Note: This soundtrack is only available with the boxed Japanese print of the game, and thus is quite the rarity. This is because many gamers took the option of simply downloading the expansion rather than buying the game. Perhaps this soundtrack was the only reason to pick up the game in boxed form.
If you had asked me a few years ago whether or not I liked Phantasy Star Online music, my reply would have been “hell no.” Bland, boring, unexciting, yawnfest, sleep-o-rama, dullville, and lullaby-ish were just some of the words in my advanced vocabulary to describe it. There was just something about the music that didn’t impress me. And since I’m such a tough crowd to please when it comes to techno and orchestrated VGM, it was only natural that Phantasy Star Online wouldn’t appeal to me.
Well, I’m here to say that I was absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent wrong. In fact, I think I might have had a temporary illness or I was abducted by aliens during my teenage years, because I realize now that I was out of my mind. I recently sat down and listened to about five Phantasy Star Online albums, and for some reason, they just clicked. All of a sudden, the strange instruments and the mellow themes made sense, and I was loving every minute of it!
Phantasy Star Online Episode IV: Blue Burst is the fourth entry in the online epic. While Episode III is condemned by most people, Episode IV revitalized the series and gave it life again, and the music reflects that. Phantasy Star Online music is the marriage of techno and orchestra, and it’s the only series in VGM that does it exceptionally well. Sweeping strings, frantic techno beats, weird synthesizers, and harmonious chords are the characteristics of this music, and they wouldn’t work very well anywhere else. Thanks to Hideaki Kobayashi, Fumie Kumatani, and Kenichi Tokoi, we have been brought a fantastic album that, while short, almost ranks up there with Episode I, which is considered by most to have the best music in the series (and I agree).
The soundtrack doesn’t bring anything new to the table; in fact, the music is all too familiar. If anything, it is more upbeat than the other episodes, and there aren’t any slow songs. This is also the shortest soundtrack outing in the history of Phantasy Star Online, but it’s still good. “Meteor Strike” is the epic opening piece which is urgent and in your face. I really wish the soundtrack would have opened with a vocal track, though. Next, the tracks are organized in pairs of two, with each pair having a theme. The first is “Nostalgia Solitude.” Part one is slower, more mellow, and focuses primarily on piano accompaniment. The song is very sad, and does remind you of solitude. Part two is meant to be more frantic, since it is somewhat of a battle theme. I like part two as well because the same theme is carried out in a clever manner. The emphasis this time around is on strings, but the piano is still apparent and remains active throughout the song.
The next pairing is “Entry Into the Crater,” which I don’t particularly care for. For the record, I’m not a big fan of Fumie Kumatani’s compositions. I think they lack substance and there’s nothing to them except a beat and an amnesia-diagnosing melody. These two pieces are forgettable as hell. So, let’s move on. Next up is “Underworld,” which is my favorite pairing. Part one, “equilibrium” is a gorgeous piece that doesn’t necessarily remind me of an underworld, but it works. Everything is put together so well; the piece relies more on electric instruments than orchestral ones, and every instrument is layered perfectly. It’s almost as if Mr. Kobayashi took the utmost care in refining the pan, reverb, and effects of every instrument in the song. Part two, “chaos” is an incredibly wild version of part one, which is again meant to be a battle theme. It is laden with crazy piano riffs and the chord work is absolutely wonderful.
The last three tracks aren’t paired at all, but they’re decent. “The shell’s desert -last boss-” is my least favorite track, but I did enjoy it. “IDOLA -the fanatic viper-” is the highlight of the soundtrack. To me, it is the model of what PSO upbeat tracks should sound like. A lot of people don’t like the IDOLA tracks, but I love this one, because I like how it starts off slow, but then builds up to an apex. There’s even a breakdown around the 4 minute mark that is very well done. Overall, a great track. The final track is a remix of “World With Me,” the classic PSO vocal track. I don’t like what they’ve done with this song…the R&B feel just doesn’t fit here. And worse, it doesn’t fit the theme of this soundtrack! It’s a terrible ending, especially after the IDOLA track. I would have liked to see this track just disappear.
Phantasy Star Online Episode IV: Blue Burst has a great soundtrack, although it is short. If you enjoyed the first three episodes, then there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like this one. With the exception of a few tracks, I wholly recommend it. I’m giving it a 9 out of 10.