All posts by Jayson Napolitano

FIGHTING EX LAYER Soundtracks (SRIN-1160)

Many are aware that Shinji Hosoe and the SuperSweep team worked on the Street Fighter EX series, but most probably don’t know just how many different soundtracks this includes. The new FIGHTING EX LAYER Soundtracks collection from SuperSweep Records compiles the arcade and console soundtracks for Fighting EX Layer, Street Fighter EX, Street Fighter EX2, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, Street Fighter EX2 Plus, Street Fighter EX3, and Fighting Layer in a single 7-CD collection with a bonus DVD that includes multi-track data for ten fan-favorite tracks. Contributing composers include SuperSweep’s current lineup of Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso, Takahiro Eguchi, and Fumihisa Tanaka along with SuperSweep and/or Bandai Namco alums Takayuki Aihara, Yasuhisa Watanabe, and Kazuhiro Kobayashi.

The original Fighting EX Layer soundtrack opens with an eclectic mix of jazz fusion, chugging metal, funk, and lots of rock with plenty of guitar solos characteristic of any fighting game. It sets the stage for what’s to come with the Street Fighter EX soundtracks, which start with the original EX arcade release. The arcade soundtrack has a dated sound compared to the console soundtrack, but most of the themes remain the same. Highlights include the Asian-flavored “Rising Dragoon,” the energetic laser-like “Strange sunset,” the sitar-laden “Arabesque,” and the industrial pumping “Cold Pipe.” “Precious Heart” is an upbeat jazz tune and “Future Objects” incorporates interesting electronic ticks and whirs, both being exclusive to the console version. Street Fighter EX2 also gets both the arcade and console versions presented, with the soaring “The Infinite Earth,” hard-hitting “Passage of Lotus,” and the explosive “Flash Train” all standing out. The console version’s icy “Digital Ignition” and dramatic pop tune, “Irene,” are also highlights. Street Fighter EX3 gets the wild west harmonica-laden “Move,” dace-inducing “Cute Mafia,” the classic rock “Temptation Gun,” the Latin-flavored “BIRI-BIRI Red Heat,” the fusion “Indra Bridge of TA-SO-GA-RE,” and the smooth “Character Edit” bringing the series full circle with the eclectic offerings of the original Fighting EX Layer soundtrack. The closing disc is dedicated to the original Fighting Layer with fast-paced arcade action heard through the explosive opening, lightning-fast character select theme, and blend of pumping rock and electronic sounds.

This is a real treat for fans of Street Fighter, fighting games, or SuperSweep in general. It’s great to hear the arcade and console versions side-by-side for the first time. The discs come housed in a cardboard cade and the booklet includes Japanese commentary from all the composers. The entire set can be imported via CD Japan.

Review: FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES Remastered Edition Original Soundtrack

Square Enix has remastered Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. That means a new generation of fans get to hear Kumi Tanioka’s lovely Celtic-flavored score that enchanted fans on the GameCube. Much of the music is remastered and re-recorded by a Celtic music ensemble with some new tracks by Hidenori Iwasaki and the main theme performed in English by Donna Burke (known for her work on Metal Gear Solid).

The album opens with dreamy bells that transport you to another dimension before the upbeat and adventurous “Morning Sky” comes in with vocals by Yae (the English version featuring Donna Burke) and a bagpipe solo. There’s the charming sweetness of “Today Comes to be Tomorrow,” the jovial “The Village Where it Began,” and the guitar-laden “Caravan Crossroad” to start things off. “Setting Forth” is both ominous and adventurous all at once, “Dust in a Dream World” gets a bit of mystery, and “With Three of Us…” sounds much like a children’s song. The siren-like singing of “Oaths are Forever,” the lovely waltzy folk tune in “My Maggie, My Everything,” and the all-new reflective and somber “Until That Time Comes” are all standouts. There’s rolling percussion in the epic march, “Enemy Stronghold,” the beloved moogle theme in Celtic style in “I’m a Moogle,” searing and guttural synth bass in “Burning in my Heart,” otherworldly bells and triangles in “Mag Mell,” angelic and ethereal choir pads in “Light and Shadow” and “To the Keepers of the Crystal,” and a vocal lullaby again in both Japanese and English with the gorgeous “Moonless Starry Night” are just a taste of what this soundtrack has to offer. It’s all very well done and makes for a wonderful listening experience.

