Tag Archives: Game 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: KINGDOM HEARTS -HD 2.5 ReMIX- Original Soundtrack

Having never explored the Kingdom Hearts soundtracks with their initial release, I’ve relished being able to experience them for the first time in this beautiful ReMIX version. I dug into the 1.5 ReMIX soundtrack a few weeks back, but I have to say that 2.5 ReMIX is even better. It’s much darker and heavier than 1.5, and it features recorded parts with the super talented Video Game Orchestra based out of Boston.

There’s so much music here to love, starting with a slower and more contemplative “Dearly Beloved” that sets the tone for the album. The vocal theme, “Passion,” gets a catchy ethereal version to start and end the game, but also a big orchestral version. It’s a fantastic track that will be stuck in your head for weeks. From there, “Lazy Afternoons” is simply gorgeous with its orchestral instrumentation, “Sinister Sundown” impresses with its decisive strings and marching snare, and “Tension Rising” brings big brass and ominous organ and some neat scale runs. “Kairi” gets a healing version this time around, while “Roxas” sports a rather tragic quality. “Magical Mystery” is unsettling with its out of tune piano and off-time bell tolls, while “*Organization XIII’ is ominous with its droning pads and choir. “Gearing Up” combines a playful toy-like vibe with rocking electric guitar, “Shipmeister’s Shanty” adds electronic elements to the same concept, and “Asteroid Attack” teases “Dearly Beloved” with its spacey pads and synth bass. “Waltz of the Damned” sports a nice swaying rhythm and references other themes form the game, “Dance of the Daring” is an upbeat folky tune with harpsichord, “Beauty and the Beast” gets a pop-oriented arrangement, and “The Home of Dragons” goes for majestic with a strong Chinese vibe.

Then there’s all the wonderful Disney music that you can’t help but smile while listening to. I’m looking at you, “Winnie the Pooh.” I have to admit it’s strangely satisfying hearing Disney classics sung in Japanese. Particularly “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Donald and Goofy are also amazing in Japanese.

I love a lot of music heading into the end of the album, but to call out a few, the lightning fast metal in “Hazardous Highway,” the ambient “Cavern of Remembrance,” the foreboding and exotic “Sacred Moon,” the lovely “The Other Promise,” and the triumphant yet melancholy “Fantasia alla marcia” all provide a wonderful closing to the album.

I’ve gone on quite long enough, but this is some of Yoko Shimomura’s best work of all time. I highly recommend picking it up on CD Japan.

Review: Imperial SaGa Original Soundtrack

Square Enix has a few treats for SaGa fans for the franchise’s 25th anniversary. One such treat is Imperial SaGa, a free-to-play title for PC that pays homage to the entirety of the series. While I admit that I haven’t really dug in deep into the SaGa series, I’ve always been a fan of the music. Kenji Ito reprises his role as series composer, accompanied to Tsutomu Narita, Yoshitaka Hirota, Hiroyuki Nakamura, and others, to give SaGa fans a heavy dose of classic JRPG goodness.

The soundtrack is arranged to feature what amounts to four variations on the same set of themes. After a grand orchestral main theme that references the classic SaGa theme, which is a nice touch, we get into the first set, which offers a nice blend of retro synth and rock stylings reminiscent of Ito’s recent SaGa rock arrange albums. “Battle ~ Adel” is probably my favorite track on the album, reviving the SNES-era rock with cheesy brass, bell tones, and a very catchy chorus section  drawing heavily from early SaGa titles. “Decisive Battle ~ Adel” gets laser-like synths and wailing electric guitars, more in the style of the rock arrange, while “Decisive Battle ~ Adel” gets choir and bell tolls. After a cool victory fanfare, “Strategic Failure…” sports super cools ’80s-esque contemporary jazz with a funky bass line and spacey pads and bell tones. There are serious references to Final Fantasy Tactics in “Advance ~ HEROES,” another favorite of mine, and on to the variations I mentioned, with a electronic version of the battle theme with a super funky sax. The Lazareth/Iris variations opt for a big orchestral sound, while the final Ivan/Olga set goes for a spooky vibe with twangy guitars and layered bells. Some of tracks in this final set, including the mysterious and magical “Once Beyond the Darkness” which contains a cool reference to the main theme and the pop rock, Castlevania-esque “The Woven Era,” are some of my favorites as well. The album ends with a silly and comical vocal theme arranged in various ways.

In all, these soundtrack presents some solid and very familiar themes. You’ll feel like you’re in the heyday of the 16-bit era once again. The variations offer upgrades and different takes, all of which have their own merit, and are a treat to hear. I particularly enjoyed the Final Fantasy Tactics references.

