Say Whatcha Wanna About Final Fantasy XIII, You Can’t Deny Its Amazing Soundtrack

Image: Square Enix / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re continuing to indulge my terminal case of Final Fantasy brain with a deep dive into Final Fantasy XIII’s mold-breaking soundtrack.

I’m not here to discuss the merits of Final Fantasy XIII (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) itself, I’m saving that herculean task for my as-yet unofficial plot to use Kotaku to rehabilitate the game’s image. But something I think we can all agree on is that, no matter what your problem was with the game, its soundtrack was unimpeachably good. Listen to “The Sunleth Waterscape,” and I defy you to find fault:

Harm0nytunes / Square Enix (YouTube)

FF13 tried to be different in all ways, and its soundtrack was no exception. It was the first time Final Fantasy to which musical legend Nobuo Uematsu wouldn’t contribute a single track. Instead the score was handled by his co-composer on FF10, Masashi Hamauzu. Hamauzu took Final Fantasy XIII’s sound in a completely different direction. Where Uematsu’s soundtracks tended towards orchestral fantasy, Hamauzu brought the series into the modern age, blending modern instruments with that same fantastical orchestra sound. Take “Blinded by Light,” FF13’s battle theme, for example.

Harm0nytunes / Square Enix (YouTube)

At first listen, the song doesn’t sound too different from its predecessors, but then the drums (0:12) and electric guitar (0:24) kick in letting you know this is something different. Then you really learn we’re on a completely different vibe when the violins (0:35) explode through your speakers, letting you know with their full, vibrant sound this ain’t your mama’s Final Fantasy.

Now I’m a hardcore, old-school adherent of the Church of the “Prelude,” but I don’t hate that FF13 is the first game to not have its own version of the seminal piece of Final Fantasy music. Instead, Hamauzu created “Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII,” a song that, while eschewing the familiar comfort of the iconic harp, still sounds like it’s from Final Fantasy. Listening to this, I get the same feeling of wonder and anticipation I do when I hear FF12’s “Main Theme” or FF8’s “Liberi Fatali.”

Final Fantasy XIII’s soundtrack isn’t afraid to get downright funky in ways no other Final Fantasy has or probably ever will since. Before he left Square Enix in 2010, Hamauzu blessed us with “Sazh’s Theme.”

Harm0nytunes / Square Enix (YouTube)

This character theme, more than any of the others, tells you everything you need to know about its subject, Sazh Katzroy. He is the cool, chill everyman and that positively drips from his song’s jazzy bongos, keyboard, and guitar. There’s also another song that screams Sazh: “Daddy’s Got the Blues.” Listen to that harmonica! Whew. Any song that reminds me of “Spokey Dokey,” one of my favorite Cowboy Bebop tracks, gets an automatic inclusion into the just-made-up “Book Of All Time Great Final Fantasy Tracks.” Not sure about the song’s Japanese name though. “Afro Blues?” Really Square Enix? I see why it was changed.

One last thing: “Chocobos of Pulse” is the best chocobo theme. Debate a moogle.

And so ends today’s Morning Music! What other unpopular Final Fantasy games do you love that others seem to hate? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you Friday!

Kotaku Staff Writer and Hornt Correspondent - Fanfiction Novelist - Unapologetically Black - Diversity Gelatinous Cube


Shabaab Kamal

Not a hot take, but a controversial one for sure:

FFXIII has the best combat in the series.

Once it hit its stride, switching paradigms was thrilling and a great way to balance big-scale strategy with smaller scale tactics. The break system was really well balanced, and I loved that the obvious choices like countering elements or attacking were all automated. Coming up with the right set of paradigms to trigger different abilities or respond to various situations, switching at exactly the right time to cancel animations and whatnot... It was SO much fun. Even in the much-maligned portion where you only have two characters at a time, I had a lot of fun and I think it was a really effective way to teach the intricacies of the paradigm system.