Xenoblade is the work of Tetsuya Takahashi, one of the original people behind the Xenogears and Xenosaga games. Featuring a total of six composers, including Yoko Shimomura, Yasunori Mitsuda, Manami Kiyota, and ACE+ (Tomori Kudo, CHiCO, and Kenji Hiramatsu), it contains a blend of orchestral, rock, ethnic, and electronic music. However, does the amount of composers, each with their own established styles, affect the overall flow of the soundtrack?
The exquisite "Main Theme" opens up the soundtrack and is probably my favorite of all the Shimomura compositions on the soundtrack. It features stunning piano passages, sweeping strings work, and a very poignant, yet epic, atmosphere. It is truly one of the best things on the entire soundtrack and an extremely powerful piece of music. The main theme is arranged in "Shulk and Fiorung" by ACE+. It contains the same instrumentation as the original, but there is a much more somber atmosphere to the piece. This is due to the focus on strings rather than piano. As the theme progresses, there is definitely a more hopeful sound to the theme. In the end, it's a beautiful take on the original.
The first part of the opening movie, entitled "Prologue A," introduces some of the more epic sounds that are heard on the soundtrack. The strings, arranged by Tsutomu Narita, are the backbone of the piece and really help convey a sense of direness. The rest of the supporting instrument helps to give off a sense of militarism. Overall, it's quite a lovely piece. "Prologue B" continues the opening movie and, unlike its counterpart "Prologue A," is a much more menacing theme. Tsutomu Narita returns with strings arrangement duties. Overall, the theme is faster tempo, takes the structure of "Prologue A" and intensifies it, and adds some rock and choir accents from time to time. I prefer the B version to the A version, but both are nice.
"Unfinished Battle" also includes some of the motifs introduced in the "Prologue" themes. Overall, it has a very energetic and frenetic sound with a slight rock influence. The strings work well in the accompaniment and really helps heighten the melody line. It manages to create a nice energy and I particularly enjoy the piano that is thrown into the mix. It helps give a nice contrast to the theme. Lastly, "Epilogue," which also features Narita on strings arrangement, rounds off Shimomura's involvement in terms of event themes. Given the title, as expected, the music has a very grandeur sense of closure. One of the recurring themes throughout the game is repeated in a sense so that each time you hear it, it becomes grander in sound. It's a bit lazy, to me, but it is a pretty beautiful theme nonetheless.
The rest of Shimomura's involvement comes in the form of a couple town themes and the normal battle theme. "Hometown," presumably the music for the initial town in which you start your adventure, is a very rustic inspired theme with beautiful violin spaces, acoustic guitar, and piano. The B section is also quite upbeat and features some beautiful woodwind work. It's a really exquisite theme and one of my favorites from Shimomura on the soundtrack. The night version, arranged by ACE+, is much more rustic in approach and has a softer soundscape. Acoustic guitar and beautiful woodwind work really shine to create a beautiful rendition of the original.
"Colony 9," another town theme, continues the rustic atmosphere heard in Hometown, but adds a bit of a Spanish flair with the acoustic guitar and some electronic beats as well. I particularly enjoy the mix of woodwind and violin in the melody line. The night version of this theme, arranged by ACE+, is much more ethereal in nature. The use of woodwind and piano in the melody helps give it an airy quality and combined with the electronic accompaniment, which reminds me of insects you might hear in the evening, is exquisitely done. The last theme from Shimomura is "Fight!" It's a frenetic battle theme that focuses on strings to convey the most sense of urgency. There is a nice calming woodwind section to break the tension, however. The percussion and piano is a bit reminiscent of the accompaniment one might hear in a Kingdom Hearts, but the melody is fairly strong. Overall, it's not too shabby.
Manami Kiyota's primary duties for this soundtrack were event themes and area themes. The event themes all feature a variety of soundscapes, although most tend to lean towards more sentimental ones. "Daily Life" is a very folksy tune with some beautiful woodwind and acoustic guitar work. It has a very "rural" sound to it and really manages to convey a strong sense of melody. "Memories" is a very poignant and emotional theme comprised of piano and strings work. It features a very strong melody as well and really knows how to get the listener to bring up touching and warm experiences.
