All posts by Jayson Napolitano

GOTTA PROTECTORS SOUNDTRACK Vol.2 (SRIN-1126)

Many fans were looking forward to getting the Protect Me Knight 2 (Gotta Protectors) soundtrack, and after SuperSweep released a collection of music from the game dubbed Volume 1, it was only a matter of time before Volume 2 surfaced.

This album is best thought of as an accompaniment album with alternate versions of many of the songs. You’ll find the adventurous beat-’em-up main theme, militaristic marches, comical battle themes, spooky atmospheres, and tons of tunes to pump you up courtesy of Yuzo Koshiro and the SuperSweep sound team. Included are up-tempo versions, long versions, then a smattering of FM (most of disc 1), MKIII, Famicom, Game Boy, and OPN versions of various themes from the game. There’s also a full production remix that brings in a cheesy big band and male vocals sounding like something from a variety show.

It’s available at CD Japan if you want to give it a spin.

Review: KINGSGLAIVE FINAL FANTASY XV ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Square Enix really went all out with Final Fantasy XV between the various games, anime, and this feature film. I caught it in theaters, and while it was a bit hard to follow, it got me excited for the game. The score is primarily by John Graham, although many of Shimomura’s themes from the game are featured. The album clocks in at two discs with mainly bombastic orchestral themes to highlight the action.

“Prologue” offers somber piano and strings in a melancholy and ominous opener, while “Under Siege” brings in rock influences with explosive percussion and string stabs. “Diamond Weapon” is appropriately terrifying for the deadly monstrosity that wrecks havoc on the Kingsglaive, while “The Chancellor/A Modest Proposal” gets a nice injection of electronics with some nice sweeps. There’s the exotic “Calling for Rain” with its clapping and male vocals, the droning and crystalline “Ill Tidings,” the tender and longing “LUNA,” the tragic and tainted “In the line of Duty,” the regal and memorable “Somnus” (a key theme in the game), and a regal brass-heavy march version of the Final Fantasy main theme. There’s a lot of build up and tension leading into one of my favorite tracks, “Treaty Signing,” which accents the uncertainty and danger before exploding into a flurry of string stabs and brass swells, while another favorite, “No Turning Back,” goes for a more sinister approach. “Kings of Lucis” is tragic yet regal, ascending into a more comforting space, while “Battle for the Crown City” is hopeful and determined. The ending is full of excitement and melancholy, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.

The album is available from CD Japan as well as the Square Enix North America merch store if you’re interested.

Review: Gunslinger Stratos 1&2 Original Soundtrack

While I haven’t played or even seen Square Enix’s Gunslinger Stratos series, gameplay videos look pretty awesome. It’s an anime-style third-person shooter with some amazingly well produced pop rock and metal. There’s everything from heavy metal and J-rock to pop ballads and vocaloid. This compilation album includes the soundtracks to the first two games in the series (there’s a third now), featuring a wide variety of talent from within Square Enix and without.

It all begins with the catchy and upbeat metal track, “Choose Your Way,” which sets the stage for the vocaloid-heavy “DAYS,” the explosive metal-meets-dubstep “Isolated Clash,” the Gothic rock “Boquet de Fleurs Neige,” the Japanese-infused “Golden Dolphins” with rapid-fire koto, the spacey pop-rock “Beyond the Azure,” and the infectious Genki Rockets-flavored “Kimi no Ita Ano Hi ni.” Gunslinger Stratos 2 gets arrangements of several of the tracks from the first game, but also a number of originals including the desperate and spacey rock track “Inferiority Complex” (my personal favorite), the dreamy “Soul Evolution,” the bumping dubstep “9Elements (Nine Elements,” and a beautiful “unplugged” version of “Ending” with piano, strings, and layered vocals.

Fans of J-rock will get a kick out of this soundtrack. There’s some wonderful tracks and great production values throughout. Unfortunately it’s sold out on CD Japan , but keep an eye out on the used market if you’re interested.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSIC Presents Life Style: Up!

