12Riven -the Ψcliminal of integral- is a video game that almost never was. KID declared bankruptcy in 2006 while still in the middle of creating this installment of their Infinity series and Memories Off #5: Encore. In 2007, Cyberfront rescued them from bankruptcy and these two games were back on track. Memories Off #5 released in 2007 and 12Riven was released this year (this OST, indeed, came as a bonus with the limited edition of the PS2 game). I believe a Memories Off 6 is in the works as well.
When looking at such distinct series as Memories Off and Infinity, KID’s two flagship series, it is difficult not to compare the music between them. Takeshi Abo has composed music for both series and my impression of his music pertaining to each series is always similar. Layered synthesized instruments and a love of piano pieces is always evident, but the music of Memories Off is usually safe whereas the music for Infinity is usually riskier and darker. Either way, I always think Abo’s compositions sound great and always evoke the proper sense of mood, setting, and emotion for their intended characters and scenes.
From Infinity/Never7 to Ever17 to Remember11 to 12Riven, the games have gotten progressively darker, deeper, and more sophisticated in terms of atmosphere, storylines, settings, and themes. As a result, Abo’s music has followed suit and 12Riven’s soundtrack offers some of the most sophisticated music Abo’s ever composed. The darkly atmospheric compositions are definitely where Abo shines though the few happy pieces are happy in a creepy way. There is nothing here that really steps outside of Abo’s compositional comfort zone, but what is presented are highly refined Abo compositions. Some compositions hold up well on their own whereas others seem a bit flat and would probably hold up better within the context of the game. This is not uncommon with video game soundtracks.
One thing Abo does in pieces such as “danger” and “Public Safety 12” is include some pickstyle bass guitar breakdowns. I have often not been happy with Abo deemphasizing bass in his compositions, so it was nice to hear some more upfront bass in these and other compositions. However, as always, I would have preferred to hear an actual bass guitar than a synth. Disc 2 had piano versions of some of the pieces, and I selected those as samples to showcase the contrast between the synth and piano pieces. I personally thought the track “Repressor” was more memorable and effective as a piano piece than a synth one. One of my favorite tracks in this whole thing was “Silent City” which sounded fantastic in both synth and piano forms.
The worst part of this soundtrack was the vocal number by Kaori with words and music by Chiyomaru Shikura and arrangement by Kouji Ueno. Kaori’s vocal performance is terrific, but I did not find the music that good. I felt the transitions were sometimes jerky and though the instrumental was punchy, it did not really grab me. I was happy for the song to end so I could hear Takeshi Abo’s music. Past vocal numbers for Infinity games have been much better, partially because they had instrumentals by Abo.
At the end of the day, I did like this soundtrack, but I would still like to see Takeshi Abo step outside his compositional comfort zone and take some risks, such as maybe using more live instrumentation rather than synth or maybe basing compositions around instruments other than piano.