The first thing I noticed about "A Friendly Sentiment" was the opening bars. Anyone familiar with the Xeno universe will immediately recognize the music as "Gathering Stars in the Night Sky" from Xenogears. Whether intentional or not, it's really a beautiful tribute to one of Mitsuda's best soundtracks. The theme itself is a very warm and emotional string quartet theme with a strong sense of delicateness and emotion. "To One's Own Future" is another beautiful theme by Kiyota. It features some emotional orchestral passages combined with some vocal work. The focus on a variety of stringed instruments is also a plus and I particularly enjoy the cello passages. There is a sense of closure in this theme as well, which makes sense given to how close it is to the end of the event music discs.
"Mystery" has a very ethereal sound to it. Electronic accompaniment is really paramount in accomplishing this sound. The contrast between the electronic elements and the more earthly elements, such as bell tolls and the beautiful choral work, make for an excellent combination. "Aegir" is another brooding ethereal theme that features some warbled electronic accompaniment and some static choral work. The piano and strings is what really makes the theme mysterious. It's got a great atmosphere, but it is a hard listen out of context. "The Spiritual World" is quite ethereal with a slight sense of omen to it. The mysterious vocal work, the industrial percussion accents, and the brooding electronica really make for a great atmosphere. It's probably not the easiest theme to listen to out of context, though.
Another central theme in the soundtrac, "Reminiscence" has a sorrowful sound to it, despite the instrumentation being somewhat playful in style. The instrumentation is synthesized in nature and sounds like a mixture between a xylophone and music box. As the theme progresses, the sorrowful atmosphere is compounded when the melody switches from the aforementioned instrument to some luscious strings work. It's a simple, yet effective, piece of music. There is also a version called "Reminiscence / Music Box" that replaces the beginning with music box, rather than the synthesized instrumentation. The rest of the piece remains the same after that.
"Conspiracy" is a dark and brooding piece that relies on suspenseful strings work and sporadic percussion. It has a creepy atmosphere, but it is quite hard to listen to on its own. It is probably extremely effective in describing the events in which it is used in the game. "Looks" is a militaristic piece that relies heavily on percussion to create a stirring atmosphere. Another moody piece, this one might be heard to enjoy on repeated listenings, but the atmosphere is quite nice. I particularly like how the strings and percussion work together to create a compelling listen. Another militaristic piece is "The Awakening of the Giant." Featuring brooding percussion, ominous organ work, suspenseful strings, and some choral work, it blends together these elements to create a very moving and powerful composition. It's definitely one of my favorite Manami Kiyota event themes.
Manami Kiyota's other duties on the soundtrack was to also help compose a variety of town and area themes. "Escape Boat Camp" is an extremely beautiful piece of music that focuses on piano and violin. I particularly like the piano focus more than the violin focus, but the overall atmosphere is one of warmth. In the end, it doesn't really stand out compared to some of the other themes, but it manages to become a soothing listen. "Sator Phosphorescent Land" also comes in a regular and night version. The regular version features a very mysterious atmosphere with an interesting combination of piano, ambient effects, and a bit of an industrial nature. I much prefer the night version however. It has a much more inviting atmosphere and I find the mix of woodwind and piano works better in conveying a sense of emotion and the choral work is a great touch as well.
"Macuna Woods" features some beautiful strings and piano work which really help give it a soft soundscape, but I particularly enjoy the acoustic guitar and percussion featured in the piece. It really makes for a nice rustic listen. The night version of this theme slows the tempo down a bit and adds some ethereal accompaniment. For the most part, it's a "trimmed down" version of the original. "Saihate Village" is an interesting town theme for sure. It has a bit of a bossa nova influence, particularly in the percussion, giving it an almost island vibe, but the inclusion of bagpipe and woodwinds are different combination that really seems to work. I really enjoy the more fleeting woodwind accompanying sections. The night version of this theme is much more rustic in nature and features a strong focus on woodwinds and bagpipes, similar to the original. It's another one of the stripped down versions of the regular version, but it's still a decent theme.
