Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata have worked together on many projects, from 1993’s Ogre Battle to last year’s Final Fantasy XII, and their particular orchestral idiom has remained near-constant throughout, although their music has become more technically complex. when Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, wanted music for his strategy RPG for the Nintendo DS, ASH Archaic Sealed Heat, he turned to these two veterans, each of whom composed roughly half of the game’s music.
The soundtrack itself is two discs. The first disc and a portion of the second comprise the version created before the transfer into DS synthesizers. These tracks are looped, and all of the tracks from the game appear to be included. The remainder of the second disc contains the music after the conversion to DS synthesizers. Fanfares and shorter tracks are excluded, and none of the tracks are looped. The sound quality on the DS version tracks is lower, of course, and many of these tracks are shorter than a minute, so they sound unfinished at times. The orchestration seems slightly different, as well, so some tracks on the DS side may be preferable.
Hitoshi Sakimoto’s music, as usual, is thematic. Many of the game’s main themes are presented within the soundtrack’s first track, and these show up throughout many of Sakimoto’s tracks. For those who disliked Final Fantasy XII’s marked diversion from Sakimoto’s previous work, note that some of the chaotic style of that game’s writing seems to have become part of Sakimoto’s style. The furious timpani line in “Battle With History,” the dissonant brass line in “Iron Device,” and the very odd counterpoints and turns in “Aisya’s Theme” feel very much like the “new” Sakimoto that Final Fantasy XII introduced. However, ASH’s themes are easier to digest, and the phrases simpler, partially because this score was not in gestation for as many years as FFXII’s, partially because the tracks themselves are shorter.
However, because of this, the score lacks the depth of some of Sakimoto’s better work. The main theme is good, but it feels more strained than FFXII’s memorable 11 note sequence, and nowhere near as versatile. Additionally, because Sakimoto has been writing music for no less than 5 projects in the past year, one might wonder if he could become the new Sakuraba. Luckily, his music hasn’t shown strain yet, and his orchestrations remain as fresh and surprising as ever. The entire orchestra gets a workout, along with a rich and diverse percussion selection.
Masaharu Iwata’s tracks do not have the thematic consistancy of Sakimoto’s contributions, but they complement the rest of the score well. Iwata creates very tense atmospheres with his music, and he exercises that skill again here with work such as “Flame Serpent.” He also wrote a celtic flavored rhythm for “Team Tactics,” and the synth choir and gong of “Maritie’s Theme” have surprising depth, and sound something like Koji Kondo’s “Spirit Temple” for Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Compared with Sakimoto’s tracks, Iwata’s are generally more straightforward (except possibly in “Sea Patrol Airship, Barusa”), but also often more dissonant, eschewing his sudden turns and bizarre melody lines for more consistent rhythms.
ASH: Archaic Sealed Heart’s soundtrack is rich and diverse, but not as strong as many Sakimoto/Iwata collaborations. It doesn’t have as striking an ending as Stella Deus did, and it lacks the longer tracks of Final Fantasy Tactics. However, there are few faults with this soundtrack, and it remains a very good soundtrack in its own right. It is a worthy purchase for both the Basiscape fanatic or the general fan of orchestral-style video game music.