It seems the time has come for Nobuo Uematsu to become more a music supervisor than a day-to-day composer. His last full score was for "The Last Story," and even that had all of its arrangements handled by Uematsu's young friend and protege, Tsutomu Narita.
Enter Idea Factory. They're apparently looking to get some star-power names behind their latest Otomate visual novel projects. One such example is the Japan-only PSP title Jyuzaengi. The opening and ending themes are penned by Uematsu, and the rest is handled by a young newcomer who is also a Westerner: Kevin Penkin.
This soundtrack is a digital-only affair, available in multiple regions on iTunes (including iTunes US). Penkin is working with Uematsu on another Otomate label game presently, NORN9. That game looks absolutely brilliant, and it's what actually caught my attention first. In doing my research, I stumbled upon the Jyuzaengi soundtrack, and have been pleased with what I'm hearing.
Now, this OST is completely synth orchestra. And there's a flatness to the tonal quality ... and if not a flatness, certainly a consistency that is in danger of boring the listener. I say that up-front because it did cross my mind more than once. But I also give you that critique up-front because it's my only critique.
You see, Penkin's compositional style is absolutely perfect for visual novels: strong, simple melodies; resounding harmonies and counter-melodic strains; great, varied instrumentation among classical instruments (including East Asian instruments); strong theming and "musical narration" (that is, grasping the story just by the audio, without words to guide). The guy's got a knack for good instrumental BGM.
Uematsu's tracks are good too, though it's a shame that the versions of the opening and ending are instrumental here ... if you want the vocal themes, you'll have to pick up the Tsuki no Namida (Tears of the Moon) single from Ayahi Takagaki (catalog number SMCL-272).
So ... for $10, you can get via a US iTunes the soundtrack for a Japan-only game. These are weird times we live in. And I love it. This is a strange place for the trend to pick up, if only because Uematsu's name is attached to something to which he provided only a very small chunk of the end product. But I'm not complaining!
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann