manages to showcase Mizuta's hidden versatility and, at the same time, fans will probably appreciate the focus on violin, established in the battle themes from the prequel.
"Paradigm Shift" is a fantastic blend of electronic beats, synthesizer, and strings work, particularly in the violin lead, providing a very motivating, energetic battle theme. The electronic beat really works well with aforementioned strings work and is very reminiscent of something you might hear from Supersweep. Speaking of Supersweep, "Worlds Collide" sounds like a fusion of Shinji Hosoe and Shoji Meguro, in the fact that there is an extremely catchy electronic tone, like something straight out of the Ridge Racer series with some strings accompaniment. As the theme progresses, the track turns into a rap track, instantly conjuring up images of Persona 3, at least to me. What's more shocking about this theme is that, for a boss theme, the second half of the album is quite mellow in comparison. The rap vocals are retained, but at the same time, the overall mood shifts to an ethereal ambience. It's an interesting contrast, but it definitely works.
Mizuta is also responsible for some area themes on the album as well. First off, I'll start with the most controversial of the area themes, "Invisible Invaders." Rather than focus on actual sung vocals like many of the area themes on the soundtrack, Aimee Blackschleger provides a rap track, although, upon her own admission, it does sound more like a poetry reading. The vocal style is probably what will ingratiate most listeners, but the backing music is quite nice, providing an upbeat, yet ethereal, accompaniment that is reminiscent of something you might expect in a Xenosaga game. The aggressive mix version is much more engaging due to the change of the beat into a more drum n' bass style and is probably the more enjoyable of the two. "Ruined Hometown" is probably my favorite of Mizuta's vocal area themes. The vocals of Joelle, known for her work on Last Ranker, fit perfectly with the groovy rhythm and the ethereality of the atmosphere. It's a very simple track, featuring crystalline piano, strings, and bass guitar, but the melody is absolutely beautiful. The aggressive mix, as the name implies, incorporates a much more aggressive drum n' bass accompaniment, but it manages to work with the piano and the vocals.
Joelle returns on vocals for "Plains of Eternity." This is much more pop-oriented, featuring some peppy strings and piano work and a bit of a heavy electronic beat. It's definitely a fun track, but at the same time, it isn't as engaging, compositionally, as "Ruined Hometown." You will probably still get it stuck in your head though. The aggressive mix is quite different. Rather than keeping Joelle on vocals, she's replaced by a violin and the beat much more engaging. There's definitely elegance with this version and in many ways I think it serves as a stronger composition and would have been better served as the normal mix, in my opinion. "Xanadu, Palace of Pleasure" serves as one of the town themes in the game. It is quite intriguing, although the intro sounds like it comes straight out of an 80's tune. Overall, the tone is quite jazzy, featuring plenty of saxophone, and is quite infectious overall, but some of the sound design does make it sound like a forgotten track from years ago. Fortunately, "Win or Lose," which also incorporates this melody, is much more successful featuring a bluesy jazz tone that stylistically is much like "Sazh's Theme" from the original acoustic in tone, but due to the nature of the track, is much more upbeat.
Mizuta was also responsible for the character themes that are new to the game. "Noel's Theme" is a beautiful piano and strings theme featuring some "lala" vocal work, presumably by KOKIA, given she is the singer on the lyrical rendition of the theme. It's an extremely emotional and poignant piece that really portrays the sadness of Noel's future world. The vocal rendition, "Noel's Theme ~The Last Journey~," continues the same overall tone and instrumentation, adding vocals that tell a bit more about Noel's character. This motif also shows up in "Recollection for the Future," offering a contemplative atmosphere featuring strings, piano, woodwind work, and some electronic tones. "The Song Written in Time" introduces "Yeul's Theme," featuring the same "lala" vocal style heard in "Noel's Theme." The musical accompaniment features some ethereal synthesizer, jazzy piano, and rustic guitar. It's an extremely beautiful theme that really manages to sound heartfelt. The vocal version, "Yeul's Theme," keeps these instrument choices. The lyrics tell a very sad story, a recurring theme, it seems, but offers a very romantic atmosphere as well, particularly in the chorus. "Eyes of Etro" features this motif as well, providing a mysterious theme focusing on piano and ambient electronic work.
My favorite themes on the album all revolve around the villain, Caius. "Caius's Theme," arranged by Mizuta and orchestrator Sachiko Miyano, is, in my opinion, the best villain theme in the series since at least Final Fantasy VIII, perhaps even earlier. It's an exceptional theme that runs the gamut of emotion, from sinister and ominous tones, mainly through the sharp brass tones and impeccable choral work, to more romantic tones, mainly due to the strings work. Speaking of which, I love how the romantic, emotional strings section gives a bit of a human side to the villain as well, rather than just a cold-hearted villain. Caius' theme is also the basis for two major battle themes.
