2007 has been a very busy year for Basiscape. Hitoshi Sakimoto alone has scored parts of at least five games and his first anime, and the other members have come and gone as well, sometimes with and sometimes without the company’s founder. The score for Vanillaware’s Action RPG Odin Sphere called upon five of the company’s six composers, including relative newcomers Mitsuhiro Kaneda and Kimihiro Abe. On par with their usual work, Odin Sphere’s score is generally orchestral, with waves of pounding brass and cascading harp arpeggios riding on a background of diverse percussion. Despite having taken on so many projects lately, Sakimoto still managed to compose a good section of the music here, although a good deal of his work consists of arrangements on “ODIN SPHERE’s Theme.” Iwata, as would be expected, composed a good deal of the score as well, but Abe and Kaneda contribute a surprisingly large selection of work. Namiki wrote a single track.
The game opens up immediately with its main theme, with a drifting vocal singing in French over piano chords and wind chimes in 6/8 time. The entire synth orchestra comes into play, of course, and Sakimoto’s arrangement builds quickly, but its crescendos do not feel forced, even as the song quickly shifts from burst to quieter interlude to its final triumphant chorus. It should be longer; although its pacing feels perfect, it fades too quickly. However, it serves as an excellent introduction to the album. There are several variations on this theme throughout the album, but none of them have the same power.
Sakimoto’s other work on the album is diverse and yet very characteristic of his distinctive style. “Attic Archive” begins with a light harpsichord line backing a melody and harmony played on woodwinds. These roles reverse in the second half as the harpsichord takes the melody; the strings add a surprising tension that almost seems out of place, but the dissonance is quickly resolved almost as soon as it enters, and becomes merely an introduction to the joyous string line that follows. On the other end of the spectrum, “Battle in the Land of Fire” has no melody, carried almost entirely by percussion. A low tuba at the beginning plays the same note repeatedly, before it is silenced by waves of percussion and some trombone chords backed by chimes. After these cease, chimes take center stage for a few bars until even those segue back into the initial percussion and tuba section. “Restaurant,” another track which eschews heavy brass and percussion for strings and triangle, consistently surprises with its shifts in tone, while “Prince of Darkness” sounds much like what most people expect from Sakimoto, with its militaristic snare drum and frantic string lines.
Masaharu Iwata’s “Battle in the Land of the Dead” sounds almost like a more regularized version of Igor Stavinsky’s Rite of Spring. While certainly much more sedate and less dissonant, the string lines and emphasis on rhythm evoke a similarly primitive atmosphere. The second version of the theme is slower; the string line has been transposed onto xylophone, and the chords have moved from brass to a low piano. This arrangement magnifies the tension found in the original, although a little more dynamic contrast might have worked it its advantage. The two “Battle in the Land of the Devil” tracks have a slightly different relationship. Although the second one is a slower counterpart to the first’s fast-paced version, it is a march, still heavy, but with a particular section that sounds almost triumphant, before it winds down to repeat. The most surprising pair of themes, however, are the “Battle in the Witch’s Forest” tracks; despite the heavy use of brass throughout, its 6/8 time rhythm and almost dance-like structure serve to subvert any darkness in the music. The second version removes the low brass, and creates a waltz, floating on pizzicato strings, marimba, and a glassy percussion sound, similar to a pitched triangle. The exuberant “Hero’s Triumphant Return” and the melancholy “One Left Standing at the World’s End” show Iwata’s diversity, a good change of pace in a composer most well known for dissonant and tense music.
Kimihiro Abe’s first track, “Battle in Fairy Land,” appears unsubtle at first glance: a seven note theme repeats for nearly a minute with some alternate instrumentation. However, the arrangement and rhythm are quite complex; the time signature jumps wildly, and the tambourine, strings, and brass sometimes mesh, sometimes clash in this invigorating, infuriating, and exciting track. Abe’s style continues to surprise with “Battle in the Labrynth City,” which brings to mind Koichi Sugiyama’s ending theme for Dragon Quest IV, itself very similar to the ending of Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet score. The track has the same odd tone quality as “Battle in Fairy Land,” and features odd rhythms and a bizarre shift into something akin to a Masashi Hamauzu climax at the end. “Mysterious Town Village,” completely different from Abe’s tracks on disc 1, is a lighter track, opening with clarinet and pizzicato strings and featuring flutes and (again) tambourine. The arrangement is still surprisingly complex, but it never becomes dissonant. “Quiet Investigation,” a waltz track with levity but also a surprising gravity that keeps it from becoming sappy, and “A Sign of Rebellion,” a saddening track with tense strings and oboe, show other sides of Abe’s talents.
“The Ruined Landscape of Nations at War ~ Second,” composed by Mitsuhiro Kaneda, begins with a standard piano background, but as it builds and progresses through several distinct sections, the diversity of instrumentation and strong orchestration create a very distinctive tone color. His re-envisioning of “Battle in the Labrynth,” very different from Abe’s furious dissonance, prominently features an acoustic guitar, with slow strings playing the base chords. Other instruments fade in and out of the music, as the slow 3/4 beat trudges along. The strange construction of “Rally” is ingeniously composed, with dissonance and melodic elements so tightly intertwined it would almost make Gustav Mahler jealous. It’s hard to tell at first, but this track actually contains arrangements of Sakimoto’s main theme buried under the energetic surface. “Hope, Following the Difficult Battle,” a 6/8 piece, features wonderful counterpoint and a melody that fluidly turns and halts at will, before building to a dissonant climax. Melodic strands are generally unresolved, and the piece feels like a more accessible piece in the 20th century classical style.
Manabu Namiki’s single track on the album stands out, as it sounds very little like anything else on the album. Opening with a single oboe with shaker percussion, a clarinet is added, and then bassoon; as instruments continue to stack on the original line, which never changes, the track approaches cacophony, before simply returning to the original instruments and repeating.
I have been a fan of Hitoshi Sakimoto, and to a lesser extent, Masaharu Iwata, for several years. And while both of them contribute several strong pieces to Odin Sphere’s score, I was more impressed with the contributions made by Kimihiro Abe and Mitsuhiro Kaneda, Abe particularly. They deftly blended 20th century classical stylistic elements with video game scoring conventions, something which composers attempt often but do not usually succeed at. But this, after all, is what Basiscape is known for. The album itself is the best video game music I’ve heard this year, and, due to the efforts of Kaneda and Abe, is much more successful than ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat’s score. Diverse, exciting, and enthralling, the Odin Sphere Original Soundtrack is a masterpiece.