Note Worthy 009: Halo 4, Rock Man, Bravely Default, ACIII

Soundtracks you should be listening to!

We’re back to our regularly-scheduled Note Worthy with reviews for a number of highly-anticipated albums this month. I’ve been greatly looking forward to the Halo 4 soundtrack, and we have impressions of the entire contents of the limited edition set along with the two Rockman 25th anniversary arrangement albums.

Finally, we’ve got Bravely Default, Assassin’s Creed III, Epic Mickey 2, and more to round out of set of ten. And as always, we’ve got exclusive samples via our Soundcloud and have made efforts to link you to where you can hear this stuff even when we’re unable to stream them ourselves.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think of this month’s offerings! 

25th Anniversary Rockman Rock Arrange Ver.
Release Date: October 10, 2012
Price: 3,150 Yen ($40)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Various Artists

We’ve mentioned the Rockman 25th anniversary arrange albums a couple times now. They’re finally here, providing a tasty dose of arrangements from the core Rockman series, covering everything from the original up through Rockman 10. The rock album does a great job bringing in live electric guitar among other instruments, and will sufficiently rock your socks off.

LivestRow, a rock band comprised of members of Basiscape, starts us off with a fantastic medley from Mega Man 1-3, combining live guitar, bass, and synth with 8-bit sections that definitely have me wanting to hear more from the group.

Mega Man 2 gets lots of attention with a medley that visits some under-appreciated themes, while Hitoshi Sakimoto tackles “Metalman,” providing some convincing alternative metal while obscuring the melody to ensure you’re hearing something you’ve never heard before. Finally, “Wily 1” has to be attempted, with Kenji Ito taking honors by bringing in rock guitar, orchestral hits, and a playful and funky organ that makes this one of the most interesting arrangements of the track I’ve heard.

To rattle off a few more, I love the dingy Western-style “Darkman Stage” with a flute-like synth lead and acoustic guitar, the loungy “Dr.Wily Stage1 from ROCKMAN8,” the upbeat “Galaxyman,” and the female vocal accompaniment of “Splash Woman.” “Solarman from ROCKMAN10” gets an ethnic desert vibe in what’s one of the most authentic and epic rock experiences on the album, courtesy of Yoshitaka Hiroto, before “Wilyboss Medley” comes in equally powerful. The album closes with “Ending from ROCKMAN3,” a moody arrangement with female vocal yelling and again, great guitar work.

There’s a lot here to like. The artists don’t shy away from the real stuff, shredding through the series and serving up some great arrangements that you’ll want to check out if you’re a fan.

[Sound Samples]

25th Anniversary Rockman Techno Arrange Ver.
Release Date: October 10, 2012
Price: 3,150 Yen ($40)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Various Artists

Here’s the other half of the Rockman 25th anniversary arrangement albums. Our review of the rock album is above, so I’ll say that while there’s a lot more fluff on this album that didn’t really stick with me, the tracks I do like are probably my favorites from across the two albums.

I’ll start with what I like. Nobuyoshi Sano, who you may know from Ridge Racer and other titles, gives us pumping bass in “Title~Opening & Ending Medley from ROCKMAN1,2,” while Masaharu Iwata introduces an 80s vibe with funky bass and fun synth lines in “Hardman~Snakeman Medley from ROCKMAN3.” I don’t even really know Hardman’s theme, but I love it here.

The F-Zero-esque drum ‘n’ bass in the Darkman arrangement and Far East Recordings’s “cool” take on the strange “Dr.Wily Stage2 from ROCKMAN9” are awesome, but the star is, of course, Shinji Hosoe with “Mr.X Stage from ROCKMAN6.” His arrangement also delves into the 80s with some tasty synth pop, complete with octave-jumping bass, digitized vocal phrases, and thick synth chords with reveberating belltones, synths, and snare. It’s great!

In terms of what I didn’t care for, the stage select medley tried to cover too many themes in too little time, while the Mega Man 2 medley was too slow and subdued to get my blood pumping. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s “Pharaohman~Skullman Medley” is dark and bassy, but is repetitive and doesn’t do much over the course of five minutes, and the obligatory “Dr.Wily Stage1 from ROCKMAN2” (on every 20th and 25th Rockman arrange album) doesn’t add anything new.

I’d say most fans will want to pick up the rock version. However, Hosoe’s track and the Hardman arrangement in particular are awesome and worth checking out also.

