Note Worthy 012: Final Fantasy Vocal/Orchestral, Wizardry

Soundtracks you should be listening to!

Do you like Final Fantasy music? This month we’re reviewing both Final Fantasy Orchestral Album and Final Fantasy Vocal Collection, both of which we’ve been greatly looking forward to. We’re also looking at the latest DJMAX title for the PSP, Wizardry Online, a classic Cave shooter collection that puts three out of print soundtracks in your hands, and a pretty stellar eroge (erotic game) soundtrack.

There’s all of this and more. Plus, we’ve got samples courtesy of Destructoid’s SoundCloud account. So let’s jump in.

DJMAX TECHNIKA TUNE Original Sound Track
Release Date: September 27, 2012
Price: 8,190 Yen ($90)
Availability: Out of Print
Artist(s): Various Artists

I love the DJMAX series. Actually, I’ve only played the arcade-based TECHNIKA series, but the K-pop heavy soundtracks has always been some of my favorites. With recent DJMAX soundtracks rehashing a lot of music, I’ve admittedly been a bit disappointed, but DJMAX TECHNIKA TUNE remedies that somewhat.

There’s a healthy portion of new tracks (about half of a disc’s worth), bringing back everything that made me fall in love with the franchise in the first place. There are some great pop offerings right out of the gate with the smooth “Take on Me” by Cuve, the bubbly “Shining my Boy” by Astro Kid, and the dreamy “Silent Clarity” by Tsukasa. The game’s main theme, “The Max” by NDLee, is also a lot of fun with its heavily-accented English that still manages to leave an impression for all the right reasons.

There’s the usual eclectic offerings, including makou’s joyous Celtic track, “Emblem,” tasteful alternate rock with Planetboom’s “Brand NEW Days,” and an amazing rock remix of ESTi’s “Oblivion,” one of the best DJMAX tunes ever, by NieN.

From there, the remaining disc-and-a-half revisits old material, but fortunately many classics are featured, including tracks by DINY, Nauts, Lin-G, Shinji Hosoe, and a few of my favorites that I’ll call out by name: BJJ’s “First Kiss,” Rex’s amazing ballad, “Propose, Flower, Wolf Part. 1,” and what’s easily one of the most catchy DJMAX tracks of all time, “HeartBeaT Part.2” by NDLee. The album closes with extended versions of some of the best new tracks, including “The Max,” “Silent Clarity,” and “Shining my Boy,” along with tracks used for the game’s menus.

In all, I’m happy with the new material presented here, and the booklet included features extensive credits, lyrics, and commentary on every track. The set also includes a visual art book and a screen cleaner. It’s a great package with some great music.

Donpachi / Dodonpachi / Dodonpachi II Soundtrack
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Price: 3,150 Yen ($35)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Various Artists

This album is a big deal. This series is from Cave’s early days, and the shmups featured some pretty twisted stories along with the standard electronic and rock soundtracks. Unfortunately, the soundtrack albums have since gone out of print, and here’s SuperSweep to the rescue with the music to the first three games in the series.

Donpachi from 1995 didn’t really strike my fancy. It features some dated orchestral sounds without much in the way of a memorable melody. The funky name entry theme is probably my favorite of the bunch. Likewise, the Dodonpachi II soundtrack doesn’t really have a lot going for it, but you may want to take note of the third stage’s battle theme that blatantly rips the Final Fantasy IX battle theme.

Where it’s at is the Dodonpachi soundtrack. Serious electronic music marks its entrance before it launches in live wailing electric guitars in the stage themes, all of which are amazing. The ending themes also stand out for their pop approach. It’s a shame that Dodonpachi II was such a step backward from the amazingness that is Dodonpachi.

The album includes a second disc that really isn’t worth your time. It features the mono output versions of the Donpachi and Dodonpachi soundtracks (why does anyone want this?) and one of the console ports of Dodonpachi II.

As somebody who’s never played these games, I can’t recommend this album to anyone but the most hardcore fans, but hey, I’m glad it’s out there for those who were looking for the out of print originals.

Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Price: $19.99
Availability: Bundle Exclusive
Artist(s): Periscope Studio

While Allistair wasn’t thrilled about the PC adventure title, Harvey’s New Eyes, one of the few highlights he noted was the game’s soundtrack. As “one of the best released [last] year,” I thought I should probably check it out.

