I can't believe Pokémon still has a strong following. The new DS games, Diamond and Pearl, made record sales in Japan, topping the original titles (and old record-holders) Red and Blue. What I once thought (and hoped) to be a long-dead fad has continued to grow and change along with the rest of Nintendo's many franchises. It was this fact (that sales were so high) that made me think twice about the games. I told myself, "at the very least, I could give the music a try." So I did, by preordering the soundtrack for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.
My general concensus, after only one listen through the soundtrack was that (like the game) this soundtrack is the best thing to happen for the franchise, at least on the gaming side of things.
Not that this is an incredible accomplishment. The Pokémon series isn't known for having excellent music, and I have never been impressed with previous soundtracks. This one, however, had a couple of redeeming features that made me want to keep listening. Let's take a look at them now.
First: the sound quality, while certainly not up to par with what the DS can do, is well above the GB and GBA soundtracks. Not only that, but the synths used, while somewhat grainy and never life-like, are so very fitting to the nature of the game and the music attempted; I couldn't help but chuckle at the light-hearted tunes, and I was impressed by some of the more technically complex pieces.
Which leads me to point number two: unexpectedly well-written compositions. The most impressive pieces, to me, were those that included quick runs on piano (or some keyboard-like instrument). It would be amazing to hear some of these songs performed live, as I'm sure it was easier to program these songs than it would be to actually play some of them.
A third plus: excellent use of standard production effects. Here I'm talking about delay, reverb, looping, and the like. Some of the best piano tracks had some incredibly subtle delay added to them: I loved it! But it wasn't just the piano pieces that had good production value; nearly every song showed a decent effort on the part of the sound team to make the music just right.
Positive point number four: this album is just shy of 150 songs. That's a good bit of music. There is a downside to this, which I will mention soon.
A final positive goes to the entirety of disc one. The first disc of the collection was good from beginning to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
That said, we can start the "cons" with a mention of disc two. Yes, there were good songs, but even the best songs of disc two were usually just re-made melodies from disc one. A lot of unoriginal, boring pieces were found on the second disc, which is a shame.
Also frustrating is that, technically, this ought to be a four disc collection. None of these songs loop, and trying to fit nearly 150 songs into two discs is never a good idea, even if there are a lot of 10 second "jingle" tracks.
A third problem with this soundtrack was the lack of any really outstanding battle themes. I found some great town themes, a few good somber melodies, and some very interesting songs that I would best label as "silly" or "fun" pieces. But the battle tracks? The best ones I found were not all that impressive; Masuda and crew seem to have hit a writers' block here, because some of their better compositions from past Pokémon albums have been their battle themes.
Finally, please note that this is completely an "OST" collection. There are no arranged tracks or vocals found anywhere on this album. I personally would have liked to see something along those lines added as a bonus track, but I suppose the consistency of the album would have been compromised if I had gotten my wish.
So that's my generic "strengths/weaknesses" presentation. Now, let's take a look at a few specific tracks that stood out.
From the very start, the "Opening Demo" track catches the ear very well. The song is fast, and it jumps from one set of instruments to another while retaining the same basic theme and harmonic structure. I knew I was going to experience something better than the usual the first time I heard this piece.
A few tracks afterwards, the almost impressionist-style "Lake" theme appears. The beat and instrumentation is set up like a small jazz ensemble, but the harmony and rhythm also suggest influence from impressionists like Debussy (or, the modern-day VGM impressionist, Hamauzu).
I'll bite my tongue so I don't make any jokes that we've learned from certain "tasteless" websites, but track 50 Bicycle is a great song. The opening measures borrow from the main theme to Final Fantasy III (Legend of Eternal Wind), but the song is certainly all its own. I imagine the world's most imaginative and lovable fair taking place; it's not just sugar-coated goodness, there is something real and affable about the world where this music is played.
One of the last tracks on disc one that I really couldn't get enough of is track 67, "Mt. Tengan." A lot of thought went into this experimental jazz number, and again, the piano part is absolutely remarkable. Oh yeah, it's the good stuff alright. You wish you could play piano this well, and so do I!
Though disc two is the weaker of the two discs, this side also contains all of the town's "Night" themes. And there are some great town themes present on disc two. My favorites were Kotobuki City and Kissaki City; the latter is a very simple, ambient piece that deserves your attention.
Another piano piece that is rather awe-inspiring, "Champion Shirona" (track 66) sounds like a bombastic piece written by a fan of Mozart, or perhaps Chopin. The fast triplets add to the intensity of the piece for this, the theme of the game's final boss.
If you simply loathe the Pokémon franchise, then I'm sure that this soundtrack (and the games from which the soundtrack derives) will not sell you over now. In contrast, if you are (or ever were) a Pokémon fan, this album may re-ignite your interest in the series. I have no qualms with saying that it is the best music the series has yet produced.
Now, if you're somewhere in between those two extremes (like me), then I recommend you take a good listen to the samples before even considering a purchase of this album. It's an excellent collection in many ways, but its problems (subpar synth and short tracks) may turn you off. Whatever the case may be, the trend with these albums is that they go out of print relatively quickly, so if you're going to make a purchase, make it soon.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann