All posts by Jayson Napolitano

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.

Review: JUSTICE MONSTERS FIVE Original Soundtrack

Justice Monsters Five is a bit hard to explain. A mobile pinball title for iOS and Android, but also an mini-game in Final Fantasy XV, Justice Monsters Five is about as epic as pinball will ever get. The music is outsourced to Unique Note, founded by former Capcom artists Tetsuya Shibata and Yoshino Aoki along with some new faces, as well as Yoshitaka Suzuki. Expect big orchestral cues that are fitting of the game’s title, but a little surprising if you just know it as a pinball game!

“Justice Monsters, Assemble!” opens with a bombastic orchestral super hero theme before “Blazing Heart of Justice” brings in the heavy metal thunder. “Prince of Peerless Power” gets regal piano, “Right Here, Darling” introduces ethereal twinkling bells and electronic whirring, and “Let Us Dance, Mis Amigos” sports chugging guitars underneath a heavy dance track. There’s trance in “Only in My Dreams,” upbeat rock in “Justice Monsters Five,” and wailing electric guitars and an impressive guitar solo in “Gaze into my Demoneye…” Several epic orchestral marches follow on to the end, with the whimsical and folksy “Halcyon Days,” the soothing bossa nova “A Hero’s Day Off,” and the dreamy electronic track “Time Well Spent” closing things out.

In all, it’s a pleasant surprise from Unique Note and Suzuki, and particularly surprising given the game it comes from! While the album was sold at TGS 2016, it’s not currently available on CD Japan. Hit up the official website for where to purchase.

Review: Sonic Runners Complete Soundtrack

I’d heard great things about the Sonic Runners soundtrack, although I’ve yet to play it. The album cover is pretty snazzy to be sure, and I’ve been a fan of Tomoya Ohtani’s Sonic material for some time. As it turns out, though, Sonic Runners may be my favorite Sonic soundtrack since Sonic Generations and Unleashed. Ohtani provides a memorable blend of pop rock that sounds right at home in the Sonic universe, and thankfully omits the vocals, which can yield high rewards but are always a risk in my opinion. This does lead to a few tracks feeling like they are just waiting for vocals to be inserted, but I’ll take a great instrumental over a poorly executed vocal any day.

The album opens with the uplifting rock track, “Beyond the Speed Of…” with its doubled-up piano and guitar and an incredibly catchy melody that’s used elsewhere, including in my favorite track, “Going my Way,” which uses electronic filtering effects to great result. “Spring Emotions,” another favorite, is typical J-rock with beautiful strings and and the use of accordion throughout the chorus section, while “End of Summer” features pop piano, fluttering electric guitar, and a sweet atmosphere. From there, “Fly Away” sports some concerto-like piano work, “Power Ride” introduces shredding metal and pumping percussion, “Theory of Attack” offers some spunk, “Where to Today?” is a whimsical march, “Go Quickly!” is a lightning-fast flight with a carnival vibe, “Fiery Passion” is funky with rock organ and crazy rhythm guitar, “Strange Parade” is a dancey electronic track, and “Magical Snow Day” is a frosty tune with jingle bells and a jolly bass line.

There isn’t a ton of material here. Thirteen tracks, over 40 minutes of music, but it’s all fantastic. This is how Sonic music should be! Even better, this gem is only $12.50 on CD Japan. Get on it!

Review: VALKYRIE ANATOMIA -THE ORIGIN- Soundtrack

It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard new Valkyrie Profile music by Motoi Sakuraba. As it turns out, he missed writing music for Square Enix’s oft neglected series, and this mobile prequel serves up 20+ tracks that offer something new along with a boost of nostalgia by revisiting some of the most popular themes from the series. Expect Sakuraba’s signature progressive rock and orchestral offerings with a distinctly somber atmosphere throughout.

Right out of the gate, the haunting opening theme sports epic choir and string swells and a hint of tragedy. This continues through much of the orchestral and rock material, including the unsettling “Behave irrationally II” with its woodwinds and bells, the descending orchestral rock in “The maze of dungeon,” and the terrifying “Emotional upset #2” with its big brass and ominous choir. One track brings in a rustic vibe with the use of a harpsichord, while another is a slow and mellow lullaby. One of my favorites is a melancholy piece featuring harp and emotionally-tinged strings that would be right at home in a Dark Souls hub area, while another standpoint, “enfant terrible,” is equally unsettling with its use of woodwinds and a bassy string section. The album closes with a continuous mix that runs for over 20 minutes, featuring quick cross-fades between tracks.

In all, I think I speak for most when I say I’m surprised but also pleased to see this music released. There are many fans of the series, and even though this is a small offering of new material to satiate that Valkyrie Profile music itch, what’s here is quite good. Unfortunately, it’s not widely available at this time (it was released at the Tokyo Game Show store in September), so hopefully Square Enix offers a wide release in the near future.