The 30-minute soundtrack comes bundled with the two games (Harvey’s New Eyes is a sequel) along with some other goodies. The track names are in German, so I won’t bother you with them, but I’ll say that what little is here is good, and as you’d imagine from the description Allistair gives of the game, the music is quite eclectic.

There’s a catchy main theme that sounds like something out of a French café with the use of accordion and some dreamy acoustic guitar as well as a vocal version of the theme with German lyrics that comes later (an English version is available as well). Two organ pieces are featured, which is good for me as it’s one of my favorite instruments. They’re quite ominous, and probably my favorite tracks here. There’s a desolate desert right out of a Western film, a weird tribal track with most of the sounds made using the human voice, dark and broody jazz with a walking bass and all kinds of unsettling sound effects, and a tense orchestral/electronic fusion that comes in towards the end sounding like something Craig Armstrong would write for a big Hollywood action film (that means good).

But before it starts, it seemingly ends. I’d love to hear more of this, as it’s all very well produced. It’d also be nice to see it available online outside of the bundle. I can’t say it’s really one of the best of 2012 given how little there is, but it is quite good.

FINAL FANTASY Orchestral Album
Release Date: December 26, 2012
Price: 5,250 Yen ($56) (standard) / 7,800 Yen ($84) (limited)
Availability: CD Japan (standard / limited)
Artist(s): Various Artists

Well, here it is. We’ve been super excited for this album, and I already unboxed the limited edition for you. And now we have impressions of the over two hours of music featured.

As the name suggests, this is all live orchestral music, most of which was recorded in Prague specifically for this album. Some tracks are borrowed from previously-released orchestral albums, which, while a little disappointing, could have been excluded altogether, so they’re still nice to have here.

The arrangements and recording are all fantastic. You get two different medleys from Final Fantasy I-III that open the album, a new and amazing “Battle With the Four Fiends” from Final Fantasy IV, a regal arrangement of the Final Fantasy V main theme, and an awesome atmosphere in “Phantom Forest” from Final Fantasy VI. There’s a new version of “Maria and Draco” in Japanese (I prefer the English versions found elsewhere without the narration) followed by borrowed arrangements from the Final Fantasy VII Reunion disc that are still fantastic.

A big deal was made of Crystal Kay recording “Eyes on Me.” She does a great job, but I must say I prefer the original Faye Wong, or even FFXII’s vocalist, Angela Aki’s, version. We get an unexpected new track from Final Fantasy IX, “Unexpected Feelings,” which comes as a moving ballad with sweeping strings. Final Fantasy XII gets orchestrated for the first time with “The Dalmasca Estersand,” which is easily one of my favorite tracks. The album closes out with a 15-minute medley of battle themes from across the entire franchise, and while I typically don’t like medleys (not enough time is devoted to each track), this one kicks some serious ass.

All of this, plus the fact that this comes on a Blu-ray disc. Pop it into a Blu-ray player and it shows you the logo and track title for each track and displays lyrics in real time. Look at photo galleries from the recording session, listen to original soundtrack versions of the tracks to compare with the arrangements, download MP3s of the album to your computer, and watch a number of promotional videos for this and other recent albums. It’s a nice package, and that doesn’t even include the vinyl that comes packed in with the limited edition.

Square Enix knocked the ball out of the park with this one. Get it before it becomes as difficult to come by as past Final Fantasy orchestral albums.


FINAL FANTASY Vocal Collection
Release Date: January 30, 2013
Price: 3,150 Yen ($35)
Availability: CD Japan / Play-Asia
Artist(s): Various Artists

Here we are with Square Enix’s first album of 2013. It’s a compilation of vocal themes from across the series. Crazy that they finally have enough of it to fill a CD!

Final Fantasy fans should already be aware of most of what’s here. “Eyes on Me” from Final Fantasy VIII was the first, and is still one of my favorites. Faye Wong is awesome. “Melodies of Life” from Final Fantasy IX is sweet, coming off as a children’s song, while “Suteki da ne” and “Otherworld” from Final Fantasy X explore different styles (ballad and hardcore metal). “Distant Worlds” from Final Fantasy XI has grown on me over the years, but original vocalist Izumi Masuda is almost a joke compared to the Susan Calloway version heard in the Distant Worlds concert tour. Final Fantasy IV DS also gets some love with the amazing vocal rendition of “Theme of Love.”

