The latest Phantasy Star soundtrack is, without a doubt, one of the best in years. I haven’t heard music of such high quality since PSO Episodes I and II.
Previous to this, there were soundtracks for Phantasy Star Universe and Phantasy Star 0 released. Those soundtracks both had their good moments, and they were by no means bad. But as a collector, I’ve heard better, and I could do without them. This, on the other hand, is an “A”-grade OST. Pay attention, now, while I provide the details.
There are four versions of the game’s opening theme “Living Universe.” And I love this song. Every Phantasy Star since PSO has had some sort of large-scale, ridiculous vocal performance. PSO Ep. III had this great operatic track. Phantasy Star Universe has the gospel-influenced “For Brighter Day,” which also makes an appearance on this soundtrack. For PSP2, “Living Universe” takes the approach of Falcom’s “Sora no Kiseki” trilogy. Namely, putting strong female vocalists against these amazing, high-pitched, soaring electric violins and a fast tempo. It works so well… I just love this track. It frames the OST perfectly.
Let’s talk about the four versions a bit. The opening track is the official version, which you hear in the game’s opening. At the end of disc one, you get the “original mix,” which I assume is how the song sounded when first pitched to Sega, before they touched it up and made it ultra-fancy for the game. Disc two opens with a remix called “Entrance Universe,” which cuts out most of the vocals, particularly during the verses. Finally, for a strange twist, the instrumentalf-focused “Entrance Remix” itself gets remixed by adding vocals back in. Wait, wasn’t the point of the “Entrance Universe” remix to pull out the vocals? Well, the fourth and final version of the song might be a little redundant then. But the others are all cool.
The only other vocal track on the album is a remix of “For Brighter Day” found near the end of disc two. This remix keeps the dance beat, but puts emphasis on piano and strings. I like it more than the original version. It’s like disco-gospel.
Now, as for the meat of this soundtrack, the instrumental tracks across both discs are excellent. I thought Phantasy Star 0 had a lot of potential, but having to compress down to DS synths can really hurt the quality of the end product. Not so for a PSP game. There are real instrumental recordings scattered throughout this soundtrack, but even when the instruments are synthesized, there is no compression. Everything sounds life-like. So the production is top-notch.
As for the quality of composition–melodic lines, harmonic structure, variety in musical style from one piece to the next–the PSP2 OST excels on all fronts. It’s worth noting that this soundtrack was released just after the Final Fantasy XIII OST, and as such, I have recently been listening to said soundtrack quite a bit. It’s already a favorite for 2010. Now, this is only a two disc soundtrack, but the music here is powerful, substantial, and memorable enough to make it a worthwhile listening experience in companionship with FFXIII. Yes, I’m serious.
I think anyone seeking good VGM in 2010 should put the Phantasy Star Portable 2 “Wings of Universe” soundtrack in their list of options. Certainly, even this early in the year, FFXIII is the dominating force. But we’ve already seen several disappointing OSTs early in the year, and I had expected this one to join the pile. Why? I don’t know. It just felt like an unnecessary sequel in a franchise that I worry is going the way of so many other Sega properties. However, while I still can’t speak for the game (haven’t played it), I can say the soundtrack is quite good. A marvelous blend of electronica and orchestral sound awaits you. Don’t miss out.