Note Worthy 005: Square Enix, Etrian Odyssey IV, and more

This is a big month for Square Enix music. Four of our ten reviews in this installment of Note Worthy are Square Enix albums, and we had to hold back on a few to make room for other big releases! We’ve got impressions of Yuzo Koshiro’s sure-to-be-controversial soundtrack for Etrian Odyssey IV, the Korean bar tending sim Bar Oasis 2, and the Guild01 RPG title CRIMSONSHROUD among others.

As always, enjoy samples of some of the albums on our Destructoid Soundcloud account and let us know what you think of this month’s offerings, especially the SQ series albums.

Bar Oasis 2 Soundtrack
Release Date: July 2012
Price: $9.99 (iTunes) / ($5.99) Amazon
Availability: iTunes / Amazon
Artist(s): Nauts

I haven’t had much of an opportunity to gush about how much I love game music from Korea here on Destructoid. Starting with Ragnarok Online, I quickly became a fan of the high-production values that Korean game companies often afford their titles, and Bar Oasis for iOS by independent Korean developer Corners Studio was no different. It’s a visual novel game about bartending, mixing drinks, and human relationships, and the music for the original Bar Oasis by composer Nauts blew me away with its high-quality jazz soundtrack.

Bar Oasis 2 picks up right where the original Bar Oasis left off with a new rendition of the main theme, “Again,” sporting clean piano and acoustic guitar to give a sweet upbeat vibe that defines the sound of Bar Oasis. The theme is repeated elsewhere to lend continuity. A blend of emotional jazz and pop follows, with the swingin’ “Good Girl,” the sexy bossa nova-flavored “Brazillian,” the moving “Risa” with its whistling and electric piano, and the lullaby-esque “Sunset for Free.” There’s electronic with “Cute Girl” and the funky “Pulse,” the surprisingly jubilant “7 Days Without Him,” and the reflective “Last Year’s Model.” There’s a sleek version of “Silent Night,” and also a big surprise waiting for listeners at the end.

This is a truly a wonderful soundtrack, and it’s amazing that it’s been written for an iOS app. This shows once again that Korean game developers know what’s up when it comes to putting great music in their games. I highly recommend checking out the soundtrack and the app by Corners Studio, both available now.

Battle SQ [Limited Edition]
Release Date: July 4, 2012
Price: 2,100 ($27) (limited) / 1,890 ($24) (regular)
Availability: CD Japan (limited / regular)
Artist(s): Various Artists

Battle SQ was announced alongside SQ Chips2 and Beer SQ, and of the three, I had the least idea of what to expect with this one. Were they going to take non-battle themes and create rock and techno arrangements to give them more oomph, or would these be arrangements of battle themes to encompass a more expansive emotional spectrum?

It would actually appear to be a combination, as the themes, mostly battle-oriented, are given heavier electronic remixes. In that sense, I found myself disappointed, as the arrangements go in the same general direction as the original source material. Still, among the album’s 14 tracks and five featured on the bonus disc exclusive to the limited edition, there’s some stuff worth your time.

For example, I dig the live rock session covering Final Fantasy IV’s battle themes, the groovy electronic “Miβgestalt & Todesengel” from SaGa Frontier 2, and the gritty electro-infused “Battle on the Bridge” from Final Fantasy Tactics. The team gets major kudos for picking up a tracks from Rudra no Hihou and Sigma Harmonics, although the remixes themselves don’t particularly do much for me. My favorites have to be the Asian-flavored “The Bird Flies in the Sky, The Fish Swims in the River” from LIVE A LIVE (see our review of the OST in Note Worthy 002), a grunge rock “You’re Not Alone” from Final Fantasy IX, and an epic take on “Decisive Battle with Magus” from Chrono Trigger.

The limited edition bonus disc features a drumtacular “Maybe I’m a Lion” from Final Fantasy VIII, chippy versions of “Frog’s Theme” and an ending medley from various Final Fantasy titles, and a recorded live set from SQ Part Level 3 by Stealth Boys that covers a lot of material from other SQ albums.

As usual, there are a few great arrangements here, but most will leave you underwhelmed. I appreciate the team going for some more obscure Square Enix/Squaresoft properties, but in the end I couldn’t find myself blown away by anything here.

