Soundtrack Study – Xenoblade’s Main Theme

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

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The Process

While we don’t know very much about the details behind the way Shimomura composed this piece, she has spoken about what inspired her, while the game’s director Tetsuya Takahashi shares what he was looking for in the main theme. In an interview released for Xenoblade’s European launch, Takahashi talks about the style of the music and the impact it would have on the game:

In this type of game, it’s important for the music to be well-structured with quite a distinct melody, as it makes the game more immersive. At first, we considered film-style music but going too far in that direction could make things too fuzzy or vague. That’s why we wanted a distinct main melody.

This snippet was featured in the final part of a four-part interview that gives a very insightful look into the way the game was made. While not specific to the main melody of the game, Koh Kojima goes on to talk about the role music has with gameplay, using long compositions to enhance exploration through Xenoblade’s world.

I’m sure we’ve all read the now infamous Iwata Asks interview where we find out Takahashi would push the poor, young composers to the verge of tears due to his high standards. Much of the extensive interview is dedicated to the interesting journey Manami Kiyota and ACE+ went through to produce most of the music found in Xenoblade’s fantastic soundtrack. However, toward the end, Shimomura describes how the premise of Xenoblade led her to produce her own contributions to the OST:

When I was first shown Xenoblade Chronicles, I thought its visuals were incredibly appealing. The game world, with these huge gods was unbelievable. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of its scale and wondered how on earth anyone had managed to come up with this sort of idea. I found a lot of thoughts striking me throughout the game, at all sorts of points.

… Also, when I read the scenario, I found it really affecting. This spurred me on to want to create music that matched these emotions and could live up to the scale and ambition of the game. I think that this game will really appeal to a lot of different people, in all kinds of ways.

Other Xenoblade interviews with the composers include a translated feature from Famitsu in May 2010, where Shimomura describes the new approach she took with other tracks in the game, and the difficulty of making the long composition that plays during the opening scene. ACE also sat down with Square Enix Music in September 2010 to discuss their past work and what it was like working with legends like Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda.

The Arrangements

Recurring Themes

As we all know, musically-inclined fans aren’t the only ones who create arrangements of themes. Often you can find recurring motifs by the composers across an entire OST. Xenoblade is no exception, and we take a look at a few tracks that take their cue from the main theme which started this all.

Shulk and Fiora is probably one of the most obvious arrangements of the main theme, as it takes the piano melody and immediately applies it to a number of string instruments playing in unison with the piano playing only softly in the background. A number of variations occur here in the melody as ACE+ messes with the notes, tone, and rhythm of Shimomura’s feature composition. The result is certainly a “romantic” effect, both in terms of genre and mood as it relates to the in-game narrative.

What’s really interesting are the less obvious tracks where the main theme pops up, namely in the music of Prologue B and Bionis’ Leg. These two tracks both use a variation of the “strings melody” that occurs mid-way through the main theme. In Prologue B, the strings melody appears at 1:32, but the notes are actually transposed to a lower key. While the main theme from the title screen is in G minor, the same melody is lowered to E minor for the opening cinematic. This helps to create the different mood that is presented in Prologue B during the battle of Sword Valley.

Bionis’ Leg is a big fan favorite, as much for the in-game location as the music itself. It’s certainly important to the game, and it’s for this reason that ACE+ arranged part of the main theme for this composition. Like Prologue B, the melody we hear is the strings melody with a unique variation, while staying in the G minor key. In the first part, only three notes from the original melody are played: B♭, A, and G. This sequence skips the F note, and sustains the G instead of playing on for the next measure. In the second part, four notes from the melody are played: B♭, A, C, and D. Again, the last note is sustained and the rhythm is altered for a slower pace.

In the “night” version of Bionis’ Leg, the melody is played even slower as the tempo drops. ACE+ also transposes the notes from G minor to C minor, a closely related key. Instead, we hear the notes  E♭, D, and C with a more calming tone of guitar and strings in contrast to the more lively “day” version of this composition. The melody actually repeats twice, omitting the more dramatic second part that rises higher.

For arrangements outside the game, the holy grail of Xenoblade performances would have to be Press Start 2013 in Japan on August 30. This was the wondrous occasion where we got to lay eyes on a beautiful replica of the Monado sitting on an instrument stand of all things. Sakurai was certainly amused. However, there was more than Xenoblade imagery to marvel at, as we know from program documents at the event that music from Xenoblade was indeed performed. Sadly, while pictures were uploaded from several sources, there are no known recordings of this performance online, not even from a shaky iPhone camera (if we were so lucky). If anyone does know if a recording may exist, please feel free to share in the comments.

Head over to the next page to hear what fans have done with this music.

About Raymond Dwyer

Former Contributor--Raymond is an architect in Chicago who has been playing video games for as long as he can remember. For all that the city offers, he mostly prefers sitting down to a good game when he can spare the time. Buildings look better rendered than they do in real life anyway.

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