Tag Archives: Orchestral

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.

Review: DISSIDIA FINAL FANTASY -Arcade- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I remember when Dissidia was first announced. This was the fighting game Final Fantasy fans wanted (not Ergheiz!). The scores for the first two Dissidia games were fantastic, incorporating some lovely arrangements and original themes, so I was excited to get my hands on the soundtrack album accompanying the franchise’s first foray into arcades.

What you’ll find are pretty familiar sounds. Big, bombastic orchestral originals, and orchestral-rock hybrid arrangements of your favorite Final Fantasy battle themes. The opening theme takes a more melancholy approach with the series theme, but the glitchy “Prelude” will get the nostalgia and energy flowing pretty quickly. From there, the heavy metal flows, including a thunderous version of “The Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II, which came as a surprise, a bombastic orchestral and synth version of the Final Fantasy IV final battle theme, the latter portion of “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI, and really cool spins on the main battle theme and “Fight With Seymour” from Final Fantasy X. “Flash of Steel” from Final Fantasy XII incorporates Hitoshi Sakimoto’s signature orchestral elements and adds in chugging bass and rock percussion on top, while *Eden Under Siege” from Final Fantasy XIII comes as a welcome addition, full of grit, wailing distorted guitars, rock percussion, and strings. “Antipyretic” from Final Fantasy Tactics also gets a slow and desperate arrangement with piano and sorrowful strings. The last track offers a remix of the Dissidia main theme, “Massive Explosion,” by SQ album series arranger Novoiski, bringing in synth sweeps, chiptune, and dub step elements.

There isn’t really anything groundbreaking here in terms of arrangements, but the rock-oriented takes on classic Final Fantasy tunes should please arcade-goers. Pick the album up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: STAR OCEAN 5 -Integrity and Faithlessness- Original Soundtrack

Motoi Sakuraba has had quite a prolific career. At one point, he was chugging out several four-disc soundtracks per year, all with his signature progressive rock style. He took a break from it all to work on more orchestral and choral works with his excellent Dark Souls soundtracks, but I was certainly looking forward to a return to his roots with Star Ocean 5, and the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. There’s all the space fantasy rock you can handle, and even a few tracks that sound like they’d be right at home in Dark Souls. Expect chugging guitars, laser-like synths, and tons of rock organ; Sakuraba is back!

Four discs of material is a lot to wade through, so I’ll try to call out my favorites, which include “The Fecund Plains of Resulia,” an epic and bombastic fantasy track with a powerful and uplifting melody, “Central Resulia, The Capital” with regal strings and harpsichord, lending a rustic feel to this beautiful symphonic piece, “Spacetime Chaos” with its layered and mesmerizing pads, the horrifying “Flabbergasted” with its shrill strings atop a bed of deep brass and scattered percussion, “Cruel Fortune, How Your Wheel Doth Turn” with its heartbreaking string swells and woodwinds, “Over the Planet” with its tense and determined melody, “Lakes and Marshes With Doubt” with its layered bell tones and ethereal ambiance, “Silk Road in the Sky II” with its trippy space synth leads and Jean Michel-Jarre-esque pads, the dangerous march, “Event Horizon,” with its buzzing strings and terrifying brass swells, “Uncontrollable Anger” with its ominous and mysterious strings and bass that is reminiscent of Jaws, the tragic and sinister “Tears in the Sun Make a Rainbow,” “Mission to Deep Space” with its jazzy saxophone and electronic elements, and “Do Evil” with its beefy synth sweeps and dissonant strings.

That classic Sakuraba prog rock sound? It’s heard everywhere, but some of the standouts include “Wild Fight, No End in Sight” with his bizarre time signatures and explosive battle stylings, “Under Pressure” with a funky bass line and ominous strings and pads, and “Mortal Combat” with its lightning-fast guitar work and intense builds. In terms of channeling that dark and bombastic Dark Souls sound, look no further than “Hour of Judgement,” “Kronos,” and “Powerbroker,” all of which are tense, grandiose, and awesome.

