Talk about a monster. The Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box covers the series’ complete range of music, from the SNES original right up to Dragon Quarter on the PS2. At 11 CDs and 327 tracks, the sheer size of the soundtrack is both daunting and delightful, a work of truly monolithic proportions.
To be up front and honest about things, I don’t like Breath of Fire I’s music. I probably never will. It’s not that the compositions are bad, but it’s not particularly inspiring MIDI and I just can’t listen to it for very long. I’ve been ruined in recent years by high-quality orchestra on redbook audio, that to return to the days of MIDI is truly difficult.
Nonetheless, the original BoF is worth listening to if you can get past the MIDI. It spans the first two discs of the set and features a handful of tracks that stand out past the media they were created with. One such track is Expedition, a wandering but potent melody that gives the listener the sense of a great journey about to occur. The use of drums in this particular piece give it a volume not felt in most of the other tracks, and a welcome presence in the original game’s tracklist. Another exemplary theme from this set is A Powerful Emperor which carries an imperial majesty befitting its title.
Yasuaki Fujita, Yoko Shimomura, Minae Fujii, and Mari Yamaguchi are all responsible for Breath of Fire I’s soundtrack. Shimomura in particular should be familiar to contemporary RPG fans for composing the Kingdom Hearts 2 soundtrack. SNK fans may recognize Yasuaki Fujita for his work on Metal Slug 2nd Mission, while Mari Yamaguchi is probably best known for Street Fighter II: The Championship Edition.
Disc 3 grants us the work of Yuko Takehara, composing for Breath of Fire II. The MIDI quality alone is generally improved with this second batch of songs, although the music itself is not quite as compelling as its predecessor’s. A general perusal of the soundtrack reveals that Breath of Fire II has one of the weakest scores to its name, a fact that is quite surprising considering the pedigree of the composer. Takehara’s comparable work includes Megaman X, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and the fighting classic, Marvel VS. Capcom.
Overall, the soundtrack is quite well constructed, but singular tacks don’t hold up that well. Some notable tracks include Wanderer and White Wings, both of which have a joyously relaxed feel to them. Wanderer is a bit on the heavier side, but is still quite a soothing listen, where White Wings is expressly composed to uplift. One of the best tracks however, has the longest name and comes right at the end of the game: The Closing of the Dragon’s Eye at the End of the Tale. It still holds up as one of the most enjoyable closing themes to a game, even nearly twelve years after its original release.
Now, I will admit to being partial to Breath of Fire III, but with disc 5, I finally felt like the box set was proving its worth to me. BoF III has some of the most enjoyable music in a classic-style RPG I’ve ever come across. Right from the initial track Opening the Door, right through to Pure again, I just love listening to the discs over and over again.
Breath of Fire III’s music begins with disc 5 and goes right on until disc 7, covering the game’s impressively large roster of tracks. Some pieces, like Falling Green amuse me, because I feel like I’ve heard them before. Falling Green has always reminded me of the forest outside of Guardia in Chrono Trigger, and while it’s not quite the same, it’s certainly a pleasant melody either way.
Quiet, atmospheric melodies like Eden add a lot of character to the soundtrack, mixing a more contemporary rhythm and blues beat to the game’s more traditional adventuring atmosphere. Thankfully this addition doesn’t violate the integrity of the music, but enhances it instead. Similar strains can be found in tracks like Waking Up in the Morning Leads to All the Encounters, Nina’s principle theme in the game. This track is a bit more upbeat than Eden, but still demonstrates the rhythm and blues influence to great effect.
One excellent addition to the tracklist is Battle in the Coming Days ~SE Collection~, featuring a number of the game’s sound effects mixed in with the regular battle them. I usually object to these sort of tracks as they tend to be a lot of noise that either wholly overrides the music or jars with it discordantly. Here however, there’s a perfect balance in volume, and it’s a rather nice digest of the game’s many combat sounds.