I highly recommend picking this one up at CD Japan if you’re a fan of 16-bit RPG music!

Review: SEIKEN DENSETSU / LEGEND OF MANA arrangement album Promise

The Mana series is much beloved by fans, and the music of the series has always been celebrated regardless of the composer writing it. A number of composers have graced the series over the years, and say what you will about the PlayStation entry Legend of Mana, the soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura was great.

This album presents several key themes in jazz and cafe styles, with great arrangements and atmospheres throughout. It begins with a traditional jazz ensemble performing a swinging and upbeat take on “Hometown of Domina,” and is followed by a Latin-flavored “To the Sea.” One of my favorite original tracks, “Polpota Harbor,” gets a straightforward solo piano performance, while “Legend of Mana” comes as bossa nova in style with some great jazz flute. Another personal favorite, “Pictureseque Landscape” retains its aggressive edge with a Parisian cafe arrangement featuring accordion, violin, and guitar. “Singing Wind, Journey’s Path,” probably my absolute favorite from the original soundtrack, gets an infectiously upbeat pop-oriented arrangement with live guitar, piano, and woodwinds. Rounding out the collection is aggressive-turned-romantic “Tango Apssionata – As The Heart Wills,” the melancholy flamenco “Such Cruel Fate,” a beautiful bossa nova vocal version of “Seven Shades of Life,” a laid back jazz tune in “Nostalgic Song,” and a slower take on the main vocal theme from the game, “Song of Mana,” which sports beautiful harmonies and a fantastic acoustic arrangement.

It’s great to see an album of arrangements paying homage to the music of Legend of Mana. The album is available on CD Japan if you want to add a lovely live jazz album to your collection.

Review: Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100

Wow, I can’t believe Distant Worlds has hit 100! I caught one of the first few shows, and I’ve never been disappointed with a performance since. Their album recordings have also been fantastic, and in recent years, they’ve ventured into video. It’s great that they’ve made available their 100th show on Blu-ray for long-time fans and attendees like myself and those who haven’t been able to make it out to a show.

Arnie Roth conducts and hosts the show, recorded in front of a Japanese crowd. They play many of the classics, including the iconic “One-Winged Angel,” a lovely healing rendition of “The Prelude,” the rousing “Final Fantasy” theme, and the wondrous “Main Theme from Final Fantasy VII.” Some new arrangements come courtesy of Piano Opera Final Fantasy pianist Hiroyuki Nakayama, and are a real treat. “Balance is Restored” from Final Fantasy VI stands out in particular, visiting several of the game’s key themes, along with Susan Calloway’s rendition of Final Fantasy XII’s vocal theme, “Kiss Me Good-Bye,” “Roses of May” from Final Fantasy IX, an explosive “Torn from the Heavens” from Final Fantasy XIV (with Masayoshi Soken in attendance), singer Emiko Shiratori reprising her role as vocalist on Final Fantasy IX’s “Melodies of Life,” and an amazing battle medley covering Final Fantasy I – XIV which picks some often-missed tracks, including the final battle theme from Final Fantasy V and a jazzy rendition of the Final Fantasy VIII battle theme. The orchestra reacting to the fan reaction to “Swing de Chocobo” was cute, too, as well as the upright bass player really getting into the piece. Finally, the encore “J-E-N-O-V-A Complete” was also fantastic, really pushing the orchestra to adopt an aggressive battle sound.

My only criticism would be that the MP3s are not hosted on this Blu-ray disc! Still, I enjoyed watching it from start to finish. Given the recent Distant Worlds III album release didn’t feature many of these new arrangements, I’m hoping we’ll see yet another Distant Worlds CD release in the future with these new arrangements on them so I can listen on the go.

The Blu-ray is definitely worth your time. The booklet is stuffed full of comments from the creators, all in English as well as Japanese. Grab it from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: TEKARU HECTOPASCAL

Maybe you haven’t heard of Tekaru, but I can tell you it’s one of the best videogame cover bands around. Founded by the team at noisycroak (headed by the extremely talented composer Hideki Sakamoto), the band rocks out with the standard rock ensemble plus rock organ and sometimes even vocals, the latter two of which are provided by Sakamoto himself. Tekaru Hectopascal marks the band’s third album release, and while the titles performed aren’t well known outside of Japan with the exception of Xevious and Toukiden, this music is all good. The performances are all spot on with arrangements that vary from quirky to heavy.

