All posts by Jayson Napolitano

ω Labyrinth Song Collection♪ (SRIN-1138)

SuperSweep is at it again, publishing obscure music that you won’t hear anywhere else. This time it’s the PlayStation Vita title, Omega Labyrinth featuring Daisuke Nakajima as the primary composer with a number of vocal anime-style themes thrown into the mix. The game itself is a challenging roguelike dungeon crawler with a story centered around the protagonist seeking out a grail in order to request a wish to increase her breast size.

In terms of the music, it follows the upbeat anime formula. The opening vocal theme, “Brave Heart,” offers sticky sweep pop rock with female vocals that are silly and energetic, followed by another vocal track that is more acoustic and folksy in nature. There’s everything here from cool ninja rock with shakuhachi and shamisen to classic J-rock with impressive guitar solos. You’ll find the usual suspects for this type of game: tense dungeons, epic boss battles with explosive rock, and a lovely sweeping orchestral pop tune to close out the game.

The album is available at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: FINAL FANTASY XIV: Duality ~Arrangement Album~

I rather enjoyed the first Final Fantasy XIV arrangement album, From Astral to Umbral, so I was pleased to see them give it another go with the amazing music from Heavensward available to draw from. It’s once again an even split between a piano collections album featuring Keiko and a rock set by THE PRIMALS.

The album opens with the piano half, starting with “Imagination,” a slow and measured track that will gently sway you to sleep. “Painted Foothills” is contemplative and sparse, featuring some lovely piano runs, while “Borderless” takes turns between subdued and more energetic sections, sporting some wonderful piano playing. “Ominous Prognostiks” is ominous as the title would suggest, with slow and more mysterious sections follows by tense explosions of sound. Both “Heroes” and “Night in the Brume” include some of my favorite thematic material from Heavensward, with the former coming as epic and the latter as tender and sweet.

The band portion begins with “Unbreakable,” complete with wailing electric guitars and a badass vibe. “Revenge Twofold” is a new track that hasn’t been released yet and is more adventurous and upbeat, while “Ubending Steel” provides classic rock stylings with guttural male vocals in a silly but effective manner. “Imagination” appears again with lots of reverb and heavy metal thunder, “Fiend” (another new track) comes as an alternative rock track with dark vocals, and “Heroes” getting some great guitar work and male choir. “Locus” features dancing piano, electronics, and male and female vocaloid, while “Oblivion (Never Let it Go Version)” comes as a surprise with acoustic guitar, glassy pads, a small string ensemble, and bag pipes. I’d love to hear an entire album in this style!

Not only are there wonderful arrangements in both piano and rock styles here, but there are new tracks not released on a dedicated soundtrack album yet. Pick the album up on CD Japan if you’re interested!

Review: Star Fox Zero

Star Fox soundtracks are some of my favorites. Nintendo’s take on science fiction with majestic orchestra and electronic elements has been a treat since the original Star Fox on the SNES, and while the team at Bandai Namco was largely responsible for this soundtrack, I was curious to see how they’d treat the source material. Overall, it’s a rather grand and serious orchestral score with a lot of references to classic Star Fox themes, and I think anyone who played through the game was sure to enjoythe music.

The score overall is quite large and covers a lot of ground, making it even more unfortunate that Nintendo is unlikely to publish a soundtrack. I’ll simply call out some of my favorites that you may pay special attention to as you play through the game and hear them for yourself. Right out of the gate with the title theme, you get bombastic orchestra that sets the stage for an epic adventure in space. I got an immediate kick out of the theme that plays when you complete training, as it’s glorious and triumphant, working in the Star Fox theme and incorporating some cool rock percussion alongside the fancy synth work. Corneria gets the blood pumping with a tense take on the main theme, while the laid back map theme (my favorite track) works in electronic percussion and beautiful harmonies. Area 3 gets fast-paced drum ‘n’ bass, Katt gets a playful jazz theme with meows at the end, and the track that plays when you complete a mission is a sleek electronic march that is an arrangement of the classic victory tune. The Star Fox theme itself is an upbeat and bouncy march with little synth runs that are a nice touch, while Fortuna gets a tropical forest vibe complete with marimba and male choral chanting. Towards the end, Venom is accompanied by droning tones and scattered notes, adding to the tension, and even deeper into the planet, you get repetitive whirring and string stabs that are almost maddening. Andross gets a sinister theme with choir and big brass. The lengthy ending sequence sports the expected triumphant orchestral territory, but there’s some chillout material that I really enjoyed.

