Note Worthy 001: Kingdom Hearts 3D, Journey, and more

Welcome to Note Worthy, a new feature we’re rolling out on Destructoid! If you’ve read anything I’ve contributed over the past year at Destructoid, you’ve probably noticed that it all pertains to game music. I live for this stuff, and I thought I’d take things a step further by providing a monthly round-up of game music releases from Japan and beyond. I’ll be commenting on the latest releases as well as providing links to reliable import sites where you can pick them up if you’re interested.

Note that while I’m going to be preparing this feature on a roughly monthly basis, the releases won’t always fall into the previous month’s time frame mainly because we have to wait for items to arrive from Japan. That, and sometimes it’s nice to take a look back at older stuff. Also, I want to give a shout out to VGMdb, in invaluable resource for fans of game music, and one I’ll be using extensively, and Connary Fagen for whipping up our nifty logo!

With that, enjoy, and let us know what you’d like to get out of this feature moving forward.

Airu Love You / I’ll Love You ~Monster Hunter Arrange à la carte ~
Release Date: August 24, 2011
Price: 2,625 Yen ($32)
Availability: Limited
Artist(s): Zunba Kobayashi, Jun -setzer- Kadoma, Shoichiro Sakamoto, Takahiro Eguchi, Yousuke Yasui, Teruo Taniguchi

Okay, this one’s downright strange. Released by several members of SuperSweep, and more specifically, a bunch of the guys who worked on the 3D Dot Game Heroes soundtrack, this release offers an eclectic array of remixes from the Monster Hunter series.

The strange part comes in with the grating Japanese vocal tracks, one of which is about meat. There are also lots of cats meowing and growling throughout the entire album in addition to the packaging featuring images cats geared up to go on an adventure. The karaoke versions provided at least liberate the strong arrangements from the terrible vocals, but it’s not all bad. There are a few great vocal tracks to be found, including one that delves into bossa nova territory, although the retro 8-bit remix of “Testament of a Hero” from Monster Hunter 3, a bumpin’ FM synthesis take on “Day on Pokke Farm” from Monter Hunter Portable 2nd, and the hard-hitting electronic remix of “Jungle Glutton / Congalala” from Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G are my favorites. There are even some arrangements from the Poka Poka Airu Mura spin-off titles.

In all, there’s some great stuff here. The problem is getting your hands on it. It’s sold through SuperSweep’s online shop in Japan, and may be worth checking out if you’re a hardcore fan of the series.

Denpa Ningen no RPG Original Soundtrack
Release Date: March 28, 2012
Price: 2,200 Yen ($26.50)
Availability: iTunes Japan
Artist(s): Basiscape (Hitoshi Sakimoto, Yoshimi Kudo, Kimihiro Abe, Azusa Chiba, Masaharu Iwata, Mitsuhiro Kaneda)

This is certainly a quirky one. Basiscape is one of the top sound studios in Japan with founder Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Valkyria Chronicles) at its helm and a number of talented composers under him who can emulate his style as well as make bold statements of their own. This release, for a Japanese 3DS title, features nearly an hour and a half of music with Sakimoto handling the main theme which sports funky bass, strange electric shock sound effects, and a bubbly melody that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Think of a blend between Earthbound and Paper Mario and that’s what you have here. It’s kind of in line with the team’s impressive score for Opoona, but unfortunately with a lot less emotion. Two tracks that did stand out for me were the incredibly abstract “Antenna Tower” with its pitch-bending synth lines and the super funky “Cave” with its hip-hop percussion and playfully spooky soundcape.

This one probably isn’t for everyone as I didn’t find a whole lot to sink my teeth into. Given the hefty asking price for a digital release (it’s probably best that they went digital, but not at this price point), I can’t see myself recommending it. Still, fans of the Basiscape team or those looking for something ‘weird’ from Japan may want to check it out, even if that means purchasing “Cave” on its own.

Journey Original Soundtrack
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Price: $4.99
Availability: iTunes / CD release TBA
Artist(s): Austin Wintory

After having an amazing experience playing through the game, I had to wait in anticipation all over again for the game’s soundtrack. We hosted a lovely feature with Austin Wintory about his work on Journey where he discussed the creation of several pieces as well as offered samples, but with the complete soundtrack in hand, I’m surprised there’s actually so much music here, totaling nearly an hour of music. And all of it sounds fantastic with live session artists and even a live orchestra.

All the key elements are here for you to re-experience Journey all over again, but this time aurally. There’s the blistering wind of “The Call,” the playful “Threshold,” the vibrant “Road of Trials” (one of my personal favorites), the foreboding “Temptations” with its lovely harp work and the ominous “Descent” with its rumbling percussion. There are some more atmospheric pieces in between before a powerful trio closes out the album with the desperate “Nadir” that accompanies a key moment in the game, the jubilant and dreamy “Apotheosis,” and the emotionally charged ending vocal theme, “I was Born for This.”

Even when you’re out on the go, you can experience the magic of Journey any time with this soundtrack. Even those who didn’t play the game should appreciate Austin Wintory’s majestic score, and it obviously comes just as highly recommended as the game itself.

Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance Original Soundtrack
Release Date: April 18, 2012
Price: 3,800 Yen ($47 USD)
Availability: CD Japan / Play-Asia
Artist(s): Yoko Shimomura, Tsuyoshi Sekito, Takeharu Ishimoto

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kingdom Hearts titles or their soundtracks. I always found them to be overly upbeat to the point of being cheesy, but that all changed with Birth by Sleep, which took a much more mature approach in the music department. Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance follows suit coming as light-hearted but not cheesy,and changes things up a bit by adding a lot of electronic sounds to the heavily orchestral palette of the series.

Series composer Yoko Shimomura handles the majority of the score, starting with the popular series main theme, “Dearly Beloved,” which gets a sweet waltz arrangement. She provides an eclectic mix of tracks, but my favorites would be the angelic “The World of Dream Drops” with its bell tress, piano, and strings, the elegant yet desperate “La Chloche” with timpani and harpsichord, “All for One” with its classy melody, and “Distant From You…,” which comes as a beautiful and heartwrenching duet between strings and harp. “Deep Drop” also stands out with its dark electronic sound accented by organ.

Square Enix’s Tsuyoshi Sekito and Takeharu Ishimoto also join the mix, with Sekito providing mostly epic orchestral cues with “Majestic Wings” and “Gigabyte Mantis” being my favorites. Ishimoto, on the other hand, provides several memorable moments with his electronic contributions that start with several remixes from The World Ends With You (the bumpin’ club version of “Calling” is my personal favorite) as well as several moody and textural electronic tracks, of which “Keyblade Cycle” stands out with its unsettling and glitchy soundscape. There are also several classical pieces by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and others tucked away at the end of the album.

There’s some great music here, and the packaging for this three-disc collection is delightful with glossy cardboard and some classy silhouettes on the discs themselves. Fans will want to definitely check out what’s new with the Kingdom Hearts series, while others may want to wait and play the game before deciding to drop close to $50 USD on this one.

Manabu Namiki WORKS Vol.2 ~Thunder Dragon 2~
Release Date: December 21, 2011
Price: 2,625 Yen ($32)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Manabu Namiki

For those who don’t know, Manabu Namiki has become somewhat of a legend over the years for his soundtracks to many a shmup title from Cave, Zuntata, and more. He’s also a member of Basiscape. This album presents his soundtrack to the 1993 title, Thunder Dragon 2. While the album contains 17 tracks, several are ‘alternate versions’ of the same two themes that accompany you throughout all of the game’s seven stages.

While “Fly to Live,” “Live to Fly,” and their variations are your standard energetic shmup tracks with an electronic backing and a jazzy vibe, the highlights are the two new arrangements: the super funky “Still Live to Fly” by Shinji Hosoe and the touching piano ballad, “Fly to Live -Love Theme-“ by Namiki himself. I also dig the epic final battle theme, “Marginal Attack” and the ridiculous “Voice Collection,” showing off some of the worst voice acting of all time.

With so little music presented here when you remove the countless indistinguishable variations on the two stage themes, only hardcore fans of Manabu Namiki will probably find this worth the price.

Piano Collections NieR Gestalt & Replicant
Release Date: March 21, 2012
Price: 2,800 Yen ($34)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Keigo Hoashi, Kumi Tanioka, Ryuichi Takada, Yuri Misumi

This was easily my most anticipated release of 2012. The NieR soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time, but I wasn’t sure how this album would work without the haunting vocals of Emi Evans. I was impressed to find that the arrangements here retained their magic, but in a different way. The arrangements are pretty straightforward, with MoNACA (the game’s original composition team) handling most of the arrangements and performances and guest Kumi Tanioka (Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles) performing three, which was a nice treat.

In the end, the question as to whether or not these arrangements are ‘better’ than the original ones is kind of a pointless one. I don’t think they are better or worse, but rather, different. I’ll usually default to the original versions with Emi Evans, but I can’t discount the soothing and simply elegant arrangements here either. I definitely think it’s worth checking out on its own merits as well as to send a message to Square Enix that we want more NieR.

The Music of Retro City Rampage
Release Date: February 2, 2012
Price: $7.99 CAD (Digital) / $43 CAD (Vinyl)
Availability: Bandcamp
Artist(s): Freaky DNA, Norrin Radd, virt

[Update: You can pick up the vinyl for $39 CAD directly from Lotus Audio if you’re interested]

Retro City Rampage is attempting to be the ultimate expression of fanservice to those like me who consider the NES to be their first videogame love. The quirky humor and endless videogame references carry over into the soundtrack, and the team has once again done things right by releasing the soundtrack composed by three accomplished chiptune artists well before the release of the game to generate hype along with a limited editon vinyl release that is simply beautiful (and yes, the blue version I drooled over is almost sold out, and the green is completely gone).

The soundtrack itself is a lot of fun, although somewhat short at just about 40 minutes in length. Fan-favorite virt gives us a gritty and irreverent opening theme as well as a few parody tracks that made me chuckle, including “Not Mega…” that sounds almost exactly like… well, that famous blue guy. He actually contributes the fewest number of tracks, followed by Freaky DNA who brings the funk with “Half Steppin’” and “Bit Happy,” two of my favorite tracks on album. Norrin Rad handles the largest number of tracks, lending a poppy sound with the catchy “Dance Off,” the spacey “Proton Decay,” and the giddy “Smut Peddler.”

