Note: As of this writing (end of 2013), this CD is planned only to be released with the Japanese limited edition of Drag-on Dragoon 3, which costs roughly $200, so the entry fee just to experience this music is steep. Consider yourself warned.
An unlikely thing happened. Well, a few unlikely things happened. First, the mere existence of Drag-on Dragoon 3 (aka Drakengard 3 in North America). Second, that this game is a prequel to the first game and makes further ties with the offshoot game NieR. Third, that Square Enix assembled a team of chiptune artists to make this chiptune CD. Fourth, that those artists are generally not found on S-E’s other chips albums (FFVII-XI, “SQ Chips,” etc).
This bonus album is broken into three sections. There is no music from Drakengard 3 here. Instead, we get 8 tracks each (in order) from Drakengard, Drakengard 2, and NieR. A bonus track is placed at the end, and we may as well start with it.
“Exhausted” is the vocal theme from Drakengard, and it’s one of my all-time favorite songs. The crazy, minimalist cacophony that makes up much of the Drakengard OST can be overwhelming, but the beauty of “Exhausted” is that, despite its minimalism, it remains fresh. This new arrangement from composer Nobuyoshi Sano is a “piano version,” but like the vocal version before it, it is heavy-laden with delay, reverb, reverse, and other effects. In other words, it’s fantastic. It captures the beauty of the original piece with just one instrument.
Now then, let’s take a look at the tracks from each game.
From Drakengard, we get a few short, throw-away tracks (like “Mission Select” and “Mission Clear”). We also get some very strong, lengthy tracks, like Fourth Chapter Ground, or Seere’s Prayer Sky. Each of these eight arrangements are true-to-form transcriptions. If Drakengard were de-made into an NES game, it would sound exactly like what you’re hearing. No fancy frills in these arrangements: just technically-savvy chiptunes from the 8-bit days. If you were expecting a more dance-friendly arrangement akin to what you may find on the two SQ Chips albums, this might not be for you.
Drakengard 2’s OST, perhaps because of its more melodic score from Yoshiki Aoi, relies more on high-octave melodies and counter-melodies than on wild whirring effects or chip-percussion. I was especially pleased with track 13, “Moaning Waterways” (also known as “Vein of Grief” depending on how you translate it). I also liked “Breaking Through” and the chiptune version of the vocal theme “Alone.”
Finally, we get to the great stuff. The Drakengard games aren’t especially well-loved for their soundtrack (sure, there are a select few who cherish these OSTs, but many others eschew them). However, NieR has critical acclaim from virtually every corner of the global gaming market, especially for its music. It’s no wonder, then, that my favorite part of this disc is tracks 17 through 24, the NieR section. Every song comes out strong, but I was especially pleased with “City of Commerce,” “Song of the Ancients / Fate,” and “Emil / Karma.” The “Karma” variant of Emil’s theme is the faster version, but even his fast version wasn’t too upbeat on the OST. This chiptune version, arranged by fu_mou, is arguably more lively than its OST counterpart. It makes me desperately want to play an NES version of NieR. Though I’m not sure at all how that would work…
As noted at the top, this rare gem of a CD comes with a steep price. Even if you can get an importer to sell the CD separate from the rest of the limited edition package, it won’t be cheap. Personally, I think it’s in Square Enix’s best interest to bundle this CD with American and European versions of the game at a lower price, and/or to release the album digitally on iTunes. Don’t let me down, guys! This is a fun album, and there’s a large enough fanbase out there to try and market it!