Indulge me for a second while I segue over to the track Pure Again. I’ve already brought this up once, but I totally enjoy this track. The vocals are excellent, and while it’s far more contemporary than it should be, the actual song is one of the few I can separate from the game and enjoy just on its own. It’s upbeat tempo and dancing rhythm are a delight to listen to, and I consider it one of the better RPG songs out there.
Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki are the principle composers here, either a well-known name when it comes to Capcom products. Both have done work on the Megaman series, and Aoki is a veteran of Breath of Fire compositions. Especially, fans of Megaman: Battle Network are sure to recognize some familiar strains in the compositions.
When it comes to Breath of Fire IV, I’m incredibly torn. There are some tracks I absolutely adore, but a great many that are either little more than background music, or downright annoying. In truth, I’m that way about the game in general, and the music all too accurately reflects similar feelings.
A great deal of it bears an South-Eastern influence, using Indian sitar strings to exact an exotic flair. It’s an interesting addition to the music, and much of it is used well. Some pieces such as Breath of Fire IV ~Opening Animation~ are absolutely gorgeous, and just a little too short. God of War is another track that uses similar themes, though with a great deal more intensity. It is a battle theme after all, and a well constructed one, evoking feelings of both majesty and acute tension. It’s a very intimidating theme in some ways, and leaves a great impression.
As I mentioned however, some tracks just make you want to scream. Floating Along is one of the tracks that just digs at your ears. It’s too chaotic, using all sorts of wrong chords that step all over a person’s nerves. Even worse is What the Samba?, which not only bears a strange name, but is wholly out of place amidst the rest of the tracks. It’s not even a good samba theme either, bearing little more musical variety than a bit of digitized hooting to a vaguely Caribbean rhythm.
Overall, I’m 50/50 on IV’s compositions. Yoshino Aoki does a fair job, but it’s definitely not the best selection of work available.
Dragon Quarter was not a well-received game, being so very different from the normal tropes of an RPG, especially one whose legacy consists largely of medieval fantasy and a touch of steampunk. It was sci-fi, featuring a truly different art direction from previous titles, even more bizarre in many ways than the monster designs from part IV. All that aside, its music is fantastic, and I for one am a huge fan of V’s aural component.
While I still consider III to have the best overall soundtrack, V is a close second. Tracks such as Origin and Trinity Pit are emotionally rousing, despite their calm, something I have a hard time finding amongst RPG soundtracks. Trinity Pit in particular is a beautiful tune, providing a melancholy, yet relaxing atmosphere that lets one be thoughtful. It’s a haunting track in some ways, perhaps something for a quiet day when the mind needs to rest and sort things out. Definitely a great piece that stands alone from the game itself.
Castle-imitation (Breath of Fire V Dragon Quarter) is another track I’m very fond of. It’s the main vocal track for the game and Chihiro Onitsuka has an absolutely gorgeous voice. There’s a pleasant lilt to her tone that draws on her early influences being Alanis Morissette and Jewel. Although a relative newcomer, her vocal talent showcased in this piece have made me a definite fan. The track itself is emotionally uplifting, a definite plus considering the game’s generally dark atmosphere.
Overall, Breath of Fire V’s soundtrack is a winner. Hitoshi Sakimoto is the main composer, a name many RPG fans will associate with Final Fantasy Tactics. His other works include Ogre Battle, Radiant Silvergun, Vagrant Story, Stella Deus, and Final Fantasy XII. Pieces sure to perk up an ear or two from fans of the aforementioned titles are Going Out to See the Sky and Mid Sector Borough, either one an excellent example of Sakimoto’s signature style.
And the Verdict Is…
In total, the box set is a sure treasure for any video game music lover, as well as Breath of Fire fans everywhere. In particular, BoF III and V are my personal favorites, sporting some of the best RPG music available. A massive set, it’s sure to daunt more than a handful of potential buyers, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.