Phantasy Star Online, one of the first console-based Online RPGs to really hold its own over the years, took an unsuccessful turn for the worse with Episode III, a card-based battler that even the most ardent PSO fans agree shouldn’t have happened. Fortunately, the series recovered with Ep. IV “Blue Burst”, and will probably continue to do well with the release of Phantasy Star Universe.
As for the card game’s soundtrack, we are treated to one of the most unique experiences I’ve found yet in videogame music. Essentially, there are two kinds of songs on this double-disc mammoth: the orchestral pieces, and the fiendishly/unabashedly techno-death pieces. My initial response to this dichotomy was “well, I like the orchestra tracks more.” After a more thorough and careful listening, however, I determined that making such a judgment really isn’t fair. It’s apples and oranges: and though I may personally favor oranges a lot more, Tokoi and Kumatani have grown some spectacular apples. Get my meaning?
Episode III’s opening theme, “Let the Winds Blow”, is one of the most beautiful orchestral performances I’ve found on a videogame soundtrack. Featuring the vocal performance of Krzysztof Przygudzki and the orchestral performance of the Warsaw Philharmonic, this opening theme is a true masterpiece. I don’t have words to describe this. The lyrics leave something to be desired, but that’s why you get someone foreign to sing it: so the English isn’t entirely coherent. And, is it just me, or is Krzysztof the same person who sang on Final Fantasy III’s arranged album, Eternal Legend of Wind?
There are four more Warsaw Philharmonic performances at the end of the first disc: they all run at about one minute each (except for “Courage”, which goes a good three minutes). These performances are also beautiful, running the course of a movie score rather than a videogame score. The disc ends with a vocal performance from “Loren”, accompanied by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra. “Can Still See The Light” is a well-known song to PSO fans by now, but this rendition is worthy of being placed on the soundtrack.
The second disc opens with a remix of the first disc’s opening theme, and this track is quite the marvel. Though it only runs for two minutes, it takes the best sections of the four minute opening and adds it to a pumped up drum-looped mix that makes for a more energetic song than the original. Among the “techno” pieces, this one is the best, but that’s because it has something amazing from which to draw samples.
Disc two ends with two vocal performances, the first by “D”, and the second (again) from Loren. These songs are both from previous PSO installments, and these arrangements are, again, more than adequate. The lyrics are still cheesy, the music is pop-ballad with a lot of flashy extras, but it’s still a worthwhile listen.
Running inbetween all of the aforementioned tracks are the in-game pieces, which are the very hardcore techno-style songs I had referred to earlier in the review. What makes these songs stand out from the mass of techno-junk-heap that one can find strewn across the world of VGM is that these songs feature a lot of “ethnic” percussion, fluid melodies, and generally a whole lot of high-quality synthesized instruments. I believe the samples provided serve as an excellent demonstration of this point.
This is not to say that there are no terribly boring filler tracks. They exist too, and the average VGM listener would feel no guilt in skipping right over them. It’s hard to make a full two-disc soundtrack that successfully avoids that sort of song. Nonetheless, they are few and far between on this OST (as compared to other OSTs that are chock full of boredom), so I suppose we can let it slide this time.
Overall, this is an excellent soundtrack to a less-than-excellent installment of the PSO series. Whether either of these two styles of music are worth your attention depends on your preference of musical genre, but as for me, I’m sold. The orchestral tracks (especially the opening track) floored me, and the rest of it was an above-average experience as far as OSTs go. In comparison to the music of Episodes I and II, I’d say this one is slightly sub-par, but any self-respecting PSO fan should consider hunting down this soundtrack.