[Sound Samples]

Assassin’s Creed III Original Game Soundtrack
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Price: $9.99
Availability: iTunes
Artist(s): Lorne Balfe

It’s always a bummer when a composer who’s been with a series from the beginning is dropped in favor of a Hollywood hot shot, but it’s hard to be mad this time around when the Assassin’s Creed III soundtrack is so good. I refer, of course, to series composer Jesper Kyd who co-composed Assassin’s Creed: Revelations with Lorne Balfe (a team member of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions) only to be replaced by him entirely for this game.

The music, however, is simply amazing. I would say that while the game’s setting is Colonial America, you only periodically get a sense of that, as most of what’s here is either cool, minimalistic electronic music or big orchestral/electronic hybrids. The game’s powerful main theme is a perfect example of the latter, and sets the stage for the memorable score that follows.

There are tons of great tracks, and I can’t really due them justice here in this review. However, the foreboding-turned-tense “Welcome to Boston,” the searing “A Bitter Truth,” the explosive “Trouble in Town,” and the soothing “HomeStead” are all wonderful. The heavy “Modern Assassin” and the melancholy “Desmond’s Destiny” also struck me, although the playful vocal track, “Needle and Stitch” will probably be most memorable among fans.

My personal favorite is “Through the Frontier,” an instant classic that incorporates exotic chants, tumultuous strings, and an pleasantly moody melody.

While I haven’t dabbled much in the Assassin’s Creed universe, I’ve loved its music. Balfe does a fantastic job and creates what is easily one of my favorite soundtracks of the year.

Bravely Default Flying Fairy Original Soundtrack
Release Date: October 10, 2012
Price: 3,200 Yen ($39)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Revo

The announcement of Bravely Default Flying Fairy was a pleasant surprise. The announcement that Revo would be handling the soundtrack was another. For those who are unfamiliar (as I was), Revo is founder and head of the Japanese project group, Sound Horizon, which has produced a number of highly-acclaimed concept albums in the past.

This soundtrack in particular is a curious one as it attempts to give listeners that traditional JRPG sound with rockin’ battle themes and fantasy-tinged dungeons and towns, etc. while raising the bar on quality by bringing in a huge group of live performers. He’s even brought on Motoi Sakuraba who you may know from Dark Souls or the Star Ocean and Tales franchises.

There’s a big bombastic orchestral opening theme that admittedly doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but it does demonstrate that melody plays a huge role on this soundtrack. The whimsical “The Beginning Country,” the adventurous “Horizon of Light and Shadow,” the sweeping and emotional “The Day the Wind Blew,” the ethnic “The Fascinating Flower Country,” and the jubilant flight theme, “Ship Soaring Through the Heavens,” all stand out. My personal favorites are the serene “Silence of the Forest” and the more foreboding “Cave of Darkness” dungeon themes, however.

But then there’s plenty of catchy rock, including “Conflict’s Chime” with its powerful brass accompaniment, the lightning-fast “That Person’s Name Is,” and the flamenco-flavored “Love’s Vagrant.” The end of the two-disc soundtrack features some of the best, with several lengthy rock fests that really hit the spot and close out the album on a high note. The final word comes as vocal ballad between Revo and Joelle (from Final Fantasy XIII-2) incorporating the main theme.

In all, this is a fantastic soundtrack with some excellent packaging. Check it out and join me in hoping this game leaves Japan.

[Sound Samples]

Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two Original Game Score
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Price: $7.99
Availability: iTunes
Artist(s): Jim Dooley

Jim Dooley returns to score Epic Mickey 2, bringing more musical wonder and the addition of musical numbers that really give the album a distinct Disney quality.

Before we get into those, however, the rest of the music will also put you in a Disney frame of mind with the opening theme, “Yen Sid’s Lab,” bringing in a nostalgic Disney theme. The remainder of the score visits the spectrum from whimsical to mischievous that you’d expect from an adventure starring Mickey Mouse.

On the whimsical side, “Autopia Exploration” is probably my favorite with its playful horns and adventurous strings. I admittedly found myself more drawn to the mischievous tracks, however, including the foreboding and desolate “Mean Street,” the spooky “Floatyard” (my favorite track on the album), and the tumultuous “Dioramas.” The tense music that accompanies the final area, accented by the sounds of ticking clocks, is also great.