In all, I was pleased with the Star Fox Zero soundtrack. I’d love to see it published some day, but it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’ll get picked up by an external publisher like we’ve been seeing with recent Pokemon, Zelda, and Fire Emblem releases.

Review: Grimms Notes Original Soundtrack

This one’s surely a pleasant surprise. Square Enix publishes a lot of game music for their mobile titles that don’t make it out of Japan, and sometimes there’s some excellent music found within. The Grimms Notes soundtrack by Taketeru Sunamori and Miyako Matsuoka is a perfect example. There are strong Celtic influences throughout with all the JRPG staples, and it’s certainly worth the time to check it out.

The opening theme is magical and mysterious with descending harp and a lute, setting the tone for the rest of the score. There’s a woodwind and tambourine-heavy folk tune, uplifting harmonica in one track, warm and beautiful harmonies in another. There are exotic woodwinds, Latin-flavored guitars, a triumphant and adventurous march, tropical steel drums, and a mixture of contemplative, somber, and epic tunes towards the end. The star of the show, however, is the version of the main theme with Japanese female vocals. There’s something unsettling about the track, like some ancient lullaby with seemingly sweet lyrics that hide danger within, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.

The unfortunate news is that I can only find it on sale on the Square Enix Japan store. I hope it turns up elsewhere, because the soundtrack is a hidden gem!

Bullet Girls 1 & 2 Soundtrack (SRIN-1140)

SuperSweep Records is at it again, bringing music you wouldn’t expect out on CD with the release of the soundtracks to the PlayStation Vita games Bullet Girls 1&2. The album features an eclectic selection of electronic, orchestral, and pop music composed by Masanori Hikichi, including the catchy J-rock title themes, “Faith” (Bullet Girls 1) and “One’s Bullet” (Bullet Girls 2), both featuring vocalist Tifan.

Between military marches, smooth synth pop, funk, and pop rock, there’s something for everyone with this release. There’s sweeping orchestral, spooky trip hop, and even dance music. It’s all wonderfully produced, and even some of the darker tracks maintain an upbeat atmosphere. They also include a number of jingles from the game and the instrumental versions of the vocal tracks.

Bullet Girls 1&2 Soundtrack can be imported from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Oh! Samurai Girls! A Music Collection (BSPE-1065)

It’s been awhile since Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basicape Records put out some music. The tail end of 2016 saw the release of the soundtrack to the PC game Oh! Samurai Girls! A Music Collection with the return of composer Azusa Chiba and Yoshimi Kudo to follow up 2012’s “S” collection. You’re in for an eclectic winter-flavored soundtrack with strong Japanese influences.

From the sweet and magical opener to the mix of upbeat and playful to funky and cool tracks that follow, there’s something here for everyone. There’s epic orchestra, tender ballads, swaggering jazz, ninja rock, and even an appearance by J.S. Bach with a Christmas version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” There are breakbeats, lullabies, and crashing metal along with traditional Japanese instruments, exotic desert music, and even folk. The album closes it with a series of heavy metal tracks complete with chugging bass and wailing guitars.

The two-disc album can be picked up on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: NieR Music Concert & Talk Live Blu-ray

I absolutely adore NieR. It ranks among my favorite soundtracks of all time. I’m also a huge fan of vocalist Emi Evans, and I’ve always been disappointed that I’ve never been able to see her perform the music from NieR lives in all the many times she’s done it. Thankfully Square Enix decided to publish this recent concert and live talk event on Blu-ray for the world to enjoy, and enjoy it I have.

The performance includes all the key tracks, with MoNACA composer and pianist Keigo Hoashi performing his own themes along with the lovely Reiko Tsuchiya Quartet. Vocalists, including Emi Evans, are of course featured prominently. There’s the somber introduction, “Snow in Summer,” followed by Emi Evans’s angelic vocals in “Hills of Radiant Winds,” “Kaine,” and “Song of the Ancients / Devola.” I realize I’m going over them quickly here, but they are each absolutely stunning compositions and live performances.