I can’t say that many of the melodies here stuck with me afterwards, but I imagine that will change after playing the game. I love what the team has done with the soundtrack and especially the fact that they’ve released It before the game’s release. Be sure to check it out.

SONIC ADVENTURE Original Soundtrack 20th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: May 18, 2011
Price: 2,400 Yen ($29) (physical) / $9.99 (digital)
Availability: CD Japan / iTunes
Artist(s): Jun Senoue, Kenichi Tokoi, Masaru Setsumaru, Fumie Kumatani

This is an odd release that came out last year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s odd in that it’s a single disc ‘best of’ collection, whereas the originally issued soundtrack contained two discs. Why they didn’t re-issue the full two-disc soundtrack, I don’t know, but it goes for hundreds of dollars on the used market these days, so with this release, you may as well take what you can get.

And you’ll want to take it. Crush40 and Jun Senoue have been, in my opinion, destroying Sonic’s musical legacy for so long with all their cheesy vocal tracks that I’d forgotten just how good this soundtrack was. Senoue and Crush40 are here, but this is their first outing together, so they come off as more subdued. The few tracks that Crush40 is featured on are actually tasteful and catchy. As for the rest of the soundtrack, it’s some of the best that the Sonic series has to offer with incredibly melodies covering pop, rock, and electronic styles. I could list nearly every track on this collection as a favorite, so I’ll refrain and simply say “Windy Hill” from Windy City and “Egg Carrier – A Song That Keeps Us On The Move” are my jam.

Fans of classic Sonic the Hedgehog music that missed out on the two-disc version will want to pick this up for sure.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG CD Original Soundtrack 20th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Price: 2,400 Yen ($29) (physical) / $9.99 (digital)
Availability: CD Japan / Play-Asia / iTunes
Artist(s): Masafumi Ogata, Naofumi Hataya

Few soundtracks are as controversial as the Sonic CD soundtrack. The original soundtrack was composed by Sega composers in Japan and was featured intact in the Japanese and European releases of the game. Fans in North America were probably unaware, however, that Sega of America completely re-scored the game for the North America release. The original score was much more electronic in style, resembling past Sonic soundtracks, while the North American version got a more atmospheric slant. Why this was done, nobody knows, but it happened, and there wasn’t a proper release for the original Japanese/European soundtrack until now.

What you have are the core stage themes with additional “good future,” “bad future,” and “boss” mixes. I have to say that while I like both versions of the soundtrack, I prefer the ones presented here with a fun, tropical “Palmtree Panic,” the sexy smooth jazz flavored “Tidal Tempest,” the upbeat fusion “Quartz Quandrant,” and the chugging electronic “Wacky Workbench” areas. The early 1990s-flavored hip-hop version of “Stardust Speedway” also made me chuckle. While this version resonates with me more, I do have to admit I like Nielsen’s “Sonic Boom” vocal theme better than the horrible hip-hop “You Can Do Anything” found here, and the inspirational rap ending theme, “Believe in Yourself” is just embarrassing. There are some bonus remixes found here as well, including renditions of “Sonic Boom” and “Stardust Speedway” featuring Jun Senoue, Crush40 and Cash Cash (an electronic group featured heavily on Sonic Generations). Fans of Naofumi Hataya (who also scored NiGHTS) should appreciate the track-by-track artist breakdown.

Of all the 20th anniversary soundtrack releases, this one is most worth your attention as it’s not a simple re-issue, but a first-time release with bonuses. It’s worth checking out to get an alternate take on the game’s soundtrack for fans in North America who didn’t know any better.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 Sound and Song Collection
Release Date: May 11, 2011
Price: 3,500 Yen ($42)
Availability: CD Japan / Play-Asia
Artist(s): Hitoshi Sakimoto, Shiro Sagisu, Hikaru Nanase, Masato Nakayama, Katsuhiko Kurosu

This is another one by Hitoshi Sakimoto. I love his Western-flavored Valkyria Chronicles soundtracks, and the soundtrack for Valkyria Chronicles 3 was particularly mature and moody after the more upbeat Valkyria Chronicles 2. I’m looking at this one so late after its release because it was initially released by Basiscape Records in February 2011. I was wondering what this re-issue was all about, and apparently it’s the same great soundtrack with the wonderful guitar arrangements featured on the Basiscape release swapped out for four licensed vocal themes used in the game and in the anime adaptation. These are rather standard Japanese pop and rock tracks, although JAM Project’s “Song of the Soldiers Chasing the Wind” from the game actually fits in with the score as a triumphant march with male choral-style singing, much to my surprise.

I’d honestly recommend picking up the Basiscape Records version with its guitar arrangements over this one. They are incredibly well done, and with the exception of the aforementioned JAM Project track, the vocal themes here don’t have a whole lot of connection to the series. You can pick up the Basiscape Records version at CD Japan as well.

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Jayson Napolitano
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