It appears to have been quite an undertaking breathing new life into this already-amazing score, but Square Enix has done it. New recordings with live players, new English-language vocal themes, new compositions, and if you pick up the first-press edition, you also get a bonus disc with the original versions of all the remastered tracks. The album is available on the Square Enix North America store for those who are interested.

ESP RA.DE. Ψ Drive Waves 2019 (SRIN-1166)

SuperSweep was tapped to provide a remixed BGM mode for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 shmup, ESP Ra.De. Ψ. Given Hosoe-san and SuperSweep’s history with this game genre, you can bet they knew just want to do. The album features two discs, the first of which are in the in-game remixes, and the second of which are extended mixes of ten of the tracks. There’s also a non-stop mix available as a bonus disc for anyone order from the SuperSweep store.

The soundtrack featured original music by Masahiro Kusunoki and Tetsuya Mizoguchi, but the entire SuperSweep team and several friends contribute remixes to the remixed BGM mode. The album opens with the dreamy “ESP Person” before the pumping and fittingly titled “”DESPERATE SCHOOL” and fast-paced “NIGHTMARE” come in. Each artist on the album takes a crack at “RAGING DEICIDE,” a synth-heavy anthem that is featured no less than six times, all by different arrangers. Takahiro Eguchi’s version is drum-heavy and glitchy, Ayako Saso’s applies less emphasis on synths and adds shredding electric guitar and octave-jumping bass, Fumihisa Tanaka’s version is more driving with epic pads and arpeggiated bass, and Atomic’s remix is searing with an increased tempo and layered synths. It’s interesting to hear so many different takes on the same theme. “ACT IN JUDGE” is more bubbly and upbeat while “WANGAN RAPID LINE 2nd” glides with some nice electric piano work. I love the Metroid-esque “FAIRIES FEAR” with guttural bass and sparse percussion, and the three-part sequence starting with the surprisingly chill “RAGE” with dreamy pads and measured drums, which morphs into “WING” with added epic choir, which again morphs into “MADNESS” with added distorted choir and screams and screeching in the background. The closing track, “SNOW ILLUSION,” brings soothing bells and closes out on a reflective note.

The album is available for import from CD Japan, and the bonus disc is available from purchasing direct from the SuperSweep shop in Japan only.

Review: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

The original Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U had one of my favorites soundtracks of 2014, featuring a blend of rock arrangements from across the series alongside some great original tracks. It felt very much like Dynasty Warriors and made sense given the game was a mash-up of different Zelda games. When Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was announced, I thought perhaps we’d get rock arrangements of the beautiful and thoughtful soundtrack to Breath of the Wild. That’s not what we ended up with and for good reason. The Age of Calamity soundtrack is very much in the style of Breath of the Wild with a few action-oriented excursions here and there, but for the most part, the soundtrack lives within the world of Breath of the Wild. This is important given how story-driven Age of Calamity ends up being and how integral to the Breath of the Wild timeline it is. In that way, this approach to the score makes a lot of sense.

Read more about what the Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity soundtrack has to offer below. Continue reading Review: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Review: FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS Original Soundtrack Vol.2

Noriyasu Agematsu returns with the most excellent music from FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS. The original score was a standout and even earned Agematsu the opportunity to collaborate with Ariana Grande on the game. Vol. 2 brings two more discs of orchestral RPG goodness featuring some of his teammates at Elements Garden as well.

The album begins with the super hero theme song, “Parallel Star,” which feels like a pop song without vocals. From there, we get the tragic “Point of No Return,” the spooky “Misgivings” and the militaristic “Under His Banner.” There’s a lot of variety, but it’s all amazingly well produced. There’s the uplifting orchestral theme, “Another Tale to Tale,” the beautiful and whimsical “Wisdom of Ages,” and the traditional Japanese flavors found in “MUSASABI.” Final Fantasy fans will enjoy the melancholy take on “The Prelude” with Agematsu’s “Dawn.” The bombastic “A Cinematic Clash” and the explosive rock/orchestral theme “Banish the Darkness” with strong Final Fantasy vibes and references are also standouts. “Over the Rain Clouds” is uplifting and triumphant and “The Sky’s The Limit!” sports lightning fast guitar shredding while “Allure of the Unknown” gets a crystalline carvenous sound with hints of “The Prelude.” There are Celtic influences in “Unfettered Waltz,” mystery and intrigue in the exotic “The Order of Pi,” and playful rock organ in “Chill Out.” The sweet solo piano in “Forgiveness” takes us into the final stretch with the ominous and unsettling “Split in Two,” the dance floor stylings of “The Zenith,” and epic orchestra and choir in the very awesome “I, and I Alone” closing things out. A bonus at the comes in the way of “DUEL!! (Band Exvius Version) which is a live rock performance with violin and rock organ and is a nice touch.

