Ah, the Super Famicom. For many VGM fans, this was the golden era. So many wonderful tunes were created during the 16-bit era, and perhaps much of this has to do with the technology of the time.
Star Ocean was one of the last games to be released on the Super Famicom. To my knowledge, it is the last RPG for the system. And who steps up to the plate? Motoi Sakuraba. Though Sakuraba had been around for years, composing music for videogames (and outside the context of VGM with a band), this was one of the first RPG soundtracks Sakuraba had done (others around this time include Tales of Phantasia and Beyond the Beyond, one of the early PlayStation titles). I am notorious for having a love/hate relationship with Sakuraba; one general rule I've found is that the earlier the composition, the more I like it. For example, I love Star Ocean 2, but Star Ocean 3 turned me off, as have many of the recent "Tales" soundtracks.
How do I feel about this, the first Star Ocean soundtrack? First of all, I feel relieved to see that it even exists. Along with the game's release, the "Perfect Sound Collection" was released by Sony Records. It contained some arranged tracks and a complete collection of voice acting (which was rare for the Super Famicom). Where was the OST? It was nowhere in sight.
Eight years later, Team Entertainment (a publisher that has heavily supported Sakuraba and tri-Ace in general) publishes a two disc original soundtrack for the game. All VGM fans, be they Sakuraba / Star Ocean fans or not, should be glad. But what of the music itself?
Well, it's raw. My first impression was "this isn't as good as The Second Story." And certainly, it isn't. Very few of these songs are as epic or otherwise impressive as what was found a few years later on The Second Story for PlayStation. However, this two disc set cannot be overlooked. Sakuraba's potential for RPG soundtrack glory is found all over this restored VGM relic.
Pulling no punches, the album opens up with a battle theme. The opening riff lets you know that Sakuraba is on the scene, and he's going to make this song hot hot hot! It's a standard battle theme, but it opens the album well.
Fortunately, it isn't just the battle themes that are dressed to impress...
"Full of Sorrow" uses synths that remind me of the prelude/crystal theme prevalent in the Final Fantasy games of the SFC era. Beyond this sound creating a familiar mood, the song holds a simple and beautiful progression of chords together using choir and string synths. The swaying 6/8 feels as though one is on a slowly rocking boat. The effect is brilliant.
Also, there are dungeon/environment themes that do not fail in achieving their goal of sounding beautiful and fitting the scene of the game. One such song, found on the first disc, is "Ancient Ruin." The sample speaks for itself. I could describe what instruments are doing what in this song, but let's just sum it up by saying that there are all sorts of fun instruments doing fun things in a way that makes everything great. There, wasn't that sophisticated? No, it wasn't, but this song is, so ha! ...moving on...
Let's talk about this soundtrack's weaknesses. I think I can simplify this one: atonalism. For those of you not musically inclined, "atonal" means that it is lacking a defined key. There are a number of songs on this album where Sakuraba dabs into atonalism to try and create that "chaotic" effect. This is difficult to do: most composers cannot do it and make the song enjoyable (though it often isn't meant to be enjoyable). For Sakuraba, however, some of his "chaotic" battle tracks are just a mess. I can't stand it, myself. "Dancin' Sword" is a good example of this sort of thing.
And here's some more bad news: this isn't even an "original" soundtrack. This is proved by the "bonus track" section on disc two, claiming that the last twelve tracks are "SFC original versions." What's even more strange is that some of the songs in this bonus selection aren't found on the rest of the soundtrack in the improved-synth form. Startling, yes? Yes.
Personally, I enjoy both the synth-improved songs and the SFC originals. Among the original selection, my favorite track was "For Achieve" (which is a great Engrish title: what exactly does that mean?). Enjoy the sample.
I recommend this album to nearly anyone. It's only one step below the Second Story OST, and in my opinion far excels the work found on Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Support Team Entertainment and pick this up, however you can get ahold of it.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann