A Monster Year
2017 was a monster year in gaming. Some of the big name titles that came out in those glorious twelve months included The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, Nier: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Divinity: Original Sin II, Super Mario Odyssey, and Resident Evil VII. I could go on but you get the picture.
It also was a pivotal year for me as a gamer. After roughly a decade of dormancy, the release of the Nintendo Switch alongside Link’s grandest adventure to date (Breath of the Wild is no doubt Nintendo’s most ambitious project in its storied history) pulled me right back into the addictive habits I had once developed as an adolescent. To cap off 2017’s incredible string of releases, Nintendo and Monolith Soft dropped Xenoblade Chronicle 2 in December. I once again discovered my love of RPGs.
The Greatest Soundtrack Ever?
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 remains one of my most beloved RPGs available on the Switch. While various aspects ranging from gameplay and narrative to overall performance are liable to fair criticism, one area in which I feel the game is impeccably executed is its soundtrack. Not one to mince words, I would go so far as to claim that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 may just have the greatest selection of tracks ever produced for a video game.
It’s a bold claim, I know! However, I intend to back it up! With over 100 high-quality songs included in its OST (‘original soundtrack’), I carefully combed through each beautifully arranged piece before narrowing my playlist down to 35 tracks. Knowing that this was still far too many for the purposes of the present article, I agonized further over which to exclude, cutting many others that I felt were equally deserving of the spotlight. However, sacrifices needed to be made. Finally, I arrived at what I consider to be the game’s choicest tunes, a selection that I’ve decided to call: Twelve Untouchable Tracks From Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
One last note before we jump into it! Regarding the masterminds and musicians responsible for Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s mesmerizing melodies, the project’s lead was legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda. He’s worked closely with Monolith Soft head and founder Testuya Takahashi on many past games, going back to Xenogears on the Playstation. Both were also involved in the development of 1995’s Chrono Trigger. Mitsuda-san holds an especially dear place in my heart for his work on Chrono Cross, a soundtrack that was foundational in the formation of my love for video game music as a young lad. I still remember pushing our family lawnmower as a twelve-year-old, jamming out to ‘Time’s Scar’ on my walkman, ripped off the file-sharing program Napster before I was able to secure an imported copy of the OST off Ebay. Ah, the year 2000! To be a radical dreamer again!
I digress. Mitsuda-san received a lot of help with the creation of Xenoblade Chronicle 2’s OST, as he himself only composed about one-fifth of the game’s tunes. The other talented artists who were involved include Kenji Hiramatsu, Manami Kiyota, and the duo that comprises ACE (Tomori Kudo and Hiroyo Yamanaka). Each composer’s respective contributions will be noted below. Along with this core team of five, composer Mariam Abounnasr worked closely with Mitsuda-san on the arrangement of numerous tracks that he specifically composed. Both the Bratislava Symphony Choir and the Irish choral ensemble Anúna were enlisted to provide vocal support on several pieces. And then of course, as you’ll soon hear, there were over 300 musicians and more than 20,000 sheets of music that the group had to work with! It’s no wonder that Mitusda-san called it ‘the biggest and most challenging project I have ever worked on.’ The biggest, most challenging, and—as I so declaratively stated—the greatest! Am I justified in saying that? Grab your best pair of earbuds and let’s find out!
‘Garfont Mercenaries’ (Kenji Hiramatsu)
The perfect track to kick things off, ‘Garfont Mercenaries’ is the cozy melody that plays when Rex and company find their way to Garfont Village, a secret mercenary base located within the ginormous Titan, Uraya. There are no shortage of RPGs with saccharine village music that can easily whisk one away to a distant paradise, a nostalgic thought hidden deep within the abyss of ever-fading memories. ‘Garfont Mercencies’ is not merely one example of the warmth that scenic images of a serene, countryside hamlet can evoke; it ranks among the finest of them.
The Argentum Trade Guild is the first human settlement that players of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 encounter at the start of their adventure. The appropriately titled ‘Argentum’ precisely captures the hustle and bustle of a thriving marketplace located on a large ship drifting aloft open skies, as well as the excitement and wonder that attends the commencement of a brand new RPG epic. I am particularly fond of ‘Argentum’s’ chord progressions, culminating in a solo flute and then a snazzy little piano riff before the grandiosity of the accompanying symphony returns to round things out. If this track doesn’t uplift your spirits, I don’t know what will!
‘Gormotti Forest’ (Manami Kiyota)
Perhaps my very favorite song out of this entire collection, ‘Gormotti Forest’ is a moving rendition that basks in a certain delicacy and sadness without overplaying its hand. This arrangement always takes me back to that dark, sublime, wooded abode found within the lower levels of Gormont for the very first time. But unlike that forgotten marshland crawling with numerous deadly critters in the game, the magical place to which ‘Gormotti Forest’ transports me in my mind is one I never want to leave!
‘Monster Surprised You’ (Kenji Hiramatsu)
If you need a shot of adrenaline, the lush cacophony of electric guitar, drums, and brass instruments featured in ’Monster Surprised You’ is guaranteed to get your juices flowing. Hiramatsu-san’s manic arrangement is a banger, and the ideal soundtrack for any party of sojourners seeking to wallop an overpowered foe who has just launched a preemptive attack—and let me tell you, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has more than its fair share of those!
‘The Decision’ (Yasunori Mitsuda, Mariam Abounnasr)
From its subtle opening to the harrowing background voices that invoke the opening sequence of Final Fantasy VIII (for me anyway), ’The Decision’ is beautifully chaotic, a mess of emotions, at one moment mellow and tender, the next epically raging to the beat of war drums and gut-wrenching strings. I’m neither musically inclined myself nor well-versed in the language of the arts, so regardless of however one would describe the wide range of symphonic sounds on display here, all I know is that Yasunori-san absolutely killed it.