After checking out the cry volume of Square Enix’s Life Style series, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the other albums. Fortunately Up! brings in some more familiar tunes and actually does what it sets out to do, which is lift your mood!

The opening “Fanfare” comes from Dissidia, and is bouncy and upbeat, while “Siren Song” from Final Fantasy XIV is a bossa nova track that actually comes from Nanashi no Geemu, which Soken also composed. “Battle Theme 1” from Unlimited Saga is energetic and funky, while “Girls, We Have to Win!” from Crystal Chronicles offers playful surfer rock. There’s silly hip hop-infused rock from The World Ends With You, exotic flamenco from Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, chill out from Final Fantasy XIII-2, and joyous and infectious with an SQ Chips remix from Chrono Trigger. The Distant Worlds version of “Man With the Machine Gun” is an interesting pick for sure, but it’s back on track with the bubbly and bumping “Mysidia Sky Garden” from Chocobo Racing, smooth jazz with “South Yokohama” from Racing Lagoon, and swing with “Crystal Bearers Ramble.”

Overall, this volume is way more on point with the theme. Unfortunately they’re event exclusives and hard to come by, but if you’re at a used CD shop in Japan, pick this one up!

Review: Far Saa Far

As a huge fan of the abstract electronic duo IMERTUAT, comprised of Masashi Hamauzu and vocalist Mina, I was excited by the announcement of their third album, Far Saa Far. We covered their second album, Propelled Life, and it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to enjoy their unique blend of strings, piano, electronics, and vocals.

Far Saa Far offers up over thirty minutes of new music spread across 12 songs, most of which feature several live performances, starting with the trippy and fluttering “Far Saa Far,” which sports lovely string beds and an energetic chorus sections featuring Mina’s dreamy lyrics and electric guitar flare ups. “Pororororororo” is more sweet with emotional strings and piano and Mina’s repetitive “Pororororororo.” “Nomitaina” is easily my favorite track on the album with Mina’s constant singing of the track name with piano and abstract electronic backing. Some dancey piano and percussion join the mix, creating a funky and refreshing vibe. There’s some tension in “Flakes,” which contains lots of dissonance and heart-pounding synth and bass percussion. There’s the wintery “kilto kilto” with the sound of wind, bells, and chimes, the spunky “Satoyama Department Store” with its deep bass, repetitive acoustic guitar, and chilly pads, and the highly abstract “Quarter Tones” with its radio transmission-like sound samples, descending tones, and synth swells. The strange and oddly upbeat “I want to Assassinate!” features a blend of signature Hamauzu strings and chopped up and glitched out piano and synth work paired with English vocals, while “Le Fleur” is an incredibly beautiful strings, piano, and acoustic guitar ballad with gentle lullaby-esque vocals by Mina. The closing track, “Deep Green Field,” is a stunning piano and guitar reprise of “La Fleur,” providing a lovely closer to a wonderful listening experience.

The presentation of Far Saa Far is quite nice as well, coming in a jewel case with rounded corners and a thick booklet with all the lyrics. They’ve even produced a little magazine featuring more artwork and additional information about the tracks. Fans outside of Japan can grab the album from Wayô Records.

You can also click through below to see music videos for “La Fleur” and “Nomitaina.” Continue reading Review: Far Saa Far

Review: Castlevania Music From The Netflix Original Series

The highly anticipated Castlevania series has finally hit Netflix, and Lakeshore Records has published the meaty hour-long soundtrack by composer Trevor Morris (who coincidentally has both first and last name shared with Castlevania lore). He’s provided an interesting and intense score featuring pulsating synth work and a blend of strings and choir that, while unusual to describe, fit in perfectly with the action on screen. Listening to the score without having watched the series, I was immediately drawn to “Main Title” with its oppressive synth swells and Gothic vibe. The rest of the soundtrack was effectively mood setting, but it wasn’t until watching the series and having the context for the music that it really struck me.

