Front Mission Original Sound Version
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First up for all of our rabid game music fans, it's the Front Mission 1 soundtrack review. If you want to see more, just go here for the rest of the Front Mission stuff.
To view our previous reviews, check out the archives
Back in 1995, Squaresoft partnered with G-Craft in order to create a futuristic strategy/rpg for the SFC. Barely a year after composing for Live-A-Live, Yoko Shimomura returns, but she is accompanied by a newcomer that will soon make herself known to the world, Noriko Matsueda. Both composers worked together on a very tight schedule, but in the end, both women managed to create one of the most interesting SFC scores : Front Mission.
One thing to notice is that both composers have their own unique approach at composing. Shimomura had handled most of the battle themes, which were full of intensity and power. A great example is the enjoyable “Take the Offensive”, which starts off similar to Live-A-Live’s opening theme, this theme is just as epic, heroic as they get. One of the faster-paced themes is “Manifolds Irons”, which has “panic” written all over it, this was used during enemy movement sequences during the first real battle, it was fitting as I was a bit nervous about losing on my first try into this game. The battle theme during your team’s turn, “Holic Shot”, comes armed with drums and trumpets, representing a huge conflict between Wanzers. “Hard Drag”, which is used during the enemy’s turn, is basic techno, but it still manages to get the point across that you need to watch yourself or you’ll end up messing up. “Win Back”, the first mission victory theme, is short and simple, but it makes the player feel the satisfaction of victory really well. Shimomura has a few more aces up her sleeve, such as the instrumental “Arena”, which gets you pumped up before you choose to practice against a fellow fighter. “Martial Ecologist” starts off with a rapid drumroll, then trumpets, drums and a bit of synth thrown in for good measure makes one of the more interesting battle themes. Shimomura’s staple organ touch makes an appearance in the gloomy and gripping “Destructive Logic”. The piece couldn’t be any better as you’re fighting against the ultimate evil, probably a political mastermind behind the entire mess, and it must be one heck of a wanzer to deserve such an awesome theme.
Matsueda chose a more modern, jazzy approach with her music. The most obvious example of this is “Shop”, it is mind-numbingly simple yet so catchy, and just gets you in the mood to lay back and take your time to choose your parts and items for your wanzers. It only gets better with “Bar”, a wonderful lounge jazz piece like no other, right here, Matsueda shows off her mastery of using a piano just right. More piano goodness is found in “Natalie”, it shows off the sweet side of the character, yet it carries hope into the piece as if she is encouraging her companions to hold on a little longer and they will succeed in overthrowing the mastermind behind a lot of chaos. Matsueda’s crowning achievements, however, are the two ending themes, being “Within Living Memory…” and “Next Resolution”. “Winthin Living Memory…” is a wonderful arrangement of Kalen’s theme, a tragic character. It starts off with wind sfx, then synth choirs come into play, it is almost depressing as you recall a certain tragic event, yet Matsueda turns the tide and makes it one of the most epic ending themes ever created. “Next Resolution” wraps it all up as you’ve managed to end this war between two governments, very similar to her future Bahamut Lagoon score. With these two themes, I think that Matsueda was the most talented of both despite the fact that she handled the less epic tracks.
Should you buy ? If you’re a Front Mission fan, you must own this soundtrack. Fortunately, it occasionally appears on eBay, and usually for about 30$ or less. Grab it if you can ! You won’t regret it.
Front Mission probably has the richest musical background of any RPG series I've seen. Sure, Dragon Quest has about 73 different specialty albums (DQ3 in Concert! DQ7 Shower Karaoke Remix! Best of Dragon Quest... on Kazoo!) and Final Fantasy and its offshoots have been around the block as well. But Front Mission's been handled by a multitude of artists, from the well-known Uematsu and Mitsuda to the experimental Riow Arai. Front Mission has seen five games and nine musicians, and only one of them -- Noriko Matsueda -- returned to work on a second FM soundtrack. The result is a brilliant combination of coherence and individuality. Each soundtrack blends together perfectly, often so well that it's impossible to guess which artist composed which track. At the same time, the soundtracks are all individually quite different from each other.
