Tag Archives: Orchestral

Review: Star Fox Zero

Star Fox soundtracks are some of my favorites. Nintendo’s take on science fiction with majestic orchestra and electronic elements has been a treat since the original Star Fox on the SNES, and while the team at Bandai Namco was largely responsible for this soundtrack, I was curious to see how they’d treat the source material. Overall, it’s a rather grand and serious orchestral score with a lot of references to classic Star Fox themes, and I think anyone who played through the game was sure to enjoythe music.

The score overall is quite large and covers a lot of ground, making it even more unfortunate that Nintendo is unlikely to publish a soundtrack. I’ll simply call out some of my favorites that you may pay special attention to as you play through the game and hear them for yourself. Right out of the gate with the title theme, you get bombastic orchestra that sets the stage for an epic adventure in space. I got an immediate kick out of the theme that plays when you complete training, as it’s glorious and triumphant, working in the Star Fox theme and incorporating some cool rock percussion alongside the fancy synth work. Corneria gets the blood pumping with a tense take on the main theme, while the laid back map theme (my favorite track) works in electronic percussion and beautiful harmonies. Area 3 gets fast-paced drum ‘n’ bass, Katt gets a playful jazz theme with meows at the end, and the track that plays when you complete a mission is a sleek electronic march that is an arrangement of the classic victory tune. The Star Fox theme itself is an upbeat and bouncy march with little synth runs that are a nice touch, while Fortuna gets a tropical forest vibe complete with marimba and male choral chanting. Towards the end, Venom is accompanied by droning tones and scattered notes, adding to the tension, and even deeper into the planet, you get repetitive whirring and string stabs that are almost maddening. Andross gets a sinister theme with choir and big brass. The lengthy ending sequence sports the expected triumphant orchestral territory, but there’s some chillout material that I really enjoyed.

In all, I was pleased with the Star Fox Zero soundtrack. I’d love to see it published some day, but it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’ll get picked up by an external publisher like we’ve been seeing with recent Pokemon, Zelda, and Fire Emblem releases.

Bullet Girls 1 & 2 Soundtrack (SRIN-1140)

SuperSweep Records is at it again, bringing music you wouldn’t expect out on CD with the release of the soundtracks to the PlayStation Vita games Bullet Girls 1&2. The album features an eclectic selection of electronic, orchestral, and pop music composed by Masanori Hikichi, including the catchy J-rock title themes, “Faith” (Bullet Girls 1) and “One’s Bullet” (Bullet Girls 2), both featuring vocalist Tifan.

Between military marches, smooth synth pop, funk, and pop rock, there’s something for everyone with this release. There’s sweeping orchestral, spooky trip hop, and even dance music. It’s all wonderfully produced, and even some of the darker tracks maintain an upbeat atmosphere. They also include a number of jingles from the game and the instrumental versions of the vocal tracks.

Bullet Girls 1&2 Soundtrack can be imported from CD Japan if you’re interested.

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: 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.

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: 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.

V.D. -VANISHMENT DAY- SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1134)

If you’re a fan of Yoko Shimomura (you are), then you’ll likely want to check out the V.D. -VANISHMENT DAY- SOUNDTRACK. The game is a mobile/web strategy RPG with anime-inspired visuals, and the soundtrack offers up classic Yoko Shimomura with elegant orchestral and piano work over an upbeat action-oriented electronic foundation. SuperSweep Records has published the soundtrack, which features a number of great moments.

From the opening notes of “Departure,” you’ll think you’re listening to Shimomura’s counterpart to Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Valkyria Chronicles score with its militaristic march that seemingly prepares you for battle. From there, though, there’s nothing too serious. All of the combat tracks are tinged with a playfulness that ensures an upbeat listening experience. Both “Built a Fire” and “Sortie!” sport cool and sleek electronic backings, with “Sortie!” bringing in a nice woodwind melody. “Rock on the Heavens” brings in explosive drum ‘n’ bass percussion with a big orchestral sound and romantic piano sections that are classic Shimomura. There’s the tense and ominous “Just Beat That Which Lies Ahead of the Road,” the tragic “con fuoco,” the beautiful sweeping “At Night Where Scarlet Flowers Bloom,” the pumping and driving “Nervous Vision,” the chaotic “The Tempest” with its melancholy breaks, the decisive “The Brave Force,” the triumphant “Our Truth,” the tense and mysterious “Instability,” and the heartbreaking piano and strings closer, “No One Knows the Answer,” which hints at something dark and unsettling.