Review: WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY Original Soundtrack

I haven’t been keeping close tabs on World of Final Fantasy as a game, but I have been greatly looking forward to the soundtrack, particularly after learning Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu would be at the helm and after hearing the samples from the Tokyo Game Show sampler this year. The album doesn’t disappoint. There are wonderful melodies throughout, fantastic arrangements of songs from across the Final Fantasy series, and great production values.

It’s hard to call out just a handful of songs, but I’ll do my best here. The opening theme, “Innocent²,” is a beautiful vocal ballad with strong Celtic and pop vibes, reminding me of the infectiously upbeat Genki Rockets. It’s actually by Ryo Yamazaki, and it’s incredibly well done. “World of Beauty,” one of my favorite tracks, sports swelling strings and contemplative piano before moving into a triumphant and uplifting section that screams adventure. There’s Hamauzu’s signature strings and piano throughout with the playful “Lann’s Melody,” the glitchy futuristic electronic track “World of Nine Wood Hills” which sounds like an IMERUAT song complete with vocals presumably by Mina, and an upbeat orchestral rock tune with chugging bass and dancing piano called “World of Battle” which was previewed on the aforementioned TGS sampler. Other favorites include the dreamy lullaby, “Refreshing Melody,” the mesmerizing “Labyrinth of Dragons” with its repetitive layers, twirling piano, and Mina’s voice once again, the slow night variation of the main theme, “Moonlight Melody,” the tense espionage music in “Confrontation Melody,” the upbeat and folksy “World of Sunshine,” the spooky and ethereal “Labyrinth of Trees,” and the closing vocal track, “World Parade.”

And those arrangements I mentioned? They’re many in number, and some of my favorites include “Snow -F,” a very contemplative and slowed down version of the iconic Final Fantasy XIII theme, a lovely regal strings and harpsichord version of “Castle Cornelia” and a killer rock performance of “The Scene of Battle” from the original Final Fantasy, a super hero version of “Edgar” from Final Fantasy VI with rockin’ guitar, string stabs, and big brass, “Don’t be Afraid” from Final Fantasy VIII with a heavy electronic bass and surfer rock guitar, and “The Sending” from Final Fantasy X with its Japanese instrumentation worked in with glitchy electronics.

In all, this is one of the best Final Fantasy albums I’ve heard in some time. Hamauzu and team have done a wonderful job with the original tunes and the arrangements alike. I could even go for some arrangements of the original themes! Piano Collections, anyone?

Pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Hiro 30th Anniversary Album Thank you for listening!

Hiro may not be a household name, but you’ve likely heard his music. He’s the legend behind many of the earliest SEGA soundtracks, including those for Hang-On, Fantasy Zone, After Burner, and more. Catchy, technically impressive, and incredibly prolific, this album demonstrates all of these and more with one disc of “best of” material from his 30 years in the business, and a second disc of arrangements by Hiro and others many of which are entirely new to this collection.

So much of this music is amazing, from the chugging 1985 rock synths from Hang-On, the infectious catchiness of Space Harrier, the swanky swing in Enduro Racer, the playful and iconic Fantasy Zone, and the realistic jazz, pop, and exotic flavors from Out Run. There was fantastic ’90s rock with After Burner, sticky-sweet pop with Dynamite Dux, epic fantasy and explosive ’80s synth rock with Sword of Vermilion (one of my personal favorites), the comedy of Rent-a-Hero, and more modern dance, grunge, J-pop, and J-rock with his Sega Saturn era contributions.

The remix disc features all of the same songs, but arranged. There’s a lot of jazz to be had with SEGA’s [H.] band, a classy jazz ensemble called Akai Ryu-sei, and arrangements from Hiro himself from across the ages. Some are simple synth upgrades to the originals, while others are full-fledged jazz renditions, but all are tastefully done. There’s also a funky and wild dance/chiptune take on Sword of Vermilion by none other than Hip Tanaka, a retro synth/chiptune spin on Dynamite Dux by Omodaka, a big anime-style vocal opening from Rent-a-Hero, and a dreamy funk fest by Taito composer Shohei Tsuchiya with Crackin’ DJPART2.

So, let’s get on to the bad news. Unfortunately this album is not being sold through any regular soundtrack import sites. Your best bet is to hit Amazon or eBay if you’re looking for this one. There will be mark ups, but it’s a fantastic bit of history chronicling an unsung hero in game music.

Tekken Revolution Soundtrack (SRIN-1135)

More Tekken! SuperSweep is at it again, with both Tekken 7 and Tekken Revolution having recently been released. Expect more dubstep and electronic action from the Bandai Namco team and friends, including tracks from SuperSweep’s own Shinji Hosoe and Ayako Saso in addition to Yuu Miyake, Nobuyoshi Sano, and the rest of the gang. Taku Inoue handles the bulk of the music this time around, and as such, there’s a little pop mixed in with this dubstep.

