Although I’m not familiar with all of Mr. Iwadare’s soundtracks, I have heard enough to get a basic grasp on the type of music he’s best known for: fun, upbeat melodies, fast and exciting battle themes, and fresh orchestral-styled pieces that have renewed my faith in game music as a genre. I was very much anticipating his newest work. Even though I’d heard it was less than stellar, I wanted to pass that judgment for myself. And after having listened through the entire album, the most fitting comment I can make is that good sound quality cannot save dull and uninspired compositions.
There is no doubt that the quality of the samples in Grandia Xtreme is some of the best I’ve heard on the PS2. Crisp, vibrant, and as close to the real thing as you can get, at parts I myself questioned whether certain instruments were real or not. However, this does not make up for the lack of inspiration. Many of the pieces are very upbeat and jazzy, and you’d expect them to be a little catchier than they are, but as a whole they come off as stale and contrived.
Starting off the album is “Theme of Xtreme,” which is a decent piece, but nothing astoundingly new for Iwadare. Sadly, the mediocrity continues throughout much of the soundtrack. Aside from being unremarkable, many pieces are too repetitive for 4 and 5-minute long tracks. For the first time that I can remember, I actually wished some of the tracks were shorter rather than longer.
I was hopeful that the battle tracks (4 in all) would make up for the lack of quality compositions. Fortunately, Iwadare does a solid job with these. As energetic as ever, these pieces are fast, fun, and the highlight of the album. Combat 1 is my favorite. It features a rather cool acoustic guitar plucking away at key parts along with some awesome Capcom-esque synth.
Only a few other tracks stood out for me. “Kroitz” is the most enjoyable piece on the album. The stringed-symphonic style compliments the melody nicely, and those violins just sound too real at times. The new-age ambient track, “Source of the Waves,” employs the subtle use of bells and chimes, ethereal synth, and smartly-placed, short symphonic spurts to create a pleasant mix of sounds that reminded me of a watery place well before I knew the track’s name.
Bringing the album to a close is the ending vocal “Rein-car-nation.” I can’t say that I really like this song, but I also can’t say I hate it. As with most of the album, it just seems to be there. The vocalist has a pleasant enough voice, but it’s not enough to inject life into this song.
How I wish I could have had excellent things to say about this album. I know Noriyuki Iwadare is capable of great things, but Grandia Xtreme sadly isn’t one of them. All in all, it’s not a bad album; there are some very good battle themes along with a couple of excellent compositions that made me wish there were more like it. But in the end, I can only recommend this to hardcore Iwadare fans. Perhaps these pieces will become more endearing to me once I play the game, but until then, I think I’ll stick with Iwadare’s earlier musical efforts in the Grandia series.