From there, “Kiss me Good-Bye” by Angela Aki is my favorite Final Fantasy vocal theme. Final Fantasy XII wasn’t my favorite, but this pop ballad is so powerful and moving. Even lesser-known material follows, with the two vocal themes from Final Fantasy XIII’s Japanese release. They’re very convincing J-pop ballads, showing off Hamazu’s versatility, but don’t resonate with me much since they were swapped out in the international release of the game.

Finally, we get the original recording of “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV (a live version was featured on the Distant Worlds: Returning Home album), and it features the previously-mentioned Susan Calloway. It’s similar in style to “Distant Worlds,” with epic choir and moving vocal passages, but it explodes with electric guitar and rock organ, making for a very memorable experience.

There are many fans out there like me who already own all of this music. The only exclusive is the in-game version of “Answers,” but if you’re a fan who doesn’t own many of these OSTs already, this is worth picking up to catch up on your Final Fantasy vocal history. It’s just a shame that RIKKI’s “Pure Heart” (an arrangement of “Aerith’s Theme”) wasn’t included!

HFB: PixelJunked – The Original Soundtrack to Shooter 1 & 2
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Price: $7.99 (PlayStation Store) / $9.99 (iTunes)
Availability: PlayStation Store / iTunes
Artist(s): High Frequency Bandwidth

After not caring much for the PixelJunk: Eden soundtrack last month, I didn’t have high hopes for Shooter. I haven’t played Shooter, but I thought I’d give the soundtrack a try. As it turns out, I like it. A lot.

In the album’s booklet, they classify the music as “chill hop.” This suits the album quite nicely. There’s a great spacey atmosphere with lots of reverb, exotic sound effects, and some fantastic beats. This soundtrack is actually a series of arrangements from one of HFB’s previously-released albums, with these mixes made exclusively to fit the areas of the game. They say it took them longer to remix the existing tracks to use in the game than it would have to write new ones.

Right out of the gate with “Hundred Forty Billion” there’s a thick chill out vibe. You’ll hear lots of electric piano and gamey sound effects. “Happy Funkin’ Birthday” sports gritty electronics, lots of bass, and is dark, while “Hill Film Blue” takes orchestral elements such as pizzicato strings and mixes them with spooky synths from outer space. The fat snare hits and exotic chants in “Hell Fire and Brimstone” are startling, while “Hidden Foto Banks,” my favorite track, is super funky with robotic vocals.

There’s dreamy encompassing bass in “Nano Bytes,” icy hip-hop with rap lyrics in “More or Less,” scratching in “World Ghetto,” and some cool wah-wah guitar work and bells that remind of Shatter in “Come on Down.” The moody filtered guitar work in “Godisnowhere” had me thinking Dexter, and the final track, “Hippy in Transit,” won me over with its crystalline bells and electric piano runs.

I guess I should listen to the original source tracks before I get so excited about this album, but as it is, this is some great music. After looking at gameplay videos and listening to this soundtrack, you’d think they were made for one another. The music is mixed into the game in an interactive way, where the music picks up and gets more lively as you approach enemies. It’s really cool, so get it!

Le Labyrinthe de la Grisaia Soundtrack & Theme Collection
Release Date: March 7, 2012
Price: 2,800 Yen ($28)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Elements Garden

I was curious about this soundtrack based on the involvement of Elements Garden, a Japanese-based group of composers who’ve put out some great material in the past (see their VGMdb credits here). After listening and doing some research as to what the game was all about, the music presented here made a lot more sense: it’s an adult visual novel game for PC.

What you have is a number of catchy J-pop theme songs for the game’s various characters and a lot of pop-oriented instrumental music. The production values are high, with some great strings and piano, and there are a lot of upbeat melodies and soothing backdrops (this album threatened to put me to sleep a few times), but there admittedly isn’t a wide emotional range covered with the tracks here. Even “the murder,” which introduces electronic elements, sounds kind of bubbly. The tracks are also a bit on the short side at generally under two minutes in length.

The vocal themes are pretty good. “World End,” which acts as the main theme, is the most adventurous of the pack, while my favorite track, “Crystal Clear,” acts as one of the character’s ending themes, throwing in a funky bass line and some snappy percussion to mix things up

Overall, this is some great music by Elements Garden. Even if I never play the game, I can appreciate what they’ve done, but it is a bit weak in terms of variety.