And about those musical numbers. There are a good six or so of them here, which help tell the game’s story through its music, which is a nice touch. They’re tasteful and entertaining with clever lyrics, and are the highlight of the album. Bits and pieces of the lyrics are also used in the final track on the album, a heavy electronic remix titled “A Heroe’s Second Chance,” that, while cheesy, is intentionally so, and is still fun to listen to in context.

Overall, This is a great score thanks to the added musical numbers. Fans of Disney will definitely want to check it out even if they skip the game.

Release Date: November 6, 2012
Price: $74.99 (LE) / $13.99 (standard, physical), / $9.99 (standard, digital)
Availability: Halo 4 Soundtrack
Artist(s): Neil Davidge

This is easily one of my most anticipated soundtracks of 2012. I loved the Metroid-esque stuff I was hearing in the E3 build earlier this year, so I had high expectations for this soundtrack release. It mostly delivers, providing a cool blend of electronic-infused orchestral music that, while different from what’s come before, still feels at home in the Halo universe that I know.

The introductory track, “Awakening,” is one of my favorites, with chugging synth lines, big orchestral stabs, and a great piano/synth melody that sets the tone for the rest of the album. With only fifteen tracks, however, don’t expect this to be the entirety of the game score, which is where a tinge of disappointment comes in on my part. I loved what I was hearing in-game, but there are mostly big cinematic cues found on this album, probably giving us a musical walkthrough to the game’s story as opposed to getting into the detailed ambiance of the Halo 4 universe.

Still, there’s a lot to like, including the emotionally sweeping “Requiem” and “To Galaxy,” the expansive then tense “Haven,” the sleep-inducing “Solace,” the dark and ethereal “Immaterial,” and the bittersweet “Green and Blue.”

The limited edition boasts a second disc full of remixes that actually stand out even further in my mind. If you think the OST is too cinematic, the remix disc goes in a much more hard-hitting electronic and melodic direction. All of it’s gold and worth checking out, but I will call out “Awakening,” ” Ascendancy (Matt Lange Remix),” the hip-hop style “Green And Blue (Andrew Bayer Remix),” and the rockin’ Apocalyptica version of “The Beauty Of Cortana” as my favorites. Our unboxing video shows off all the contents, and the included hour-long DVD also gives a lot of information about Neil Davidge and the score.

Ragnarok Odyssey Original Soundtrack
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Price: Not for Sale
Availability: Mercenary Edition bonus
Artist(s): Kumi Tanioka

Hopefully you’ve already read and listened to our feature on this game’s music. Kumi Tanioka, while not soundTeMP by any stretch of the imagination, does Ragnarok Odyssey her way, infusing a sometimes-tense and sometimes-whimsical fantasy backbone into the game. I do love the distinctly “gamey” sound with a emphasis on great melodies which is what Ragnarok Online’s soundtrack was all about.

After a bombastic opener, we get into the good stuff with the upbeat and adventurous “Shining Plains” and the more exotic “Ydalir Grand Canyon” and “Leading the Giants” with some lovely woodwinds calling out into the distance. There’s the contemplative “Gaze Upon the World Tree,” the measured yet dreamy “Astride the Flying Steed,” the minimalistic “The Depths of a Dark Love,” and the “Eagle-eye Throne” with some great synth choir. The sleep-inducing new age “Yggdrasil” is another great moment on the album, as is the sweet Celtic ballad that explodes into the main theme, “Ragnarok Odyssey,” which closes out the album.

Things get more tense with rapid string stabs and explosive percussion in “Truth of the Sundered Land” and the “dirty” and grungy “GREN/DEL” is probably my favorite track on the album. There’s also the dark and foreboding “The Ruins of Glast Heim” and the epic finale found in “From the Edge of Vigridr” and “Twilight of the Gods.”

In all, this is a fantastic soundtrack, and is worth the extra $10 alone for the Mercenary Edition of the game which also includes trading cards and a strategy/art book.

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One Original Soundtrack
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Price: $9.99
Availability: iTunes
Artist(s): Michael Bross

Okay, so Jim didn’t like Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One very much, and yes, the game’s old news, but the game’s soundtrack composed by Michael Bross was just released a few months back. Given Bross’s involvement with amazing Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath soundtrack, I went into the All 4 One soundtrack with high expectations.

