All posts by Jayson Napolitano

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.

Review: FINAL FANTASY Record Keeper Original Soundtrack

A lot of people had fun messing around with FINAL FANTASY Record Keeper, and I’m sure more than a few dug the arrangements featured throughout and wanted to get their hands on them. Well, Square Enix has you covered with this compilation album featuring a variety of talent mostly from outside Square Enix, who you can learn about on VGMdb.

The arrangements are fairly straightforward, with little twists to fit special holidays or combined into tidy medleys. “Mystic Mysidia -Halloween-,” for example, gives the mischievous tune some mysterious bells and defiant strings in A Nightmare Before Christmas fashion, while jingle bells join the Final Fantasy VII main theme and “Gold Saucer,” making for a jolly Christmas arrangement. “Eyes on Me,” “Celes,” and of course, “Theme of Love” combine for a perfect Valentine’s Day medley, and a lovely sleep-inducing Tanbata (Star Festival) medley features lots of harp and bells to capture that celestial atmosphere.

There are several one-off arrangements, including rockin’ versions of “Battle at the Big Bridge” and “Decisive Battle” from Final Fantasy VI (which features a few other songs as well), a dreamy trance version of “The Man With the Machine Gun,” a bubbly techno-flavored “Vana’diel March,” a wedding organ-infused “Prelude,” and a pumping electronic/rock version of “Blinded by Light” (one of the more complex arrangements by Monster Hunter/Dragon’s Dogma composer Tadayoshi Makino).

While there isn’t a whole lot to sink your teeth into, if you played with the app and want the music, it’s available at CD Japan.

Review: Motoi Sakuraba Band Arrangement Album / STAR OCEAN & VALKYRIE PROFILE

While Motoi Sakuraba’s name isn’t as well known as many JRPG composers out there, he’s probably written more music than any of them. He’s composed all or at least the majority of the Tales series, Star Ocean series, Valkyrie Profile series, Baten Kaitos series, and numerous others. There were two separate years in the 2000s where he produced three separate 4-disc soundtrack releases. He’s a beast, and in recent years, he’s worked on the Dark Souls soundtracks too.

He’s mainly known for his progressive rock music, and has performed and recorded several shows over the years. This album is special, however, as it was his intent to focus on battle music from older titles to bring them to life with a live rock performance mainly performed by himself. He performed all the drums, piano, rock organ, and synths himself, and had a professional guitarist and bass player help out. This album should be intriguing enough just for that, but the music is some of the best from Star Ocean, Star Ocean 2, Valkyrie Profile, and Valkyrie Profile 2, so you’d want to check it out anyway.

Most of the tracks have never been arranged before (a few have been performed during previous shows, but not with Sakuraba on so many instruments). The twelve tracks tread on a lot of different territory, from the gritty “The incarnation of the devil,” to the unpredictable and unsettling “Dynamite.” One of my favorites, “The true nature of all” brings in harpsichord and a high-pitched synth with a strong fantasy vibe, while “Mighty blow+Shiver” gets a siren-like synth lead that hints at danger, “Never Surrender” is slow and melancholy with some heartbreaking piano, “For Achieve” sports lightning-fast percussion and guitar, and “Tangency” is classic crazy Sakuraba with explosive percussion and rock organ with a sweet breakdown about halfway through. The oft-arranged and performed “Unconfirmed God Fighting Syndrome” is uplifting and awesome as always, “KA.MI.KA.ZE” is a decisive and measured adventure, and “Confidence in the domination” gallops in with guitar shredding and non-stop aggression.

In all, the album is a real treat for Sakuraba fans and a nice introduction to some of his earlier work heard with a live band for those who don’t know his work as well. Pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.