Genso Suikoden IV Original Soundtrack


Review by · August 21, 2005

Genso Suikoden.

A name, that to many, means a lot of things – emotional storytelling, intense warfare and tales of hard-working people who come together to defeat a common threat. It also signifies a greatness of music, with the first three Suikoden games and the gaidens having largely remarkable soundtracks.

Suikoden IV was unveiled not long ago here in the US, and was met with mixed feelings. A lot of people looked down on the game, calling it “a disgrace to the series” and complaining about high encounter rates. Then there were people like me, who throughly enjoyed it. While it certainly lacks some of the deep character development of the previous three games (though it’s certainly not devoid of it), it makes up for that with an utter feeling of emptiness and loneliness that only some people will pick up on. The story of the Rune of Punishment isn’t a happy one, and that is reflected in everything, from the realistic and somber environments, to the dialogue, and most importantly for this review, the music.
In a word, this soundtrack is excellent. But a closer look will reveal both some extremely good music and a few letdowns in this two disc set.

Disc 1 features a lot of the town music. Suikodens have always been known for their ethnic village themes, and this is no different. It’s been stated that the music is more in line with Suikoden I and II, rather then the low-key feel of Suikoden III. Personally, I find it to be a mixture of the two. The instrumentation is usually very good, with bouzouki, flutes and diverse percussion noises. But there is plenty of smooth pads and ambience in like with Suikoden III as well. There is also a surprising amount of piano, which is very pleasant, and not terribly common in Suikoden’s history. Instrumentation aside, most of the town themes are well done, especially the Razril port song and some of the island themes. There are a few stinkers, but overall it’s a good listen.

The first song on the disc is “La Mer” which naturally means “The Sea.” Written and performed by coba, it’s is a delightful introduction theme. As great as it is, though, it is completely devoid of the emotion of the usual Suikoden opener. Songs like “Transcending Love” from III and Suikoden II’s orchestral introduction completely outshine “La Mer” in that regard. Still, a first class effort.

There is also some great battle music on the first disc, though the best is saved for Disc 2. The standard battle music is here, which is a solid number and holds up even after the many battles you’ll fight in the game. But the boss music – “A Formidable Enemy Arrives” – whoa. This is where Suikoden IV starts to show it’s strength. Full of suspense, the song often relies on building up tension to impact the listener. The percussion and brass in particular are astoundingly intense and real sounding, and the strings gracefully float on top. The naval battle theme is also one of the better warfare themes in Suikoden’s library.

Other notables on Disc 1 include both versions of “Monochrome Episode.” This is a perfect example of that bleak, lonely feeling the game can exhibit. The name itself very accurately depicts your surroundings at this point – gray, rainy, washed-out. I prefer the second version, as it’s much smoother and loses the drum programming for a more somber sound. Same goes for “Gloomy Sailing.” Wrapping up the first disc, I’ll mention “Night on the Deserted Island”, “Crossing the Waves” and “Stronghold 1”, which are more upbeat in nature, but slow and relaxing in tempo. The use of piano in this OST in something I am very fond of.

Now, Disc 2. This is where it gets good. “Oh, Sparkling Sea! Oh, Sky!” is a rousing number, making it easy to imagine sailing out on a new adventure. “Warfare on the Vast Expanse of the Sea 2” is an excellent naval battle theme, and I love the loud, blaring brass bassline.

And then it just gets better. “Fated Confrontation” is this installment’s duel music, and is among the best of the series, no contest. More use of the blaring brass and elegant strings makes me happy. Though a bit short, “Magnificent Handling of a Broadsword” brings back the duel motif after a quick prelude, and is magnificent.

Then take a short break with “Enchanting Runemistress” (which is Jeane’s theme, duh) and my favorite town music from the game, “Seaside Spring.” It always puts a smile on my face. “Recitation of Repentance” is a nice piano tune, though it actually plays a very small part in the game – if you hire a certain character, the hero is able to “judge” characters in the game through a confession booth on your ship. It’s actually very funny at times, and makes the following short track (which plays if you forgive the character of whatever they’ve done) that much better.

