This is both a very difficult and very easy soundtrack to review. Very easy, because the music itself is so simple; very difficult, because I have mixed feelings about the album itself. Taito’s (later Natsume’s) Estpolis (Lufia in US) series has gained a massive following in the past decade, and while the music was probably not a huge factor in its popularity, it became well-respected nonetheless. The Pony Canyon print of the Estpolis I and II soundtracks, however, is exceedingly rare, and expensive if you can find it. The only time I ever saw it was on eBay, for over $300. Scitron was kind enough to fans of game music to release the sought-after soundtracks to these classics, as well as the soundtrack to the not as well known Game Boy Color sequel.
The music in the first game is the epitome of simplicity; there is nothing complex about the instrumentation, no unique melodic progression, and the synth is passable. However, like many things from the era, it contains a certain charm to it that many soundtracks of the more modern era seem to have lost. The melodies revel in their own simplicity, and listening, we cannot help but smile. A few standout tracks are “Purifia Flowers,” Lufia’s beautifully calming theme, “Battle #2,” “The Earth,” and yes, the insanely cheesy but very enjoyable “End of the Journey.”
The sequel’s music isn’t much more complex, but the synth is better, and I think the music benefits from the composer’s gained experience. There are a some really nice calming themes in Estpolis II, some great battle tracks (complete with psuedo electric guitar effects,) and even well-done area themes. Use of percussion is much more varied, and there is more variety in instrumentation. The opening and ending themes use the same style, in a way. They both loop one theme (different in each track) many, many times, each time with different instuments. It made much more sense in the game than here, but while the opening theme comes off as repetitive, the ending is fine.
I will admit here that while I have played all three of these games, the only one I ever actually owned or finished was the much more obscure Game Boy Color one. For that reason, that section of the album has a certain nostalgia for me. However, the composer for this game is not listed in the booklet; apparently Shiono didn’t do the music. As for the music itself, despite being different from the other two stylistically it is still very enjoyable. In fact, with the exception of the very mediocre track here and there, I liked this section of the album the best. That may just be my personal bias coming through. It’s not as well composed as the SaGa games, or Seiken Densetsu, but it’s certainly better than the majority of Game Boy music I’ve heard. Some of the better tracks are “Epsis Continent,” “Cave #2,” “Wedding Bell,” and “Tower.”
One of the selling points on this album was the addition of arranged tracks. Incidentally, these were arranged by members of Super Sweep. These were a bitter disappointment. There are two of them: “Start of Journey,” co-arranged by Shiono, is an arrangement of the first game’s opening theme, using an okay sounding synth orchestra. The main problem is that it just isn’t that inspired. It doesn’t even really stand out that well from the original track. The second, “Battle #3,” is marginally better as a Sakuraba style arrangement, but the keyboard synth used for the main melody had an odd reverberation that didn’t seem to fit; I actually longed for the sound of Sakuraba’s hammond organ here… In the end, it’s not a bad arrangement, but it’s not really better than the original track, and it could easily be mistaken for something done by a fan who had a decent synth set.
Unfortunately, while the Pony Canyon release looped the tracks from Estpolis II, not a single one of the tracks from any of the games is looped here. One of the discs is under 40 minutes long, and none of them are an hour long! There is NO reason why they shouldn’t loop even some of the tracks here: I would have the company just make arbitrary selections, if nothing else. It’s infuriating to see a one disc release of a soundtrack that really needed two, but when the space is already provided, and just left unused, this goes into the realm of sloppiness. However, the recording quality is good, the price isn’t too high, and the music is enjoyable. If you have found yourself wishing that the Pony Canyon release were more readily available, or you long for the days of simpler game music, this soundtrack would be a good choice.