In all, this is solid work from Shimomura, and there aren’t any duds to be found across the album’s 40+ minutes. It’s available at CD Japan for only $20 USD if you’re interested.

Review: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius

Noriyasu Agematsu is a name gamers and even game music fans may not be familiar with, but they should be. He’s had a pretty prolific career working with Elements Garden and other groups. I first came to know his work thanks to the excellent Chaos Rings soundtracks that Square Enix put out a couple years ago (I actually have review notes of these albums but never wrote my reviews… maybe I need to). For those who are super familiar, I’d love to hear some recommendations, as Agematsu has another hit on his hands with Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, and it seems as though game music fans are now taking notice.

The score features orchestral fantasy with high production values, working in lots of Final Fantasy love throughout with bits of “The Prelude,” “Final Fantasy,” and the opening notes of the original Final Fantasy battle theme as well. It feels upbeat, yet mature, as conveyed through its contemplative opener, “Moment of Recall.” There’s everything from the energetic “DUEL!!” with its addition of rock percussion and Celtic influences, the gorgeous and serene “Peaceful Village,” the spooky and dangerous “Not of this World,” and the decisive military march, “The Initiation.” The acoustic guitar and string section in “Walkabout” are incredibly upbeat and uplifting, while “Overcome the Menace” gets industrial, the grandiose “Tree of Tales” sports beautiful harp work and string swells, the soothing “Snowdrop” includes angelic choir and bells, the exotic “Mirage Palace” brings in tribal percussion, and “Amigo de Chocobo” offers a bluegrass spin on the classic. “Antiquities” is another great track that combines ethereal pads with funky synth bass, while the playfully dangerous “Force and Furious,” the amazing organ concerto “End is Night,” and the epic “Celestial Battle” close things out.

A few of my absolute favorites include the sweeping and majestic “Great Voyage,” the relaxation-inducing sway of “Joie de Vivre,” and the contemplative and mysterious piano of “Mystic Ruins.” But really, the entire score is fantastic.

So, now on to the bad news. Apparently Square Enix sold this soundtrack exclusively through their online store, and according to CD Japan, who was taking special orders for it, it’s out of print.  Fortunately it is on iTunes for $15.99, so I suggest grabbing it there.

Review: Dark Souls III Soundtrack

The Dark Souls II soundtrack was one of my favorites of 2014. So I was excited to see Yuka Kitamura and Motoi Sakuraba teaming up once again for the third, and presumably final, installment. Fans of the series should know the drill by now, no music outside of key hub areas and boss battles. That lends to score a pretty action-heavy lean, but the variety of moods presented does prevent much of the fatigue you’d expect.

The opening “Premonition” is rightfully somber and smoldering, giving a hint at what’s ahead. The titular “Dark Souls III” sports foreboding bell tolls and choir before exploding into dark and tragic strings with beautiful harmonies, while “Prologue” brings in the guttural male choir and buzzing strings that have been used throughout he series. Finally, “Firelink Shrine” is bleak and desolate with droning bass, a female choral section, and a soundscape that doesn’t feel at all safe.

As far as the boss themes go (always the highlight), “Iudex Gundyr” doesn’t disappoint with its slow build, powerful strings, rustic harpsichord, and call and response male and female choir. “Vordt of the Boreal Valley” is somewhat of a death march with chugging bass, “Curse -Rotted Greatword-,” is sweeping and frightening with its gurgling choir and sense of corruption, “Crystal Sages” is appropriately wise and methodical, and “Deacons of the Deep” sports a massive and regal organ. There’s the tense and bombastic “Pontiff Sulyvahn,” the beautiful and graceful “Dancer of the Boreal Valley,” the deep brass tones of “Old Demon King,” the small hints of beauty hidden behind a deep brooding male choir in “Oceiros, The Consumed King,” the slow and contemplative “Abyss Watchers,” the wonderful dark waltz of “Yhorm the Giant”, and the epic and tragic “Lorian.” Finally, the grandiose and elegant “Soul of Cinder” sports some references to themes of the past, which is a nice touch, and the ending themes are melancholy and somber, and not at all triumphant.

Fans of Dark Souls music will appreciate this score just as they did the others. While it’s hard to capture the same magic the third time in, Kitamura and Sakuraba have done a fantastic job with this installment, and I’m looking forward to hearing what each of them do next.

The soundtrack was available with pre-order editions of the game, so it may be difficult to find at this point, but I’m sure you can find the soundtrack CD online through various outlets.