Keeping Score: Xenoblade Chronicles 2

My new series about film/video game scores.

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Finally, a new column where I'll begin writing more about music. But what's this - a video game? Well, I'm sure if you haven't already guessed it, my love for video game and film scores is massive. The connection musicians make with another piece of art is incredibly impressive, as music connects us to vital moments that we can relate to. The very basics are scary music makes us scared, and sad music makes us sad - combining that with the scenes in a movie create an emotional wave for some people if done right. I'm also a firm believer on composers making the music listenable outside of the context of the game or film. That is exactly what this series is going to highlight - I'll go through TV, anime, movies, and games to help people recognize the greatness behind some of the greatest works.

Now why did I start off with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and not some stated classic such as Star Wars? Mainly due to one reason; being that I want to highlight scores that are personal to myself (and obviously very well done). This is a game I played very recently (for the Nintendo Switch), and it drew me with its compelling story and strategic gameplay. I'll also quickly mention that these posts will not entirely be spoiler free but if you want to avoid them just check out the music section. These posts will be purely related to the music and how someone who hasn't ever played the game could listen regardless, but as I stated before I will go over some gameplay elements as well.

The Game

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a JRPG made by Monolith Studios for the Nintendo Switch. In the game, you play as the character Rex, who appears to be a teenager of idealistic desires. The story begins with you finding out the world as we know it is inhabitable, and so people live on these beings named Titans that make up Alrest - though now these Titans are dying. The goal is to reach Elysium, a sacred groove that Rex believes will save the world and find the answers he seeks. Unfortunately like any good tale, Rex meets his trouble with a group named Torna who have their own interests of making it to Elysium - to annihilate the world.

Along the way Rex meets people who take part in his team in saving the world. There are two kinds you will discover - Drivers, who are human (or humanoid) and with the help of Blades, Drivers can unlock arts to power themselves in battle. Rex's main Blade is Pyra, who happens to be the Aegis which is one of the most powerful Blades. In the game you'll battle creatures of the world, and even other Drivers. It's up to the player to figure out what combos and attachments a Driver/Blade needs in order to get the best outcome. The fighting style has a free movement area where you can set up your attacks, and these auto-attacks charge your arts (that happen to be the more powerful attacks). After a while these arts power your Driver combo attacks which are the most powerful, as they can set up fusion combos with other types of Blades (there are levels 1, 2, 3, and 4).

What I love most about this game is the story has depth to it developing characters who are quite confusing at first. Speaking of the characters, they are also some of the most likeable I've found to date, albeit some bad writing here and there with cliche JRPG tropes. Graphically you get these big beautiful worlds to look at and the art style reminds me of a mix of Studio Ghibli and Final Fantasy. As every JRPG, there are endless amounts of sidequests though some can be fun while others are just get x amount of items, or kill x creature. Overall this game has loads to offer with hundreds of hours to sink into it.

The Music

Now this soundtrack is hard to pin down as one stable genre - you've got your epic score pieces, heavy fast paced metal, downtempo electronic, and of course staple JRPG vocal track (just one!). Now I'll split this into three different sections as the music varies in certain scenarios. I'd also just like to acknowledge the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 sound team of ACE, Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Hiramatsu, and Manami Kiyota for the outstanding job on such a memorable soundtrack.

I'll begin with overworld music as that's the one you'll hear most often in the game. The overworld music fits the overworlds perfectly, as they are just as grand and epic as the worlds themselves. You have militaristic Mor Ardain and small-town Torigoth to show the diversity of sound throughout these worlds. All versions of overworld themes have a night theme to go with them, and the night themes are generally more subdued and peaceful in sound (almost jazz-y), compared  to the bombastic nature of the day themes. The theme of Indol (a religious area) replicates the Gregorian chants you'd find in similar places like the Vatican. These themes generally cross the line of being purely classical or a mix of orchestrated rock/metal. My standout tracks for the overworld themes (both day and night) are: Gormott, Leftherian Archipelago, Tantal, Land of Morytha, and Spirit Crucible Elpys.

Next I'm going to dive into the battle themes. These themes are pure metal that has it mixed with a symphony at some points. They perfectly capture the feeling of being in a battle with some of the most powerful looking creatures/drivers of the entire game. For certain monsters, they are considered super bosses that are named because they are so powerful. Generally they are bigger in size and have a more unique design then their regular counterpart. The first track you get in battling a mosnter is much lighter in tone compared to the farther you get (though still epic). I mean just compare Battle! with Battle in the Skies Above (and once you get to that point in the game it makes it obvious of what you're fighting). The sound team certainly made it feel like these monsters/drivers were truly something of power through the music presented. My standout tracks for the battle themes: Still, Move Forward!, Battle in the Skies Above, The Power of Jin, Bringer of Chaos, and Incoming!.

Lastly, I'll go over the cutscene tracks, with them being a mixed bag of genres. For each cutscene (and there's a lot of them), you'll get exactly the music that matches the tone - from weird choices like A Nopon's Life which sounds happy and cheerful with a hint of playfulness, to more serious such as The Past Revealed which is driven by strings and piano geared towards the characters finding out a complication in their story. These tracks are generally my favourite as they can be listened to entirely separately from the actual game, they try to bring out emotions of happiness, sadness, and anger which every person has. Plus I can relate back to all the cutscenes I loved, so I may be a little bias on this one. I'll also mention the one vocal track this game has with Drifting Soul, and it is your typical JRPG ballad of sorts but I love it all the same. It is also placed perfectly in the awakening of Mythra (spoiler!). Standout tracks for cutscenes: Contrition, A Faint Hope, Past from Far Distance, With People and Darkness, and Jump Towards the Morning Light.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna - the Golden Country

Normally I'd leave out DLC as it generally doesn't include new music, but in this case the sound team went above and beyond and created some new tracks to go along with this new story. Torna takes place before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to give an idea to players of how the events all unfolded. You play as a different character this time around, Lora, but you see familiar faces in Blades (as they don't die, just get reborn with memory loss). With your new team, you explore the areas of the kingdom of Torna (and somewhat Gormott). The tracks on this DLC are completely, straight up orchestral jazz. The Battle theme has to be one of favourite variations of song because it's a lot of fun and gets the groove of a battle going. The songs are piano driven, with jazzy drumming to compliment as well various strings, woodwinds, and brass instruments. The sound team and developers created one of the best DLC's I ever played as it felt like an entirely new game itself. Standout tracks: Battle!!, Four-Limbed Titan, Auresco,

Andrew Kalichak

Published a year ago