MUSIC GUNGUN! Best Hit Tune!
Release Date: August 31, 2012
Price: 2,625 Yen ($33)
Availability: Limited (Amazon JP)
Artist(s): Various Artists

This is the soundtrack to MUISC GUNGUN!, an interesting arcade rhythm game where you shoot things in time with the music. The game was released by Taito and featured a lot of original pop and rock tunes along with arrangements from various videogames. With Taito’s relationship with Square Enix, there are also tracks by Takeharu Ishimoto (The World Ends With You) and Masashi Hamauzu (Final Fantasy XIII). Get ready for some upbeat pop, rock, and electronic music with interspersed vocaloid.

Honestly, only a few of the originals stuck out to me. I loved “Beat the Sound” with its grungy rock sound, the super catchy “MUSIC STAR” which is sticky sweet in its pop incarnation and equally hip when it later gets a rock version. There’s a cool rock track that reminds me of Castlevania, but two of the highlights are “Dreamer” by Takeharu Ishimoto, which sounds like it’s right out of The World Ends With You, and “Shooting Star” by Masashi Hamauzu, using his signature strings and electronics with Mina (see our Black Ocean review) on vocals.

In terms of remixes, they’re all fairly straightforward. There’s Bubble Bobble, which I love, complete with the hurry up jingle and increased tempo, as well as Elevator Action, the popular horse race jingle, and lots of other classical tunes that include a rock version of “Air” by Bach and an electronic “Swan Lake.”

Overall, there wasn’t a lot here that stuck with me. The major things that caught my interest were Hamazu and Ishimoto’s involvement and the remixes. While the former are great, they only get a single track each, and the later aren’t worth the asking price.

Sengoku BASARA HD Collection Original Soundtrack
Release Date: September 5, 2012
Price: 2,500 Yen ($27)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Various Artists

For the uninitiated, the Sengoku Basara franchise tends to feature a lot of Japanese-flavored rock. That is, lots of chugging and wailing electric guitar with the addition of Japanese instruments like the shakahauchi and koto. This album, which is a companion piece to the HD collection (containing three HD remakes from the franchise) is no different, but the great thing is that the focus of these soundtracks is on character themes, so they really explore a lot of territory trying to give each character a distinct personality through their theme.

The album sports everything from rock with orchsetral influences to pumping electronic tracks, playful jazz, and more. I would say that while the 36 tracks featured tend to be on the shorter side, at least there’s a lot of variety. The guitar work throughout is quite nice, although the strings aren’t very convincing, having a distinctly retro quality that I actually found quite enjoyable. This music, like the game, doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There’s one track with a bumping electronic bass that had me thinking of Ninja Gaiden, while a jazzy tune with a walking bass line and big brass and a foreboding track with guttural electronics and a defiant French horn really stood out. There’s some organ, drum ‘n’ bass, and even a romantic cue thrown into the mix as well.

This album is a good pick up for those who haven’t explored the music of Sengoku Basara before, while those who already own some of the previously-released soundtracks may just see this as a way for Sony to milk more money out of music they’ve previously released. Be that as it may, I like it.

Wizardry Online Original Sound Track
Release Date: November 7, 2012
Price: 3,300 Yen ($36)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Akimasa Shibata, Kenji Ito

We’ve mentioned Wizardry Online a couple times recently. What you have is the classic dungeon crawler, now online, and man, the music is fantastic.

After a sweeping orchestral theme by Kenji Ito (Romancing SaGa series), there are all the typical RPG trappings, including soothing town themes, dark and foreboding dungeons, heart-wrenching ballads, and an occasional playful moment here and there. It’s all wonderfully produced, and a lot of what’s here takes on a rather ominous tone that I think is perfect fit for the Wizardry franchise.

There are some exotic twists thrown into the mix, including several tracks with tribal chants and rhythmic percussion, as well as a few Western-sounding soundscapes, and these are also enjoyable. The end of the album goes out with a bang, introducing some more action-oriented pieces that combine orchestral and electronic elements that really get the blood pumping.

There are several tracks that really stand out on this soundtrack. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of music from Wizardry or RPGs in general. There’s over an hour and a half of music to enjoy, so dig in!

Jayson Napolitano