Overall, Agematsu follows up his original soundtrack with more amazing music. This one is actually not available on the Square Enix North America store, but can be found on Apple Music and the two-disc CD can be imported from CD Japan.

NieR Music Concert CD -The Memories of Puppets- (SQEX-10689~90)

Square Enix has held many NieR concerts over the years but one of the first was The Memories of Puppets tour in Japan, which I had the good fortunate to attend. It featured piano, guitar, a string quartet, and vocals by Emi Evans, J’Nique Nicole, and others. I’d previously enjoyed the Blu-ray recording, but this Tokyo Game Show-exclusive CD is the audio version of the concert featuring its intimate acoustic sound with electronic elements programmed in.

The CD kicks off with more slow and measured versions of “City Ruins” featuring J’Nique Nicole’s powerful vocals and “Amusement Park” featuring Emi Evans. “Memories of Dust” places emphasis on the guitar, giving it a strong Western film vibe, while guitar and piano team up with Emi Evans for “Peaceful Sleep,” the beautiful town theme with lovely string harmonies. “Vague Hope,” one of my favorite themes from NieR: Automata, is a piano and guitar duo with Emi’s original vocals, and is a high point on the album. “Song of the Ancients – Atonement” is a duo between Emi and J’Nique that featured lots of programmed elements in the way of drums whereas “Pascal” included a child singer and had the audience clapping along with the cheerful tune and fancy guitar work. “The Sound of the End” gets a minimalistic arrangement that is almost soothing, while “Alien Manifestation” features J’Nique Nicole, who was not the original singer, making for a nice alternate take on the theme. The string quartet shines on it own in “Mourning” while a solo piano before a foray into the original NieR Gestalt/Replicant territory stirring performances of both “Kaine” and “Ashes of Dreams.” The album closes with “Weight of the World / The End of YoRHa,” a full arrangement with programmed synths and Emi starting off before the entire audience joins in. Everyone in the room was crying by the end of it, but fortunately the audience’s wails didn’t make it onto the album.

Having attended the show and loved the Blu-ray recording, I always wanted a CD recording. Unfortunately it was an event exclusive, but the Square Enix North America store has the Blu-ray for sale and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Look for the glint of glasses on the top balcony when it shows the audience and you might just see me!

Review: SQUARE ENIX Chill Out Arrangement Tracks – AROUND 80’s MIX

Square Enix recently put out this wonderful lo-fi album featuring arrangements from games the company released in the ’80s, including many that don’t often get this kind of attention. The album opens with “Finale” from Final Fantasy with soothing piano, belltones and percussion, before “Rising Sun” from Seiken Densetsu jumps in with its sweet melody on some lovely electric piano. There’s a trippy reggae “Chocobo,” a Celtic-flavored “Town Theme” from the first SaGa title that would make Nobuo Uematsu proud, and the aptly-titled “Deep” from SaGa III with lots of bass and radio transmissions. “Enraged Battle” is one of my favorites, turning the battle theme from SaGa into a funky pop tune, and it’s followed by “Prologue” from SaGa with swelling orchestra and reverb-y pianos. “Sailing Ship” from Final Fantasy is a nice trip hop tune that takes some dark turns, while “Exotic Town” from SaGa III gets a smooth jazz treatment in contrast to Ryuji Sasai’s original rock stylings. There’s a crystalline “Prelude,” a sleepy piano and percussion version of “The Tranquil Earth” from SaGa II with the sounds of birds and nature, and SaGa’s “Epilogue,” which references the adventurous overworld theme. “Main Theme” from the original Final Fantasy is slow and chill and is dubbed the “clean version,” so rest assured there’s no swear words in it, while “Cornelia,” also from Final Fantasy, is even more joyous than the original with bouncy percussion and bells. The album closes with “The Royal Palace,” a mega dreamy track with layered bells and pads.

