Phantasy Star Online is one of those soundtracks that has me so confused. On one hand, I love it to death. There are so many good tracks, not to mention the bonus material is almost worth the album alone. However, there are a few pieces that are so uninteresting and mediocre compared to the rest, it just begs the question, “How can something this incredibly good be so bland at the same time?!”
What I couldn’t understand is that I’d played the game for hours upon hours, yet continued to have the overwhelming urge to listen to its soundtrack again and again. Perhaps it was the familiar feelings of excitement I’d have while playing the game that this CD brought back, or was it the music itself; even the tracks I normally found annoying within the game I was able to tolerate. Whatever it was that drew me to listen to this CD, I do know there is a complexity to this music that not many people realize.
Playing an online RPG is much different than your conventional console RPG fare. As a player you’re speaking to other players, using teamwork to get through levels, thus projecting yourself into that character, and completely immersing yourself into the game environment. Music is detrimental to this process. Not only did Kobayashi and Kumatani realize this, but they used their talents to create a soundtrack that would help convey the different atmospheres and feelings to the player. From the calming music of the Forest to the mechanical feel of the Mines, to the mysterious, and oftentimes foreboding, sounds of the Ruins, you can’t play through without “feeling” the music.
The interesting part about PSO is that each level has two distinct themes, one for normal exploration, and another for when monsters enter the area. I must commend the composers on an excellent job incorporating both of these themes so well; most times the pieces segue seamlessly from one to another. A lot of this is due to the ambient nature of the music; without distinct melodies, the composers were able to use similar style and synth to create a common theme for both. Kobayashi and Kumatani take this to the next level by creating calming exploration themes that blend in well to the more fast-paced battle music. It would have been really neat if the tracks would have flown together on the CD itself as the themes do in the game, though.
The ambience is perfectly offset by some truly amazing boss themes. “From seeing the rough wave” is my favorite. Its unconventional heavy bass rhythm combined with synthesized violins perfectly captures the heart-pounding race through the sewer tunnels as you fight De Ro Ley. Highly dramatic and powerful, these pieces sound as if they came straight from a battle scene in a movie. The final boss themes, “Pray for ‘IDOLA’ the distorted” and “Cry for ‘IDOLA’ the holy” are incredible. They have a sweeping, dramatic quality to them that fits extremely well with the final battle.
If you were a fan of the opening and ending themes from the game, you’re in for quite a surprise with this CD. This CD contains the lyric versions, which I enjoyed much more than their “La La” counterparts. Although the vocalist sounds off key at times, I found her voice to be pleasant and it flows well with the orchestral arrangement. Between both pieces, though, I’d definitely say that the ending theme is the better of the two. Its beautiful melody combined with LOREN’s soothing voice almost brings tears to my eyes whenever I listen to it. And I absolutely love how it breaks into the fast and heavy orchestrated finishing segment, which I found to be very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII’s Ending Theme.
As I mentioned before, not only are there a lot of incredible things about this album, there are a few not so incredible aspects as well. Not all of the music is pleasing to the ear, namely the Forest Battle theme, “Mother earth of dishonesty PART 2”; the cacophony of harsh sounds tends to grate on the nerves a bit. Also, both Cave themes are just a little too dissonant for my tastes. Probably the most upsetting is that not all of the music is included. Both the character creation (my favorite piece in the entire game) and character selection themes are missing, among others. All of that mentioned, I still believe the good outweighs the bad.
For all of you PSO junkies, you’ve probably heard the music a million times, but there is a bonus here in the form of two “Wind Orchetra” arrangements of the opening and ending themes. I’d go as far as to say they’re what really make the CD. Not only do they stay close enough to the original melodies, but they’re arranged to perfection; anyone who loves orchestral will be won over by these tracks.
So, the verdict on PSO OST? If you’ve played the game, you know you want this album. The nostalgia alone makes it worth it. If you’ve never played PSO but are a fan of ambient music, you’ll love it. It has some truly amazing music if you have the time and patience to let it grow on you. PSO is still available at most stores, but I’d recommend Game Music Online. You can pick it up for about $25.