01 - Persona 4 (Atlus)
02 - Ys • Ys II (Nihon Falcom)
03 - Samurai Spirits (SNK Playmore)
04 - Kamaitachi no Yoru • Otogirisou (Chunsoft)
05 - Spelunker (Irem Software Engineering)
06 - Genso Suikoden (Konami)
07 - Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Level-5)
08 - Okami (Capcom)
09 - Fantasy Zone (Sega)
PRESS START (noun) - A Japanese game music concert series. Something gaijin Japanophiles would probably love to see, if they even knew about it. Compare to PLAY!, Video Games Live, A Night in Fantasia, etc.
These songs, for the 5th anniversary CD, are recordings from two different concerts (2008 and 2009).
The album starts off with one of the best RPGs of the past decade: Persona 4. And this 8 minute medley track has one of the best openings of any medley ever. It's "The Velvet Room," a live performance done to perfection. Symphony plus female vocal soloist. This is the way it was always intended; this is the way I've always wanted to hear it. Unfortunately, the medley doesn't quite stay as awesome. The standard battle track, now orchestrated and without vocals, takes center stage. And the tongue-in-cheek percussion part simply cannot help matters. When I hear it, I can't help but think I'm listening to a high school band concert. Fortunately, around the six minute mark, the melody changes again, and this one is more fitting for orchestra. All told, it's a pretty good medley, with Velvet Room obviously taking the cake.
Next up? Ys! Now, unlike Persona 4 (and the entire Persona series), Ys has already received the orchestral treatment. Multiple times over, in fact, and always by Falcom themselves. Did the Press Start arrangement hit any Ys melodies that haven't been recorded by an orchestra before? I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Between the 21st Century symphony, Falcom Neo Classic, and some opening/trailer songs from over the years, I think Falcom had their bases covered. That said, this is a recording of a concert series, and I know that if I had the opportunity to see this concert, I'd want Ys involved. So I'm certainly not faulting the concert creators, or the people behind this particular CD release, for including the medley. It's good stuff.
SNK heads will be happy to have a Far-East-flavored medley of Samurai Spirits music. Shamisen all over the place. Me? I'm not too interested. Next!
Here was an interesting choice: Chunsoft's "Night of the Kamai" (Kamaitachi no Yoru), as well as Otogirisou. These "sound novel" games from the 16-bit era got the orchestral treatment nearly two decades ago in the "Orchestral Game Concert" series, one of the first sets of orchestrated VGM ever. I guess it's a fan favorite in Japan, because it's back on this album as the single longest track to be found (nearly 9 minutes!). I can't blame the Japanese for loving the music, either. Objectively, it's probably the most varied and interesting set of music for orchestra, and much of it was pre-arranged thanks to OGC. Thinking about it harder, I guess it was an obvious choice. I know I enjoy it.
Irem's classic "Spelunker" gets its music on Press Start 5th Anniversary. It's the shortest track on the disc, just over 3 minutes. I'd call it a pleasant interlude between two very serious franchises... because next up is...
If you've been following Suikoden as long as I have, I know what you're thinking: "finally!" Konami has done so many Genso Suikoden arranged albums, it's bordering on absurd. But even so, they've never really done the full symphony orchestra thing before. It's always small groups of musicians of various ethnic styles, or a piano solo arrangement, or a vocal album. You've never seen "Genso Suikoden Orchestra Version" as an album, have you? Neither have I. And while a five minute medley may feel like little consolation, let me assure you, this is a fantastic track. It's not really a medley though. It's variations on a theme, with a little touch of the intro from the first game. If you like Suikoden, you're going to love this arrangement.
Track 7 is a Professor Layton medley. This is one of the more recent titles represented in the concert series, and I'm happy to see it here. Unlike its "rival" on the DS (Phoenix Wright), Layton has seen precious little in the way of arrangement. Granted, some of the OST has some real orchestral recordings already, but this particular performance gives us a little more of what we crave.
Okami fans, if the five disc OST wasn't enough for you, this single track might be reason enough to buy the Press Start CD. It's got the Far-East style of Samurai Spirits, but the source material is something many more of us are familiar with (I think...). Anyway, it's good stuff.
Your 9th and final reason to pick up this album: Sega's Fantasy Zone! Now wait a second, I think the Pia-com II album did both Fantasy Zone and Spelunker. It looks like, when you crack the nut and cut down the legal red tape for arrangements, everyone hops on bored, huh? Well it's another good choice, in any case. I wouldn't have picked this for an ending track; it's a little too fun and bouncy from my perspective. But it's a great addition to a great album.
If you're looking for a spiritual successor to the OGC series, I think you'll find it here. Check it out.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann