Naughty Phantom Pirate!
Don't tell anyone! Not even your family or friends and especially not your uncle who works for ATLUS, but I was able to get my hands on probably half the Persona 5 soundtrack through... less than legitmate means. YouTube to MP3, direct download links, Tumblr streams, and so on. I've been hot on the trail of anything to come out of Persona 5's hype train and, well, I did indulge a little bit.
I've also listened to much of the rest via a convenient YouTube stream. Eheh.
Now, trying to justify what I did is, naturally, a touchy subject. For as much as I'm sure most here wouldn't judge, taking the extra step to say "Well, you see..." will never not come across a tad slimy to me. Even if the act was done for totally understandable reasons. So, I'll just leave it at "I done did the thing. I was excited. Not sure what that makes me. I will buy it outright when they make it possible, as I've done with practically every other Persona CD.".
Okay! *wipes sweat*
Let's just start talking about the music!
I'll explicitly detail some of the tracks towards the end, but in a general sense... the soundtrack is pretty goshdanged rad. If I had to place it within a more specific and familiar spectrum, it'd be closer to Persona 3 than Persona 4. Which, given my extreme fondness for Persona 3's soundtrack, makes me incredibly happy. It's got its edge and plenty of class, with the typically high production values, from the same very talented composer (Shoji Meguro, for the noobs). I'm listening to it as I'm typing up all of this and it's still making me smile after some hours of playtime.
What's interesting about it, however, is that it doesn't just occasionally channel Persona 3 in its string-key harmonies, atmospheric sampling, and rampantly dark tones, but a little bit of Persona 4 in a couple of its orchestral or down-tempo key-centric pieces. Said orchestral pieces can even sound more conventional than your typical Persona track, which isn't inherently a bad thing. Everything still has some added flavor or polish that's to be expected from Meguro, complete with organ/key strikes and jazz/rock drumlines along with the ambient ones.
The most surprising comparison I've found myself making is to the mainline series of Shin Megami Tensei games and its more obscure spin-offs.
As I've come to learn recently, Meguro actually did the legwork for Strange Journey's soundtrack and some songs did evoke the little-known almost (at one point) mainline sequel to Nocturne. Also, given the soundtrack's heavy leaning on what the kids apparently call "acid jazz", a good handful of songs inevitably also reminded me of Meguro's compositions from Digital Devil Saga (another favorite soundtrack of mine). Despite his clear jazz roots in almost everything he's worked on, Meguro hasn't written anything this explicitly JAZZ in a long time and it's super refreshing.
Splices of Nocturne, SMTIV, and Persona 1/2 also reared up on occasion. There are teeth here showing that Persona hasn't shown in well over a decade. Quirky or fun rock/jazz oddities (the music, supposedly, for the electronics store springs to mind), melodramatic synth chords, etc. Sometimes, the music is so uncharacteristically Persona that I have to remind myself that this is actually Persona I'm listening to and that's what I both expected and wanted. It's almost like they set out to capture the whole of Shin Megami Tensei's soundscape and somehow make it work within one game. Well, indeed. Somehow, they've made it work.
As far as Persona soundtracks go, it has your usual tonal spikes and the sparse weirder elements, with the catchy just as prevalent as your atmospheric. It's no different in its variety of sounds, but it's certainly very different in its variety of inspirations (I swear that the music for the pyramid dungeon sounds like Kirby: Mass Attack music... but, ya know... jazzier).
Even outside the realm of Shin Megami Tensei, this game tackles. A good handful of this stuff just sounds like a band slow jamming in a coffee shop more than a real song. Would I dare call it filler? Ehhhhhhh. Considering the plethora of other tracks that impress on such a high level and that these likely take the place of tunes that would end up nauseatingly-repeated otherwise, I wouldn't say so. Nonetheless, the only criticism I can offer at this point is that some tracks do just feel very "cutting room floor".
Though, all in all, this is a pretty successful soundtrack and one I'm happy to have apart of what will probably end up a favorite (if not my most favorite) of next year.
Here are some extra nitty gritty deets on some of the songs I heard:
"Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There"
If you're looking forward to Persona 5 and you haven't been keeping yourself completely in the dark, you've already heard this song in one form or another. It's this game's Burn My Dread or Pursuing My True Self. It'll likely be the first song you'll hear when you start up your disc and it's out to make a bombastic first impression.
This will likely also be your introduction to the game's new female vocalist, known only as Lyn.
You may've not warmed up to her by now, but damn can she sing. I do have my very fond attachment to Persona 3's Yumi Kawamura and especially Persona 4's Shihoko Hirata, but having listened to not just this but a few of her other tracks, she is now the definitive voice for Persona 5 to me. She accentuates differently than any previous vocalist and I think it was necessary for this jazzier soundtrack.
The song itself may be no Pursuing My True Self or Unbreakable Tie, but it is slowly squeezing into third place. The bass giving the song most of its instrumental melody during the verses, as opposed to guitar, keys, horns, or strings. It's like a reverse Pursuing My True Self in that way. Along with the very sharp orchestral strikes and the softer, off-kilter verses, just this opening song makes it apparent that Meguro is trying new things for Persona. Can't help but appreciate that on its own merits.
This here's the game's title theme.
What can be said for a lot of the game's music is that it is less melodically-driven and more focused on simply providing a solid backing. Something that sets the mood, but doesn't try to grab your attention away from what's on-screen. That doesn't mean that any less effort went into the soundtrack or that it's any worse for it, it just means that you won't be hearing quite as many punchy key strokes or guitars wailing as you're used to.
There might be a clear melody within Phantom, but it's a lot softer than, say, A Corner Of Memories or Brand New Days (god, that one is so beautiful). Even then, that's maybe only half the song. Perhaps that's to encompass the protagonists' more relaxed composure. From what's been shown, these characters aren't completely out of their element when they get to Persona'ing. Whether they were already acrobatic thieves or they somehow were expecting smack-talking demons to invade Tokyo, the struggle in Persona 5 doesn't feel nearly as desperate. But, we shall see.
This was one of the songs that reminded me of Strange Journey.
Typically, in Persona, when there's an orchestral piece, it's accompanied by keys, sampling, guitar, or at least drums. To the best of my knowledge, at least across Persona's 3 and 4, there is nothing quite like this track. Sort of makes you appreciate the extra mile Meguro went to make his music stand out. Here? It's just pure strings.
By that same token, though, he did a wonderful job on Strange Journey and it's more conventional approach. The same happens here. That simplicity brings out every detail in what is there and it hardly, if ever falters. Plenty of changes, drops, and hearty bass for its short runtime, while not feeling cut short. It's paced lovingly.
While you can hear it for yourself, that means spoiling a little bit of the beginning sequences. ATLUS uploaded it themselves here, with the song appearing at approximately 8:15.
"Life Will Change"
Basically, a more alternative rock-ish reprise of the main theme, only tuned down maybe half a step and with new lyrics. Though, what's really snazzy about this song is that, given these new changes and by keeping both Lyn's vocals and the string melodies, it now sounds a LOT like what could be a James Bond opener!
With that, appropriately, you can also hear this in the opening sequences. Just check the beginning of the video above! That or watch the 4th official trailer. Even if that's, debately, more spoilerific. It starts at about 2:15 in that one.
Overall, another thoroughly fresh sound to come out of Persona. Persona 4: Golden dabbled in alternative rock with its new battle theme, Time to Make History (I've always thought this sounded like a Paramore song), but this is even more simplified and straight up "Let's just be loud!". I do like the mixing on the bass, thumping through every single chord. All the while, naturally, Meguro shoves in some jazzy key strokes for good measure, the little rascal.
"Heartbeat of the Demon" (at least I think that's what the song will be called)
Probably Persona's nastiest boss theme. Like, nasty as in good, but chuggy and metal as FUCK. Even includes vocals by Lyn and this proves that she can not only bring the soul, but the edge (hah). I'm actually including this selection as I'm listening to it for the first time, taking the occasional break to just bang my head and scream random obsenities. I love it so much.
Imagine something similar to Dio's Rainbow in the Dark, but a darker remix and sung by Lita Ford.