‘Friendship’ (Kenji Hiramatsu)
A soft, melancholic tune that exquisitely blends its use of horn and piano to maximal effect, the instant that ‘Friendship’s’ lead guitar enters your ears you know it’s going to be a tear-jerker. But while ‘Friendship’ may boast a touch of sorrow, it’s also the sort of song that is bound to summon a torrent of sweet memories; perhaps of another, younger version of yourself, sitting beneath the twilight of the stars. You’re having a heart-to-heart by the flickering flames of a camp fire, forming an inseparable bond with the one that you secretly admire… who, as it turns out, also happens to be an ancient legendary blade! Yeah, okay. That’s weird. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is pretty weird. But doggonit, these songs are something else!
‘Walking with You’ (ACE)
‘Walking with You’ is an enchanting serenade that predictably chaperones some of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 more riveting, sentimental sequences. It embodies both the turmoil and loss inflicted upon different key characters at various points throughout the game, and is all-around just a solid ballad that highlights the versatility of ACE when contrasted against their next contribution on this list…
‘A Nopon’s Life’ (ACE)
If you’ve played any release in the Xenoblade Chronicles series, you will surely be familiar with the race of spherical, hamster-esque creatures known as ‘Nopons.’ For everyone else, these adorable, rambunctious furballs often serve as the games’ comic relief, speaking in their own, broken, cutesy English (in the English language versions, of course) and constantly hatching up ideas and schemes that far outsize their small demeanor. ‘A Nopon’s Life’ sports a ridiculously catchy melody that succinctly expresses the whacky, unpredictable, and aspiring habits of the lovable Nopon. I can’t help but think that it’s an ideal track to throw on a ‘Cleaning Playlist’ along with this old Koji Kondo classic…
The theme that plays as you roam across peaks, valleys, and vast rolling plains—situated atop the Titan of the same name—‘Gormott’ is a majestic orchestral production that superbly pays homage to the concept of open-world freedom so prevalent in our modern age of gaming. When ‘Gormott’ gives way to a choir of godly utterances, verbally expressing all of the lofty sentiments induced by this frenzied wellspring of optimism contained in song form, yet without a whisper of intelligible speech, a track that already deserves heaps of adulation somehow becomes even more transcendent. All of the little details contained herein, each musician immaculately performing their small role to create a monumental sound that conveys something far larger than any of its parts, would be impressive in-of-itself; it’s more so when basically the same thing can be said for every number featured in Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
‘Kingdom of Uraya/Night’ (Kenji Hiramatsu)
Like many locales in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the Kingdom of Uraya includes slightly different interpretations of the same background music depending on the in-game day and night cycle. While I wrestled with the choice of selecting either the daytime or nighttime rendition of ‘Kingdom of Uraya’, and it could have just as well come down to a coin flip, I ultimately felt that its ‘Night’ version was slightly better. Perhaps it’s a bit more ‘dreamy’ or distinguished. Whatever the case, it’s a soothing, picturesque composition that engenders within me a state of comatose bliss not unlike the result produced by the aforementioned ‘Gormotti Forest.’ Also known as: the musical equivalent of comfort food.
‘Praetor Amalthus – The Acting God’ (Yasunori Mitsuda, Mariam Abounnasr)
I really have not the faintest clue why but in keeping with the comparison to Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful works, if ‘The Decision’ recalls ‘Liberi Fatali’ from Final Fantasy VIII, then ‘Praetor Amalthus – The Acting God’ is like Yasunori Mitsuda’s ‘One Winged Angel.’ That’s probably a silly reference, and actually I know exactly why I’m inclined to draw it. Both tunes center around quasi-religious figures and feature choral harmonies that conjure up one of two scenes: the architecture of a grand, European cathedral (obviously), and a crumbling, rocky platform upon which the ultimate personification of evil faces off in a duel against an unlikely hero. At least, those are the two images that pop into my head when I hear each of these tracks. In reality, it’s probably there that the similarities end—oh, and both songs are goddamn fantastic.
‘The Tomorrow with You’ (Yasunori Mitsuda, Mariam Abounnasr)
Naturally, this playlist can only appropriately conclude one way. And that’s with the triumphant, bittersweet, tour de force that is ‘The Tomorrow with You.’ What more is there to say? It’s a stunning work of art that hits especially hard after you’ve dedicated 80+ hours of your life getting to know and love Rex, Pyra, Mythra, Nia, Tora—and dare I say, even Zeke—though admittedly not as hard as afterward experiencing the DLC, Torna – The Golden Country, and all the divine compositions presented in that condensed saga. But that’s an article for another day, should I have another… tomorrow… with you (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Me want more Xenoblade Chronicles 2 songy-songy!
That about does it for our present deep dive into some of my favorite tracks from Xenoblade Chronicles 2! I know there are probably several tracks that I’ve left out which you feel deserve a proper mention. I’d love to hear from you! In firmly sticking to my commitment of twelve tracks (an arbitrary number that I chose to give the title a nice ring, though I could have just as easily gone with ‘Thirteen Untouchable Tracks…’), which songs would you replace… and with what? Drop a comment and let me know!
And if you’re really craving more Xenoblade Chronicles 2, or feel that I haven’t sufficiently supported my claim that it’s arguably the greatest soundtrack ever, I’ve decided to include my full 35-track playlist here. Lastly, shout out to the YouTube user ‘Max Galactica’ for making the entire OST available online! (And if on the off chance you ever read this, Galactica-san, please do not delete your YouTube account!)