This is the first opus in the series not to be composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto take over with a less melody-oriented, but no less successful style. Despite containing some decidedly bizarre track names (most likely due to transliteration mistakes), the score fits the game’s themes of war and betrayal to a tee, with a prevalence of brass, drums and bagpipes, but also flutes, violins and harps. The track that accompanies the introductory video of the game, “Bland Logo–Title Back” (I suspect “bland” was meant to be “brand”, but other than that, no idea), is a good sum-up: the crystalline opening chimes evoking a feeling of mystery and nostalgia, before a sweeping opening into the main theme of the game. This is “Hero’s Theme”, which you’ll first hear at Balbanes/Barbaneth’s deathbed, but which is interwoven into many other tracks, creating a continuity throughout the game. An example is the boisterous “Backborn Story” (I suspect this was supposed to be “lowborn story”) which plays if you let the game linger on the starting menu.
The main highlights of the soundtrack are, unsurprisingly, battle themes. Lucky too, considering how often you’ll be hearing them. The random battle themes invite more of a sense of wonder and exploration, like the rollicking “Random Waltz” or the more Oriental-sounding “Desert Land”. The storyline battle themes are usually more intense, as exemplified by the driving rhythms of “Trisection” from the first battle at Orbonne, or the pressing urgency of “Unavoidable Battle” from Bariaus Hill/Balias Swale. “Run Past through the Plain”, which plays during Rafa/Rapha’s rescue, has a feeling of towering menace to it. “Back Fire”, from Gariland, literally sounds like flames bursting through a doorway. “Battle on the Bridge” (which has nothing to do with Gilgamesh’s theme from FFV) adapts the main theme for an encounter with Marquis Elmdor/Elmdore, surrounding it with a cascade of violins. Some tracks are slower, like “Antipyretic”, from the Golgorand Execution Site/Golgollada Gallows, with its lashing trumpet flourishes; the insistent, whirling strains of “Decisive Battle”, from Dorter; or the creeping, ominous onset of “Night Attack”, which occurs during the raid on the Sand Rat Cellar/Sand Rat’s Sietch. The party’s encounters with the Lucavi will also render the decidedly evil-sounding strains of “The Pervert” all-too familiar. Yes, that is the track’s real name, and it’s not even the worst one of the lot. Alongside all this, there are also more surprising choices: startlingly melodious themes that don’t really sound like they belong on a battlefield. Take, for instance, the beautiful, aerial “Under the Stars” from the encounter with Islude/Isilud, with its distinctly un-threatening strings reminiscent of twinkling stars, or “Antidote”, which plays during Olan/Orran’s rescue and sounds like someone scattering pearls in the snow.
Some non-battle tracks also stand out, like the troubled “Ovelia’s Worries”, which accompanies its namesake’s musings and is a more melodious reprise of the brooding “Delita’s Theme”. And lest you think that the entire soundtrack is doom ‘n gloom, there are also lighter, more humorous pieces, like the goofy-sounding “Treasure”, which features in scenes at Besrodio/Besrudio’s house.
Of course, not every track is a success. The worst offender actually tops the list of shame because of its HIGHLY questionable name. I mean…who in their right mind calls a song “Bloody Excrement”?! No, I kid you not, it’s really called that. That being said, the song, which first plays during Algus/Argath’s rescue, is nothing shocking in itself, but simply forgets to start, spending its entire time on a thumping buildup. Other problematic tracks include “Cryptic Mood”, which accompanies Cid’s arrest and is both discordant and meandering, or “Terror 1” (why the numbering?), which plays during Rafa/Rapha’s confrontation with Barinten/Barrington and is far too leisurely for its name. These problems aside, this is, overall, a good opus and a worthy companion to such a great game.