Beer SQ [Limited Edition]
Release Date: July 4, 2012
Price: 2,100 ($27) (limited) / 1,890 ($24) (regular)
Availability: CD Japan (limited / regular)
Artist(s): Various Artists

Beer SQ certainly has an interesting name going for it. It kind of falls in line with Café SQ, taking on an upbeat lounge kinda vibe. There are only eight arrangements presented, so pickings are slim, but buying the limited edition will snag you a second disc with some awesome bonuses.

As far as the album proper, I can’t say I’m all that fond of the polka-esque arrangement of the Final Fantasy main theme by Räfven (who have appeared on several SQ albums, much to my dismay) or the “Gold Saucer” arrangement from Final Fantasy VII. Nothing against the arrangement, I just find the original incredibly irritating. Things get better from here on out with a fantastic acoustic take on “Guardia’s Millenial Fair,” an impressive big band jazz medley from Final Fantasy VI that is nearly ten minutes in length and is amazing, and an ethnic version of “Prelude” from Final Fantasy with sitar and hand-beaten percussion. I also dig the playful SaGa Frontier 2 “Roman & Vorspiel” which has been a mainstay on the Beer SQ website.

The second disc features an emotional ballad from Unlimited SaGa as well as two live sets from the SQ Party LEVEL 3 event that was held in Japan recently. BOOKADENcI’s set is a 30-minute long psychedelic trip into SaGa (Final Fantasy Legends) and Final Fantasy IV while Hige Driver covers a lot of territory from a chip-hop version of Final Fantasy VI’s “Searching for Friends” and more SaGa to his remix of “Primal Eyes” from SQ Chips2. Cool stuff!

I had high hopes for Beer SQ, but unfortunately there are only a couple of tracks that will have me coming back for more. The price difference is minimal, so I’d recommend picking up the limited edition if you’re interested in what is has to offer.

Crimson Shroud Original Soundtrack
Release Date: June 27, 2012
Price: 3,045 Yen ($38) (physical) / $19.99 USD (digital)
Availability: CD Japan / iTunes
Artist(s): Hitoshi Sakimoto, Basiscape

Are you all caught up on Guild01? If not, it’s an interesting project being undertaken by four different producers (well, one is a comedian), and Crimson Shroud happens to be an RPG title in the series by Yasumi Matsuno (Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy XII). This tabletop-inspired RPG features a soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto and his team at Basiscape, although Sakimoto handles most of the duties himself this time around.

If the concept of this game and the Guild01 series wasn’t enough to draw me in, the soundtrack certainly is. This is a signature Sakimoto soundtrack that will immediately remind you of the dark atmosphere he created with Final Fantasy Tactics. While I can skip the main theme (it does let you know that you’re in for a classic Sakimoto experience), it’s the dark and foreboding pieces that caught my attention, including “She Broke the Rules” and “The Crimson Shroud.” A few pieces are downright terrifying, with “You Have Erred” sporting heavy metallic clanging and “Your Time is Up” sounding like a death sentence with its minimalistic approach.

There are some typical adventure tracks, including “Show Your Mettle,” “They Haven’t Seen Us,” and the tense “The Last Thing.” There are also a few excursions from the dark and oppressive mood with the playful “No Picnic for Me” with live guitar and the emotional “Her Reputation Precedes Her” and “Was it All a Lie?” Even typing these track names have me excited about playing this game to find out what they’re all about.

Combine all of this with live orchestra throughout and a powerful ending theme titled “Sinner’s Requiem” to carry you on your way, and you have a winner. I have to play this game now, so hopefully we’ll see outside of Japan although I’m not holding my breath.

Etrian Odyssey IV Original Soundtrack
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Price: 3,360 Yen ($43)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Yuzo Koshiro

This is sure to be a controversial release. We already mentioned that Koshiro’s retro style FM synthesis sound is being swapped for a more orchestral/acoustic one for Etrian Odyssey IV. This is nothing new to hardcore fans of Koshiro’s music who have enjoyed the Live Music by Piano and Strings Super Arrange Album releases for both Etrian Odyssey and 7th Dragon which both received small chamber orchestra arrangements. They simply went the route of starting with this version this time around, as there will be a separate FM synthesis version of the soundtrack released at a later date.