Things get more interesting with “The Wretched Automatons,” which sees Emi Evans perform her usual lead with Nami Nakagawa (also a performer from the original NieR soundtrack) handling the lower notes. Nagakawa truly impresses throughout the entire evening with her amazing range. She can hit some incredible lows and highs, making a perfect accompaniment to Evans or running the entire range all on her own, including on her NieR: Automata track.

Vocalist J’Nique Nicole comes to the stage to perform “Weight of the World” from Automata. The track has a sort of sleek and sexy ballad vibe, similar in style of something from Metal Gear Solid of 007. It’s an interesting track, and I’m curious to see how it sets the tone for the rest of the score.

Evans again comes to the stage to perform the heartbreaking “Grandma,” the sweet and reflective “Ashes of Dreams,” and is joined by Nakagawa for a riveting encore, “Song of the Ancients / Fate” featuring the two performing in perfect harmony. It’s quite a thing to see done live.

I’m glad they decided to keep the talk separate from the concert, as watching long portions of talk in the middle of the music can be a drag. I also enjoy the packaging design, with the sleek black and white cover with a nice wood grain texture that lends it some class.

In all, I couldn’t be more happy with this release. The music isn’t included in MP3 format on the disc like other Blu-ray releases have been, so you’ll have to pick up the limited edition version of the game to get the audio alone.

Feel free to pick up the Blu-ray on CD Japan in the meantime if you’re a fan of NieR’s music!

Review: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 25TH ANNIVERSARY SELECTION

It’s hard to believe Sonic is over 25 years old. There have been good times, and there have been bad times, but one thing that’s always been particularly great about the series is the music. SEGA put together a two-disc “best of” compilation album of tracks from across the entire franchise and released them this past summer. The album features a more upbeat and poppy “Blue” disc and a darker and grittier “Black” disc.

The blue disc features classics such as the classic FM synthesis pop tune that started it all, “Green Hill Zone,” and the high-flying and majestic “Sky Sanctuary Zone” from Sonic & Knuckles. There’s the carnvial-like atmosphere of “Palmtree Panic” with its cheering crowds, the tribal “Mt. Red: A Symbol of Thrill,” and the dance tune, “Join Us 4 Happy Time.” We then get into the upbeat, inspirational rock that modern Sonic has come to be known for. “That’s the way I like it” gives us ska, “Neo Green Hill” combines 8-bit sounds with crunched down modern ones, and “Wave Ocean” is a cool fast-paced rock track with lightning-fast percussion. There’s the pumping “Theme of Metal City,” the adventurous and mariachi-flavored “A New Venture,” DNB and strings in “Windmill Isle,” and spacey synths in “Reach for the Stars.” One of my favorites, “Escape from the City,” appears in its Sonic Generations remix form, while “Beyond the Speed of…” is a super catchy pop-infused rock track from Sonic Runners, which we previously reviewed.

The black disc is heavier on the metal and synth syide. “Chemical Plant Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is not only one of the greatest tracks from the series, but one of the most unique with its super funky layered bass. There’s chugging electronics in “Death Egg Zone Act 1” from Sonic & Knuckles, spunky rock in “Skydeck A Go! Go!,” and danger and grit in “Vengeance is Mine.” “For True Story” goes trip hop, “Rain Canyon” brings in octave-jumping slap bass and rock organ, and “Theme of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)” sports big strings and rock, creating a cool hybrid. The ascending strings, orchestral hits, and buzzing bass in “Crisis City” stand out, as does the ominous and brooding synth sweeps and desolate sound of “Un-gravify.” Majestic and epic are good words to describe “Super Sonic vs. Perfect Dark Gaia,” while “Planet Wisp” sports a lovely piano ballad on top of funky bass and energetic percussion.

As somebody who owns many Sonic soundtracks, I still appreciated this collection as a historical look at the series. It’s changed direction a lot over the years, but they’ve always done a great job emphasizing speed with super catchy music, whether in synth pop or rock styles. Pick it up on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: FINAL FANTASY XV Original Soundtrack

Yoko Shimomura’s long-awaited soundtrack for Final Fantasy XV is finally here. I tried my best not to spoil it for myself, only listening to a few scattered samples and playing through one of the two pre-release demos, but even those demos couldn’t have prepared me for what was in store. The score is simply massive. It’s probably the most diverse and most “live” Final Fantasy soundtrack to date, with orchestras, session artists, and more spread over 96 tracks. I was surprised to find strong blues and Hollywood-style electronic/orchestral hybrid influences throughout, and I think fans of Yoko Shimomura will be pleasantly surprised by the variety.

