After eleven years, the development of the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI has reached its end. Having dedicated half of his career to the series, Naoshi Mizuta was happy to create a handful more tracks for the franchise's (seemingly) final add-ons. The Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack Plus is a two disc set featuring these tracks on the first disc and the previously unreleased background music from the PlayOnline viewer on the second disc.
A large segment of the first disc is dedicated to wrapping up Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess. The opener "Wings of Dawn" and closer "An Ode to Heroes Fallen" were actually composed for the expansion's trailers at the Tokyo Game Show 2007 and Square Enix Party 2007. Both have a more cinematic scope than Mizuta's previous contributions the latter capturing the expansion's spiritual undertones with a soprano voice, the latter an militaristic march commemorating the Crystal War. "Summers Lost" and "Everlasting Bonds", on the other hand, focus on inspiring reflection with their electric piano wanderings and, in the second, a beautiful violin solo. The score's long-awaited final battle track, "Goddess Divine", doesn't dissapoint either combining the score's pounding wardrums and string jabs with features reminiscent of the original game's "Battle Theme" and "Tough Battle".
The disc also compiles the final battle themes that Mizuta wrote for the game's add-on scenarios during 2009: "Echoes of Creations" (A Crystalline Prophecy: Ode of Life Bestowing), "Luck of the Mog" (A Moogle Kupo d'Etat: Evil in Small Doses), and "Feast of the Ladies" (A Shantotto Ascension: The Legend Torn, Her Empire Born). Each features something unique to portray the enemies concern and show Mizuta finally having some fun. The composer revisits his cheesy jazz style to capture a lively but dangerous moogle, before imitating Johann Strauss to portray two deranged Tarutaru sisters. While Mizuta will never win harmonist of the year, both are sufficiently interesting in their concept and development to be worth experiencing. "Echoes of Creations" is more conventional with its bass-heavy orchestral approach, the reverberating piano and warping electronics certainly fit the unlikely mystical opponent.
Moving to the Abyssea add-ons, "Scarlet Skies, Shadowed Plains" is an expansive eight minute piece appropriate for exploring a dark and mystical new land. Comparing this with material on Chains of Promathia, it's clear that Mizuta has evolved over the years as an ambient writer. Another battle theme "Melodies Errant", recently celebrated at the franchise's 11.11.11 concert, packs quite a punch with its interweaving string lines. But the composer reserves the heaviest textures and most dissonant chords for the final boss "Shinryu", but also incorporates a few motivating listeners. Knowing that he was closing the franchise, Mizuta also finally produced an arrangement of the classic Final Fantasy theme for the add-ons. The first thing to note is how hideous the orchestral samples sound during the tuttis unlike most MMORPGs, the audio of Final Fantasy XI has regressed rather than improved with time. Nonetheless, the more intimate passages of the piece are certain to impact on listeners and convey Mizuta's musicianship.
The second disc is dedicated to Noriko Matsueda's surprisingly large soundtrack for the PlayOnline service, which serves as the gateway to Final Fantasy XI and Tetra Master. These tracks succeed in a number of ways. Some manage to inspire emotions in the listener, for example "Yasuragi" with its soothing piano drones or "Daikoukai" with its heavenly electronic soundscapes. Others are technically accomplished, ranging from "Filter Branch" with its elaborate jazz improvisations, to "Foster Family" with its Satie-esque structure and "Fuwafuwa" with its obvious Debussian influences. There's also something strangely catchy in the "P'z" and "Dance" with their heavy trapset and electronic loops, but perhaps these are more of a guilty pleasure. It's clear from some of these experiments and imitations that Matsueda was liberated away from the normal bounds of game scoring when creating these tracks.
That said, the majority of the tracks here featured a dated jazz or electronic style that didn't entirely fit PlayOnline's ambitions to pioneer. "POL Opening" was supposed to capture warping to another dimension, but it's in fact a generic blend of electronic beats and ethnic vocal samples that last for just 53 seconds. "Dolphin" is very bland jazz piece that sounds like it belongs on the Weather Channel, while "Funky Monkey" and "Jazz 2" would sound too cheesy even for a Touch! Generations game. A little better is "Space", previously released on the Memories of Dusk and Dawn anniversary album, which features a minimalistic electronic soundscape similar to what Mitsuto Suzuki might create. Yet while some tracks are more tacky than others, it's all too clear that most weren't intended for stand-alone listening. PlayOnline is a utility, after all.
While PlayOnline mostly featured jazz and electronic stylings, a few tracks share the feel of Final Fantasy XI's music. "Gin no Kaichudokei" is a whimsical piece filled with all sorts of world instruments, while "Honobono" adheres to the tradition of RPG town themes with its modest textures and long phrasing. Whether intentional or not, these tracks help to bridge the gap and bring some more humanity to the experience. Kumi Tanioka also created three compositions created for the Final Fantasy XI section of the PlayOnline viewer. These tracks sound similar to Tanioka's setting themes from the main game the similarities between "Minori" and "The Republic of Bastok" are particularly uncanny though they lack their exceptional timbral or melodic qualities. "Megumi" is especially dreary with its repetitive ostinato and predictable bass line, and have been a reject from the full score. Whatever the case, these tracks are part of Final Fantasy XI's legacy and deserved to be finally released here.
The Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack Plus effectively compiles some lost music from the franchise additional tracks for Wings of the Goddess, new music for the add-ons, and the decade-old tracks from PlayOnline to offer a fairly wholesome package. The tracks featured on the first disc are among the most memorable and accomplished that Mizuta has written for the franchise. The second disc is less obligatory, but helps to round off the experience and doesn't significantly enhance the package's price. This isn't quite the end of Final Fantasy XI's musical legacy an orchestral concert recording will be among the future releases but it does tie plenty of loose ends. Vana'diel residents and Final Fantasy XI music enthusiasts may find this release a welcome supplement to their collection.