428 ~Shibuya Scramble~ Original Soundtrack


Review by · February 20, 2011

Shibuya is known as the fashion center of Japan. This fact inspired much of The World Ends With You (TWEWY), a game in which fashion trends impacted gameplay. Although some would disagree, TWEWY holds some of the best video game music ever recorded. Intuitively, fashion and music both seem to draw on artistic sensibilities; thus, 428 ~Shibuya Scramble~‘s (or 428 ~Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de~’s) setting, Shibuya, and excellent music come as no surprise.

Japanese Academy Award winning composer Naoki Sato and video game composer veteran Hideki Sakamoto headline most of the composition of 428‘s music, with contributions from Shingo Yasumoto and Aya Kamiki. Seamless in their cooperation, Sato and Sakamoto create a soundtrack most gamers aren’t accustomed to hearing. More similar to anime or film, most of the pieces, whether dramatic or melancholy, suitably evoke more of a “storytelling” mood; naturally, the game could be best classified as a graphic adventure. Incidentally, much of Sato’s experience lies in anime and film.

428‘s main theme introduces the game with a heavy dose of adrenaline. For those with some popular anime under their belt, this theme holds a striking similarity to the jazzy, horn-infused opening to Cowboy Bebop – Tank. Both pieces communicate that the tale that follows bears an action-packed, intense trial for the protagonist to overcome, and what better way to start the soundtrack? Oh, and did I mention 428‘s theme has bells in it?

What comes next, however, is not necessarily uplifting. The entirety of this two-disc soundtrack has something in it for everyone. Whether you’re a sucker for major or minor keys, Sato and Sakamoto made sure to incorporate pieces adequately representing a truly gripping tale; just like how every Shibuya has its Akihabara, so must every head-bobbing beat have its morose counterpart. “Powerless,” track 5, is a perfect example of the night and day this soundtrack has to offer.

However, no tale is complete with toothpicky triumphs and half-empty whiskey glass moments alone. The inquisitive track “Verification” and the ominous beats of “Mystery” (which has excellent surround sound) expertly communicate this fact. Again, no matter your preference, this soundtrack guarantees a flavor for all, which is further promised with a long track list and short track times.

Normally, short tracks are a major turn-off for me when purchasing soundtracks, but the quality makes up for the quantity; plus, with such multitudinous excellence, kissing one piece goodbye offers an opportunity to welcome another silky smooth cheek. “Hitomi Osawa,” track 13, immediately instills an exquisitely chill mood. One quickly envisions yellowed drapes, a cheap bed frame, and a pseudo-fog of smoke clouding the ceiling.

Ironically or purposefully, the track “Echo” comes right after the following piece, offering a similar vibe, except complementing the former with emotional guitar riffs. I can’t say for sure how the soundtrack was organized – chronologically, perhaps – but I’m glad that “Echo” came after a brief intermission following “Hitomi Osawa.” If “Echo” came right after its relaxed cohort, then it would feel like an extension of an excellent piece, rather than individualizing itself as a masterpiece; this would be unfair to Sato and the listener.

As if to turn the entire soundtrack upside-down, the rightfully named “Optimism” offers an almost 8-bit sound, presenting itself as the most upbeat track on the entire soundtrack. While this short piece is excellent on its own, its placement on the soundtrack isn’t necessarily fitting. For those purchasing this two-disc wonder, some mixing and matching might have to be done all over the place. Regardless, this is a small price to pay for a set of phenomenal individual pieces.

Contrary to just about everything I’ve been saying all along, some tracks feel fitting of a traditional JRPG. Two such tracks come within close proximity of one another: “Tama” and “Fatigue.” Both stark examples of the variety offered by Sato and Sakamoto, one would have to play 428 to truly understand these pieces’ placement on an otherwise movie-esque soundtrack. “Tama,” for instance, illustrates a quiet town represented in most old JRPGs, usually in the beginning of the game before evil intrudes on contentment – all demonstrated with the heavy use of light wind instruments.

“Fatigue,” on the other hand, comes off as a silly, comedy relief moment at an inn; similar to an intermission in the middle of a heavy storyline, the protagonists need time to relax and hang loose once in a while, emphasizing their humanity. Regardless of these tracks’ odd placement on an otherwise new style of video game composition, they’re pleasing to the temporal lobe and don’t come off as jarring in relation to the entire experience.

In fact, Sato and Sakamoto can even make elevator music entertaining. Track 29, “Yum Cha,” made me feel like I was put on hold for a call I hadn’t made, on a phone that I wasn’t holding, but it somehow sounded cool and relaxed with light tapping on a piano. While not my favorite track on disc 1, I also can’t say the inclusion of elevator music turned me off at all, either.

Jumping all the way to disc 2, Sato bowed out of composition, and left most of this disc up to Sakamoto and Yasumoto. Yasumoto’s brief contribution to the soundtrack remains uniform, further evoking the illusion of one composer throughout. Although most of his tracks don’t stand out as exceptional above the rest, track 17, Parting, properly instills a feeling of loss. For piano lovers, this track hits all the right chords.

The final nine tracks on the second disc are composed by Sakamoto, boasting some of the best works on this entire sountrack. Weighing heavily on the side of piano, acoustic guitar, and other strings, these tracks are for those who enjoy a more classical, somber feel in their music. “Spring Breeze, A Bell That Doesn’t Ring,” the final track, is much deeper than the rest of the soundtrack, offering layers of instrumentation and style throughout its two and a half minutes; while I can’t say this piece is the best, I can say that it helps characterize the soundtrack in that it’s so different. What I mean is, despite the entire soundtrack’s variety, a style definitely drove its direction. For some reason, the last nine tracks stand out from the rest – perhaps to create a traditional closing to an otherwise untraditional soundtrack; this is all conjecture, though.

A quick glance at the tracklist illustrates the heavy use of names and abstract descriptors. While the names are obviously theme songs, some of the latinate titles don’t sound like what one would expect – intuitively speaking. Does this matter? Well, not to me; after all, what’s in a name? Plus, with so many tracks for a game that was only released in Japan, applying inaccurate titles is forgivable. Then again, what does “implications” sound like? I don’t know, but that’s one of my favorite tracks. And then there’s “Toilet,” which sounds tribal. I don’t know.

Sato and Sakamoto must have had a long sit while planning this soundtrack, and decided that the possibilities were truly endless. Whether jamming on an organ, banging on unorthodox percussion, or strumming up some psychedelic rock, they have it all. The awe-inspiring feat? With over 70 tracks of about two minute long pieces, it all sounds good. What a daunting task this must have been! If 428‘s story is anything like its soundtrack, then I have one question: why was this not released outside of Japan?

[Editor’s note: a decade after initial release, this game did indeed make its global debut.]

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Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams

Jerry has been reviewing games at RPGFan since 2009. Over that period, he has grown in his understanding that games, their stories and characters, and the people we meet through them can enrich our lives and make us better people. He enjoys keeping up with budding scholarly research surrounding games and their benefits.