“Wallachia,” for example, features a desolate ambiance with gritty electronics that accompanies the world of this Castlevania adventure perfectly. The tense but subdued “Vlad Searches for Lisa” quickly turns to malice with ominous synth work as he discovers her fate, and “There are no Innocents” is a twisted and dark blend of buzzing synths and droning strings. The guttural male choir featured in “Hordes Descend on Targoviste” is effectively terrifying, as are the crunchy synths and choir swells of “Bloody Greist.” Things get more calculating and contemplative in “Bit of Dried Goat,” exotic and mysterious in “We Can’t Turn Away,” and explosive and dangerous in “Trevor Fights the Cyclops.” There’s hope and triumph in “I’m Trevor Belmont,” a sense of finality with heavy percussion hits, a church choir, and a descent into madness with “Let me Kiss You,” and new age synths and angelic choir in “Alucard Rises.” The album closes with the uplifting and hopeful “Hunter, Scholar, Soldier.”

I would have never thought dark pulsating synths would fit so well in the Castlevania universe, but in context, they do. They feel like an unnatural heartbeat chugging away beneath somber and desolate strings, pads, and choir. While there isn’t a whole lot of music to walk away with and hum here, there is some great brooding music that will take you through the ups and downs of the excellent first season of the series. I’m already looking forward to sinking my teeth in to whatever comes next!

Pick up the album up now on iTunes or wait for the physical release which comes out August 4 on Amazon.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSIC Presents Life Style: cry…

Square Enix launched a neat album series at Tokyo Game Show 2015 called Life Style. It started off with volumes to accompany driving and and relaxing (which fits in well with what we’re doing with Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies), and 2016’s event saw “cry” and “up” editions added to the series. I really love the concept of game music for daily living, as I have various playlists set up for this exact thing, and Square Enix has quite a catalog to pull from when it comes to compiling music for this purpose, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t source most of the tracks on this album.

This volume is intended to contain “sad” themes, of which there are many in Square Enix’s catalog. Starting from the top is the aptly titled “Drowning in Despair” with strings and piano, followed by a new arrangement of “Aerith’s Theme” with twangy acoustic guitar, strings, and bells. I can’t say it’s very suitable for crying, as it’s more beautiful than anything, but perhaps the source material may make somebody cry. The same follows for the healing “Now I’m Near the Best,” the sinister “A Son’s Loss,” the lullaby-esque “Sleeper’s Wake,” the contemplative “Lament,” and the mysterious “Movement in Green” (from Final Fantasy X). Getting into more cry-appropriate material, however, “Casualties of War” works in low tones with harp and male choir, “Ashes of Dreams” (from NieR) is a melancholy ballad sung by Emi Evans, and “Noel’s Theme -Final Journey-” is reflective with its female vocals about loneliness and regret. The closing track, “The Girl Who Stole the Stars” (from Chrono Cross) is a fitting closer with its somber strings and female vocals.

It would appear as though Square Enix stuck to modern releases, which I suppose is best for a “life style” album that you will play wherever it suits you. 8-bit and 16-bit tracks may not always go over well in all locales.

What drew me to this series outside of the concept was the artwork. Each volume sports vibrant colors and blown up pixel art on a thick cardboard folding sleeve. There really isn’t much else going on with the packaging, but the design is quite pleasing to the eye. The albums have unfortunately been sold exclusively at events, and are not available online. Keep an eye out on used markets where they can be picked up for cheap if you’re interested, though!

Review: ALICE ORDER ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I can’t say I know much about Square Enix’s mobile title Alice Order, but I’ve heard good things about its soundtrack composed by Yuki Hayashi. Hayashi is mainly known for his work in the realm of anime, so I was curious to delve in. There’s a blend of orchestral, instrumental, and electronic soundscapes found within, all of which is wonderfully produced.

The opening track, “ALICE ORDER,” introduces sweeping orchestra with electronic percussion and bass, creating a sleek and cool atmosphere. There’s tension in the mission select theme with chugging bass and brass, an energetic blend of orchestral and rock in “Valkyrie Dance,” and guttural electronics and fast-paced espionage vibes in “Advance Troops.” “Result” offers a uplifting march, “In Progress” adds tribal percussion to the electronic/orchestral mix, and “Forces Conflict” is ominous with glitchy percussion and desolate and distant guitar work. There’s a tragic piano and string ballad titled “What is lost,” a mysterious droning synth track called “Wave of mystery,” and a touch of playfulness in “Fleeting peace” with its triangle, pizzicato strings, and acoustic guitar. Rounding out the album are “Mighty force,” a grandiose struggle, “Invasion of darkness,” a pumping electronic track, and the explosive “Divine judgment.”