"Eruyt Sea" is a much more somber piece of music. It has this sense of tragedy to it conveyed primarily through the strings and piano work. It features a melody heard somewhere else in the soundtrack, but I can't really pinpoint it. For some reason, I went to say it's an extension of "Saihate Village," as it was the first theme that came to mind. The night version of this theme is a bit more uplifting with the inclusion of the woodwinds, but for the most part, it still carries with it an air of tragedy. In fact, at times, I think it's heightened due to the use of acoustic guitar. "Achamoth, Imperial City" carries with it a foreboding atmosphere. Dramatic orchestration, some haunting choral work, and sinister organ usage make for a very dark and ominous town theme. It's one of my favorite town themes on the soundtrack for sure. The night version of this theme, arranged by ACE+, retains the haunting nature of the original and makes the overall atmosphere a bit more mysterious and atmospheric through the use of electronic ambience and piano.
"Colony 6 ~ Central Mine" is the first of a series of related Colony 6 themes. The central mine version focuses on dark and mysterious atmospheres with ambient electronica, ominous bell tolls, but it's not the easiest theme to listen to on a standalone basis. "Colony 6 ~ Silence," arranged by ACE+, is a warm piece of music that features some beautiful harp, strings, and woodwind work. It has a distinct Asian soundscape that I really enjoy as well. "Colony 6 ~ Restoration," composed by Manami Kiyota, features a very bright and cheery atmosphere, once the somber strings used in the opening are replaced by exotic percussion, acoustic guitar, and woodwind instruments. It's a carefree theme and one of my favorite Colony 6 themes. "Colony 6 ~ Hope," arranged by ACE+, takes the theme heard in the "Restoration" version and makes it much more upbeat with a bit of an island flavor. Lastly, "Colony 6 ~ Future," arranged by ACE+, is the most luscious in terms of orchestration. It features a very vibrant soundscape and one that conveys peace and harmony. I really enjoy this theme quite a bit.
"The Great Sword's Canyon" is an orchestral area theme with a very dramatic flair to it. Unfortunately, I think it's one of the weakest area themes in the game. It certainly has a powerful flair, but at the same time, I don't really enjoy its progression. It's a bit on the repetitive and the lack of variation really helps bring the overall piece down. The one good section is a slower strings section that cuts out all the epic orchestration. The night version of this theme is more tolerable. It retains a militaristic flair, but it's done a bit more tastefully. The percussion is ominous, but not overbearing, and the melody is much more mysterious and focused. Fortunately, "Into Deadlands..." is a much better offering. It features a very haunting atmosphere, but what really makes this track a success for me is the touching piano passages combined with the strings accompaniment. It doesn't do much, but it manages to impress with the overall tone of the piece. The night version of this theme is an acoustic guitar based piece and, while good, loses a bit of the atmosphere that I liked from the original so much.
"Inside the Giant / Carcass" features a mysterious atmosphere as well with a mix of electronic and organic elements. The melody, conveyed primarily by a woodwind instrument, adds to the haunting nature of the piece, but I find the electronic/industrial backbone to be the true strength of the piece. "Inside the Giant / Pulse" retains the mysterious nature of the "Carcass" version, but adds a bit of a somber touch with the violin focus. The electronic/industrial backbone is retained, although it's a bit more upbeat. In addition to the area themes, Manami Kiyota helps contribute to the battle themes. "The End of Memories" is, presumably, the second part of the final dungeon theme. It's a very ethereal and creepy theme featuring some distorted electronic accompaniment and some haunting vocal work. It has a nice ambient soundscape to it, but may be heard to listen to out of context for some.
