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Presenting the most long-awaited soundtrack review in the glorious history of our reviews section... at long last... the Vagrant Story OST! *applause sign lights up*
To view our previous reviews, check out the archives
Hitoshi Sakimoto, one of the biggest names in VGM history, is chosen to write music for a very dark game, it is none other than Vagrant Story. Sakimoto is mostly recognised for his previous works being the Ogre Battle Series(with Masaharu Iwata and Hayato Matsuo) and the breathtaking Final Fantasy Tactics (with Masaharu Iwata). However, Sakimoto chose to go solo in Vagrant Story and the results are equally breathtaking. Sakimoto is also reputed to be well trained in a classical-orchestral style that probably even Koichi Sugiyama of Dragon Quest fame would envy of him, furthermore, all of his works as of far prove this reputation to be true. That’s enough about the genius, on to the music.
Disc 1 starts with « Opening Movie », right at the start, an assortment of instruments are used, such as a violin, cellos, trumpets, bells and some well placed percussions. « Greyland Event Climax » is the very epic track played in the opening scene, it starts off slowly, but then builds up into an orchestral masterpiece, this was the track that got me hooked on the OST. One of the early eerie tracks is « Closed Lea Monde », it starts off with some errie chorus like chants, then the drums and trumpets make their way, accompanied by a violin and harp, later on, the drums fall quiet and let the trumpets and harp take the lead role, till the violin and voices suddenly clash into the end. « Minotaurus » being the first boss track, starts off with violins and trumpets backed up by cellos and percussion, after a while, the cellos fall quietly while the trumpets and drums take the lead and the percussion ensues, till the track cycles for another round. « Rememberance » is one of the few beautiful tracks that aren’t evil, but light and happy. « Catacombs » is one of the better ambient tracks, although with it’s slow rhythm it sounds more like something you’d hear in a Resident Evil game, it’s gripping and very eerie. « Dullahan » is the second boss theme in the set, unlike Minotaurus, it relies mainly on percussion and the harp to bring in the sense of danger, which is fitting while fighting the headless knight. « A False Memory » starts off with weird chants, then we get an eerie melody backed up by bells, later one, a beautiful interlude takes place, then it falls quietly with a very fearful melody, the drums and percussion make their way, clashing every now and then, the harp reintroduces itself followed by those eerie chants. « Sanctum » is a brillant choral piece, and it hints mystery and uncertainty all the way through. « Golem » stands out from the other boss themes as it sounds out of place due to it’s techno-like sounds, but soon the percussions take place and it becomes yet another winner boss track. « Abandoned Mines B1 » defenately sounds foreboding with it’s « AHH!! » likes voices, the drums and percussion soon moves along creating an even more foreboding atmosphere, followed by more voices. « Crimson Blades » starts off with a violin then the trumpets and horns give way till the percussions continue throughout the track. It sounds quite sinister. « Wyvern » is one of the more slower boss tracks, all done with trumpets and horns, therefore representing the massive Grand Dragon all too well. « Snowfly Forest » sounds quite light-hearted yet somewhat mysterious with it’s violin and harp, it’s also one of the more beautiful tracks in the OST. « Brainwashing » sounds like something out of a movie score, I can imagine Sydney taking his poor victims and filling them with dark thoughts as this music plays, very good. « Rosencrantz » sounds very eerie as it starts off slowly, then builds up with the percussions and trumpets, halfway we hear something like a haunting wind that flows by, very well executed. That’s pretty much it for Disk 1.
