Around 1998, Atlus unleashed something. Something sleek, something stylish, something very cool and cutting edge. This was Soul Hackers, which made its way from Saturn to PSX, and climbing the charts along the way. This is the game that Atlus wanted to bring to you in English, but Sony of America would not allow. While remaining a cult classic, it somehow managed to be pressed FOUR times on the PSX, not including the original Saturn pressing. There’s a reason for that – many reasons – and one of them is the music.
Soul Hacker’s soundtrack is unique is many ways. Featuring the work of three composers, everything is different – from the style of music to the smooth packaging. King Records, who used to publish Falcom and Konami’s music, manufactured the CD in a very cool casing. The contents are enclosed in a clear plastic slipcase, which has Hitomi’s face on the front. Underneath, though, hides Nemissa, who’s face graces the liner booklet. The actual discs are in a clear, unmarked 2-disc case. Also inside is a large poster, which has the entire tracklist … which is huge.
The music is laid out in semi-chronological order. It’s all in chunks, according to where it’s used system-wise, and within each section it’s in order of the story.
So starting out, in the 3D walk around section, are the two Algon software building themes. The first is played during a scene in the near past, while the second is present day, playing as our hacker friends sneak around. I love them both, especially the the ‘reality’ version. It sounds just how it ought to. Following are many area themes, which range from deathly eerie, to down tempo, to upbeat electronica. ‘Algon Headquarters’, track 21, is significant in that not only is it a lovely, downtrodden theme, but it’s been arranged two times since the original soundtrack, and is one of Soul Hacker’s defining themes.
‘Tenkai Bypass’ is a favorite. Fast moving, danceable and fresh, and the telephone-like synth line at 0:14 calls back to another unique album, Secret of Mana+. ‘Drug Gear’ is groove, featuring some great lo-fi synth and drum work, and cheerful brass to top it off.
Much of Soul Hacker’s story takes place on the internet, hence the track title of ‘Forum 1’ and ‘Forum 2,’ both of which are relaxing tunes. ‘EL-155’ is the epitome of Soul Hacker’s spirit. Chill beat, some guitar in background, and not much else. It gives the image of a bunch of hip urbanites hanging out in some cafe or shop (which is just about the exact thing you’ll see in the story.) Though it never goes anywhere, it doesn’t need to. I love it.
Disc two is a bit darker than the first (though they are both very much dark) and the introduction songs emit a hopeless, downward feel. ‘Prologue 1’ is oppressive and claustrophobic, as it accompanies the story’s prelude, telling of a single corporation’s desire to plug-in an entire city to its network and use it to control the population. The music’s imagery is perfect.
‘2D Field’ is a soaring piece, with heavy guitar and strings over thick, bassy beats. ‘Possession by Nemissa’ is another chill tune, and a lounge-ish yet evil favorite. ‘ID Deletion’ and ‘Horror House Trauma’ both sound like their namesakes – not exactly something upbeat or desirable. Like the rest of the soundtrack, both make good use of atmosphere and loneliness.
‘Spookies’ is one of the best tracks on the set. Hitting off with a drum hit, it goes directly into a nice steady beat, leading the way for the nice, fatty bass line, piano backing and crystalline lead synth. A brief pause and we get a very nice organ solo. Thanks, Meguro.
Track 29, the staff roll, is yet another excellent piece. Somber; drenching with ambiance and haunting reverb this ballad is. A gentle, quiet bass drum moves the song along with minimal percussive intrusion (the way I love slow songs…very little drums.)
And, then we hit a huge chunk of electronica. The battle tunes are all good. ‘Common Battle’ is the all round best, a perfect blend of house and rock. ‘Urabe’ and ‘Naomi’ are both killer rock tunes, with layer upon layer of thick, nasty guitar. The event and boss tunes follow suit, with an even darker and more grungy texture.
Following this, we have the obligatory fanfare section. Unlike your standard soundtrack, these aren’t victorious ditties or anything like that. They’re all the possible outcomes of conversations you can have with hostile encounters. Ranging from ‘Tone-Deaf’ to ‘Sexy’, they are all cool but very short. The final track, ‘River – Minigame’ is very significant because it’s actually the theme song to the original Megami Tensei, the original milestone that SMT, Persona, Digital Devil Saga, and Soul Hackers (among many others) came from.
Now, for my only two gripes. As you may have seen, there are over 100 tracks. Yum. Except that they fit this onto two CDs instead of four. This isn’t the only time this has happened in a soundtrack. FFIV was crunched from two to one disc; Suikoden IV from four to two, Suikoden V from a possible six or even eight CDs down to four. But it doesn’t hurt the brilliance of this album in any major way – all one must do is hit the repeat button, and all is well once more.
The other problem is simply the availability. I love this album, and I think anyone who enjoys original and boundary-stretching, real music should hear it. But it’s gotten rather scarce over time, fetching prices as varied as $15 to $100. I suggest looking on eBay and Yahoo Japan. I’ve seen two on eBay (one for $15, one for $89) without even trying to look, so I know they will show up. Don’t lose hope easily, and keep an open mind (and wallet) and you can do it.
Soul Hacker’s soundtrack is a monument. For its fresh electronic sound; for its unique layering of reverb and synth to create a truly lonely aura; for its wonderful contributions from Toshiko Tasaki, Shoji Meguro, Tsukasa Masuko, it has earned my highest praise and recommendation. Check it out.