Front Mission 4 was Hidenori Iwasaki’s first composing project. It was a very impressive first effort; he proved more than adequate for the task of composing for one of Square-Enix’s major franchises. Front Mission 5 was also given mainly to Iwasaki, and it represents both the progression of his style and his institution as a regular composer at Square-Enix.
Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ has the longest yet soundtrack of any title in the series to date. Iwasaki was helped in his endeavor by Black Mages member Kenichiro Fukui. Fukui, responsible for the music in the Squaresoft shooter Einhänder, is known for techno. His tracks are definitely distinct, but nevertheless, it is a very obvious move for S-E, due to the series’s dabbling in the genre already. In addition, one track was written and arranged by Iwasaki’s synth operator, Yasuhiro Yamanaka.
Front Mission 5 marks the series’s first foray into cut-scene based story telling, and the soundtrack reflects this in the usual way: it has quite a few short tracks that represent the mood of a single scene. That is, some of the tracks may build up to another one (“Purpose”) or they may end up going nowhere at all (“Covert Ops”.) The majority of these are enjoyable, however short they may be.
Front Mission 5’s instrumentation deals mostly with standard orchestral elements, with an emphasis on brass and drumlines, and electronic elements, such as synthesized percussion and techno-styled beats. Marches are prevalent for much of the first disc: marches in the general style of a war movie. The main difference from Front Mission 4 in instrumentation (besides the lack of latin percussion) is that some of the tracks are nearly fully electronic. FM4 usually featured some combination of the two styles, but here, techno sometimes appears in its pure form. The track “Visions,” by Fukui, feels like something put out by a mainstream techno group: not my personal favorite style, but this particular track is done well.
After a series of shorter tracks, the first track with some real length to it is “Guardians of the Peace.” Somewhat similar to 4’s “Move Out,” the track features the kind of progression which Iwasaki seems to like in several (but not all, Sakuraba) of his tracks. He builds up his tracks in a methodical manner: starting with an electronic beat, adding percussion and lighter instruments, and finishing his build with strings. From there, this particular track continues to build, but regresses slightly at the end, being a slower piece.
The first major battle theme on this soundtrack is “War of the Titans.” This is a fantastic track that shows how much Iwasaki’s style has progressed. It is fast-paced, thrilling, and not overwrought. It takes time to build a melody, and has a the same sort of unique sensibility that was glimpsed in FM4’s “Intruders,” but with Iwasaki’s increased mastery of the synth orchestra. The track slows down, and the tension is clearly felt.
Iwasaki has also gained quite a bit of skill with percussion. His percussion lines are often varied in both style and sound. “Across the Dunes,” “Lock and Load II,” and the almost Front Mission 3-like “Mechanized Infantry” all have very different sounds to their percussion, and yet Iwasaki manages to keep his style very consistent. Indeed, several of the tracks recall Front Mission 3 in terms of style, including “Intercept.” In fact, Matsuo’s (in this booklet called Matsui) “Aggression” is remixed by Iwasaki as “Survivor.” I prefer the original personally, but the arranged version has some interesting instrumentation modifications that make it stand out.
Fukui’s first track on the soundtrack is “Keepers of Freedom.” While it has the electronic elements that are in all of his work, it focuses instead on the orchestral elements. This particular track showcases Fukui’s addition to the soundtrack as a whole, in terms of differing style. “Seek and Destroy,” another track by Fukui, has a darker feel to its melody line.
There is not as much atmospheric material in this game as in 4, but the strength of a few of the cutscene tracks, and the few atmospheric pieces that there are, make up for this. “Revelations,” a VERY atmospheric piece, will seem like an odd choice for the sample; out of many strong pieces, why did I choose something that takes over a minute to build a very simple melody line? The answer is obvious: variety. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with electronic/orchestral hybrid battle themes, but I felt that even having a few tracks of this nature gives those themes more of a context, and also more power by contrast.
Yasuhiro Yamanaka’s one track, “Breaking Limits,” is interesting, because it very clearly deviates from both of the other main composers’ styles, and yet utilizes similar instrumentation. The main point of consideration here is how Yamanaka loops an orchestral line as if it were a line from a techno piece. His use of the synthesizer is somewhere in between Fukui, who often uses a more standard techno feel, and Iwasaki, who usually eschews that feel entirely for his own purposes.
“Deliverance,” the final battle theme, is, I think, the single best track on this soundtrack. It is so energetic, so varied, and yet incredibly cohesive throughout. Choosing what section to sample was difficult indeed: I could capture the fantastic synth chorus opening, the orchestral ‘call-and-answer’ motif of the first main section, the slightly dissonant bass piano line, or even the hard edged purely electronic section. I chose none of this, because the most striking thing about the track was the ending, followed by the segue into the next loop. Iwasaki keeps the track together exceptionally, and musically, its progression, although definitely atypical, makes sense.
The credits theme, “Scars of the War,” is very good. Not the best from Square-Enix over the years, certainly (Sakimoto’s masterpiece for Vagrant Story comes to mind,) but nevertheless effective. As a side note (snide note?) however, I think that it’s definitely the most upbeat track that you could imagine for its darker sounding name.
The tracks following the credits seem mostly superfluous; restatements of the main themes, and an odd guitar track. The track that stands out most, although not in a good way, is undoubtedly “Blue Stream.” This (the Masayoshi Soken track) is something that is definitely pointless on a soundtrack, because it requires context. It appears to be a commercial for a fictional product in the game: a children’s bicycle. It features cheesy lyrics, an overly hyper DJ, and the absolute WORST chorus of teenagers and children I have ever heard. (Yes, it beats out the one at my old elementary school for that glorious distinction.) It has some entertainment value, though.
Front Mission 5’s soundtrack is everything I could have hoped for. Hidenori Iwasaki has proven that he has the capacity for maturation in his talents, and I can only hope that the music in future Front Mission games (Front Mission Online anyone?) marks further progression for him. I can recommend this soundtrack with the reservation that if you didn’t like Front Mission 4’s score, or don’t like strategy RPG music in general, this is probably not going to be that big of a deal. After all, so many of the tracks sound similar at first. Iwasaki, however, has created a score that is not only superior to his first, it is also quite different from the majority of VGM on the market today, in both instrumentation and style.