Final Fantasy XIV’s Grand Score Shows Masayoshi Soken Is Every Bit Uematsu’s Equal

Morning MusicMorning MusicSet your dial to Morning Music every day to enjoy friendly chat and great game music with other early risers. Coffee optional!

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re talkin’ about how Final Fantasy XIV’s incomparably huge soundtrack manages to whip ass in so many different ways. So many.


When you think of Final Fantasy, one of the first names that comes to mind is long-time series composer Nobuo Uematsu. But in the time since the MMORPG’s second coming as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (playlist / gameplay / VGMdb), Uematsu has contributed sparingly to the game. There are rare exceptions, like “Dragonsong,” the heartbreaking theme of the Heavensward expansion, but most of the game’s oversized soundtrack is the work of Masayoshi Soken, a composer who I think deserves to be considered every bit Uematsu’s equal.

Having at one point earned a Guinness World Record for having more original songs than any other video game (Runescape has since claimed that crown), for a time Final Fantasy XIV had gaming’s most expansive soundtrack. Indeed, there are an incredible 438 tracks on this playlist.

Let’s (start to) listen:

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

And FFXIV’s soundscapes are impeccably tailored to their environments. “Serenity,” a laidback piano melody that effortlessly captures its namesake emotion, plays early in the game as you make your way through a mystical forest. The snowy city-state of Ishgard’s days are backed by the dueling of lush harpsichord and booming organ in the day theme “Solid,” which smoothly transitions into the subdued yet haunting harp and guitar solos of “Night in the Brume.”

But Soken’s atmospheric tracks aren’t limited to only classical vibes. Consider the smooth elevator jazz of “Shadows Withal,” the warm dreamy synths of “Sands of Amber,” or the Cocteau Twins-esque vocals of “Civilizations” (a song so grand Fahey gave it its own write-up just last week). I’ll never forget the first time I strolled into the Rak’Tika Greatwood and heard those famous words, “La-hëe døh gå râ eví foh la la-hëe.”

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

Soken often says his primary focus in composing is to enhance the gameplay experience. A great example would be the way he implements music into the phases of certain boss fights. Take Footsteps in the Snow / Oblivion,” the dual themes for the primal Shiva. During the first phase, it’s all orchestra, moody piano, and chanting in what I can only assume is Latin. Not an atypical Final Fantasy theme, but then Shiva freezes your party with her trademark Diamond Dust attack. She floats ominously overhead, and as soon her heel clicks against your forehead the ice shatters and a sudden drum fill leads into a raucous pop-punk song that wouldn’t be out of place in NANA.

A similar moment occurs between “The Hand That Gives The Rose” and “Unbending Steel when fighting the insectoid god Ravana. As phases shift, sinister waltzing violins give way to thunderous horns and operatic throat singing detailing Ravana’s conquest for blood. A perfect match for the giant sword-wielding beetle deity’s penchant for screaming “Rejoice in the glory of combat!”

Across dungeons, raids, and trials, Final Fantasy XIV’s music rarely feels like mere “background,” but rather an essential part of each area’s identity, solidifying it as a distinct memory for the player. When I think of the Great Gubal Library, I remember the lo-fi free jazz of “Ink Long Dry” as you make your way through halls of ancient tomes. The Twinning dungeon is so heavily associated with the pulse-pounding electro-clash of “A Long Fall” that it’s regularly memed:

Square Enix / MyJoJob (YouTube)

Where Masayoshi Soken truly impresses is his ability to make every boss fight an excuse to pen an anthem of a different genre. “Metal - Brute Justice” explodes with what sounds like Daft Punk going ska. Sunrise could seamlessly pass for a shonen anime opening song. The fairy pop of “What Angel Wakes Me” is sickly sweet and a consistent earworm in our household. Update (4:40 p.m. ET, 10/20/2020): A previous version of this article erroneously attributed “Weight of the World (Prelude Version)” to Soken, rather than Keiichi Okabe. It remains a fantastic track, however:

Square Enix / Mekkah Dee (YouTube)

I’ve only gotten into Final Fantasy XIV this year, but I can’t think of another game’s music I’ve been so consistently drawn to. I’m currently taking a break from playing the game until its next expansion in December, yet still I find myself wanting to listen to its songs, which I find at turns invigorating and calming.

There’s a lyric in Ramuh’s theme “Thunder Rolls that I can’t get out of my head, “Lift thine heavy head and vanquish thy sorrow.” I think when this pandemic finally ends, that’s likely to be one of my first new tattoos.


That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Do you have a favorite Final Fantasy XIV track? Does it whip ass? If it does whip ass (it probably does), tell us about it in the comments below. See you tomorrow!

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Going off-topic today because a lot of things in my life seem pretty trivial...

On this day in 1986, my father passed away after losing a five-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 44; I was nine.

And with my life a shambles right now—ongoing issues with the state unemployment office, efforts to find work since losing my job in July a fruitless endeavor in watching the sun go down outside after waiting for a phone call or email or anything that didn’t come that day, fearing that I’m going to end up homeless in the midst of a pandemic, one of which side effects is a disease (acute myocarditis) that I got when I was 38 and nearly didn’t live to see the end of that week in August of 2015, and I’m genuinely scared to die...

...I’m feeling like my whole life has been a massive disappointment to my dad’s legacy, like he’s looking at me from the afterlife in disgust.

I’ve been gaming as equal parts distraction and trying to find anything at all to bring me joy in these times. Been posting on Kotaku and cracking jokes and getting a dopamine hit every time one of you wonderful freaking people think one of my comments is insightful or funny enough that you click the star at the top right of said comment—it’s very “Hooray! They’re paying attention to me!” Dr. Zoidberg stuff, but that’s just where life is right now.

So I guess the point of this rambling screed is thanks, Kotaku, and thanks, video games...and RIP Dad. I’ll try to be a better son worthy of the family name in the coming year and maybe next October 20 I’ll be able to show a little pride instead of mournful sorrow.

As for music...hmm...mourning...loss...Final Fantasy...yeah, it could only be one choice.