Shadow Hearts is an acquired taste. You either have to be a really special person or have played the games to truly appreciate the music. I fall into the latter category (although I do consider myself to be quite special). This album is an arranged rendition of some of the most famous SH tracks, and almost every composer for the series is represented here. This is especially fantastic for me because I am a big fan of Tomoko Imoto; the choice to include her in this compilation was a very generous and wise decision on Yoshitaka Hirota’s part. The album itself, “Near Death Experience” is named after the surprisingly popular track of the same name from the first SH game. It’s unfortunate that it truly is a “near death experience.” It is so dull and unimpressive that I was almost dead after hearing it.
First, let’s talk about the positives. A few of the tracks fare well, particularly “The Wheel of Fortune,” which is a choral take on the original song from Shadow Hearts: From the New World. Overall, it is well done, and Ms. Imoto does not disappoint. Ms. Imoto also arranged “Asian Parfait” from the original SH game, and it sounds great here. It is upbeat, catchy, and just as fun as the original track. “The 3 Karma” is also a decent track that captures the essence of the original song well, even though it lacks in pacing.
Sadly, the negatives outweigh the positives. The majority of tracks on this arrange album just don’t feel right. The biggest offender is “Astaroth.” The original song was amazing, and the arrangement tries very hard to follow in its footsteps. But the percussion doesn’t fit the song. It turns a very relaxed battle theme into a very Easy Listening-esque piece. While this sounds great and sensible on paper, it doesn’t work for the song. It leads the song nowhere. “Deep in Coma” is just as bad; it is dubbed as a “minimal mix,” and that description fits the song to a tee. A fat techno beat and electronic feedback were added, making the song extremely danceable but not listenable. Unless techno is your thing, you’re going to be disappointed, because the level of arrangement is about as “minimal” as you can get.
I really wanted to love “Near Death Experience” as much as I loved Shadow Hearts: From the New World, but I can’t. For an arrangement album of some of the most eclectic VGM out there, there should have been more to the songs than just brand new beats and chanting vocals. A few good songs make this worth the listen if you’re a series fan, but if you’re a newbie looking for a good introduction to SH music, this is not it. It will only turn you away. I highly recommend the original Shadow Hearts soundtrack or the newly released Shadow Hearts: From the New World instead. “Near Death Experience” gets a 6.5 out of 10.