The compositional duties for ACE+ involved event themes, area themes, and battle themes. "Crisis," as one might suspect, is crisis music. It's heavy on percussion and brass, which helps convey a sense of urgency, and the crisis strings motif does convey some sort of melody. It's not the most effective crisis theme, but it is a cut above most. "Impatience" is another crisis type theme that features some rock influence and some strings work. It's much less effective than "Crisis" but does manage to convey a sense of urgency. Out of the event music, "Confrontation with the Enemy" is one of my favorites by ACE+. It features a nice rock sound with some beautiful electronic influences as well as some beautiful organic sounds, such as the piano and strings. Overall, it's a very dramatic theme, but in a not-in-your-face kind of way. It reminds me of something you might hear on the Korean MMORPG Granado Espada. Stunning vocal work is thrown into the mix as the theme progresses and climaxes. It is easily one of the best ACE+ contributions on the soundtrack.
Out of all the themes on the soundtrack, the most playful is easily "Riki the Legendary Hero." It features a bit of a funky, spaghetti Western style flair combined with some more child-like approaches. It's got an interesting sound for sure, but I find it to be quite weak compared to the other themes on the soundtrack. Related to Riki is "Riki's Tenderness." This theme is an interesting one as well. It retains some of the qualities of the original, such as a slightly spaghetti Western sound, but at the same time, there is definitely a bit of poignancy in the theme. It's nothing special, but I guess it shows a softer side to what I can only assume is a crazy character based on his theme.
"Tragic Decision" has a bit of a mysterious and ominous atmosphere to it and is quite powerful. A mixture of ominous piano and strings produce the aforementioned atmosphere, whereas the inclusion of some choral work and some rock elements help to convey a sense of power. It's a unique approach for a track with such an ominous name. "The Night Before the Decisive Battle" has a definite sense of impending urgency and heroism with this theme. Militaristic percussion, strings work, and some choral accents make the way for an epic theme that really screams "the final battle is approaching."
Lastly, ACE+ composes some poignant music as well. "The Feelings Within...," as the title might suggest, is definitely a warm piece of music with some beautiful strings and piano work. The inclusion of some wispy vocals also really helps create a beautiful atmosphere. "A Farewell and..." is a very warm and touching theme. Primarily focused on a strong melody through the use of strings, it's a theme that really has a sense of closure. It has a very romantic tone to it as well. It's very powerful and one of the better emotional event themes.
The first bunch of area themes by ACE+ are the regular and night versions for "Gaur Plains." The regular version is a very upbeat theme with a bit of an ethnic flair. I really love the combination of the dance beat with the strings work. It has a really catchy atmosphere and quite a strong melody line. The night version opts for a more rustic vibe with its primary focus on acoustic guitar, light percussion, and woodwinds. "Snowy Mt. Valac" features a very whimsical atmosphere, but at the same time, carries a bit of mystery with it. The woodwinds have a playful sound to them, but the contrasting strings accompaniment helps to bring the tone of the piece down a bit. It's not one of my favorite area themes, but I think it's a decent composition. The night version of this theme is much more powerful. It's a very simple piano piece, but the melody is much more powerful because of it. I also like the addition of the semi-industrial percussion and the ambient electronica.
"Field of the Machinae" is one of the more electronically oriented themes on the soundtrack. It features a very mysterious atmosphere, but the overall tempo of the theme is quite upbeat. I really enjoy this piece quite a bit and it's definitely one of my favorites on the entire soundtrack. It has some great electronic effects and the melody is absolutely superb! Unlike the other imperial city theme, "Agni Ratha, Imperial City" is much more peaceful and calm. It has a beautiful atmosphere and melody, comprised primarily with soothing woodwind passages and exquisite strings work. In the end, it's one of my favorite town themes. The night version of this theme is also absolutely exquisite. The piano helps convey a beautifully mysterious atmosphere while the ethereal accompaniment only adds to the overall soothing nature of the composition. "To the Last Battle" is an epic orchestral theme that serves as the final dungeon theme. It features a very heroic flair to it with a lot of power. I really enjoy the brass harmonies featured within the piece and the softer, more emotional strings section heard in the B theme that helps to break up the tension. Overall, it's a fairly strong area theme.