There a bunch of stupid mini-game themes after that, which I hate and we should never talk about. I’ve never liked any of the mini-games in Suikoden, and the music is no exception (except the awesome banjo song from the first Suikoden…yeehaw!)

“Palisade Melody” is one of my personal favorites on this album. It’s not much in terms of music – just really creepy choir chords and some echoey piano notes. But it just works. It’s kind of hard to describe, but paired with the empty, haunting in-game scenery, aids that whole bleak and lonely image I’m talking about. The orgel theme following it is also very creepy, even sinister. Which is the perfect build-up to…

“Decisive Battle against a Corrupted Soul.” This is final battle perfection. It’s oozing with tension, dissonance and fright (at least it scared me.) It eventually builds up to a melodic section, with some faint glimmer of hope amidst the otherwise very evil-sounding song. I like to listen to the last two tracks before this one without skipping around because it makes the effect of that first thunderous timpani even more effective. I’m trying hard not to make references to the game, but if you’re lucky enough to have gotten all 108 characters, you have the chance to alongside a best friend (story-wise, that is), making the song even more awesome and memorable. But on it’s own, it’s simply a must-hear, in my humble opinion.

Immediately after that, the listener is thrown into yet another incredible song – but this time incredibly joyous. Enter “Epilogue ~ For the 108 Stars ~.” I feel this song joins the ranks of previous anthems like “Avertuneiro Antes Lance Mao” and “We Will Always Be.” It just doesn’t get much more glorious than this. Exciting, rich instrumentation coupled with an emotional, beautiful melody for nearly eight minutes.

The staff roll follows, “Finale: Remembering the Blue Sea.” The story’s ending follows the somber feel of the rest of the game, and can either end sadly or very happily (though not until the very, very end.) The finale music matches this, and is 10 minutes of soothing, fairly sad music, with a very triumphant, joyful segment around 6:42. Listeners may notice a return of Suikoden I’s “Theme of Sadness” make an appearance, and it’s very nice to hear the series call upon it’s roots like that. “Into a World of Illusions” is the main theme from Suikoden I, and is played live here by coba. A perfect ending.

But wait! There’s more! The next two songs are reprises of the army battle themes from Suikoden I. The instrumentation is lacking; it’s not nearly as polished as the rest of Suikoden IV’s soundtrack, nor the original Suikoden. Still, it’s a surprising treat for long-time fans.

Finally, ending this long run of amazing music, is the motif for the Rune of Punishment, performed with piano and violin. As if there weren’t enough tear-jerkers in the last half hour of music, the whole thing closes with this. The burden the lead character carries for the game translates well into music, and the song reminds me a bit of Grandia’s “Sandy Beach of Gumbo”, just sadder.

I have to mention a really stupid thing – the game, and the music, is not about pirates. For some reason, some people call it a “swashbuckling adventure” which it most certainly is not. Less ‘thorough’ reviewers must have seen a screenshot with one of the two pirate-looking characters in the game and called it good. I just don’t want anyone getting this soundtrack and expecting to hear “awesome” pirate jigs. This is Suikoden.

The packaging of the album is very nice. Mostly consisting of soft hues of blue and white, it depicts the gentle breeze of the wind. The discs themselves are a stark contrast; the first disc being pitch black with the Rune of Punishment emblazoned boldly on the surface.

And let me quickly comment on the track lengths. This is a sad, sad case of “let’s cram it onto as few discs as possible.” It’s a pity, because there are a couple songs that don’t even loop *quite* all the way before beginning to fade. It’s FFIV all over again, and it’s a shame. This should have been a three or four disc album. But the music is still there, and it’s good, so don’t let that sway you from enjoying the music. There’s always the repeat button.

So, after all my rambling, should you buy this album? YES. Please do it. Even if you have not played Suikoden IV, or even hated the game, the music stands strong on it’s own. Those of you who did enjoy the game will find lots of memories and emotional moments in the music. The regular pressing and the limited edition (which is simply the regular edition plus a mini-score book) are readily available so go pick one up, and enjoy the continued legacy of Suikoden.

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