Author’s note: the track names on these CDs are given in Japanese only. The English track names listed below are unofficial translations.
It’s funny how you can play entry after entry in a series without ever really noticing the way its music has evolved over time. You simply hear the themes you’ve heard time and time again and think “yep, that’s the Pokémon theme.” And then the four-disc Pokémon Black & White 2 Super Music Complete set comes along. At 173 tracks and 4 1/2 hours long and including music from several other Pokémon games, this collection provides just about all the Pokémusic you could ever need, and it does so while providing a range of musical experiences that’s so wide it may come as a surprise to many listeners. I know it surprised me.
Disc 1 leads off with opening music that will feel familiar to any veteran Pokémon trainer, then goes on to include tracks from the beginning of Pokémon Black 2 & White 2‘s journey through the Unova region. I particularly enjoyed the Aspertia City (aka Hiougi City) tune. It’s one of the longer tracks, and it does a nice job of maintaining a central theme without simply sounding like a short loop being played over and over.
The journey on this disc covers a lot of Unova ground, but its clear focus is in Pokéstar Studios (aka Pokéwood), where 17 of its tracks are set. This in-game movie studio lets trainers shoot films, and the track list makes it clear that the movies can traverse the gamut of emotions, from love or fear to purification and glory. While “Shooting in Pokéstar Studios!” has a great player piano/silent movie feel to it that starts the set off right. The emotionally-themed tracks that follow it do a remarkable job of portraying their title feelings, and a few of them remind me strongly of music from other series. “Theme of Comedy,” for example, makes me think of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and “Theme of Sorrow” goes even farther afield to the underworld of Disgaea.
In disc 2, we move on to the Pokémon World Tournament, which provides the opportunity to revisit boss themes from previous games’ regions. The first of these themes, appropriately, is Battle! Gym Leader (Kanto) ,from the first generation of Pokémon games. It’s a nice update of the old track that feels familiar but benefits greatly from the additional audio fidelity the DS offers over the original Game Boy. Unfortunately, Battle! Gym Leader (Johto) stands as a reminder that you can be too faithful when bringing forward an old piece; its opening matches the original version well enough, but the first 15 seconds or so feel annoyingly like a ringtone I’d set for my phone’s alarm clock. Still, it’s an interesting group of tracks, and it’s fun to go through the series’ boss music generation by generation and hear the themes that have stayed and gone over time.
After the tournament, we continue our trip through Black & White 2‘s Unova region, and there are several good tracks to be found here. The “Underground Ruins” music, for example, is an appropriately subdued track for its setting, and tracks that match their settings well is the kind of thing I always like to hear in a soundtrack. Cheren’s Theme pops up a few tracks later, and it’s a bouncy tune that I can’t help but like. It caught my attention any time it came up in the dozen or so times I listened to this soundtrack for this review. The Humilau City (aka Seigaiha City) tune also caught my ear, as it sounds like the theme song for an anime… or maybe it’s just the Futurama-like chimes that make me think so.
Disc 3 completes our trip through Unova, beginning with the very action-oriented Infiltration into the Plasma Frigate! Parts of this song (particularly the beginning) remind me of the soundtrack to Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. (Not a reference I thought I’d be making in a Pokémon soundtrack review.) Following that, we have Battle! Colress (aka Achroma), which has an electronic/dance feel I really enjoy. It’s a track I could see a DJ using for samples. Jumping ahead briefly to the end of the disc, I feel the same way about Musical “Charming Munna,” which reminds me of the game Space Channel 5, and that’s never a bad thing.
Continuing our trip through the game where we left off, we reach N’s Castle. Its music is very identifiable as JRPG music, but it’s not what I’d expect to hear from Pokémon. Maybe Final Fantasy Tactics? It’s also unusual in that it has the clicks and pops you’d hear if you played it on a record player, and I love that. Similarly, “N’s Room” has a very creepy “old music box being cranked by hand” sound that reminds me of old horror adventure games like The 7th Guest. It’s not played at a consistent tempo, and some of the notes sound just out of tune, as though the handle of the music box has been left in one spot for too long, and some of its metal pins have been permanently warped. It’s one of my favorite tracks out of all four discs.
All four discs cover a wide range of musical styles, but Disc 4 is uniquely varied in terms of the tracks it presents, since they’re cherry-picked from previous games. If I understand correctly, this disc is comprised of tracks that were not included on the released soundtracks for Pokémon Emerald and Platinum. A puzzling choice, but welcome nonetheless, as there are some very interesting tracks to be found here.
As with the other discs, some of the tracks that stood out the most to me were those that reminded me of other games that I didn’t see coming. For example, Battle Factory (Hoenn) brings to mind the theme music from the Virtual Boy game Red Alarm, which is crazy. Nobody makes references to Virtual Boy games. Likewise, Giratina Appears! Sounds like a track from the Portal 2 soundtrack, and I never would have expected to hear something like that in a Pokémon game. (That said, I must point out that this track comes from Pokémon Platinum, which came out a few years before Portal 2, so if there was any actual inspiration on a composer’s part, it would have been the other way around.)
Of course, not all of the good tracks are reminiscent of other games. Some are just good at doing what they’re supposed to do, like Wi-Fi Plaza – Plaza Game. This track is very fitting to its title, and feels like a short game show theme. Super Contest – Toughness features another unforeseen style twist, as it’s a fun flamenco number. In contrast, I did not care for Super Contest – Coolness. It starts out with a syncopated rhythm that I enjoyed, but as the track proceeds, it tries to cram too much into that backbeat and falls apart.
Finally, the track Battle Arcade deserves a mention – there are a few tracks throughout this disc that have similar themes to one another throughout the disc, and Battle Arcade is the culmination of that collection of sounds. It has a cool blending of styles that incorporates synthesized traditional Japanese instruments, electric guitar, and even steel drums, then adds in Middle Eastern beats. You wouldn’t think it’d work, but it does.
My take on this collection of music is clear at this point: I think it’s great. I was taken by surprise over and over by the variety of musical styles presented on these four discs, but at the same time, I was impressed by the way that those disparate tracks hold together as a cohesive whole. As a result of this collection, I think I’ll pay more attention to the music in my next Pokémon game.