The GENTLE LOVE crew is back with a third collection of sleepy-time tunes. Pianist AYAKI and saxophone prodigy Norihiko Hibino bring us Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume III with assistance from producer Jayson Napolitano, founder and manager of the Scarlet Moon Records label. Alongside many franchise-specific entries in the “Game Music Lullabies” series, indicators from the variety-style first and second volumes suggest we’re in for a treat.
Before we go any further, a disclosure: for many years (approximately 2008–2014), I had a working relationship with Jayson Napolitano when we were both actively writing for the now-dormant OriginalSoundVersion game music blog. I also had the opportunity to listen to early mixes of some of the tracks on here, and I am listed in the “Special Thanks” portion of the liner notes as I discussed track selection with Jayson early on with this project. Does this affect my opinion of the album? It’s difficult to say. I think I was going to like the end product no matter what given the talents of the GENTLE LOVE duo and my affinity with the musical genre.
The two prior volumes offered an interesting span of source material across all of gaming. With this third volume, we get even more variation, with both the popular and the unexpected. For example, while Final Fantasy XII is certainly a popular game, the song choice “Eruyt Village” surprised me. Without question, this is my favorite track from the album. Clocking in at nine minutes, Hibino and AYAKI arranged this town theme expertly, and I will not soon forget it.
Elsewhere, we find “Theme of Prontera” from Ragnarok Online, the Korean MMORPG that took the world by storm decades ago, though I acknowledge I’ve not even thought about this game or its soundtrack in years. “Prontera” is bright and upbeat, not unlike the classic “Trading Town of Redmont” from Ys III. The balance of songs based in major keys versus minor keys throughout this album is impressive, and I liked these two choices for major-key options.
Another bright one that worked surprisingly well? “Rosenkranz” from SaGa Frontier II. Given Masashi Hamauzu’s masterpiece is a piano-driven score, AYAKI handles the piece with appropriate care. What surprised me was Norihiko Hibino’s masterful use of saxophone on this track. It is so bright, so well-stated, that there are times that one could mistake the sax part for another woodwind — until, of course, the improvisation work starts about halfway through. The meandering improv solo is perfect for “Rosenkranz,” as it has such a simple and malleable melody.
Those of you looking for music both gentle and brooding have plenty of great options here. “Tristram” from Diablo is a splendid example of how to write peaceful music without sacrificing the darker components of a tune. The melancholy “This Dream” from NieR and the tragic “Yeul’s Theme” from Final Fantasy XIII-2 also manage this balance.
Looking for something a little more fun and lively? There’s this variation of “The Song of Storms” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” called “Windmill Hut.” Perhaps you remember it? If not, GENTLE LOVE is here to remind you. The swing presentation of the classic melody stated up-front is a great way to open not just the arrangement but the entire album. This was a classy, smart choice.
There are a handful of tracks here that fall outside the scope of RPGFan’s coverage. And yes, they’re all solid as well. The one I want to speak to is “Kraid” from Metroid. “Kraid” is possibly, probably, my favorite melody from the entire Metroid franchise, and one that I have sadly seen poorly represented (and poorly arranged) in subsequent entries in that series. For this arrangement, GENTLE LOVE slows the tempo significantly and builds the piece up from the first two of four distinct sections of this simple 8-bit classic. The one thing I most wanted to hear was the arpeggiation from the third section — from the piano, from the sax, or from both in conjunction with one another. Sadly, across this eight-minute arrangement, I never once detected it. I suspect the two attempted to work it into the arrangement, and it just wasn’t going to work with the genre. From that perspective, I can give it a pass. It’s still an amazing track. I suppose I’ll never hear anyone land it quite as well as Metroid Metal (the musical section I refer to occurs at the 45-second mark).
That one minor quibble aside, this album is a brilliant arrangement from a duo that has proven themselves time and time again as vanguards in turning memorable VGM into instrumental lullabies. As with past albums, this one has an original composition (“Daybreak”) as its capstone, and I find it a fitting end to a wonderful collection of tracks. I recommend Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume III to my fellow audiophiles as a welcome reprieve from the glut of rock and orchestra arranges, wonderful as they are. Now get some sleep.