With all of that out of the way, is the music any good? I think the dramatic and powerful opening theme will certainly draw you in. Yes, the orchestral sound doesn’t have that nostalgic charm, but it’s a great introduction to the epic fantasy soundtrack that follows. I found myself enjoying all of the labyrinth themes that include everything from a track drawing inspiration from Japanese oldies (it sounds just like a stroll in the park) to a dark and seductive theme featuring Norihiko Hibino on sax. There’s bombastic and adventurous and an amazingly smooth and jazzy track that sounds something like The OneUps would perform.

The battle themes are also very strong, bringing in electric guitar and combining it was brass and other orchestral instruments. I mentioned the battle themes made me want to play the game, and hearing more on the album only makes me yearn more for an announcement that this game will be released outside of Japan.

Now, did you have any doubt that Yuzo Koshiro would deliver? The music here is great, and even the lengthy three minute-long tracks get two loops. You should love this soundtrack, but if you’re left wanting something different, watch for the Super Arrange Version and FM version being released in September.

Lollipop Chainsaw: Music From the Video Game
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Price: $9.99
Availability: iTunes
Artist(s): Akira Yamaoka, licensed stuff

Lollipop Chainsaw turned out to be pure dumb fun, and I think the soundtrack falls right in line with that description. While I was initially bummed by the fact that Akira Yamaoka wasn’t handling the entire score, the licensed tracks end up being the most fun of all.

There’s “Lollipop” by The Chordettes which is downright silly, while the remaining tracks cover everything from death metal to nerdy with “Pac Man Fever” and the atmospheric electronic track “Empire State Human.” I have to say I like all of these. We get nine tracks from Akira Yamaoka which cover everything from punk rock in the incredibly catchy “Love for my Insane Lover” to disco funk in “Mirrorball Madhouse.” He jumps in on the death metal bandwagon with “Viking Zombies Sail On Lightning Seas,” but Yamaoka fans shouldn’t worry, he brings a lot of his traditional grungy rock to the table with “Zombie Guts” and “Bowel Purge.”

I had a blast with the soundtrack. Yamaoka did a great job writing tracks that were similar in style to the licensed tracks, and they all combine to form a pretty ridiculous soundtrack which is perfect for the game. Grab it from iTunes!

Sorcery Original Soundtrack From The Video Game
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Price: $19.98 (physical) / $9.99 (digital)
Availability: La-La Land Records / iTunes
Artist(s): Mark Mancina

I didn’t have high hopes for this game when it was announced a few years back at Sony’s press conference, and while it ended up coming off as mostly underwhelming according to our review, I think the music is simply fantastic. Composer Mark Mancina, a composer who’s worked mostly in film, does an excellent job combining Celtic influences with orchestral elements that create an appropriately big yet fun soundtrack experience.

While the tracks tend to fall on the shorter side, there’s not a single one that I found myself skipping. More often than not I’d activate my sleeping iPod to see which track I was listening to only to find I was doing this for nearly every track, which is a good sign. That Celtic influence enters right from the start with woodwinds and bagpipe in “Sorcery” and into the upbeat and energetic “The Mothertree.” There’s the ominous “Undead Soldiers” which provides some amazing ambiance before taking on a dark, swashbuckling swagger, the tense “Keymaster Battle” and “Endless Stair,” and the beautiful yet foreboding “Trouble is Brewing.” Playful didgeridoo is makes an entrance in “Bogey Village,” and there’s some acoustic guitar and bongos in the wonderfully-produced “Slumbering Palace,” leading up to the finale. The final battle theme adds in electronics, adding even more intensity to the final showdown.

This is really a great soundtrack. While there wasn’t a particular melody that stuck in my mind, the production and overall aesthetic of the score really struck me as memorable. Maybe people won’t remember the game for pushing the envelope with the PlayStation Move, but hopefully people will remember the great soundtrack.

