There was an explosion, and subsequent saturation, of the RPG market for Japanese gamers around the close of the 8-bit decade (1989-1990). NEC's PC-Engine was privy to a swarm of RPGs from all manner of developers. It's difficult for an American to fathom the size and scope of the saturation, and it's also very difficult for a completionist like me to dig up the history, including the musical history.
But there were a lot of great soundtracks PC-Engine RPGs. One that I recently stumbled upon was "Phantasie RPG Amaranth." I don't know what's up with the intentional mis-spelling. It's like, "well, Phantasy Star bastardized the word 'Fantasy,' so let's take it one step further!" Regardless of naming convention, the music is pretty commonplace for a PC-Engine title. Standard PC-88 and FM synths are used alongside some live-instrument recorded tracks (which would've been put into the game as CD-quality Redbook Audio).
Composer Izuri Aki seems to have a similar proclivity for synths, drum&bass, and progressive rock as Motoi Sakuraba. But the limitations in the synth make for a very different recording than what you'd hear from Sakuraba. Indeed, the soundscape, almost by default, makes it sound more like Falcom Sound Team JDK than Sakuraba. Whatever the case, this historical relic is a unique blend of sounds that VGM scene newcomers might be surprised to hear.
The blend of life-like guitars and drums with painfully obvious "artificial" synths is the hallmark of PC-Engine soundtracks. And Amaranth is no exception. But Izuri Aki's compositions tend to mitigate the sharp contrast, by putting instruments "where they belong," so to speak. From track to track, there are noticeable differences, but within any given track, there is consistency.
There is also strength, particularly in the battle themes. The final battle truly sounds like a Falcom piece. I could have mistaken it as something from a Sorcerian arranged album.
The two vocal tracks (18 and 30) did not impress me. Female J-pop synth ballads don't fit well with the genres reflected in the majority of the soundtrack (namely, prog rock).
Looking to buy this soundtrack? Good luck to you. I got my copy through sheer luck, and it was a copy that used to be in one of those old CD rental stores (they were rather common in Japan, up until the advent of computers with CD drives). But it's a good album, and it makes me want to play the game itself...someday, maybe.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann