Before Atlus developed the Shin Megami Tensei series, there were two lesser known games on the Famicom by Namco called Megami Tensei. Tsukasa Masuko, who later composed the soundtracks to the first two Shin MegaTen games, composed these scores as well. Victor Entertainment supervised this soundtrack compilation, released over a year later than the second game, and they would go on to release the Shin Megami Tensei soundtrack a little more than a year later.
Like its successor, this soundtrack includes an arrangements disc along with the main original sound disc. The packaging is well laid out, featuring a very professional looking layout and an extensive booklet with composer comments, staff interviews, and so forth. The discs themselves suffer from the same problem that SMT’s soundtrack did—many of the tracks abruptly end without fading, often in very arbitrary places.
The original soundtrack disc opens with a faux ominous track; although it tries to sound creepy, the limitations of the Famicom’s synth (primarily its general lack of dynamic range) are readily apparent. The next few tracks are surprisingly upbeat for a MegaTen game; they sound much like any other generic FC music. But this is not Shin Megami Tensei, it’s Megami Tensei, so the music should be treated as a separate entity from that of its successor series. The music here rests somewhere between the styles of Ninja Gaiden and early Castlevania games, though several tracks hint at what would later become the series’s trademarks.
Despite the lack of differentiation in instrumentation, MegaTen I and II feature surprising variety. “I ♥ Money” imitates a 50s rock piece, “Devil Speak” matches stylistically with its successor’s organ pieces, and “Labyrinth,” sounds almost like something by current MegaTen composer Shoji Meguro, featuring a well-integrated synth solo reminiscent of Motoi Sakuraba. Impressively, for a FC piece, “Another World” features a time signature that changes between 3/4 and 4/4.
Unfortunately, the majority of the music is forgettable. It doesn’t quite have its own identity, and while it showcases the best elements of early VGM, catchy melodies and diverse influences, it also contains many of the flaws that permeated music of that period. Much of the music seems inconsequential or incomplete, and some of it is simply uninteresting. The music for the second game, which comes first on the disc, has noticeably better synth quality, featuring more reverb and percussion than the first game’s soundtrack. The compositions are also generally better, and the track lengths are longer on average.
The arranged disc, done by the well-known Ryo Yonemitsu, integrates most of the good material on the soundtrack disc. Likewise, it opens with a brief pseudo-foreboding piece, but this one has sound effects. A person typing, a window shattering, thunder, and some FC music in the background…I have no clue what the arranger was thinking. “MICOM,” an upbeat synth track, is the one which truly sets the tone for the album. Over the top 80s synth styles dominate much of the arranged disc, with lots of guitar solos, piano solos, saxophone solos, synth drum kits, and heck, even a violin solo in one track. “MICOM” itself is quite enjoyable in its excess, though “Battlefield” and “Recollections” don’t work quite as well. There is some decent variety, though. “I ♥ Money” and “Devil Speak” get arrangements, and “Hallucination,” one of the original side’s better tracks, gets an excellent re-imagining here, complete with violin and some interesting percussion.
Megami Tensei I•II is not a bad soundtrack. However, despite its high points, it doesn’t offer enough substance to justify a purchase. I recommend it more than Victor’s release of the Shin Megami Tensei soundtrack, and the arranged disc adds significant value, but not to the casual buyer. This set is for MegaTen fans and VGM historians only.