SQ Chips2
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Price: 1,890 ($24)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Various Artists

This is the follow-up to one of Square Enix’s most popular arrangement albums in recent history. The SQ series pays tribute to Square Enix’s (and Squaresoft’s) musical heritage and SQ Chips sports 8-bit arrangements from every corner of their catalog. SQ Chips2 is no different, tackling some pretty obscure stuff including Tobal No.1, LIVE-A-LIVE and Bahamut Lagoon among others.

The album comes right out with a hard-hitting “Prologue Movie” from Final Fantasy Tactics, one of the best track on the album, followed by the drum ‘n’ chip “Clash on the Big Bridge” from Final Fantasy V. Other favorites include a fun and energetic take on “PRIMAL EYES” from Parasite Eve, a beautiful Chrono Cross medley, a playful “Fight With Seymour” (which I recently learned to love from playing Theatrhythm), a majestic and somewhat thought-provoking “Flight” from Xenogears, a sexy “Hometown Domina” from Legend of Mana, a swingin’ “Main Theme” from Final Fantasy that gets a J.S. Bach cameo, and finally a joyous “LIVE FOR LIVE” from LIVE-A-LIVE by the smiley SEXY-SYNTHESIZER.

Not every track stands out, but I think that says more about the nostalgia experienced with these songs more than the arrangements. It’s certainly a worthy follow-up with tons of great tracks and you need to pick it up for the price.

Sunsoft Music Collection Vol.1
Release Date: August 24, 2011
Price: 3,675 Yen ($46)
Availability: Limited
Artist(s): Various Artists

This is an interesting release from Sega’s Wave Master record label that came right on the heels of another Sunsoft music compilation by the City Connection label. While it’s a bit redundant, it looks like Sega is going the whole mile, as four volumes have already been released, and based on the cover artwork sporting the letters, S, U, N, and SO through volume 4, I imagine they have one more volume up their sleeve.

Across this three-disc collection you’ll find a lot of retro game music that admittedly sounds pretty terrible. Each CD does have a saving grace, however, with Ripple Island from the first disc standing out as the best soundtrack on the entire collection with its vibrant and catchy melodies. The second disc’s Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban has a track that sounds like Hiroki Kikuta’s Secret of Mana soundtrack and the third disc’s Shounen Ninja Sasuke has some cool ninja tunes, but even these only really stand out in comparison to some of the other drabble on the compilation.

That’s not to say the entire series isn’t worth your attention, however, as the second volume features the legendary score for Blaster Master! Skip this volume unless you’re a huge fan of a particular offering and save it for the later volumes. We’ll have reviews of those soon.

XI Chips – FINAL FANTASY XI Chiptune –
Release Date: July 13, 2012
Price: 1,800 Yen ($23) / 4,177 ($53)
Availability: Square Enix e-Store / CD Japan Special Order
Artist(s): Various Artists

Yes, there are two chiptune albums released by Square Enix recently. We already talked about SQ Chips2, but XI Chips is dedicated entirely to the tenth anniversary of Final Fantasy XI. It sports ten arrangements spanning over 45 minutes of music from several artists including the incredibly jubilant SEXY-SYNTHESIZER.

While SQ Chips2 is sort of a mixed back, the quality here is pretty consistent, and they don’t try to do anything more than providing 8-bit demakes of their respective tunes. The problem that some of chip arrangements get into is trying to be too complex, so these are a nice treat for those who loved the original melodies.

You have the classic and memorable march followed by SEXY-SYNTHESIZER’s medley of the town themes, which is easily the best track on the album. “Airship” from Final Fantasy XI has always been one of my favorite Uematsu compositions, and the version here is absolutely delicious. “Mog House” is another favorite of mine, and while a chip arrangement sounds and is rather strange, I have to say I’m glad it’s here. Both battle themes presented are straight to the point, but great, and the “Shadow Lord – Awakening” track is gritty and dirty, and makes a much better 8-bit track than I would have ever expected. DIRTY-SYNTHESZIER closes with “FFXI Opening Theme,” complete with digitized choir.

I really dig this CD. So for that reason, it’s unfortunate that Square Enix is distributing it more widely. It’s available in Japan via their e-Store, which only ships to Japan. CD Japan is doing special orders, but it’ll cost over double the normal price for them to secure a copy for you. Still, it’s a great CD for hardcore FFXI fans and chiptune connoisseurs.

Jayson Napolitano