Bard Banter is a series which highlights an RPG composer’s work by listening to, and discussing some of their greatest pieces throughout the years.
The debut of Final Fantasy XI was a highly controversial one. It was a brief departure from the offline, single player RPGs that made the series so successful, as well as Square’s first foray into the MMORPG market – a genre which was gaining steam, but still very much in its infancy at the time. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XI would also act as a point of decline in regards to franchise compositions by Nobuo Uematsu, though conversely, would pave the way for other composers to get some time in the limelight.
Thus, the era of Final Fantasy XI and composer Naoshi Mizuta would be born. Mizuta would compose alongside Uematsu and Kumi Tanioka for the base game of Final Fantasy XI, before becoming completely responsible for the follow-up expansion packs thereafter. Although Mizuta has been an active fixture in the video game composing scene since the mid ’90s, the works he created for the Final Fantasy XI expansions were perhaps his most ambitious undertakings yet. It is important to note that his compositions, while inspired by the likes of Uematsu and others, are a bit different in their presentation.
Mizuta tackled Final Fantasy XI music with the “slow burn” approach – compositions that build gradually overtime, with a huge payoff at the end. This approach was quite fitting, considering these pieces are meant to fill those large gaps that come with any kind of open-world exploration. Many of these tracks might not overwhelm you with awe at the beginning, but can be quite impactful if you give them room to breathe and time to shape their stories.
Without further ado, let’s look at some of my favorite compositions from Naoshi Mizuta.
Final Fantasy XI is the first and only MMORPG I’ve played with dedicated character creation themes, using unique, individual tracks to set the feel for each playable race. This one is reserved for the human male characters, and has stuck with me to this day due to its quality, despite its limited use in-game.
An adventurer’s first step into the wild unknown doesn’t necessarily have to be one of complete strife, it can take a more lighthearted approach, as well. That is exactly what Sarutabaruta is about – large, grassy fields that invite the player to explore without completely overwhelming them with immense adversity. That said, all manner of beasts can be found here for those that desire a little more “fun” in their adventures.
This Elvaan starting city is one you are sure not to forget, especially when it comes to its fanfare. This track perfectly compliments the tall, proud, regal Elvaan race, who may or may not have a superiority complex. Either way, it is a fitting track that will always remind me of the early days of Final Fantasy XI.
Illusions of Mist is a prime example of creating an unsettling atmosphere without getting too grim and depressing in the process. Easily one of my favorites from the Treasures of Aht Urghan expansion.
Undertaking the role as pioneers of newly discovered lands filled to the brim with resources requires a thematically appropriate track. That is exactly the case for this tune, which came with the last expansion for Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin.
This seaside, sleepy fishing town not only marks several possible beginnings for the aspiring adventurer – the subjob quest and perhaps their first boat ride, to name a few – it also acts as a temporary safe haven for those battered by the dangers lurking in the nearby Valkurm Dunes. The catchy fiddle melody reminds you that some downtime is necessary between adventures.
No Final Fantasy XI music list is likely to be complete without this iconic theme, which is an easy favorite among many players. The Sanctuary is a dense forest that is packed with gigantic, larger than life trees, which are said to be thousands of years old. It is a beautiful, haunting tune that shows Mizuta’s true mastery of the “slow burn” approach.
Final Fantasy XI has some really good battle themes, but this one from Seekers of Adoulin is my absolute favorite. It feels like a culmination of all of Mizuta’s previous works, combined and refined into one tight package. It’s good, man.
That sums it up for this Bard Banter, but there will be more to come soon! What are your thoughts on Naoshi Mizuta? What are some of your favorites from his portfolio? What did you think about mine? Let me know!