For a game that can be beat in around six hours, a one hour, 36 minute soundtrack — about a fourth of the game’s length — is almost ostentatious. Hitoshi Sakimoto, of Final Fantasy XII and Tactics (among many others) fame, leads a small team of composers in creating a classic orchestral sound befitting the JRPGs of the golden age. In the context of a game that harkens back to RPGs’ roots, the soundtrack is a perfect partner. For extragame listening, the tracks are somewhat hit or miss, but with an emphasis on the former.
The first half of disc one features most of the best music, while the second half houses some of the weaker, less memorable tracks. We open with the “Main Theme,” composed by Sakimoto himself. A good representation of Crimson Shroud’s sound, the theme is the most overtly cinematic of the album’s songs. Most of the music doesn’t have the same sense of bearing witness to an aural vista, which actually works to the soundtrack’s benefit in this case. Horns and strings continue to dominate the very orchestral soundscape, and guitar appears on just one track. The result is an austere grace appropriate for a classic game of Dungeons and Dragons, yet a sound uniquely Japanese as well.
If the “Main Theme” is too cinematic to fully represent the soundtrack, “A World Where Magic Never Was” is a better microcosm of the game’s sound and a great showcase of Sakimoto’s composing talents. The battle music “Show Your Mettle” is the first non-Sakimoto track on the album, and it’s also one of the best. Sometimes multiple composers can dilute the overall vision of a game’s sound (Final Fantasy X comes to mind), but Kimihiro Abe’s composition not only adheres to the Crimson Shroud sound, but furthers it as well. “Out of the Frying Pan,” the after-battle song, is a fantastic victory fanfare that provides a sense of triumph quickly followed by quiet respite for the wayworn adventurer. Mitsuhiro Kaneda’s “Have Faith” suggests approaching doom (and an explorer’s excitement) while “They Haven’t Seen Us” is a rousing ode to the joy of combat. Although the first half of disc one is strong, it does contain the only truly bad track on the album. “No Picnic For Me,” the aforementioned instance of guitar, is an incongruous and utterly irritating track likely meant to be silly and fun.
The action tracks like “Fight or Flight” and “Fool of a Thief” are less memorable than those that came before, although “Her Reputation Precedes Her” is a gorgeous, dulcet combination of strings, woodwinds, and harp. “The Underground Labyrinth” feels almost like a track from Dark Souls with its suggestions of vocal arias and mysterious, slightly menacing tone. The remainder of disc one is less varied and compelling than the former half.
Disc two features some of the better music on offer, including “My Life Is Yours,” which is reminiscent of Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings soundtrack. “They Don’t Look That Tough” is another solid battle track, and “Was It All a Lie?” brings us down to a sweet sadness. “The Palm of Her Hand” combines bass brass with light strings for an interesting mix of doom, danger, perseverant righteousness, and a sense that good will prevail. The final track, “Sinner’s Requiem,” is a lasting farewell and a fusion of all that makes the soundtrack great, including a return to that pleasing main theme melody.
The Crimson Shroud OST proves that lesser known composers can hold their own against the giant Sakimoto, who obviously knows what it takes to make a soundtrack unforgettable. The music here would be the perfect companion to a traditional tabletop RPG campaign. Best when in some context, the album is pleasant enough listening on its own, particularly if you’re not bothered by the need to skip a few tracks.