"One Who is Pledged to Chaos," arranged by Miyano, is, in many people's opinions, one of the best battle themes on the album. The vocal work is hauntingly beautiful, offering a sinister yet romantic tone that really works with the progression of the introduction, starting off a capella before moving into more moving brass and strings passage. The meat of the track, however, lies with the striking brass and strings work. This truly brings the track to life, while the choral work that accompanies it serving only to accentuate the intensity of the instrumental work. In addition, I love how the romantic strings section from "Caius' Theme" is retained. The other theme, "Heart of Chaos," is arranged by Yoshitaka Suzuki, instantly conjures up images of his stunning orchestral tones from Ninja Blade. I love how well it works with the theme. The intro is truly stunning, focusing on sinister strings and truly ominous brass tones before moving into powerful choral work. However, as with the previous battle theme, the orchestration is the true star of the show providing an immense amount of power to the overall theme, particularly with the brass section.
Yoshitaka Suzuki also arranges two other themes on the album, serving as the bookends to the final battle theme. The first, "Promise for the Future," sounds initially like something straight out of the Metal Gear Solid series before moving into a much darker, solemn theme that focuses on strings work to provide a very emotional listen while also incorporating glimmers of "Yeul's Theme" and a focus on "Caius's Theme," in the latter half of the track, providing a much more ominous and sinister tone amplifying the dire situation ahead of you. The second track, "Eternal Paradox," may very well be one of the most depressing tunes written for a video game in quite some time. When I listened to this the first time, I honestly felt a sense of desolation and felt as though the world could possibly end in this tune. It's an extremely emotional theme that focuses on "Caius's Theme" in the first half of the track, in an instrumental form featuring brooding strings and brass, and "Noel's Theme" in the latter half, which follows suit with a piano and strings focus and instills this feeling of sadness. Visions of Final Fantasy X's ending immediately come to mind, but I could be wrong in my guess on how these theme plays out.
The final dungeon theme, "Chaotic Labyrinth," is an extremely beautiful theme, providing crystalline work that gives the theme a bit of mystery, combined with deep, emotional synthesizer work that adds a lot of depth to the overall composition. It's almost uplifting in a way, but at the same time, there is that subtle sense of the unknown. The final battle theme, "Invisible Depths," is also another amazing theme. Composed by Mitsuto Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta, and arranged by the former, it provides an extremely intense battle theme, more akin to the days when Uematsu was in charge of them, rather than the more classical approach of Hamauzu's final battle themes. It's an orchestral/electronic hybrid with a very industrial aspect to the overall approach. I love how the orchestral tones and electronic beats work so well together and the addition of the choral tones, which incorporate "Caius' Theme," all work together. Most of the theme focuses more on these orchestral tones, while the middle section is a more electronic affair featuring distorted violin work. It's a truly epic theme and in my opinion, the best final battle theme since "The Extreme."
There are some ending sequence tracks, such as "To the Land of Hopes" and "Metashield's Expansion," that incorporate the "Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII" theme, the former being much more warm and cheerful and the latter being much darker and depressing. The album ends with "Ending Credits," arranged by Sachiko Miyano. I love how the ending theme focuses on the character themes in the game, from the ominous "Caius's Theme" opening, to the more romantic "Noel's Theme" and "Serah's Theme" in the middle, to the spectacular "Yeul's Theme" section that incorporates the use of choir. It's definitely one of the best ending credits rolls in the series, for sure. There's also a bonus track at the end, composed by Mitsuto Suzuki. At the moment, it doesn't have a name, but it may be for a spoiler-related aspect of the game. It is orchestral in tone and much more jovial in nature than much of the soundtrack. It doesn't quite fit the overall tone of the soundtrack, as varied as it is, similar to the bonus track at the end of the Final Fantasy Type-0 Original Soundtrack. It's a very good composition though.
In the end, I think that the Final Fantasy XIII-2 Original Soundtrack is a very accomplished one. It offers a variety of tones, ranging from more contemporary pop focused tones, to more classically inspired orchestral themes. I think that Hamauzu's contributions help tie the soundtrack to its predecessor, while Mizuta and Suzuki really get to experiment sometimes to ill effect, but for the most part, they are very successful in their endeavors. While Suzuki revealed himself on The 3rd Birthday, this is the first time I've considered Mizuta a serious composer and I truly hope this isn't just a diamond in the rough. This soundtrack will not be for everyone, particularly the purists for the series, or perhaps even fans of the first game's soundtrack, but for those willing to give it a chance, it's a fresh sound for the series and one that I'll cherish for quite some time.