Front Mission Alternative


Review by · October 10, 2003

When one mentions the name “Front Mission,” many immediately think of Front Mission 3, the last title for PlayStation. Unfortunately, most of the Front Mission Series remained in japan, and only serious importers would get the chance to see what the fuss was about. It’s an amazing series featuring strategic combats involving futuristic mechs. There are currently five games released thus far and here are the composers for each title: Front Mission (Yoko Shimomura & Noriko Matsueda), Front Mission: Gun Hazard (Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Masashi Hamauzu, Junya Nakano), Front Mission Alternative (Riow Arai), Front Mission 2 (Noriko Matsueda) and Front Mission 3 (Koji Hayama & Hayato Matsuo). When one looks closely, they quickly notice an outsider: Riow Arai. Who might this person be? Has he done much for Square or any other companies? Let’s answer these questions with a descriptive biography.

Riow Arai had begun composing music since 1995, he had released a few solo albums, one being “Again,” and in 1997, he was offered a job at Sega for composing a few select tracks for Sega Touring Car Championship for the Saturn. Some of his tracks written for this project were refused, and Riow proudly kept his creations in case he could use them in the near-future. That occasion soon came after he was offered the task of composing for one of Square’s most famous series: Front Mission. He would compose for their latest title in development, simply called Front Mission Alternative. Abbrievated as “FA,” it was a new type of strategy RPG, it was done in real-time opposed to the usual turn-based grid combat system, so no “battle” themed tracks were created for this project. The producer insisted the tracks would loop incessantly and also made it quite clear he wanted a techno score. Riow got the message clearly and did his homework. After about 6 months of constant fiddling with melodies and techno beats, the soundtrack was finally ready. After the release of “FA,” Riow had chosen to stick to his true calling: mainstream dance music. He has since released several internationally reknown albums such as “Circuit ’72” and “Mind Edit.” Now many must be wondering: What was Square thinking when they hired a mainstream dance musician to score one of their high-profile games???

Actually, the soundtrack to “FA” isn’t half bad, but it is drastically different from the rest of the series. It starts off with “Opening,” which begins with a few generic beats, then explodes into a cacophony of weird sound effects. Then comes an extremely rapid drumbeat, followed by another, and another. The weird SFX keep on coming. Not your usual opening track, that’s for sure. “Sandtown” starts off with a few cymbals and beats, a few drums, and it stays this way for most of the track, until Arai decides to add a few rapid drumbeats, which start off quietly and keep on getting louder and louder. “Jungle” is kinda nice, you get mainly tribal drumbeats mixed with techno beats, Arai simply keeps on adding effect after effect, which makes it a fairly basic theme. “Woods” dosen’t offer much variety, he just adds on layer after layer of techno sounds while the main melody repeats continously. “Rock” is an interesting change, you get loads of drum beats, sometimes slow ones, at other times, very rapid. While the main melody is repetitive, it still manages to entrance the listener to the very end. After a while, Arai starts to break his beats up, sounding as if the record is malfunctioning, which is effective in getting the listener to notice these sudden changes in the track. “Beach” is one of the quieter themes, a nice jazzy track which is slow-paced and allows the listener to slowly sink into the theme. “Port” brings back the music to its quick techno beats and sound, Arai inserts a few sound effects which sound like an alarm of some sort. “Night” has a few special things to it, at points you get to hear a synthezised saxophone in the background, which is something you won’t hear again the soundtrack. “Town 01” is one of the more difficult tracks to get into, Arai goes all out with the beats and crazy drumbeats, which do repeat up to four times, each time getting more and more intense. “Town 02” is in the same style of “Town 01,” but not as difficult to get into; Arai throws in a few vocal samples in there, which sounds like a person wailing. “Desert” is funny to me, as when you hear the beats in this track, it sounds as if Arai was simply hitting pots together; yet, the exotic feel of the track represents the heat of a desert pretty well. “Bonus” is one of the most boring tracks, it never changes from beginning to end, Arai simply adds an extra effect here and there, but that’s it. “Airport” is a rather unique track, starting off with a chant followed by gamey blips ‘n bloops, then the usual techno beats come in, but at one point, Arai slips in a few interesting samples; it sounds like a person talking through a malfunctioning radio, then you hear another “singing” back. It does this a few times, which I found to be a very nice touch of originality. “Defeat” uses continuous beats and a few voice samples…. and a piano!!! Wow, the piano doesn’t waste time in getting the listener to pay attention to the notes. It surely does portray the sadness and despair when you and your troops of WAWs (Walking Armored Wanzers) are defeated. “Under” is another track filled with beats and fast drums, but unfortunately, it dosen’t change too much and quickly becomes boring. “Ending” is easily the best track; Arai demonstrates that he can compose beautiful, emotional music after all, as he uses the piano with amazing expertise.

So, how about this oddity? Should you buy or not? Well, it depends on a few factors. First off, are you big on techno music? And are you willing to shell out a decent amount of money to hunt it down? I got mine through a Japanese contact at Yahoo! Japan Auctions, it seems to be the best place for it. I got mine for $60, so that gives you a good idea of how high it can go for. While the soundtrack seems to have few tracks, most of them are over 5 minutes long, so you do get your money’s worth, provided repitition dosen’t bother you too much. Edit: this album got reprinted, you can buy it for retail price (about $20) in many places now.

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