When Square Enix Music knows they have a good thing, they tend not to let up on it. Exhibit A: NieR. Exhibit B: Octopath Traveler.
Within months of the first arrange album’s release, Square Enix decided to double down by releasing this follow-up album of additional arranged material, which would later be incorporated in a live concert with a blu-ray release in late 2019. On top of that, they also made good on the “demake” style of HD-2D by releasing a 16-bit arranged album. If you love the Octopath Traveler soundtrack, you cannot complain about a lack of great music. And that, of course, is only from the publisher’s side. If I were to get into licensed arrangements from Materia Collective and others … I would run out of breath trying to make heads or tails of things!
So let’s talk about this particular album, the “Extend” expansion to Break & Boost. This time, we do not have two coexisting sides. Rather, the chamber music crew and the metal-shredding rock crew interweave throughout the album, though there is no question who takes the lead on, say, track 6. Speaking of which, track 6 is a lovely oddity in that it is a battle theme from the mobile phone exclusive prequel “Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent,” which has yet to be released even in Japan. Getting a musical preview of said prequel through this album is definitely a treat.
From a top-down perspective, because the quality of arrangements and music performers are largely the same as the original Break & Boost, it’s easy enough to write off this album as “more of the same.” In some ways, that’s true. But there are some glaring exceptions. For starters, the opening track is a medley of the eight character themes, and as you may imagine, that makes it quite the lengthy track. So lengthy, in fact, that it is hard to follow unless the listener is willing to really concentrate on the experience. As background music for daily life, it does not work as well. Focus, however, comes with its rewards. For example, can you identify the order of the arrangements? Hint: it follows a particularly canonized order involving the OCTOPATH acronym.
And then you have the closing track, which is a surprisingly beautiful vocal track. I could write an entire review about this single arrangement, and I would argue that this song alone justifies a purchase of this album. Vocalist Mayu Wakisaka has a small but growing body of work in Japanese media (game, anime), and I went out of my way to check out Wakisaka’s other works. They all pale in comparison to this performance. And yet, I have no idea what she is talking about. The lyrics and lyricist are left out of the booklet, and I’m not even sure what language she is singing, though I am tempted to say French or another Romance-group European language such as Portuguese. In any case, the style of the arrangement and the big build to the intense rolling drums of the final 32 measures make for one absolutely incredible listen.
The new environmental theme arrangements are all great in their own way. Some really didn’t need much alteration from their OST counterparts, like Atlasdam and River of Life. The two-part dungeon medley “Dark Caverns ~ Beneath the Surface” received the heaviest treatment in terms of new instrumentation and added layers of harmony, and to that end, I find it most enjoyable. I also love the surprising liveliness and tension found in “The Gate of Finis,” a piece of music that only the most hardcore gamers will have heard while playing the game. This new arrangement doesn’t do too much new, but it is still a great track.
While I ultimately remain frustrated that these tracks weren’t released as part of the Break & Boost album (and I wonder if this was an intentional shady tactic on the part of SEM to make an extra buck), I am ultimately not going to bite the hand that feeds me such lovely VGM arrangements. My personal feeling about the Octopath Traveler music is that if you’re going to go, go all out. If you picked up the OST and the original Break & Boost, you may as well finish your set with “Extend” — if for no other reason than that sweet sweet vocal track!