"Museum" (working title)
Ahhhhh, man. I love this one as well. One of the very clear rips of Digital Devil Saga. Slow, reverbing drumlines, understated key chords, and a soft yet soulful, clean guitar/bell ride (though, I wouldn't be surprised if it were actually a more obscure string instrument that I'd be unable to place the name of because Meguro is OG like that). So makes me wish I were more in the mood to finally finish that game up. Or that I had the 100+ buckaroos to afford the soundtrack. Yikes.
The followup to this track is that same guitar/bell ride, but along to a heavy electronic percussion sample with a slow warp into basically distortion. A fucking journey, man! Like DDS meets Persona 3.
Normally, I can never really place what Meguro's battle themes remind me of. They're often sort of their own thing, with vague ties to other bands at best (sans the aforementioned Time to Make History). Especially the likes of Wiping All Out or Mass Destruction. Battle or boss themes in Persona are made to fit very specific needs rather than be derivative works of other artists or even other video game composers.
However, Willpower is literally a Megadeth song and that's both hilarious and great. I mean, a somewhat generic Megadeth song, but definitely one nonetheless. Even the guitar tone matches perfectly with their 90's releases, namely Countdown to Extinction (I actually had to relisten to a little of that album to confiirm and that was fun). Imagining Mustaine singing about something something political strife something something war is bad to the guitar melody gave me a good feeling. The choruses may be more Iron Maiden than Megadeth, but the verses immediately brought me back to a time when I did nothing but listen to bands like Metallica or Megadeth.
Speaking of those former two aspects, the standout element of Willpower is its guitar melody during the verses. It's punchy, but the guitar is at a much lower distortion than you'd expect, giving it this *clunk* effect to each strike. Pretty neat! Though, as I've mentioned, while still damn good, this is one of Persona's least interesting boss themes. Even if that's not really saying much when you have such tracks as Heartful Cry, Mass Destruction, and The Almighty slumped into your belt.
"Free Roam" (working title)
I... assume this is (some of) the music that plays while out and about? I can imagine it being more situational as well, though.
This is probably one of Persona 5's more striking melodies. A lot of them are softer or practically non-existent, but this one comes in loud and rather speedy. Feels a bit like something from the Isley Brothers. Even has a bass solo! Both in the intro and just before the loop. Something so rare, yet so dearly needed in so many more things. At least in what I usually listen to, but I listen to a lot of things! Maybe you're special because you exclusively listen to all those genres I've never heard of and, frankly, piss me off whenever I do hear of them.
What in the fatherly fuck is shoegaze?
Okay. So, this is going to be a hell of a statement. But, while Willpower might be one of Persona's worst boss themes... this ish right chere? We are talking the next Mass Destruction, people. The new gold standard of Persona battle themes. From beginning to end, you're smiling from ear to ear thinking to yourself, much like I thought with Mass Destruction, "... how did they manage to do it?".
With Mass Destruction, it was the audacious combination of funk, hip-hop, and metal. Though, with Last Surprise, it's practically all done by the quality of its bass and vocals. That's supremely impressive. I mean, there's also violin, keys, and guitar, but it's all far more understated than they usually are when grouped together. That intro orchestral line is the shit, but once that's over and done with, you forget about all but wanting to dance to that orgasmic bassline.
Honestly. This is one of the best songs I've ever heard. The generic structure may not be anything to write home about, but its actual instrumentation is so fucking good that I don't even care!
Oh, and did I mention that these battle themes are already full tracks rather than looped a minute and a half in? An intro, multiple verses, a breakdown, multiple choruses, the works! Far too often, the best songs in these games are way too short, but not here (Heartbeat of the Demon is over 5 minutes long)!
Will I spoil myself further?
Yes Probably not. I've withheld from listening to the final boss theme(s) and delving into story deets (unless I'm unwillingly spoiled through Tumblr or you people). I'm masochistic. I live on the edge. But, I'm not suicidal. Persona 5 will be an honest-to-goodness experience when it FINALLY releases... next year. Ugh, boy. I'm not ready for that wait once I'm done with SMTIV: Apocolypse.
Well, nonetheless. I hope you enjoyed this blog! It's not often that write something so passionately these days.