Those specifically looking for the gritty electronic stylings found in Stranger’s Wrath may find themselves disappointed. Bross has really embraced the lighthearted nature of the Ratchet & Clank franchise and has adopted a more cinematic orchestral approach that fits this franchise quite nicely, but rest assured, he also works in a healthy dose of electronics to lend the soundtrack a cool edge overall.

This combination of cool electronics and bombastic orchestral elements is displayed right out of the gate with the hard-hitting “All 4 One” main theme. It sports a great melody that that is suitable for a superhero.

The synth-heavy “Luminopolis Rooftops” is another highlight along with the more measured “Journey Through the Forest” which features some lovely belltone arpeggios. The majestic “Vertigus Cliff,” the sneaky “Interlopers,” the tense Hollywood espionage “We Descend” and “Polar Sea,” and the spacey “They Came During the Night” also tie in electronic elements very tastefully. Coming in towards the end, the minimalistic and contemplative “Terawatt Power Station” will remind you of some of Bross’s solo electronic work, which is a nice touch.

The verdict: maybe the game wasn’t worth your attention, but the soundtrack is worth checking out if any of the iTunes samples catch your fancy.

Takeaki Kunimoto WORKS ~Hitsuji no Oka~
Release Date: August 3, 2012
Price: 2,100 Yen ($27)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Takeaki Kunimoto

SuperSweep strikes again with its WORKS series, highlighting an important figure in game music that many may not have heard of by name. Takeaki Kunimoto is known for his work on early Hudson titles, and more specifically on Star Solider, Milon’s Secret Castle, Mickey Mousecapades (LOVED this game!) and Bomberman. This album features live performed arrangements of music from some of these games along with original tracks.

The album’s ten tracks are performed live. The recording isn’t as clear as one might hope, almost sounding like a bootleg recording, but this does lend the album a certain retro charm.  It’s also interesting to note that among the large list of performers is Shawn Phase of Temp Sound Solutions, which is a surprise.

Kunimoto’s originals cover a lot of different territory, from the jubilant opening track that uses squeak toys as an instrument and a poppy vocal theme to a heavy electronic track (still focusing on an upbeat melody) and even a smooth jazz track with some live sax.

The remixes are equally fun, with the Challenger track opening with the sound of blowing into a cartridge before guitar carries the listener through various themes, and Star Solider getting an introductory 8-bit intro before some big space rock kicks in. Hector ’87 starts with sexy electronic piano and funky bass before wailing electric guitars come in to electrify the atmosphere, and Milon’s Secret Castle works 8-bit sound effects into the acoustic guitar and vocal children’s song.

This album is a lot of fun despite the sound quality and 35-minute play time. It’s a shame it’s not cheaper to allow for more accessibility, but if you’re a fan of any of the titles featured, this may be worth checking out.

TIME TRAVELERS Original Soundtrack
Release Date: August 8, 2012
Price: 3,500 Yen ($42)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Hideki Sakamoto

Know Hideki Sakamoto? You should. Everything he touches turns to gold. He’s best known for echochrome, but his studio, noisycroak, has been behind a string of amazingly well-produced soundtrack releases, several of which we’ve covered in Note Worthy, including his amazing rock band, TEKARU, which covers his game works.

Time Travelers is a three-disc soundtrack with a lighthearted approach, tackling lots of emotional ballads and comical tunes that exaggerate the musical themes of heroism and silliness. This is best highlighted through the game’s many vocal themes, including the instantly catchy “Dr Schrödinger, tell me please? (Mikoto’s Theme),” an upbeat rock tune that was covered on TEKARU MECHANICAL. There’s also a great electronic vocal theme, and two strange male vocal themes with lyrics in heavily-accented English that are sung in a weird way that somehow meshes with the rest of the material on the album.

Other exaggerated themes include the generic “Love Ballad” that sounds like it was written on a Casio keyboard, and “An American Joke” which tackles patriotic American music. There are some breaks into more electronic-oriented themes that go for atmosphere and are a bit on the repetitive side, as well as jazz and some other unsettling pieces here and there, but the stars are the previously-mentioned vocal themes and the orchestral ballads. There’s tons of live music here, and the effort really shows through the quality of the music.

This is definitely worth checking out if you’re a Sakamoto fan or if you want to get more into his works. I don’t know if this is the best starting point for the latter (echochrome ii is probably my favorite work by Sakamoto, and earned him a world record for longest game music song ever).

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Jayson Napolitano
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