One of Final Fantasy XIV’s best features are its music. Over six years, Masayoshi Soken has directed eight soundtracks for the game. He’s even won a Guinness World Record for it. The most impressive thing about the soundtrack as a whole isn’t how prolific the work is, it’s how much of it is also quality work.
One of my favorite things about the soundtrack in this game is also one of the smallest: the intermission and mini-phases.
I’ve mentioned how much of a soft-spot I have for progressive layering with video game soundtracks. These small bits of music play into that somewhat, as FFXIV by its very nature has to lay different themes across multiple phases of encounters for its harder and end-game content.
If we’re using the above video as an example, what I’m referring to specifically with the smaller sequences would be the Titan heart phase. These are the micro-sequences that string together the larger more-protracted phases. The titan heart specifically is a “DPS check”, where the entire party must put enough damage into a very specific point within a certain amount of time or the party will immediately be killed and have to start the entire fight over.
The game uses these constantly. Fortunately, most are featured on the soundtrack. Others are so intricately woven in and out of an encounter they’re kind of one-offs that can’t be heard outside of the game.
Here are some of my favorites with a little narrative context:
The first is featured in the final fight with Alexander, one of Heavensward’s primals. One of the key moments in this fight sees you having to jump into subspace while time is frozen in order to complete a DPS check and prevent yourself from being shot by Alexander in the present. The ongoing rumor is that Soken simply had an intern record the music from the fight preceding this one outside the recording studio to accompany this frozen moment in time. I have no source on that, so take it as you will.
This is from the same encounter. Alexander is featured as a being that manipulates time, so this also uses the conceit. Towards the end of the fight, Alexander begins using an ability aptly named “timestop” to lock you in place while he sets up elaborate firing sequences to kill you. The only way to counter this is pre-planning your position ahead of time. You don’t actually hear this in-game for any extended period of time. You’re only locked in place for a handful of seconds at a time, but it occurs at multiple points.
This is one of the primals featured in Stormblood and manifests as an abusive viceroy of a subjugated region experiences inner turmoil after having recovered from amnesia. This was a somewhat controversial narrative choice for the character given that it’s an elaborate redemption arc for an incredibly cruel murderess. Its handling in this fight and the music accompanying it however was still well-done as far as I’m concerned. One of the more interesting things about this phase in particular is that there’s only a very light DPS check that’s not very hard to pass. It’s mostly a sequence that exists to tell a story within the fight itself.
This last one is probably the most fun. There’s no DPS check, it’s literally an intermission sequence in which you do DDR-like stances to help bring forth the human form of one of the Four Lords. Specifically, you’re mistaken as a former companion of the bird of the South and are using that to your advantage to calm the sadness over her loss.
These are just a handful of more effective ones that jumped into my head. FFXIV makes use of these small moments constantly. They shine best when they support the game’s narrative trying to come through. FFXIV is above all else, trying to tell a story. When its music supports that, it soars.