Disk 2 had some filler tracks (IMO), so I’ll only comment about the ones I enjoyed, starting with « Abandoned Mines B2 ». This track sounds very good as it starts off with a chorus followed by the percussions and harp, followed by chants. « Iron Crab » starts off with a slow rhythm, then the percussions, drums and trumpets all join in to add an element of danger to the music. I especially like the part in which a drumbeat is rapidly played by the end of the loop, very interesting. « Dark Element » is yet another boss theme, some evil chants are introduced as they get louder and louder, then a bit of drum and percussions are introduced, followed by more eerie chants. « Ogre » starts off with a violin and percussions, then the drumbeat creeps in as the violin still gives off the sinister feel to the music, and a bit of trumpet is present before the track repeats. « Grand Cathedral » starts off with a lot of percussions and keeps the infectious beat till the end, not more comes to mind with this track, but I like it. « Ifreet » is big badass of the boss tracks, it’s simply packed with power, the violin and drums blend in so perfectly as it progresses then the trumpets and violins take the center role. It’s very epic, it’s the very best out of Sakimoto. (IMHO) « Fanfare » is equally awesome, the loud trumpets give in to the lovely harp solo at the end. « Truth » is simply mysterious but has a small hint of evil into it, I cannot describe it more than that, but it is very beautiful. « Deformed Person » is the final boss theme, it’s quite invigorating for a finall boss theme, but still, it’s not quite up to par to Altima : The Nice Body and Altima : The Perfect Body from Final Fantasy Tactics, yet, it still finds a place among the other winner Final Boss Tracks of it’s time. « Staff Roll » is the lovely ending theme, if you enjoyed FFT’s ending, you’ll go nuts about this one, a lovely 7 minute orchestral piece of beauty and originality. Well, that’s pretty much it, now comes the question « Should you buy it ? » Well….. if you’re a fan of the game and love Sakimoto’s works, the answer is yes. Otherwise, you might not enjoy the more ambient dungeon tracks of the set. A good thing about this CD is that it’s fairly abundant, so get your copy before you miss out on it !
From Hitoshi Sakimoto, one of the composers of one of my favorite soundtrack, Final Fantasy Tactics, comes no less than another wonderful masterpiece that is the Vagrant Story Soundtrack. Now many people who have actually played the game, which was another masterpiece itself, might argue that the game that is far from being true. The game itself was filled with rich ambient yet eerie song and a good dose of the best orchestrated battle themes to come on Playstation. They are truly the highlight of this soundtrack.
Disc 1 opens with the massive piece “Climax of Greiland Case”. The title could be more explicit. During it’s higher than normal length of twelve minutes, the song passes slowly from a low, calm and eerie melody toward a fast, action pact crescendo. The crescendo itself is truly the best part of the song. It feels like we’re part of a dangerous and incredible adventure. It truly gives off that sense of urgency. It ends suddenly to go back to go back to the slower rhythm of earlier. This truly reflects the climax of the song. “Minotauros” is the battle theme from your encounter with… but of course! The Minotaur! The way the violins go in their fast rhythms really gives that massiveness about the boss you’re facing. Through out the whole song is the sense of urgency is always present. It is one of the most spectacular battle themes that this soundtrack has to offer. “Catacomb” is one of the better ambient songs; there isn’t much to say as it stays slow and eerie all the time. Now “Durahan” starts off exactly like “Night on Bald Mountain”, one of the best known pieces of Mussorgsky which also played in stage 2 of Earthworm Jim. It’s quite eerie like the boss itself which is headless suit of armor. “Sanctum” is a note worthy choral piece, it sounds slightly mysterious though. “Golem” is another great battle theme, it’s fast paced and the infrequent use of percussions with the constant hammering of the piano is a welcomed addition to the rhythm of the songs. “Wyvern” is another battle theme, I like it a less because it’s slower than “Minotauros” and “Golem” and also because it’s mostly a trumpet and horn solo with a bit of drums. “Snowfly Forest” is quite a charmer with its harp, violins and chimes. It’s quite different from the rest of the soundtrack. It’s a lot cheerier and magical. More like a faerie forest to me. Another quite exceptional track would be “Undercity”, the slow chime with the ever growing base. You would never think that you’re in a ghostly undercity fighting zombies and ghosts. Makes me think of the necromancer in Heroes of Might & Magic 3, I’m not sure if it sounds like it though. Well this raps up the most noteworthy songs of disc 1.
