Obligatory spoiler warning: I’ve gone out of my way not to include what I consider to be spoilers (except for pre-Tephra Cave stuff), but if you’re the kind of person who thinks locations and references to the mood of the story are spoilers, you might want to turn back.
I recently finished Xenoblade Chronicles, and though I’ve got my issues with the game, one aspect of it I will defend without reservation is the soundtrack. At one point, this list was nearly 40 tracks long (from a soundtrack of 91) -- getting it down to 15 took some absolutely savage cuts. There are many more pieces that I like, but I didn’t want this list to be comically long, and I also tried to account for as much stylistic variance as possible. So with that -- and the understanding that this is my list, not the list -- in mind, let’s get started (in order of appearance, based on my recollection):
Main Theme (Yoko Shimomura)
I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about this -- it’s just a great piece. It’s up there with Ocarina of Time (and maybe Catherine, for totally different reasons) in quality of title screen music.
Prologue B (Yoko Shimomura)
Xenoblade certainly starts with a bang -- this drops during a boss fight no more than 15 minutes into the game.
Daily Life (Manami Kiyota)
I’m not entirely sure when this plays -- presumably during an early cutscene -- but I love it.
Thoughts to a Friend (Manami Kiyota)
This one’s a little cheesy and plays during a scene in which the game is practically shouting “Fiora is going to get killed or kidnapped, and you’re going to see flashbacks of this”, but it’s a nice piece nonetheless, and is used to great effect.
Memories (Manami Kiyota)
Based on the YouTube comments, this probably plays during Shulk and Reyn’s fireside conversation in Tephra Cave, and in a couple of later scenes. It’s got a great melancholic and longing sound, and perfectly fits the low point in the game it first plays during.
Colony 9 [day, night] (Yoko Shimomura)
These are great examples of the way zones’ day and night themes reference one another, yet set totally different moods.
Gaur Plain [day] (ACE+)
The closest Xenoblade has to an overworld theme, and it’s a good one at that. This drops the moment the largest field in the game opens up to you, and conveys an appropriate sense of adventure. It wore on me as the game went on, but I think that’s just a byproduct of how much you hear it.
Unfinished Battle (Yoko Shimomura)
This is such a great boss theme -- it hits the ideal balance of “epic” and “fuck yeah, let’s do this”. That relentless string backing is fantastic. From what I can gather, it only plays once in the game, and it’s during a fairly early boss battle, but it could credibly have been the end boss music (and in opinion, maybe should have been).
Satorl Marsh [day] (Manami Kiyota)
This one makes more sense when you know what Satorl Marsh looks like at night. It’s a neat area, and this theme really anchors it.
Eryth Sea [day] (Manami Kiyota)
Eryth Sea is one of the most beautiful zones in the game, and has a theme to match. It’s very mellow and serene in contrast to the themes that come before it, making it hit home all that much more, and maybe foreshadowing the tonal shift the game takes after it.
Snowy Valak Mountain [night] (ACE+)
This isn’t necessarily my favourite track in the game, but I decided to put together this list the first time I heard it. Make of that what you will.
Mechonis Field (ACE+)
A left turn stylistically, which makes sense since it’s the first zone you enter on the Mechonis. The clockwork, synth-heavy sound stands in stark contrast to the flowing, organic melodies of the Bionis. I also love that it sounds so alive -- the easy move would have been to make it sound dark and foreboding.
While I Think... (ACE+)
Another piece that really knows how to manipulate your heart-strings. I’m keeping this spoiler-free, but suffice it to say it nicely underscores at least one of the most emotional scenes in the game.
To The Last Battle (ACE+)
A great “fuck yeah, let’s finish this” piece, though it’s a shame you likely can’t actually finish this when it drops since you’re probably underleveled (sorry, I had to take at least one shot at the game!).