I obviously can’t run through 96 tracks, but I can call out some of the key tracks. The title theme, “Somnus (Instrumental)” is melancholy and beautiful, which is a good way to sum up the majority of the score. The elegant piano work featured here is the binder that brings the entire body of work together, weaving in and out of tracks where you might not even expect it. It’s then on to blues with the spunky “Hammerhead,” which comes right out of a dusty western flick, while the exploration theme, “Wanderlust” combines whimsical orchestra with this gritty Western sound.

The battle themes are fitting, with the tense dissonance of “Encroaching Fear” that acts as a lead in to confrontations, and the powerful string and brass “Stand Your Ground” acting as the battle theme proper. “Lurking Danger” is a dark and terrifying piece that plays when a major confrontation is around the corner, and “Hunt or be Hunted” is a bombastic orchestral track that will have you thinking Metal Gear. Other standouts include “NOX AETERNA” with its profoundly distraught string work, the explosive “Veiled in Black” with contrasting chugging electric guitars and romantic piano sections, and the somewhat comical fishing theme, “Reel Rumble,” which sports rock organ and big brass to accompany your aquatic battles.

There is quite an eclectic assortment throughout, with the feel-good “Relax and Reflect” coming as a lovely contemporary jazz tune, the dreamy acoustic “Safe Haven,” and one of my favorites, the funk-infused “Urban Chrome” that accompanies the garage where you make modifications to your car, sporting jazzy keys and wah-wah rhythm guitar. There’s bossa nova with “Galdin Quay,” the infectiously upbeat alternative rock with “Bros on the Road,” the Spanish-flavored “Lestallum” with guitar and shakers, and the magnificent “Valse di Fantastica,” a lovely waltz that feels so distinctly Shimomura. I really enjoyed the sweet and sweeping “NOCTIS” as well, which is warm and uplifting, as well as the sorrow-tinged “Song of the Stars” with its solo female vocals.

This is Final Fantasy, however, and the menu theme offers a lovely chillout version of “The Prelude” titled “Crystalline Chill.” There are new takes on the Chocobo theme, and also a radio that plays classic Final Fantasy tunes that has series fans abuzz. Interestingly, Final Fantasy XV doesn’t hit you with wall-to-wall music, but rather leaves a lot of silence to emphasize the moments where music does actually play. This allows players who so desire to fill in the gaps with the music in the car (and MP3 player that allows you to take that same music with you on foot). It’s certainly a nice touch for fans to enjoy their favorite Final Fantasy tunes within Final Fantasy XV.

The drama definitely gets more heavy as the score progresses, so without spoiling any of the game by discussing the feelings associated with key tracks from the latter portion of the soundtrack, suffice it to say that you’re in store for an emotional roller coaster.

In all, while this is a different kind of Final Fantasy score that we have never heard before, I think it works. It’s definitely more Western in style in that it’s less thematic and more background score to accent the game’s action without standing out too strongly at any given moment, but playing through the game, I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

You can pick it up on CD Japan in four-disc CD, one-disc Blu-ray, and in massive limited edition format, the last of which includes a piano arrangement disc and all of the music from the in-game radio.

Ukiyo no Shishi/Ukiyo no Roushi Background Music Collection (SRIN-SRIN-1139)

This one may have slid by your radar earlier this year, but you’ll want to check it out. SuperSweep Records looks back at this PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita title offering a cool blend of electronic music with traditional Japanese instruments by Patapon and LocoRoco composer Kemmei Adachi.

You’re in store for some really amazing atmospheres, starting out of the gate with the opening track, which features pumping electronics and the addition of Japanese koto, shakuhachi, and vocals. There’s plenty of funk throughout, tense stealth espionage cues, a hauntingly beautiful ambient piece with sound effects and siren-like female vocals, a lounge track with flamenco-like guitar and koto, what I’m calling ninja dance music with bumpin’ bass, crunchy and glitchy electronic offerings, and an amazing 90s dance track that will get the nostalgia flowing.

Pick Ukiyo no Shishi/Ukiyo no Roushi up on CD Japan if you want to try something different. There’s not a whole lot of music like this out there.