In addition to area themes, ACE+ also works on many of the battle themes in the game. One of the boss battle themes, "One Who Gets in Our Way" has a very interesting soundscape. Featuring a mixture of electronic, rock, and orchestral styles, it manages to create an upbeat, heroic theme, but with a touch of menace. I particularly enjoy the industrial touches thrown in throughout the theme and the heavy guitar riffs. It helps accent the menace. As for the rest of the theme, the orchestral use creates a very sweeping sound and combines nicely with the other elements. Presumably another battle theme, "Vision Reacts" is a bit more rock-centric than "One Who Gets in Our Way." The rock elements are focused throughout the piece, rather than sporadically, and combine with the grand orchestration to create a powerful effect. I particularly enjoy the powerful guitar solo. It's what really makes the piece stand out, as I find the orchestral sections to be a bit on the hackneyed heroic side.
"Those Who Bear Their Name" is another one of the boss battle themes in the game. In fact, it's probably my favorite of the battle themes. It definitely sounds, to me, like it was partially inspired by some of Nobuo Uematsu's battle themes, particularly in the orchestral and more uplifting sections of the battle theme, but ACE+ manages to put its on spin on it. It's an extremely rock heavy theme with some excellent guitar sections. In particular, the powerful guitar riff intensive intro and the guitar solo make for some great rocking out! Another battle theme, "Mechanical Rhythm" is another fantastic rock oriented theme. The fast paced tempo, the guitar riff and percussion heavy accompaniment, and electric guitar melody and solo as well as the orchestral soundscape make for an exhilarating ride.
Another battle theme with a lot of intensity is "Irregular Bound." It's also one of the most experimental in the bunch. Heavy electronic beats combine with haunting vocal work and electric guitar to create a powerful theme. The accompaniment reminds me a bit of "Chaotic Dance" by Motoi Sakuraba, but it really does help convey the title of the battle theme. "Into the World of Xanthe" is used as a final dungeon theme. Unlike the more rock oriented battle themes featured on the rest of the soundtrack, this theme is definitely more orchestral in nature. It has a menacing soundscape and I really think the sinister strings work and pounding percussion really help convey this sensation. In the end, it's a strong theme that iterates the important battle you face, but in the end, I really enjoy the rock offerings a bit more.
Manami Kiyota's final boss theme "Xanthe" is intense, powerful, and easily my favourite theme of hers on the soundtrack. Jazzy piano and guitar riffs make up the backbone of the piece while the strings and choral work really help accentuate the power heard in the guitar riffs. Such a fantastically energetic theme! The ultimate final boss theme "The God-Slaying Sword" by ACE+ is an epic choral theme that has a really powerful soundscape. It is a bit on the over-dramatic side and a bit clichéd, but it really manages to move the listener. Overall, it's not a bad effort.
Yasunori Mitsuda's sole contribution to the soundtrack is the ending vocal theme, "Beyond the Sky." Sung by Sarah Àlainn, it's an extremely beautiful and touching theme, both musically and vocally. Àlainn's vocals have a certain wispiness about them that just really heightens the emotions of the lyrics and the overall atmosphere. As for the music, it's not a complex song by any means, consisting of drums, piano, strings, and woodwinds, but they are marvelously layered and really carry a true sense of emotion. In the end, this is easily my second favorite Mitsuda ending vocal. I doubt anything will ever beat his Xenogears vocal theme, "Two Small of Pieces," but this one definitely shows that Mitsuda knows how to compose a compelling vocal theme.
In the end, I think that the Xenoblade Original Soundtrack is a solid offering as a multi-composer effort. It features a variety of soundscapes, ranging from powerful to soothing, and a variety of genres, such as rock, electronica, and more ethnic themed sounds. Although Shimomura and Mitsuda played a limited role in this production, for the most part, their efforts were quite solid. The real stars of the show are ACE+ and Manami Kiyota who manage to capture the essence of the game quite well. My biggest grip with this soundtrack is the fact that the event themes take up the first two discs, whereas the area and battle themes, the better compositions overall, fill up the remaining two discs. For those looking for a varied distribution in their RPG soundtracks, it might not have been the wisest of decisions to sort the tracks as they were, but if you can't get past that, there is a lot of quality music found on all four discs.