Disc 2 like disc 1 starts very well with “Factory”, it is the only song that truly got my attention when I played the game, I found the flute solo to be quite catchy although it’s not really the kind of music I’d hear myself listening to when I’m forging weapons. Following right after is “Teager and Neech” a upbeat and fast percussion battle theme, the infrequent solos of violin, trumpet, flute and some sort of screeching noise gives it a nice maddening feel. “Abandoned Mines Level 2” is a nice ambient track that mixes nice harp, violins, percussions and eerie voices. “Tattoo of Reversed-Ank” is one of the better songs of the soundtrack. It starts off quite eerie with voice and background violins that build up to a climax where we introduce the trumpets to replace the violins. “Limestone Quarry” is a good piece where the violins, bells and the piano, together, play a rather dark song that slowly builds up to a rather fatal ending. “Orga” is another battle theme that fells rather massive with the use of violins, trumpets, percussions and a few appearances of bells. The violins and percussions are the instruments that do most of the job. “Ifrit” is truly the masterpiece of this soundtrack. This battle theme uses mostly violins and trumpets, but there are few times where you hear bells and the harp. Both the violins and trumpets do a very splendid job, the violins create a sort of nervous rhythm that the trumpets amplify with a “Watch out! Important person coming through” cry. The two combined form the base of this massive piece. “Fanfare” is a nice song. The trumpet intro followed the slow dying of the harp and violin is pretty sweet to the ear. “Large Chapel Garret” is a wonderful dark song that uses a slow piano solo and a great choir of voices to create a sad mood. “Truth” is also rather sad. The violins are the only instruments really noticeable in the piece; they still manage to do a superb job. . “Large Chapel Garret” and “Truth” are truly wonderful emotionally packed songs, enjoy them silently. Finally, “Staff roll” is definitely one of the better songs of the soundtrack. When you listen to it, it sounds more like a movie credit still everything is there to make a beautiful piece with violins, trumpets, flutes, chimes. It’s a slow powerful gripping song that slowly builds in intensity to very heart warming climax. In many ways, they remind me of the epilogue movie theme and staff roll music from Final Fantasy Tactics(Well they are from the same composer 8P).
Truly, Hitoshi Sakimoto has done it again. He was able to create something refreshing while keeping is dark and grave moodiness that he did for Final Fantasy Tactics. The Boss Themes are truly one of a kind and I have to thank him for using what sounds like real instruments because they really helped make this soundtrack what it was and also I like real orchestras! ^_^
This thing's so late, I make Macc look like he does things in advance. But it's here so its all good. Before talking about the music, something that's good to know about the music in this game is its purpose: it enhances the game. Vagrant Story is a very interesting game because everything is interconnected, everything works together. This whole is what makes Vagrant Story such a good game and having played the game, the music is also better appreciated, but even without that, the music is excellent. Being made by the same good people as FF Tactics, I wouldn't expect anything other than that. What's interesting about this game is how, in general, the music becomes more intense, the melody is more defined, more significant and sometimes, is played to reflect a part of the game very well, and I'll talk about that a little later. This has created a mix of ambiant and non-ambiant music which I like to call one of Squaresoft's best soundtracks.
This entire game plays like a movie. It builds up to a very explosive climax so many of the tracks reflect that with the choice and use of select instruments. The intro music goes with the intro scene and its not quite sure why or how, but its meant to get you buzzed and it does so pretty well. Many of the tracks throughout this game are remixes of the same few melodies and listening to the first few tracks makes one notice that later on in the soundtrack. Each remix stands on its own ground though and is played well enough so that nothing seems redundant. Obviously, since I mention this, you can hear it just starting in the first songs of the first cd of the soundtrack. The third track is particularly interesting because it combines a lot of the themes I've been mentionning, like how certain songs are played, Sydney's theme and the kind of thing you'd hear around the Church Knights. So its not surprising its a very long track. Its kind of like the introduction to a really good essay. You're given the layout of what everything's gonna be like.
