Gensosangokushi is a title that Falcom published in Japan after reports of initial success in the broader Asian market. Developed by UserJoy, and having a soundtrack done by UserJoy’s Sound Team, I listened to this album having zero previous expectations, as I knew this wasn’t a “Sound Team JDK” album, even though it was published by Falcom. Quickly now: remove your expectations as well so we can appreciate this album as fully as possible. Let’s start with the vocal tracks.
Eternal Melody and Exhausted Heart are performed in their original Chinese versions. Exhausted Heart is performed by a male vocalist with an acoustic guitar, and I wasn’t too taken by the song, though it had good production value and a unique sound. I was much more pleased with the original version of Eternal Melody, which is performed by a female vocalist. The song is one of those lovely and epic ballads that many RPGs ought to have but don’t. The song opens with a simple piano part, then the vocalist begins singing her song. Later, drums and strings are added to make it the sort of radio-friendly ballad we’ve gotten used to hearing in our own generation. However, this song has something about it that I cannot describe: is it the chord progression? Is it the melody? Is it the structure of verse and chorus? I have no idea: all I know is that this song is brilliant.
There are a few variations on the “Eternal Melody” theme, such as “Autumn Marriage Tears” or “Flying”, and these lighter instrumental arrangements definitely do the original song justice. I am glad to see that while the theme was used a few times throughout the album, it was not overused, because that would show a lack of effort on the part of the composers. As it stands, I think the composers (who have remained anonymous under the shroud of UserJoy) did a fantastic job with this score, and I would simply love to see more RPGs (and VGM) coming from Asian companies outside of Japan. We can be thankful that Falcom brought Gensosangokushi to Japan, but we must first recognize the accomplishment of UserJoy and their fantastic score for the game, one that I think hearkens back to the days of classic Super Famicom OSTs, now with much better synth capabilities.
Do you understand what I mean by this last statement? Back in the glory days of SFC music, composers were limited as to the sounds available and their quality, so what they lacked in pure sound quality they made up for by having either catchy or sophisticated compositions. In recent years, I’ve been worried that this sort of compositional quality has been replaced by the Hollywood-like orchestral performances that ultimately lack substance. Gensosangokushi’s OST reminds us what a VGM score once sounded like, but now with much improved synths. I feel that the audio samples speak for themselves in this matter. To give you the concrete example, listen to track 42, “Nocturne Flower”, which I assume to be one of the near-end-game battle themes. Scales and arpeggios run rampant, giving us a sense of baroque grandeur, yet all the while a brass melody and booming drum part gives us the sense of an imperial march. A synth choir adds to the epic feel, and by the end of the day, this song has kicked some butt and taken names.
Like the Super Arranged counterpart, this OST was originally made available only by purchasing it alongside the game from Falcom’s site. This is certainly a shame, but I have found that many international gamers who bought the limited edition have been selling the soundtracks separate from the game on Yahoo! Japan and other online markets. Go now, and pick up an album that I suspect will change your ideas about who is leading in the world of VGM these days. I tell you, the non-Japanese Asian gaming industry is becoming a serious competitor, and these songs are some of the best I’ve heard in years. I can only hope to see more of these albums become increasingly available: be it from Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, or mainland China; there is a lot of untapped potential out there for music in general (not to mention VGM), and I hope to see that potential reached in coming years as the gaming market expands outside of Japan and the United States.