This is really an excellent album. I’ve been listening to it regularly as I go about my day. The booklet has complete credits and track-by-track commentary in Japanese and English, which is a nice touch. There’s also a sticker of the cover, which is quite lovely. Pick it up on the Square Enix North America store on listen on Spotify.

Review: SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS

Back in 2019, Square Enix kicked off what now looks to be a series with SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS. What’s most remarkable is that the album features arrangements from games that are not often covered, including many from the Game Boy and Super Nintendo eras. It features a small ensemble of strings, piano, guitar, and hand percussion, all packaged with a stylish cover and booklet with extensive credits and commentary for each track in Japanese.

The album opens with the measured “Legend of the Mermaids” from Romancing SaGa 2 before an intense string quartet version of “The Decisive Battle” and “Kefka” from Final Fantasy VI. “Nuclear Fusion” from Seiken Densetsu III gets an alternating romantic/energetic arrangement while “Into the Thick of It” from Secret of Mana gets a dreamy and fantastical cover. The string quartet returns for “Battle with Magus” from Chrono Trigger with an added tinge of tragedy, “The Dawn Warriors” from Final Fantasy V gets flamenco-style guitar and percussion, and “The Farenheit’s Theme Part 2” from Bahamut Lagoon is dynamic with contemplative and adventurous segments. “WARM” from LIVE-A-LIVE captures this track’s sweetness with pizzicato strings and woodwinds, “Palom & Parom” from Final Fantasy IV goes classical with strings and piano, and “The Talon” from SaGa III is a tragic and tense spin on the game’s battle theme composed by one of my all-time favorite composers, Ryuji Sasai. Closing things out is the iconic “Opening Title” from the original Romancing SaGa which is sweet, riveting, and playful, and “Devil Lord Confrontation I” from Romancing SaGa 3 with big piano, guitar, bass, and percussion, ending things with a bang.

Since the release of this album, Square Enix has released a volume dedicated to the Final Fantasy VII Remake as well. Hopefully this will be a lot-running series with more love given to music from Square Enix’s catalog we don’t get to hear often. The album can be purchased from the Square Enix North America store.

RXN -RAIJIN- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1156)

SuperSweep Records released the soundtrack to the Nintendo Switch anime-flavored shmup RXN -RAIJIN- back in 2018 featuring music mostly by Raito with a main theme by Yuzo Koshiro and remixes by the SuperSweep team. The album features hip and minimalistic electronic music for the most part with Koshiro’s catchy vocal rock track with big band jazz elements to kick things off. The score sports everything from shredding electric guitars and cool piano to funky bass and exotic didgeridoo. There’s lots of shmup-appropriate drum ‘n’ bass, but also rock and even an orchestral fanfare. The second disc includes extended mixes of most of the tracks as well as two remixes by SuperSweep. The packaging features a giant booklet full of credits and interviews in Japanese as well as artwork and a nice cardboard slipcase.

RXN -RAIJIN- is available from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- (SRIN-1169)

Like SuperSweep? Like rave music? SuperSweep’s Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- is an album of original electronic music by SuperSweep and friends. While it’s all original music, it’s not to unlike their electronic game soundtracks. It all begins with pumping trance in the title track, “BLASTRAVE,” before the catchy “Blast the 90’s” jumps in with dance-y piano, poppy synth work, and English pop vocals. Next up is the explosive “Tear It,” the dreamy electronic-rock mix “Over Power” with some incredible guitar solos, and the bubbly “Start Running” with Japanese pop vocals. “Enter the Rave” combines pounding drum ‘n’ bass with vocal pop segments, “Kick Harassment” goes hardcore, and “Blast Off” gets a glittery and adventure-infused sound. There’s the glitchy “Back to the 90s,” the exotic rhythmic excursion “Barking night” by Shinji Hosoe himself, the dreamy and warm “Summer Line #GadgetSwitch” by Nobuyoshi Sano, and a very unsettling hardcore track titled “Gemini” with weird distressing spoken segments, pumping bass, and screeching synths. The album closes with the catchy trance tune, “BLASTRAVE 2020,” by Ayako Saso. The second disc includes a non-stop megamix of the album.

It’s great to see SuperSweep publishing some of their original works, and inviting friends both known and lesser-known to the party. If you’re looking for a hip electronic music album, you can import Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- on CD Japan.