The power of music.
Final Fantasy XV is a massive game filled with memorable characters and fantastic creatures, and it uses quite a few different aspects to build player’s attachment to its world. Music plays a huge part in this, and Square Enix has spent a lot of time promoting the diverse soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura. However, Final Fantasy XV does more than cycle through a good soundtrack.
The game uses its music to reinforce feelings or tones, and make the experience even more engaging. Battle themes are divided by region, and music adapts as Noctis and party explore the world, helping to add distinct variation into each of the locations you travel to in the game. There’s unique music for almost every aspect of the game, and it helps draw you that much deeper into the experience.
Final Fantasy XV isn’t the first game to use some kind of adaptive music, but its use of the tool is exemplary. Themes weave in and out during gameplay, altering to what’s happening on screen, whether that’s Noctis entering a certain area of town or transitioning into a boss battle. One prime example of this is coincidentally a nod to older Final Fantasy games as well.
Before you start battle, there’s a slow methodical theme that plays, kicking in with slow and repeating tones whenever you begin to approach enemies. The base tones of this song exactly match the opening beats of older Final Fantasy battle themes like VI and IX, something series fans should instantly recognize. As soon as you step close enough to an enemy, the sound instantly converts into one of the regional battle themes for XV’s world. Even though the battle system is action based this time, you still get the same effect as previous Final Fantasy titles musically, with the windup and then full battle theme. This simultaneously creates an adaptive theme that ramps up the tension at first as you approach, then kicks things into gear when combat launches.
Another example comes when you’re riding Chocobos in the game. There is, of course, the rousing folksy rendition of the theme that instantly plays, but hop into water on your Chocobo, and the theme suddenly becomes restrained. The more lively instruments drop out from the score, as if the water is muting the song around you. Subtly, the difference between the two versions makes a swimming Chocobo seem more elegant than a running and powersliding one.
The finest example of Final Fantasy XV’s use of music comes with towns and rest stops. Lestallum, for example, actually has four different renditions of its theme. You’ll hear varying versions depending on your location in the town; take a listen to the outskirts, inner city, market, and hotel.
First parking your car in the town greets you with the upbeat tune, but traveling inwards adds more and more instruments into the mix, building with the bustle of the city. Finally reaching the market, the music has introduced horns and other sounds to make the area feel exotic. This is a brilliant tactic on Final Fantasy XV’s part, one that gives a single town incredibly varied districts through sound. Lestallum isn’t the game’s only city that uses this feature. Cape Caem and Altissia use similar techniques, although the difference may not be quite as clear cut.
There are no loading screens or cuts to black as you enter new locales as in other past titles. The game seamlessly transitions between regions, rest stops, dungeons, and more, keeping you in the experience the whole time. This is only enhanced by the soundtrack which transitions right alongside the visuals, adding to the feeling of exploration and variety.
Battle themes increase in pace and tempo, helping to make each combat encounter feel exciting and fast-paced, while exploration music can change instantly as you move through different areas, and into buildings and caves. Hearing one blanket theme while in a town or field would only lead to things feeling monotonous after a while, and cuts to black between battle or entering a building aren’t quite as seamless as what Final Fantasy XV achieves. The game helps keep you engaged in its experience by having such an adaptive soundtrack.
Games like Red Dead Redemption have weaved different themes together as you were out exploring, but Final Fantasy XV keeps the transitions so subtle and smooth that it’s almost hard to notice it at times. The way the game introduces and changes its music on the fly only helps to make its world feel more alive. As games shift more and more towards keeping a seamless experience that loads everything at once, seamless music like Final Fantasy XV’s should definitely be a focus.
Composer Yoko Shimomura did a great job with Final Fantasy XV’s soundtrack in the first place, but composing music that changes so naturally and so often is a true achievement.