Tag Archives: Kenji Ito

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.

Review: ADVENTURES of MANA Original Soundtrack

Most know the Seiken Densetsu franchise for the second game in the series, which is known outside of Japan as Secret of Mana. However, the first game, originally released on the Game Boy and again on the Game Boy Advance, is now enjoying yet another re-release on iOS, Android, and the PlayStation Vita. It also gets another arranged soundtrack, putting Kenji Ito’s memorable melodies in the hands of former Falcom JDK member Noriyuki Kamikura, Nobuo Uematsu protege Tsutomu Narita, and Ito himself.

From the lovely strings and piano of the moving main theme, “Rising Sun,” to the blazing rock with epic organ of “The Final Conflict,” this album acts as a great introduction to a soundtrack that many may have missed. “Bloodsands” sports chugging guitars and the battle cry of brass, “Village Theme” features sleepy and comforting woodwinds and acoustic guitar, and “Town Theme” is a bouncy, bubbly piano, flute and guitar piece that would be right at home in a drunken tavern, and is easily my favorite track on the album. There’s also the rocking overworld, “Endless Carnage,” that gets the blood pumping, the orchestral-rock fusion track, “In Search of the Sword of Mana,” with its pumping octave-jumping bass, the dark and mysterious “Dungeon Theme 1,” and even a funky version of Uematsu’s chocobo theme. Then it’s the exotic droning and sitar of “Dungeon Theme II,” the angelic “The Mana Shrine,” and the sweet harp tune, “Say it With a Song.” From there you have all the remaining RPG trappings, including a synth rock battle theme, a regal castle tune, a comical moogle theme, and several melancholy ballads.

This is really a classic score from Kenji Ito, and Narita and Kamikura have done a great job with the arrangements. Anyone who’s an Ito fan or is looking for a classic JRPG romp, I recommend picking up the album from CD Japan.

Review: The Orchestral SaGa -Legend of Music-

The SaGa series has been around since 1989 and is much beloved, particularly in Japan. Given that several of the games in the series didn’t make it outside of Japan, it’s not as well known as say Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but it has a strong musical heritage featuring some of the best composers and music that JRPGs have had to offer. This live orchestral arrangement album is the latest reminder of just how great this music is, and JRPG fans ought to take note if they haven’t already.

The two-disc album opens with a 12-minute-long SaGa series medley that touches on the lovely main theme from the Game Boy SaGa titles as well as the more widely-known Romancing SaGa main theme, and everything in between and after. This is a perfect showcase of the majesty and energy of the SaGa series soundtracks. The album presents various medleys of two or more tracks, visiting numerous sets of battle themes for which the series has come to be known (see our reviews of the SaGa battle arrange albums). There’s a little bit of everything including the subdued final dungeon medley from Romancing SaGa, the sweet and fluttering opening medley from SaGa Frontier 2 that sounds like Christmas morning, and the playful Feldschlacht medley also from SaGa Frontier 2 that elevates the fairly well-known theme to a more serious level with an added drum set and jazzy vibe. There’s exotic and bombastic with the Asellus medley from SaGa Frontier, and finally, epic rock percussion and guitar in a battle medley from Romancing SaGa that ends things with a bang.

If you haven’t given SaGa music a chance yet, here’s your opportunity. It’s not going to get much better than the live orchestral treatment, and true to what series fans would want, the heavy focus on battle themes should get you caught up in no time. The album’s available on CD Japan (standard version), and you can even order the bonus Square Enix shop version that includes an extra disc with a couple piano arrangements on special order.

Review: Kakuriyo no Mon Original Soundtrack

Noisycroak, the Japanese sound studio headed by Hideki Sakamoto, has always done great work. In fact, we wrote about their live band, TEKARU, just some months ago. What caught my attention with their latest release, however, was the collaboration of a number of prominent composers for Kakuriyo no Mon, a very cute web-based MMORPG with ancient Japanese influences. While Masakatsu Tamura is responsible for most of the shamisen and shakuhachi-heavy soundtrack that offers  soothing soundscapes along with traditional Japanese and rock blends, tracks by Saori Kobayashi, Hiroki Kikuta, Yoshitaka Hirota, Masaharu Iwata, Kumi Tanioka, Kenji Ito, Yoko Shimomura and others are also featured.

Kenji Ito is strong on the rock front, of course, while Saori Kobayashi delivers her signature sound in a track that’s decisive and cool. Tanioka channels tension, Hirota goes for exotic and dangerous, and Iwata goes for ethereal and horrific. Sakamoto himself steps in with a militaristic number, while composers I wasn’t too familiar with, including Takatsugu Wakabayashi and Rei Ishizuka, both offer explosive fusions of rock and traditional Japanese instruments that are impressive to behold.

While the soundtrack is  only available on iTunes Japan at this time, I’m hoping it gets a worldwide release so fans of these composers can get in on the action as well.

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: Kai-ri-Sei Million Arthur Original Soundtrack -Battle Collections-

The Million Arthur series  offers some great music. Square Enix has put out a couple albums over the past two years from this series, with the score for the main title composed by Hyadain, and now this battle collection composed by Kenji Ito. You’re going to find your typical Kenji Ito rock here, which fans will appreciate.

The tracks range in style from the aforementioned rock, which falls in line with the SaGa battle arrange albums, to pop-infused electronic rock, and one track, my favorite, which sports bumping electronic beats paired with beautiful piano work. There’s a dark and mysterious track that comes in about midway through that features some great string work and a bell melody, while things get a little dancey towards the end of the album with an octave-jumping bass and gorgeous crystalline melody. The last track takes a more traditional Japanese instrumental approach with some lovely woodwinds and a ninja-esque vibe.

In all, this is a fine showcase of the Million Arthur series. I think fans will be pleased to see Kenji Ito working on the franchise, and his fans will enjoy what they hear on this album. It’s currently available on CD Japan for those who are interested.

Review: Re:Birth II -Ren- “SaGa” BATTLE ARRANGE

Square Enix’s Re:Birth series featuring Kenji Ito and several jdk band alums has been immensely popular. What was meant to be a single album paying tribute to the battle themes from across the SaGa series turned into a second album, which was even more amazing, and has now resulted in a third albym. They must be getting close to being out of battle themes to arrange at this point, but I’m not complaining!

Expect more authentic metal with chugging, shredding, and wailing guitars, rock organs, laser-like synth leads, and explosive percussion. There are also several exotic female vocal performances throughout. I love the retro synth sounds in the opening track from SaGa 2, the back-and-forth between guitar and synth in a track from SaGa 3, the hugely epic synth strings and choir in a track from Imperial SaGa, the softer Romancing SaGa 3 track, the additional of vocals to several SaGa Frontier tracks, and the romantic flamenco-flavored tracks from Minstrel Song. In the final track, each performer gets their own solo section, which is nice.

If you liked the first two Re:Birth rock albums, you’ll probably like this one too. I was less familiar with the track selections this time around, but still enjoyed the album from start to finish. You can grab it on CD Japan if you want more!

Review: Seiken Densetsu RISE of MANA Original Soundtrack

New titles in the Mana series typically don’t garner as much excitement as they once did. Rise of Mana in particular, as a free-to-play title, had people worried about the quality of the game, although I was personally excited to hear that series composers Hiroki Kikuta, Yoko Shimomura, and Kenji Ito were each contributing a song along with a main theme by ethereal vocalist Kokia.

Does the soundtrack live up to the musical legacy of the franchise? Read our review below. Continue reading Review: Seiken Densetsu RISE of MANA Original Soundtrack