Composers: Ace+, Manami Kiyota, Yoko Shimomura, Yasunori Mitsuda
Music is an integral part of any video game. It creates narrative links, synchronises with gameplay and can be an emotional queue for the player. The latter is a large aspect of JRPGs, often being used to play out significant moments of a game and add bounds of emotional weight to them. Just think of the likes of Final Fantasy VII, with ‘that’ scene, or the feelings of frisson and rage that music involved with final boss battles tends to have.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a prime example of all of this, except it goes above and beyond what has been done in the genre since the days of the SNES.
Although I was quite apathetic to Xenoblade when I first put it in my little white box, the main theme managed to grab me instantly. For what is genuinely one of the greatest start screens in gaming, the soothing melody and slowly ramping intensity of the song just manages to fuel all sorts of emotions.
The best way to experience this is to leave the game at the start screen and just watch the image unfold.
“Time to Fight!”
In my eyes (or should I say ears?), Xenoblade doesn’t go above or beyond for its standard battle theme. In typical JRPG fashion, the song relies on a melodic and scattering string ensemble to convey victory, whereas the bass heavy strings in the background relay a feeling of possible dread.
As far as standard battle themes go, it is on the same level as most of its ilk.
What is more important with this song is its evolution throughout the game. You see, composers ACE+ did an incredible job turning Xenoblade into a musical journey among a story-driven one.
In many JRPGs and similar, the music tends to carry one theme and use a simple format throughout the entire game. Xenoblade doesn’t, instead starting from a base set of instruments common to the genre (violin, piano, and double bass), then slowly adding in more off-kilter instruments as the game progresses.
“You Will Know Our Names”
The best example of this is the song above. In many ways, this song is what spurred me to keep playing Xenoblade, as it just stood out from the slow building introduction.
Considering the name of the track, it’s no surprise that this song goes out of its way to portray something outside of the norms of the game. Rather than a violin melodic hook, we now have power metal. Instead of a double bass fueling the background, we have fast tempo drums. The song also happens to be much more complex than most other songs in the game, adding to the idea of complexity in this fight against what are more complex beasts. Those beasts that have names. The ones that have legends attached, which many of the NPCs in the game will reiterate.
What “You Will Know Our Names” highlights is the way in which ACE+ managed to use instruments and styles that don’t tend to blend together, yet somehow creating one of the best tracks in JRPG history.
It’s literally a metal, rock and ska infused song. It’s also an incredible instrumental track in general.
“Gaur Plains (Day)”
”Gaur Plains” is an example of BGM done correct. For starters, the song is just catchy and upbeat. On a deeper level, ”Gaur Plains” is a prime example of the composers trying to convey a feeling of adventure. Moving from the confines of Colony 9 to a broad, extensive landmass filled with all sorts of monsters and beasts, with music that accompanies the transition perfectly.
It’s a multi-layered song that, again, mixes in all sorts of new instruments and varying musical styles. The night variant of this song does something similar, but mixes in minor notes and slows the tempo to completely change the vibe the game is trying to portray.
”Mt. Valak Mountain (Night Time Ver.)”
Although the above track isn’t special on a deeper level, it does highlight the beauty in the game’s score. A lot of thought went into the aesthetics of Xenoblade Chronicles, with some beautiful vistas and areas to indulge in, even with the 480p resolution.
Songs like this are what complement Xenoblades art design to create a holistic atmosphere in the larger areas that take a long time to explore.
Mid-way through the adventure, the setting and themes of Xenoblade change significantly, with the Mechon of the game becoming a more integral part of the story. As a result, the music shifts with this, mixing in more electronic and mechanical sounding instruments to portray this.
The aforementioned track is a fine example of the duality the game creates, as well as just being an excellent track to fight to. What sets this song aside is how it still manages to mix in the instruments used in the music found in the earlier moments of the game to tie the familiarity of the characters to the stark change in setting.
”One Who Gets in Our Way”
”One Who Gets In Our Way” is a fine boss battle theme, showing the evolution from the simple melodies that accompany the mundane moments of the game to that of the frantic and explosive moments when the action picks up.
Although it is used in other boss battles, this song works excellently with the Mechon boss battles of the game. It has this industrial feeling, giving a mechanical feeling to it. Regardless, the song works well to induce hype during the moments of the game in which its played.
Final Boss Battle Theme (Song name changed to avoid spoilers)
The climactic act in Xenoblade Chronicles is a sudden, if odd, twist to the game. Brought to such a surprising conclusion, the game changes from the familiar setting from the past 60 hours of the game to one that is literally, out-of-this-world. It’s no surprise that the music changes to accommodate this.
This final boss battle theme perfectly sums up the two aspects of the battle; the godly enemy and the cast that players have grown used to for the entire game. This culmination results in the synth, pentatonic melody and angelic singing being a representation of the unfamiliar surroundings and the looming threat.
The other side of the track blends in instruments and styles from the music players had just got familiar with. Metal guitar riffs clash with the Latin chanting. Slow drum sections clash with the off-beat synth and pentatonic piano. Yet all of this works, creating a chilling and exciting final fight.
‘‘Beyond the Sky”
With it’s eclectic mix of sounds and melodies, it’s no surprise that Xenoblade ends in such a holistic fashion. Ending a game on a musical note can be a difficult task, as it needs to wrap up the game and give the player a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction.
”Beyond the Sky” is a fine example of this, giving the final moments of Xenoblade Chronicles a vibe felt often at the end of Disney movies and most 90’s kid flicks (seriously, compare this track to: Whatever You Imagine from The Pagemaster).
It’s an odd way to end a game that had no stylistic ties to this end theme. Somehow, Xenoblade manages to nail this, allowing such an extraordinary and grand tale to end in a complete fashion.
Xenoblade Chronicles is one hell of a journey. It’s a blend of story, music and characters that rival any JRPG this side of the PS1. It features a soundtrack that shouldn’t work in theory, yet somehow manages to craft a menagerie of melodies that rivals any game of its ilk.
Make sure to check out the live show Nintendo made last year just to understand how amazing some of the tracks actually are.
Some more tracks to check out