If there was ever a game soundtrack that deserved a 16-bit arrangement album, it is Octopath Traveler. Square Enix’s love letter to the classics looks and feels just like a JRPG from the mid-1990s, so why not give it a soundtrack that matches that era? Yasunori Nishiki’s outstanding score is already being celebrated in the form of numerous rearrangements and live concerts, so this fun album is the cherry on top of the cake.
Taking the lead on this, Noriyuki Kamikura has done an outstanding job “demaking” eight tracks (I mean, what other number would it be?) from Octopath Traveler’s soundtrack. Contributing to other works such as Trails of Cold Steel I and II, SaGa Scarlet Grace, and the Adventure of Mana and Secret of Mana remakes (his “Steel and Snare” arrangement is one of my favourite tracks on the album, hands down), Kamikura is familiar with composing new music within a storied series, as well as reimagining and recreating the magic of what made the original soundtracks so great. It’s the latter in particular that he executes so well in Octopath Traveler 16bit Arrangements.
Now, on to the album itself. While the selection is small, I think there’s a good variety of tracks here, with a focus on battle themes but not so much that it drowns out the rest of the album. Octopath Traveler 16bit Arrangements basically feels like a half-hour session with the game; as you boot it up, you get into a couple of fights, make it to the nearest town, start the next chapter for your character, fight some bosses, and finish up. It’s a delightful, nostalgic adventure which I think would appeal to people who’ve never played the game before as well as any music fan.
We lead in with “Battle I,” which retains the bass-heavy introduction of the original version. While initially staying faithful to Nishiki’s version, this arrangement slows down around the 1:30 mark and changes the mood of the song completely. Slowing down the music creates a sense of reprieve, but then the pace suddenly picks up again as the bass intensifies and that sense of urgency and intensity that comes from Octopath Traveler’s battle tracks creeps in. It took me completely by surprise but felt so natural.
The other two battle arrangements are also pretty wonderful and use this same approach to add an extra minute of so of content, but “Battle II” in particular stands out for sounding the most different. While most of this album has been inspired by SNES soundtracks, “Battle II” sounds like it’s been processed through the Sega Mega Drive’s sound chip. It’s got a very distinct electronic flair which I remember fondly from my childhood, and it matches the original’s much more acoustic and electric guitar sound to a tee. It certainly wouldn’t sound out of place in Phantasy Star IV.
Moving away from the battle themes, this album doesn’t lose any of its lustre. “The Flatlands” is the only overworld theme here, and while it doesn’t add anything new in terms of instrumentation or musical content, it manages to retain the feel of wandering through an open, breezy area replete with fields and farmland. In contrast, “The Trees Have Eyes” is even more stripped back from its matching dungeon theme on the Octopath Traveler soundtrack, and as a result, it manages to convey a creepiness that I think even the original track was missing.
“Flamesgrace, Guiding Light” is yet another track that seems to gain a second wind in 16-bit form. There’s something very warm about the original, capturing a snow-cloaked town which is the centre of the game’s religious storyline. I certainly feel that in Kamikura’s version, but as it’s more stripped back, it also feels a bit more melancholy, as though you’re walking through the city alone at night. The second loop adds an extra instrument (which sounds like the synth used in the SNES-style Final Fantasy “Prelude”), and that addition enhances the mysticism and holiness of the city.
Out of the character themes, “Tressa, the Merchant” is probably the most perfect track to pick from the game’s soundtrack. The harmonica present in Nishiki’s version translates note-for-note to a 16-bit style, making this arrangement the closest to the original version, and that’s not a criticism at all. Tressa’s theme deserves to retain its cheery positive outlook because it matches her unwavering personality, and the fact that it translates so well to chiptune form is wonderful. I personally would’ve loved to hear what H’aanit or Therion’s more sombre themes sound like in a 16-bit style, though.
My only real criticism of Octopath Traveler 16bit Arrangements is that it’s too short! Kamikura has done a wonderful job of translating Nishiki’s beautiful work to a 16-bit style; he retains the magic of what makes the originals so good, while in certain cases he adds a different layer of depth and emotion that only enhances the quality of the music. I haven’t covered every track on the album here, but that’s because I want you to pick this up and see what similarities and differences you can hear between Octopath Traveler’s music and the music from the 16-bit era. I’d love to hear more of this soundtrack in chiptune form, or better yet, see what other soundtracks are ripe for the 16-bit treatment.