Takeharu Ishimoto started out small with Square Enix. According to our records, he’s done some sound programming and synth manipulation to some Square Enix titles, and even composed a song for the Final Fantasy X Vocal Collection. And that was about it for him, until he got his “in” on the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. That’s right, Ishimoto was selected to score the mobile-phone-based “Before Crisis” (which will have its own soundtrack release in a few months). Now that Ishimoto had a connection to the compilation, he was given the opportunity to compose a very high-profile title: Crisis Core FFVII for PSP. He did this work virtually in tandem with another Nomura project, Subarashiki kono Sekai (It’s a Wonderful World) for the DS. Ishimoto had his hands full, but he did well with what he had.
In my opinion, Ishimoto has written an excellent soundtrack for this game. Honestly, I can’t imagine it working out much better than this. When needed, Ishimoto writes music that is harsh and in-your-face (Frantic Battlefield); other times, enigmatic and intelligent (Prelude to Ruin); still other times, straightforward, stunning and lovely (The Burdened). But there’s a problem with it. In the midst of all this very decent music, anything Ishimoto could contribute is overshadowed by the now-classic compositions of Uematsu. Because this game, put forward with high expectations from Square Enix, is (in more cynical terms) a “cash-in” on Final Fantasy VII, Ishimoto’s compositions are immediately less important to any FFVII fan. I tried to listen to this album objectively, but I kept coming back to the fact that my favorite songs on the album were the arranged FFVII tracks. The end credits music, “Fulfilled Desire,” arranged for orchestra by Kazuhiko Toyama, put favorites such as the FFVII Main Theme and “Those Who Fight” into a medley. The result was, in a word, brilliant. Other songs that stood out to me include the in-game arrangements for “Those Who Fight,” “Those Who Fight Further,” “Anxious Heart,” and “Turks’ Theme.” Many of these arrangement were, in all honesty, superior to their original counterparts. Not all of them, mind you (One-Winged Angel was weak), but many of them were simply excellent. There’s no doubt that Ishimoto is gifted, but the curse of his gift is perhaps that he cannot be remembered for what he’s actually written, as Uematsu’s melodies stand in stark contrast to Ishimoto’s more ambient and less memorable pieces.
One more thing I will say about Ishimoto is this: he is excellent at writing music for guitar. Electric or acoustic, in any style, Ishimoto makes the guitar sound good. And it’s a feature instrument on this OST, moreso than just about any other FF soundtrack to date. Now, Ishimoto also does a great job with piano and keyboard, but the emphasis on guitar is, well, noticeable. The “Theme of Crisis Core” works well with a guitar, and as you can see on the tracklist, this theme is repeated in half a dozen variations throughout the OST. This is the one song that really sticks with you, outside the FFVII rehash.
The vocal theme for the game, Ayaka’s “Why,” is generic. The best part of the song is when Ayaka hits the high note and stretches the inquistive “why” across two notes, as though the word were two syllables. Really, it sounds great every time she does that. The rest of the song is pretty bland, though.
We have yet to see what the American reaction to Crisis Core will be. The game pushed actual PSP units in Japan, bundled with the game, and saw fair success. The few people I have polled, those few English-speakers that were quick to order this album, have all said that they ultimately weren’t impressed with Ishimoto, because he is bland. I believe Ishimoto has a lot of potential, and this soundtrack proves it. If nothing else, it’s clear that he’s great at arranging all those fan-favorite FF tunes from a previous era.