Note: This soundtrack is only available through the Japanese Limited Edition game, which also came with an artbook. The reprint came alongside the Japanese Limited Edition PSP version of the game.
I like to consider VGM albums as concept albums. While some don’t do this as well as others, no one can deny that a VGM album is meant to tell a story, much like its game counterpart does. Not only does Disgaea do this, but it does it so well that it will probably make you curious as to what it’s all about. I’ll save you some time; it’s about the egotistical Prince of the Netherworld named Laharl who wakes up from a long slumber to find his father dead and a civil war dividing the kingdom in half. Laharl decides to gather up an army and take his throne by force, stopping at nothing to take back what is rightfully his. The soundtrack complements this premise extremely well, and you’ll be able to imagine Laharl’s journey as you listen to this soundtrack.
The best word to describe Disgaea is “Halloweenish.” From the get-go, the album has a Halloween tinge that will make you think jack-o-lanterns and demons. The opening song, “Lord Laharl’s Hymn” is probably what witches would sing while dancing around a cauldron. It also reminds me strongly of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Another similar track, “Etna Boogie,” is a big band-esque track that reminds me of things that go bump in the night. The battle track, “Great Wilder” is another Halloween-esque track whose strange instruments will no doubt make you think of the Underworld. The Halloweenish theme pervades the album, even in some of the brighter tracks, like “Flowerbed,” which features a bright melody with occasional dark chords. It’s a very strange song when you first hear it, but I learned to love it. One of my favorite tracks, “Sorrowful Angel” is probably the most beautiful song on the album, yet it still has that dark tinge.
While the Halloweenish theme is heard throughout the album, there are some other unique styles that Tenpei Sato has added as well. There are some great battle themes on this album; “Beautiful Round Dance,” which is a fast, in-your-face waltz with flamencos, a rowdy piano, and a crazy violin, and for some strange reason reminds me of “Enigmatic Scheme” from UNLIMITED SaGa, except on steroids. Another battle theme, “Underworld” is another underrated battle theme which has an awesome (but brief) electric guitar solo near the end. And the final battle theme, “Disgaea” is a kickass blend of orchestral and rock styles that starts off generic enough, but builds into one of most memorable pieces on the album. Everything in this song, from the synthesized brass to the cherubic choir fits in so well, and the song would probably collapse without even one of them.
There isn’t a shortage of oddballs, either. “Ray of Light to the Future” is an upbeat song that’s hard to categorize. “Dear Friends” is one of those other oddballs that doesn’t fit the theme, but still works. It’s a soothing song with piano and guitar that you’ve probably heard before somewhere…but it’s very captivating, and it’ll probably leave one of the best impressions once you’ve listened to it. And last but not least, “March of the Planet Earth” is the obligatory, catchy militaristic march that you’re going to hum for weeks on end, but at least it sounds good.
Another thing I liked about Disgaea was Tenpei Sato’s decision to do something out of the norm with his vocals. There’s an unusual amount of vocals here, and they are all memorable because each of them is radically different. “Lord Laharl’s Hymn” has that ‘double, bubble, toil and trouble’ persona, but “Ah, My Magnificent Life” feels like something from an opera. Many of the vocalist sound like classical singers with their operatic, bellowing vibrato. At first, it took me a while to get warmed up to “opera” in a video game soundtrack, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thoroughly enjoyed the vocals on this album because they’re so different than what you normally hear.
All in all, Disgaea‘s variety and originality rubbed me in all the right places, but it wasn’t without its severe flaws. First off, Disgaea‘s main problem is its track length. It didn’t bother me so much that each track didn’t loop twice, but it really aggravated me when a song played and faded away before it was completely finished: “Ray of Light to the Future” is the prime example. This is a great song, but before it’s even done, it’ll fade away, leaving you wondering for years how much longer it could’ve been. I honestly think it probably had another thirty seconds to a minute to go before it looped again, but we’ll never know, will we? And to make things even worse, some songs actually do loop twice and fade, but some loop once and fade away in the middle of the first loop. Overall, this is incredibly awkward, and it can’t be ignored. If you can imagine cutting off your left ear and trying to balance yourself on a metal rail, then you can imagine how awkward this is. Granted, I’m a nitpicker and most of you readers probably won’t even care (or much less notice this), but little stuff like this peeves me.
Go and pick up Disgaea. Pick up the arranged album while you’re at it. It’s one of those albums that any VGM lover must have in his or her collection.