Released in America by Working Designs as “Vanguard Bandits,” Epica Stella was a PS1 RPG that managed to slip under the radar of many gamers. Not that I know much about the game, but I am certainly familiar with its soundtrack. Let’s talk about it.
First of all, there are a fair number of vocal tracks on this album, though many of them are repeats. The first two songs are the same song performed by two different vocalists. I was a big fan of this song, though it was rather short (only 90 seconds). The next vocal track, “Together,” is even better. The cheesy rock guitar sound and the intense performance from the female vocalist reminds me of some of Falcom’s vocal songs, or (dare I say it) the original “LUNAR” vocal track (from the Sega CD opening). Any time the pop-rock-ballad with tight production is put together with a half-decent female vocalist, I am pleased. So far, the soundtrack is definitely decent.
“Tomorrow to Start,” the ending vocal, is a serious disappointment compared to the pseudo-prowess of neo-80s pop-rock styles of the opening tracks. This song is carried by an electric clavinova-piano and an ear-grating synth bass, though the vocalist has a voice to smooth out all the rough edges. Suffice it to say that this song is mediocre, and there are plenty of better ending vocal songs out there.
The “Human Corporation” sound team did all the non-vocal tracks, and they are a marvel to behold: not necessarily because of the composition, but rather because of the sound quality. And what is that sound quality I speak of? Well, I’d call it “bold and unashamed synth, pimped out Megaman style.” Though there are only about thirty songs to choose from, each has a fun and unique sound. “Pipipin” was one of my favorites, with the high-pitched beeps bouncing above the melody. There were a number of songs that shared the pep and vigor of Pipipin, such as tracks 11 or 13, but I also found myself attracted to slower songs. “Anxiety” sounded like something straight out of the earlier “Tales of…” titles, using the synth choir vocals, a heart-thumping bass, and the metronome-like upper-octave piano chords to create a truly tense theme song.
But really, some of Epica Stella’s best songs are the battle themes. I was only able to sample one of these, track 31, “Rage.” While this song is spectacular in its own right, other battle themes were also quite good (especially “Time For the Battle”). Thinking back to Working Designs’ choice to localize this title, I can’t help but think that the game’s music was what convinced them to do so. Something about the music gives the soundtrack that extra “videogame-ish” feel, much like many of Iwadare’s songs in the Lunar series.
If you’re looking to listen to something obscure, fun, and filled with that peppy-tinny synth that belonged on Super Famicom but ended up on PlayStation, this is the soundtrack to get. Of course, you’ll probably never find this soundtrack through simple casual online searching: it will take dedication to dig up this VGM artifact. If you’re interested, good luck!