Final Fantasy XIV

Like the rest of the MMO-playing world, I’ve been completely obsessed with Final Fantasy XIV lately. While I’ve been playing on and off since the 2013 re-launch (which I reviewed for a website that I’m not sure exists anymore), I’d never completed the main story (for A Realm Reborn) before now. I always start new characters and get distracted by crafting, side quests, and playing dress-up, then I end up moving on to other games.

But this time I did it. I completed the main story of 2.0, and I’ve been moving into what at one point would have been considered endgame (there have been three major expansions, with a fourth on the way, so it’s not really accurate to call this content endgame in the present).

There’s a lot of talk about how great the story is in Final Fantasy XIV, but I wonder how much the game’s music factors into that. I’m a songwriter (shameless plug: buy my records here), so I spend a lot of time thinking about how music affects people. It’s always surprising to me how oblivious most people seem to it — not that they don’t like music, but that they don’t think about how much their enjoyment of something was impacted by a particularly moving piece of music.

And Final Fantasy XIV‘s soundtrack absolutely kills it.

There’s a point late in A Realm Reborn where you spend a great deal of time preparing to do battle against a Primal named Garuda. When you finally get to the encounter, which requires a group, it doesn’t disappoint — this is an intense battle.

But how much of that is the music? The fight isn’t actually that hard. Even the Hard mode version of it (which requires an eight-person group) isn’t all that difficult. But as the cutscene plays, precluding the battle, a harpsichord starts playing, followed by some eerie vocals. And then the whole thing busts into an electric-guitar-driven battle theme.

Musically, this is an emotional buildup — a dirge-like eeriness that crescendos into a high-stakes battle. The flow of the music sort of follows the emotional flow of this scene. Or is it the other way around? Does this scene feel the way it does simply because the music is telling you this is exactly how you’re supposed to feel about it?

I don’t know, but I absolutely love it.

In the storyline that bridges A Realm Reborn to the first expansion, Heavensward, there’s a battle against Good King Moggle Mog XII, which is… a thing? I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s a really fun part of the story that you should just experience for yourself.

What’s important for the sake of this current conversation, however, is the boss theme. Before you fight the good king himself, you have to deal with a bunch of his fanatical followers. The background score is a Danny Elfman-sounding remix of the classic “Mog’s Theme,” but as you clear each wave of enemies, the music gets faster. And when you reach Good King Moggle Mog XII, suddenly some vocals kick in, and the whole song is about the king.

It’s kind of ridiculous, but it’s also an incredible musical journey that uses some classic Final Fantasy music as a foundation. For longtime Final Fantasy players, it’s both fresh and nostalgic at the same time.

Here’s “Mog’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, in case you’re interested in comparing them (check out the melody at 0:42 in the original, and compare that to the vocal line in the Final Fantasy XIV version).

One of my favorite pieces of music in this game, though, is the theme from the Pharos Sirius dudgeon (which is appropriately subtitled “Through the Gloom.”) I tend to be drawn to gloomy tunes, and this is such a foreboding, ominous piece of music that I just can’t help but love it. Yeah, this is a personal preference, and some people might find the dissonance between the intense battles against zombies and a slow-paced, depressing-yet-beautiful piece of music like this. But for me, that dissonance is what makes it work so well.

Oh, and I’m a sucker for a heavy-reverb floor tom, so this theme is like catnip for me.

Over the past eight years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Final Fantasy XIV, and the fact that I keep discovering incredible songs that I’ve never heard before, even this deep in, is a testament to just how much content this game has. Considering I’ve not even touched the expansions, I can only imagine that this constant discovery is not even close to being over.

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