The album opens with Ken Woodman’s “Mexican Flyer,” which some may recognize from Space Channel 5 or Samba de Amigo. It’s an interesting choice (I had to look up the history of the track), but the synth and rock organ additions to the rock melody are a great introduction to anyone who’s experiencing Tekaru for the first time. My favorites here are the Xevious track which is entirely infectious and upbeat and the pop-laden arrangements from Shoumetsu Toshi featuring piano that tugs at the heartstrings. One of the Shoumetsu Toshi tracks even venture into electronic territory with some vocaloid vocal sections. The Juusei to Diamond track rocks out hard, and is probably my favorite track in this style, sounding almost like the recent SaGa battle arrange albums, while the Toukiden tracks are mostly serious in approach as well. “Theme from Thousand Memories” is a more contemplative track that features organ quite prominently, and is another highlight.

How I’d love to see Tekaru perform at MAGFest. That will likely never happen given the obscurity of most of the material they perform (there are some fantastic echochrome performances on their previous albums). While you’re waiting for that to happen, though, pick up all three of their albums. The artwork for all three are also great, with Hectopascal being amazingly strange and lovely all the same.

Tekaru Hectopascal is available from SuperSweep Records.
CD Japan is still offering Tekaru Mechnical and Tekaru Technical.

Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume II (SMRC-1008)

Volume II is here! Enjoy ten new tracks touching on classic franchises including Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and The Legend of Zelda in addition to new greats such as Shovel Knight and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. All arrangements are performed by GENTLE LOVE (Norihiko Hibino and AYAKI) to assist you with sleep and relaxation.

Visit the official Prescription for Sleep website for purchase links and track lists for both volumes, and don’t miss out on our promotion to snag GENLTE LOVE’s arrangement from the Korean fantasy MMORPG, Monarch: Heroes of a New Age, for free when purchashing Volume I and Volume II together only on Loudr.

Feel free to check out our exclusive interview with The Verge where we discuss the Prescription for Sleep series, and be sure to catch our official launch trailer on Nerdist!

As always, feedback and suggestions are welcome: jayson[at]scarletmoonproductions[dot]com.

Don’t forget to grab our beautiful digital booklet, which includes photos and commentary on every track on the album in addition to a brief Q&A with Norihiko Hibino.

View the track list in its entirety below. Continue reading Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume II (SMRC-1008)

Review: X’mas Collections music from BRAVELY DEFAULT

I have a soft spot for Christmas music, and obviously game music. I generally break out the Christmas music on the ride home from Thanksgiving, and I have a playlist that contains lots of winter-themed game tracks to fit the mood. Square Enix has made finding game music to listen to for the holidays even easier with their annual X’mas albums, with two previous entries coming as compilations, and a surprise announcement this year: an entire album of remixes from Bravely Default arranged for the holidays.

The album is fantastic, and even more, Square Enix fans will appreciate guest arrangements by Junya Nakano, Motoi Sakuraba, and Yuzo Koshiro. The addition of bells, lots of reverb, and jingle bells could be viewed by some as gimmicky, but I certainly appreciate the effort. I particularly enjoy the bubbly opener, “Land of Beginnings,” the moving choir and piano in “Under a Hollow Moon,” and the majestic Christmas adventure, “Horizon of Light and Shadow.” There are a few picks that are more gamey and electronic in nature, such as “Baby Bird” with its quirky vocals, and overall, I couldn’t be more happy with this album and think it’s a perfect addition to any holiday play list. It’s out now on CD Japan, and here are links to the first and second X’mas albums from Square Enix if you want to dig deeper (Yuzo Koshiro’s arrangement of “Rydia” from Final Fantasy IV on the second album is my favorite).

Review: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

I’ve finally dug through the 400+ songs featured in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. I was particularly pleased with the Super Smash Bros. for 3DS soundtrack that I reviewed a couple months back, and the Wii U soundtrack is a staggering three-to-four times bigger.

Now, while many of those tracks are original soundtrack versions and returning arrangements from Melee and Brawl (which are excellent themselves), there’s still new arrangements to enjoy.

Let’s have a listen. Continue reading Review: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Game Music for Daily Living

Scarlet Moon Productions had the honor of attending and presenting at Gamer’s Rhapsody this past weekend, and we wanted to make available our slides from the Game Music for Daily Living presentation which explores the use of game music to help you sleep, relax, exercise, and celebrate holidays such as Christmas and Halloween. Embedded music samples act as references and encourage you to seek out other resources and music releases for even more music to use throughout your day!

Download the slides here!