I’ll come right out and say it: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is one of my candidates for soundtrack of the year, 2015. I never really paid much attention to the Digimon games or their soundtracks, but Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth looks like it has the potential to revitalize the franchise, thanks in part to the vividly masterful music by Masafumi Takada (of Danganronpa fame). Having listened to, and thoroughly enjoyed, this soundtrack several times over, I have high hopes for the game.
The dominant musical style is electronica, but there are hints of other genres throughout the soundtrack as well, including industrial rock, jazz fusion, and even subtle nods to classical music pieces. For example, “Welcome to this Wonderful Space” (disc 2, track 4) had a funky beat and a chord progression that reminded me of sections in the 1940s jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” and there were even a couple of pieces on disc 3 (such as “A Fearful Encounter”) that gave a subtle nod to the film Jaws before veering off into something completely different and cool. It just goes to show that no matter how modern life gets, some aspects of existence still remain timeless and relevant.
The compositions utilize incredible layering of various harmonies, driving beats, and sound textures that create fullness and dimension to the songs. I especially admired the use of sound effects and occasional voice clips to add spice to several compositions. Each listen brings something new, because there is a lot going on in even the simplest pieces. It’s never “riff salad” because even though each sonic layer is doing something different, they all come together nicely in unexpected ways. The melodies may not be immediately catchy, but their hooks had my head bobbing. The overall sonic vibe is thoroughly modern and the tones and timbres of the instrumentation feel freshly futuristic.
The standout instrument family in this soundtrack is undoubtedly the percussion. Almost every song harbors varied and confident rhythmic elements to the point where if the melodic instruments were removed from the mix, the percussion alone could stand strongly enough to carry the show. There are a great many types of modern electric drum and percussion sounds utilized to create layered beats that both drive and color the songs.
The primary feeling I got from disc 1 was that “the future is bright” since it mostly consisted of the more vibrant, catchier pieces. Disc 2 started out with more atmospheric, “listening techno” pieces until it pulled an about face into some pretty dark and sinister pieces, made so through skillful use of musical dissonance. Several of disc 2’s tracks also had good use of space where the silences between licks and riffs enhanced the songs. Disc 3’s takeaway for me was that even though the dark and sinister storm has left us broken and scarred, we are not defeated and there is hope for a better tomorrow. Disc 3’s pieces combined the catchy nature of disc 1’s songs with the emotional charge of disc 2’s songs, and the entire 60-song soundtrack felt like an epic journey from start to finish. This is one of those rare soundtracks where it was difficult for me to cherry pick representative tracks to illustrate my feelings, because the whole is what makes it magic. I liken it to those albums in my life (especially concept albums) that I simply have to listen to from start to finish, every time, because picking and choosing songs from it just makes my listening experience feel awkward.
Speaking of epic journeys, I have obviously never played the game since it hasn’t been released outside of Japan yet. But the music, when taken on its own merits, is enthralling to listen to and doesn’t require the “nostalgic” context of the game to be appealing. I look forward to hearing where and when these pieces will be used in the game and how they will dance with their accompanying visuals, gameplay, and story events.
The variety of music presented here invited me to listen to it in a variety of ways: at home with good headphones and in the car while driving, to take advantage of a car stereo’s built-in surround sound. The music was nice during my drives, but it shone when I listened to it at home with good headphones: the multiple layers of music were crisper, clearer, and more discernible. Even after listening to this soundtrack several times over, I was never bored or burnt out by it. I never expected that a Digimon game, of all things, would produce one of the finest soundtracks I’ve heard this year, but Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth‘s amazingly dynamic compositions decidedly commanded my attention, and I hope the game is just as good as this soundtrack.