The relationship between console and mobile gaming has been a rocky, often unstable one. A number of classic franchises, including Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Sega’s Shining, have all wound up on cellphones and tablets in one form or another, and while re-releases of 8- and 16-bit titles have often suffered less for the transition, new iterations are often too drastic in their departure and quickly-made to appeal to fans. Made worse by their overall quality as stand-alone titles, these cash-ins are quickly forgotten and abandoned to their low-rent fates, even when there are nuggets of gold hidden amidst the waste.
Breath of Fire 6 is one such title. I grew up a Breath of Fire fan and loyalist. While the first game is nearly unplayable to me now — slow and uneven in execution — the rest of the series is still quite palatable, and each entry reflects the love and care of the creators at the time. The sixth iteration is an unfortunate step in all the wrong directions, save one. While I would love to regale you with exactly how poorly the entire misadventure fares, this is about music, and that is Breath of Fire 6’s saving grace.
Composer Tamiya Terashima is a relatively obscure talent as far as RPGs go, but his hand has helped craft a lot of the music that Ys fans enjoy. He’s done stellar compositions with Studio Ghibli on Tales from Earthsea — unfortunately one of that animation house’s less loved productions despite its incredible score — as well as Vampire Princess Miyu and KEY: The Metal Idol, which are moody and thoughtful anime works from the mid-1990s. Here, his signature haunts and vibes bring a wonderful otherworldly quality to Breath of Fire 6’s melodies, whether in the lilting “Love Enlightenment -AIBO-” or choral-inspired vocal track “Dragon Song (Nina).” Tracks like “Rough Town -KOUGAI-” recall previous games like Breath of Fire IV, mixing in distinctly Chinese motifs in the orchestration. You can also hear a great deal of Ghibli influence in the traveling progression, eliciting images that recall heroic journeys and wanderings. “Clear Spring -CHOUSEN-,” meanwhile, hearkens back to III, using a more whimsical and pastoral tone. One could imagine Ryu, Teepo, and Rei — early heroes of that game — meandering through a field to this tune. The same feeling wafts through “Springtime -SHUNKI-,” with its European strings and trotting pace invoking the game’s overworld and towns.
If all this nostalgia seems like it deprives the soundtrack of its own character, that’s certainly not the case. There’s simply no point in attaching all this music to the pointless drivel of the game itself, and so one has to consider it on its own merits as a stand-alone album, as well as the inheritor of a musical lineage from over a decade ago.
By itself, the soundtrack is incredibly enjoyable. It’s a tad on the dramatic side for casual listening, as game soundtracks tend to be, but the quality of composition and careful emotional plotting of each track definitely helps each piece stand on its own. It’s actually quite a departure from most mobile inheritors of console legacies, which usually suffer from pervasive BGM tracks that lack character and seem like more of a cheap afterthought. Here, the music is given its proper due, and Terashima’s seasoned hand definitely shows its value.
A couple of the tracks aren’t quite up to snuff with the rest, like “Comforting Wave -RAKUROU-,” which manages to be all too repetitive for its own good. The lack of variation makes what is an otherwise good start occur over and over, with a pace that proves obnoxious about thirty seconds in. “Hidden Prayer -NEON-” is similarly repetitive and quite dull. It’s not bad, and in fact neither track is awful, but they feel rather functional by comparison to the others. There’s a definite BGM quality to them, and their character tends to fail overall.
The other complaint I have is that none of the vocal tracks are quite long enough. “Dragon Song (Peridot)” doesn’t crack a minute, while “Dragon Song (Nina)” clips in at 1:11, barely enough for either song to leave strong enough of an impression to act as a set piece. None of the others help much, either. There is at least a leitmotif running throughout which ties several of the vocal tracks together, as well as many of the other pieces, but it never quite feels like there’s a strong contender for the track which represents Breath of Fire 6. In the end, much like the game itself, the soundtrack falls short of its peers, unable to quite eke out that signature track that could have made the album a stronger example of the genre.
Now, if that sounds like it ruins the album — it doesn’t. The composition is strong, beautiful, and emotionally sophisticated. It’s easily the best thing Breath of Fire 6 has to offer, and it’s a substantial work in its own right. It just lacks that final element to set it beside other soundtracks of note. It lacks the romantic power of Breath of Fire III’s “Opening,” or the haunting “The Closing of the Dragon’s Eye at the End of the Tale” from the second game. It feels very much like Terashima was never given the budget to really carve out a signature track for the album.
What hurts most is that there’s no scenic delivery to tie anything to. The game itself is a flat, generic click-fest (or tap-fest, rather) which cares more about pandering to fans of cleavage, cute animals, and moe than telling any kind of real story. The music is forced to live in its own realm, unsupported and ultimately separate from the emotional value accorded to its predecessors through the quality of their narratives.
Is it worth your attention? Yes. Breath of Fire 6’s soundtrack is great listening. Terashima is a talented composer whose hand is felt all too rarely in gaming, and then enjoyed almost solely by Falcom. It’s a wonderful album which will remain all too obscure thanks to its lackluster parentage, flawed by the game to which it’s attached.