He opens with the grungy rock/electronic “New World Order” with anthemic male vocals, and moves into industrial with “Blood, Sweat, and Fists.” There are laser-like synths in “Everlasting Heaven” and a distorted and searing soundscape present in “Self Destruct.” Yuu Miyake delivers “El Condor,” a trippy electronic track with an ethereal atmosphere and lots of reverb. There’s the dancey “Lunar fringe theory,” the pumping “Chopper” with its crazy slap bass, and even some flamenco flavor in “Bassamenco” and “Françoise’s Bassline.” Vocoder vocals are found in “Brasil evolution,” clean acoustic guitar in “lost in a station,” and Inoue’s uplifting rock in “Night rises” and “Kodama Starship,” the latter of which almost sounds like something out of Katamari Damacy with its vocal work.

Tekken Revolution is published by SuperSweep Records and is available for import from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSIC SAMPLER CD VOL.11

Another Tokyo Game Show, another Square Enix Music sampler CD. This is the eleventh (see volumes 9 and 10), given to customers who made purchases over a certain threshold. The discs have evolved over the years to include full tracks from recently-released and upcoming albums from Square Enix Music’s label, and they had a lot to show this year.

The sampler begins with “Nox Aeterna (E3 2013 Trailer)” from Final Fantasy XV, a tragic and somber affair. The music that has been performed from this game is fantastic, and I wonder if this trailer track will appear on the final soundtrack release. From there, “No Turning Back” is a tense Hollywood action cue from Kingslaive (which I rather enjoyed), “Blazing Heart of Justice” is pure metal from Justice Monsters Five, and two tracks–a Japanese pop vocal piece and a pumping battle track with Masashi Hamauzu’s signature piano and strings–from World of Final Fantasy that have me excited for this soundtrack in particular. SaGa Scarlet Grace offers beautiful sweeping orchestra, Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Age introduces a gorgeous orchestral sound to “Ozmone Plains,” and NieR Music Concert & Talk Live offers a live vocal rendition from NieR that I can’t wait to hear and watch. Some new games are included, such as a synthy Celtic track from Celestial Aruls, some great synth music from Naoshi Mizuta from both Akashic Re:cords and Guardian Codex, an RPG town theme from Pop-Up Story: Mahono Moto to Seiju no Gakuen, a folksy vocal theme from Kamitsuri, and two unreleased tracks from Mobius Final Fantasy: one that offers mellow male vocals and synth work similar in style to Mitsuto Suzuki’s solo albums, and another that is sweeping and epic, working in the Final Fantasy main theme.

In all, this is a strong sampler that shows a lot of great music in the works. There’s the usual stuff to be excited about, including Final Fantasy XV, NieR, and SaGa Scarlet Grace, but some of the lesser-known titles now have my interest.

Stay tuned for our reviews of these albums in the coming months. Unfortunately the sampler will be difficult to find with TGS being long over.

GRAND KINGDOM Original Soundtrack (BSPE-1060~2)

Fans of SRPGs and Basiscape should be pleased to see the release of the three-disc Grand Kingdom Original Soundtrack. It blends catchy fantasy themes with Hitoshi Sakimoto’s signature orchestral sound with exotic instrumentation similar to other projects the team has worked on like Muramasa. There are also strong Celtic influences throughout and prominent use of accordion to reflect the game’s mercenary setting.

Listeners will likely take note of the epic fantasy main theme, “Resonail: Land of Endless War,” the whimsical yet rugged “The Guild: Base Camp,” the gritty “Mercenary Trade Show,” the decisive and folksy “The White Wolf Mercenaries,” the uplifting and sometimes tense “‘A first campaign should not be fought recklessly,'” and the classic JRPG-style battle theme, “Let’s Get ‘em, Boss!” There’s the slowly-building “Determination,” the bouncy and playful “Worthy Foe,” and the angelic and mysterious “Away From Prying Eyes (Fiel’s Theme).” “Target the Enemy Leader” is a triumphant blend of rock and orchestra, “Don’t Leave Me” is melancholy and sweepingly beautiful, “Endless Forest” is dangerous with big bass and a Western vibe, “Pure Blood, Pure Knights (Landerth’s Audience Chamber)” is regal and restful, “Hurry!” is tense but fun, “In the Wake of Destruction” is an energetic battle theme that touches on progressive rock, and “Prayers of War” closes things out with a sweet ethereal vocal theme.

Whether you played the game or not, there’s some fantastic fantasy RPG music here, and it may be some of Basiscape’s best work to date. Best of all, it’s available on iTunes and Amazon in the United States in addition to physically from CD Japan.