Front Mission 1 is a good place to start, not only because it's the first in the series, but also because it really shows the evolution of the later soundtracks quite well. The music is quite simple in structure, often having no key or tempo changes that make writing soundtrack reviews easier. The synthesizer used for the soundtrack sounds fairly dated, even for the Super Famicom days. Don't take these as negative qualities just yet... there's a lot more to the music than that.
The FM1 OST doesn't have a single specific genre. Actually, most of the songs don't really fit into any musical genre at all. One of the soundtrack's contributors, Yoko Shimomura, is well-known for creating music that defies normal classification. Even the moods are hard to define. Tracks like "Advanced Guard" and "Shallow Twilight" are great examples of music which shortly precedes or follows a battle. The former makes good use of drums and chimes to get more of a military feel, from the standpoint of a tactician -- which makes sense, since this track is played during the unit movement sequences. The latter is a slower event piece which uses percussion in the same way, but this time giving you the impression of a band of warriors after an exhausting battle. My personal favorite track on the OST, "Destructive Logic", is a wonderful buildup of tension. The rhythm is very slow, deliberate, and march-like. It features deeper harmonies and more variation than most of the other songs. Another good one that stands out a ways from the others is a piano duet titled "Elegie". It's a Classical-style piece that sounds very mournful, with interesting little intertwinings between the two parts. Beautiful pieces like this and "Destructive Logic" make me long for an orchestrated version of this soundtrack.
But Shimomura's contributions are not exclusively mood pieces, far from it. The main battle tracks are all hers, the ones that really get your blood pumping. "Holic Shot" and "Hard Drag" are probably the hardest of these, the most battle-ish. They don't consist of much more than pounding synth and drums, however, though they do get their point across. My preference leans toward the more involved "The Evils of War". Played during the enemy's tactical phase, this song definitely has a sinister twist about it. The harmonies here are really good, but I think it's the instrumentation that really drives the point home. Along a similar vein are the tracks "Martial Ecologist" and "Rage! Rage! Rege!" And as if this wasn't enough of a mix, Shimomura also throws in a couple of slow electronic tracks, like "Setting Up" and "Coaxial Town". The second of these is particularly cool, featuring instruments heard nowhere else on the entire CD.
As much as I am a big Yoko Shimomura fan, we can't forget the other musician who composed for Front Mission -- Noriko Matsueda. Most of her songs blend right in with Shimomura's, but some of them have minor instrumental differences that can be used to tell them apart. Careful listeners might recognize instruments from the Live A Live OST used in some of Shimomura's songs -- you'll find none of that in Matsueda's work. In general, Matsueda's tracks seem to be a bit more modal and jazzy. To put it in musical terms, where Shimomura's tend to be relatively black or white, Matsueda's are shades of gray. Some of them, like "Relative Thinking", don't even feature a strong melody, and instead rely on the background ambience to carry the mood. Speaking of jazz, "Bar" is exactly that. It's a simple little song whose inclusion really speaks volumes about the diversity of music in the soundtrack.
Sometimes even Matsueda likes to use black and white along with her shades of gray, though. "The General Situation" is by far the brighest song of Front Mission. It's very slow and brassy, and features probably the best instrumentation out of them all. The synth quality is so much better here, and it really brings out the richness of the harmony. "Natalie" is the counterpart, which is unmistakeably sad. Even here, though, we have the drums in the background to remind us of the military nature of the game, and of how these things happen in war. Again, this really makes me want a live orchestral version of Front Mission so very badly. :P
Probably my only complaint about this soundtrack would be the quality of the sound generating equipment. (Yeah, I never thought I'd be one to complain about that...) But let's face it, some music sounds just fine even cranked out of square wave generators, and some music just doesn't. For sure, Front Mission's outstanding soundtrack is not "ruined" by the sound quality, by any means. But it is a flaw. The music just begs to be played on real instruments, and I think that's the way the composers envisioned it. It's very good background music, and I think it's kind of hard to listen to in its present form in the background... it's just not smooth enough. Still, there are many things that aren't wrong with this OST. It's a great mix of several genres (and plenty of stuff that crosses genre boundaries), with almost no filler. It's interesting because I think this soundtrack, more than any other, embodies what I mean when I think of "pure" game music. It's not trying to emulate any existing style, but carving out something new. I think that's worth listening to.