So I mentioned the music develops, right? Well the next couple tracks, like Closed Lea Monde have a more ambient feel. I'm not a big fan of the minotauros song myself though, but its not that bad. Certain songs, like "remembrance", I'm not too fond of musically because of how cheery and ambient they are, though they serve their purpose in the game. So I'll just leave it at that. You can definetlyfeel some of the FF Tactics in this song, to name one. Its funny how you notice certain styles for composers. Though "Catacombs" is a rather boring track, the "Durahan" at least helps to wake you up after its dearyness. There's little I can say about "Durahan"other than it feels like they try to build up for too long. It builds up and builds up but it never really stops building up, it doesn't move on. I wish it did because the set up would've been really good. Very often songs come to a climax but occasionally the boss songs for VS don't and this is an example of something that could've been "really great" but falls down to being "good". Once you hit "Sanctum", things start to pick up and it has kind of a serene feel. The "aaahs" make it sound like one's wondering what's going, like one's investigating and discovering things which are surreal. The mixing of the ghostly chorus create a really nice feeling for the beginning of the game as the main character wonders what the hell is going on. Its a very well made song. Very pleasant to listen to. It makes it almost jolting when one has to hear "Golem" right after it. I like it, but you have to get used to it a little though, because its a strangely composed songs, but strange songs fit strange occasions. I'm also a REALLY big fan of percussion. My favorite songs usually have a lot of percussion in them, partially why I like these composers so much
because when they decide to make battle songs, the beat of the drums and such is awesome. This song also has a traditional japanese taiko drum feeling, which I think is awesome because I love taiko drums.
VS is an awesome game and listening to the soundtrack is almost like being walked through the game. So when one starts to listen to abandon, one notices the beat really start to pick up as the plot has started to unravel. This drummy song obviously has my seal of approval on it and unlike some boss songs, its not a build up to nowhere. Its not as good as certain other tracks though, like "Abandoned Mines Level 2" from the 2nd CD, which is basically Level 1 mixed with Sanctum. Very cool.
Certain songs like "Rabbit setting a trap" and "crimson blade" are good, as they're Guildenstern's theme and usually have a tinge of Sydney's in it, but musically, they're just not quite as good in terms of melody though they fit their purpose. I don't know what possessed them to make "Town Center of Lea Monde". It just...sticks out o_O.
What I find particularly interesting about "Snowfly Forest" is how well it captured the feeling of being lost. The way the piano is played gives it a feeling of "where do I go" and the climactic part of the song, the unfolding that seems to happen really symbolizes a particular character that will remain nameless. His desperation.
"Another Riskbreaker" is basically the mellow theme of "Rosencranz" and as his personality develops, the theme becomes "Curly" from the 2nd CD, each is played really well, but really differently and demonstrate what kind of person he is. Not only is it key to setting the mood for characterization, the combination of the instruments in each are key to the soundtrack. The very timing of "Curly" and the way that its played fits perfectly at the end of the soundtrack with other more pronouced and intense songs such as "The Great Cathedral", which is one of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack. Even though it departs into techno, which I tend to like less, the beat and combination of themes and the timing is perfect for it because at this point, the soundtrack needs a something that gets your blood going without being boss music.
There are other more ambient tracks such as "Orga" and "Dark Element" which play a role in the game and I'm not a big fan of tracks such as those so I won't say much.
Overall though, the soundtrack is very enjoyable and the progression of the tracks, the ups and downs, make it a very balanced and only help to enhance the game they were created for. I'd say more about the tracks, but I'd be repeating more of the same stuff. Being 2 CD, its a lot more concise than say, FF10, and you thus get a lot more good tracks per CD. There's a lot less filler in Vagrant Story than in most recent soundtracks.
Without a doubt, reviewing the Vagrant Story OST has been the toughest job I have faced since joining the music reviews team. The songs are so similar, and they're all pretty ambient, making a track-by-track review difficult. At the same time, all the good things about the soundtrack are so subtle that I find that I don't have much to say except... the VS OST is one of the best collections of game music ever to grace my ears.