In all, there’s a nice mix of music here to demonstrate Yuki Hayashi’s talent. Fans looking for some cool and sleek electronic music might want to give this a try since it’s unlikely anyone outside of Japan has played the game. It’s available on CD Japan.

Review: Last SQ

I was a huge fan of the SQ album series from Square Enix, featuring remixes from Square Enix artists and their associates, covering all sorts of styles. It went on for many years, and even spawned several live events, but they finally brought the series to a closer with Last SQ.

The collection is largely a compilation of tracks from across the series with one new track opening and closing each of two discs. Starting with the compilation material, I was really happy to see the crazy →Pia-no-jaC← battle medley,  the brilliant rock opera “Aria” by Reign of the Kindo, and the chiptune spin on Secret of Mana here. The guitar and marimba version of SaGa Frontier’s “Rosenkranz,” the jazzy “Troian Beauty,” and the infectiously upbeat “To Far Away Times” from Chrono Trigger by livetune and LIVE-A-LIVE by Sexy Synthesizer were all must-haves for this collection as well.

The new material by Megumi Shiraishi may be a little more polarizing as largely hybrid cinematic takes on classic themes. The first is a gritty version of Chrono Trigger’s final battle and main themes, complete with live shakuhachi and rumbling percussion, while the original Seiken Densetsu battle theme gets an explosive (and short) orchestral rock arrangement with beautiful female vocals. Live violin is featured throughout another bombastic arrangement from LIVE-A-LIVE, and closing out the series is a rockin’ medley with live guitar, shakuhachi, and violin covering “Chaos Temple,” “Dancing Mad,” and the “Final Fantasy” main theme. It’s a nice way to close things out.

If you’ve never delved into the SQ series, this is a good start. Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: SaGa SCARLET GRACE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I’ve admittedly not completed a single game in the SaGa series, but that hasn’t stopped me from appreciating Kenji Ito’s sweeping and majestic orchestral scores. In fact, I’ve reviewed a number of them and their arrangements on this very blog. After hearing a sample on the Square Enix Music sampler last year, I was looking forward to the Scarlet Grace soundtrack in particular, and I’m not disappointing upon hearing it now. There’s all the wondrous orchestral beauty, chugging metal, and more that you’ve come to expect, and then some.

Starting with sweeping and joyous overture and the contemplative and regal and uplifting “Scarlet Dark Star,” it’s then on to the spunky guitar and string ballad, “When Flowers Bloom ~ Urpina Theme,” the upbeat rock battle, “Trampling Petals ~ Urpina Battle,” and the swaying lullaby-esque “In a Quiet Forest ~ When Hearts Are Tested.” “That’s Cute, Right” is an infectious bubbly electronic track, “Graveyard ~ Siegfrey’s Theme” is dark and ominous, and “Devil – The Fallen One” is epic synth rock in classic SaGa fashion.

Some of my favorites include “Guardian of Martial Arts ~ Divine Star Marigan,” a determined march with rolling snares and a regal tone, “Ever Near to Sorrow,” a somber and tragic piece with harp and slow strings, “Quietly ~ Taria Theme,” a fantasy pop ballad with woodwinds, strings, and bells, and “Grassland ~ The Wind and One Who Presses Forward,” a hybrid Western/Asian-flavored track with spunky Western bass and galloping percussion. The album closes with all the explosive vigor you’d expect, with wailing guitars, rock organ, romantic violins, and epic strings.

In all, Kenji Ito has done another wonderful job, showing once again that he may be the man to take up the Dragon Quest mantle someday. His orchestral work is getting that good.

Pick up the album on CD Japan if you’re interested.