Prescription for Sleep: Heavenly Avatar


Review by · May 15, 2024

One of my favorite arrange albums from last year was the third volume in the Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies series. The evergreen duo of soft jazz that is GENTLE LOVE (Norihiko Hibino on sax, AYAKI on piano) are back with a fantastic new arrange album specific to the game ActRaiser. This album, titled Prescription for Sleep: Heavenly Avatar, features 11 songs from Yuzo Koshiro’s classic score, as well as one original piece, “Music in Heaven,” a fitting capstone for a game “about heaven, this world, and hell”—as the artists observe in the album’s liner notes.

Before diving into the music, I must express my love for the digital liner notes of these albums. The commentary from Yuzo Koshiro, Jayson Napolitano, Norihiko Hibino, and AYAKI add so much value to a careful listening experience. For example, the artists note that they recorded “Music in Heaven” at the unusual 528Hz frequency (as opposed to a typical 440Hz), which helps explain the ethereal brightness of the track. Elsewhere in the notes, both Koshiro and Napolitano note that Hibino had worked with Koshiro on Etrian Odyssey arrange albums, and that a continued partnership in this endeavor by reaching all the way back to ActRaiser would be a great idea. And here, that great idea has come to fruition.

I also love ROZEN’s design and layout for this and so many other great albums. The added visual component of reading about the music you’re listening to, with that lovely palette of simple colors and cloud patterns, is a striking experience every time.

Regarding the arrangements overall, these are generally elongated arrangements, typically (though not always) at a slow tempo. The average track time is around six minutes, with the shortest track coming just under five minutes and the longest just under ten. Sometimes the song’s main melody is kept in its rightful place and is easy to identify. At other times, you may find yourself lost in the improvisation, or the melody might simply be absent while the piano builds some structure before Hibino launches into the melody you’ve been seeking.

Let’s start by discussing the songs with surprisingly fast tempos, such as track three, “Advent.” This one is wild, fast, and avant-garde. You may recall that this is the brief musical sting that occurs when the Avatar descends from the heavens to enter any of the game’s stages. Originally an 18-second track on the game’s OST, GENTLE LOVE extended the dark falling 5/4 acceleration out past the first minute before jumping into a break-neck free fall through the clouds. AYAKI’s walking bass is so smooth here, and Hibino just takes off. I can imagine the angelic descent becoming something less solemn and more wild, adventurous, bordering on carefree. In the track’s second half, AYAKI returns to the 5/4 and plays with the form of the original chord progression while improvising some crazy stuff in the upper octaves. The result is a brilliant rendition of a very short motif!

Next, let’s jump back to the game’s “Opening.” The title screen music was always bright and bold, and the duo captured this very well by stating the main melody in the first two minutes. As they meander, however, there are moments where AYAKI flirts with a double-time or swing tempo, just for a measure or two, before pulling back. This musical fake-out is fun and jarring, and when it happens over Hibino sustaining a loud high note at the end of a melodic phrase, it’s just lovely.

Last in our round-up of surprisingly fast tracks is “Birth of the People.” This classic tune plays during the “sim” portion of the game with a little cherub building the town and warding off demons, and is traditionally a slow melody. And though the producer (Napolitano) initially suggested taking a straightforward approach, Hibino and AYAKI came up with something quite different:

In fact, in the first take we played a slow and soothing way… but because of the long melody, it came out as a very lousy, dull, and moody song. Moreover, it didn’t express “joy,” as the birth of the people should be ultimate joy. So we switched angles to make it more active and joyful, so we can cherish the newborn life. Again, our approach this time is “enjoy the notes,” and this is true in this track, too.


I am so glad Hibino and AYAKI chose this direction! AYAKI’s bouncy, syncopated formation of the main cadence helps to naturally float into the circle of secondary dominants that make up the song’s B section. As for Hibino? He incorporates a variety of clever techniques to extend, expand, and reshape the basic melody to a degree that anyone unfamiliar with the source material would assume the original is a lot more dynamic than it actually is. “Birth of the People” has always been a memorable tune, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear this song quite the same again thanks to this arrangement. It is truly transformative.

With those three songs noted as exceptions to the rule, know this: the rest of the album truly fits the Prescription for Sleep moniker. It is relaxing, and it is slow. Yes, that includes the iconic stage one theme, “Filmoa.” This track was the biggest surprise for me, in that I thought the duo would choose to maintain a faster tempo. But I was very, very wrong. Instead, GENTLE LOVE transformed this song into the most chill and subdued version I can imagine. The most notable change is a push away from the classical-harmonic minor (raised seventh) in favor of natural minor scales throughout. This allows for a more free-form, steady-state approach to the melody and the harmony. You might be awaiting that “V7 to minor i” resolution, but my friend, it just isn’t happening. This harmonic transformation works well, and the melody is still easy to recognize, but man, do I miss that intro building into the main piece as found in Koshiro’s original version.

The slower approach, however, works very well on the next track, “Blood Pool ~ Casandora.” Here, GENTLE LOVE wasn’t at all afraid to play with the dissonance and confusion of the source material, even taking on a swing tempo at times. I love how Hibino will often dance in notes entirely dissonant to the song’s key, hint at some resolution with AYAKI resolving to a major chord for a moment, then go right back into the mess. The whole song is a musical representation of the duality between what this region is like when the Avatar first arrives and how it will eventually be made clean and habitable by the end.

The other stage tracks: “Aitos ~ Temple,” “Pyramid ~ Marana,” and “North Wall,” all undergo their own unique transformations under GENTLE LOVE’s guidance. The one that most impressed me in terms of change was “Aitos,” as I was never particularly enamored with the original version of this song, but this new arrangement is delightful. AYAKI did a great job with the piano work on this one. The most enjoyable track, though, is “North Wall.” We all know snow/ice/winter music tends to be awesome. I always loved this from Koshiro’s OST, so I was not surprised to hear its Prescription for Sleep counterpart maintain everything serene and memorable about this one. Perhaps more than any other track from the OST, this one is designed to aid in getting some much-needed rest.

Then, after that jaunty “Birth of the People,” the album slows down and finds harmonic resolution in “Offering,” “Peaceful World,” and the aforementioned original composition, “Music in Heaven.” What I love about these tracks, alongside their aiding in relaxation, is that the stated melodies are strong and noteworthy throughout. Yes, even the original track has a melody so well-established that it can be memorized and hummed along to, just like in “Peaceful World.”

However, it’s worth noting that “Music in Heaven” includes a third instrument. Or, um, voice? Look, it has ambient recordings of birds chirping and water flowing in the background. If that’s not your cup of tea, I get it. But I certainly like the thought of heaven being a serene garden with birds flying around and enjoying life. And when thinking about it as an extended outro after the game’s end credits have run through their entirety, I like this one even more.

This latest project from GENTLE LOVE leaves me with two distinct feelings: peace and longing. Peace, because the album did its job very well in leaving me feeling resolved at the end of the Heavenly Avatar‘s journey; longing, because I am eager to see where the Prescription for Sleep series will take us next!

Prescription for Sleep: Heavenly Avatar is available through most online storefronts.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.