Sakuraba fans like myself will definitely have the nostalgia flowing by the time this album is through. Newcomers will benefit from hearing Motoi Sakuraba’s classic rock stylings through the lens of his extensive experience working on more orchestral compositions over the past several years. In any case, it’s awesome, and fans of RPGs and rock music will want to pick it up on CD Japan.

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X Original Soundtrack

The announcement that anime and film composer Hiroyuki Sawano would be working on Xenoblade Chronicles X was met with a lot of excitement. The team was going all out with the score, and for anyone who’s played the game, the vast landscapes that are at the same time primeval and futuristic are captured perfectly in Sawano’s blend of epic orchestral, electronic, rock, hip-hop, vocal and piano ballads, and more. There are sleek production values throughout, and while the track titles are often unreadable (presented as alpha-numeric gibberish), making it hard to find your favorite moments, listening from start to finish will present numerous outstanding moments.

Many of the in-game themes have been spliced together and shift pretty dramatically in mood over the course of a single track, so it’s hard to describe individual tracks, but the variety is pretty staggering. The four-disc collection begins with a bang, with the epic choir and strings of “CODENAMEZ” and the uplifting main theme, “THEMEX.” “LP” presents a soundscape that’s exotic and alien, complete with pretty bell tones, while “MONOX” sports a smooth electronic vibe before hitting the powerful main theme again. The ethereal “Nemousu” is beautiful yet melancholy with its use of choir and bells, while the tracks from the central hub city, New LA, include hip hop elements mixed with rock and electronica. The battle themes, “Black Tar” and “Uncontrollable” are both great at building tension and getting you pumped with their heavy electronics and hip hop vocals in the former and male/female duet in the latter. Other areas of the game feature funk, blues, and even tread on Celtic territory. One track even makes use of phone noises and scary screeches to create a tense atmosphere, while another brings in ethnic instruments that are perfect accompaniments for an arid desert. Anyone who’s played the game will also know the music featured in Primordia, which has a distinctly prehistoric sound with rock elements, heavy string stabs and a driving melody that will leave you wanting to explore every nook and cranny of this foreign world. There are also some nice solo piano tracks tucked away on the last disc.

I mentioned vocals earlier, but in addition to the battle and New LA themes, there are a number of other vocal tracks. “You Voice” is a grungy pop rock track, “Wir fliegen” is a pumping electronic piece with German vocals, and “By my side” is a sweet pop rock ballad with cheesy lyrics reminiscent of the GENKI ROCKETS. “Don’t Worry” also stands out with its 80s synths and sticky sweet electronic synth pop vibe. The star, however, is “In the forest,” which is featured three separate times on the album, featuring an epic orchestral and choir backing alongside spoken narration-style singing.

In all, fans of the game should enjoy what’s on offer here. While it’s not organized in a way to find your favorite tracks, you’ll be right at home with all of the music here. It’s epic, it’s well produced, and it’s memorable. Grab the four-disc set at CD Japan if you’re interested.

DRUAGA ONLINE -THE STORY OF AON- SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1121)

While Druaga Online -The Story of Aon- was never released outside of Japan, I think a lot of RPG fans can get behind an arcade-based RPG with online four player co-op. What drew my attention to the soundtrack was the eclectic combination of composers, which includes SuperSweep’s Ayako Sasao, StudioMINSTREL’s Hiroto Saito, and Bandai Namco composers Junko Ozawa and Hiroyuki Kawada. True to the eclectic nature of the team, the soundtrack offers upbeat orchestral, electronic, and rock in adventurous fantasy fashion.

Listeners will enjoy the infectious synth pop castle theme as well as the main character themes, which include playfully epic rock (“Gilgamesh”), bubbly electonics (“Ki”), and even industrial (“Xeovalga”). The map themes will also stand out with the exotic woodwinds of “Windy Prairie,” the grand orchestral stylings of “Hanging Gardens,” and the funky Castlevania-esque “Floating Island,” which even sports bagpipes at one point. Rounding out the two-disc collection are the gloriously defaint “Heavenly Palace,” the explosive final battle theme, and the triumphant and rustic ending theme complete with harpsichord.

Check out SuperSweep’s soundtrack sampler on YouTube and pick out the soundtrack on CD Japan if you’re interested.