But of course, dear reader, you require more than just a thumbs-up in order to justify investing your money in this album. I'll do my best to describe Hitoshi Sakimoto's unique style to you. While describing it as "ambient" would be mostly correct, it doesn't tell the whole story. My favorite tracks on the album, "Climax of the Graylands Incident" and "Staff Roll" are far from your traditional ambient music. These tracks, and others, would be best described as symphonic, nearly Classical in nature. At the same time, there is a strong Industrial influence as well as Tribal -- gotta love those percussion instruments and synthesized chanting.
You'll notice as you listen to the soundtrack that there are quite a few recurring themes. Some are more dominant than others, and I consider there to be three major ones that are the "driving force" behind the symphonic elements of the music. The first track on Disc 1 opens with one of these themes, and the second track with another. The third theme is found at the beginning of "Climax of the Graylands Incident" (which is, appropriately, track 3). This piece is, actually, a great cross-section of the entire soundtrack. You can find examples of each musical style Sakimoto uses, which is the reason this twelve-minute monster is one of my favorite tracks. Funny how a work like the Vagrant Story OST can be so ambient and so thematic at the same time. It reminds me in some ways of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring", a piece so dissonant and bizarre that even modern listeners today often have a hard time seeing its inner beauty.
Anyway, let's take a closer look at "Climax", shall we? As I mentioned before, it opens with major theme number 3 -- the most heroic-sounding of the themes, in my opinion, and also my favorite. After some brief interluding, one of the other major themes breaks through in a grand symphonic style, and the percussion starts to take off. The orchestra then fades away, and the clicking percussion instruments lull you into a sort of tranquil mood. At about 3 minutes into the song, though, the drums get much fiercer, and the rhythms more elaborate. Then things start to slow down, and the strings sort of play around with the percussion for awhile. At just under 5 minutes, these creepy sounds (I can only describe them as "jittery voices") start punctuating the slow stretched string passages. Eventually, the percussion starts to form a more regular rhythm, and turns into a battle-ish symphonic segment. At this point, we're about 8 minutes into the track. As this part begins to flesh out, we realize it's none other than the second major theme. The last minute of the piece slows down considerably, and plays a wonderful harmonious version of the first theme. Seriously, what more could you ask for in a song? This one has it all... great composition, gorgeous instrumentation, and many different levels to appreciate it on. I'd say it's a pretty fair representative of the soundtrack as a whole.
I guess I should take a bit of time and explain the two bonus tracks at the end of the ST. The first is a self-proclaimed "Fight Mix" of the opening movie, which is sort of a repetitive funk song with lots of weird effects thrown in. It's kinda cool while the first major theme is playing, but all the mix stuff in between the melodic passages just sounds like static to me. It closes with a little jazz ditty that sounds like it's being played on an old turntable. Bonus track 2 is called "Dungeon Robot Mix", and it's an odd little piece of Electronica. I can't figure out what original track it's supposed to be a remix of, however. Much like the other bonus track, it's rather repetitive... though this one has more compositional quality thrown into it. I really hate to spend time talking about these mediocre tracks while neglecting the vast majority of all the good songs on the soundtrack... but these were easy to single out. Trust me when I say that the other songs on the OST are much better.
What you end up with is a fusion -- no, more than that, a unification -- of several existing musical styles into something brand new. Parasite Eve is the only other soundtrack I've heard that comes close to the level of perfect integration that Sakimoto achieves with Vagrant Story. It's great for just about any type of listening, serious or casual... whether you listen to the whole thing from start to finish in one sitting, or just take little samples here and there. If you usually tend to listen to happy music like what you'd find in the Mario RPG soundtrack, VS might not be for you. If you're a fan of the darker side of game music, though, such as the Xenosaga OST, I can pretty much guarantee many hours of listening pleasure. If you don't really side with either camp, I still think many of you will love this one.