Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk has multiple identities around the world. Known prominently by its Japanese name “Haitaka no Psychedelica,” it originally featured a ridiculous English rendering in its Japanese release, which you can see on the cover art, as “Psychedelica of the AA-nisus. Snowdrop and Via-Kaleido stories for children.” Considering haitaka essentially means “ashen hawk” (or “grey eagle”), I would say Aksys Games deserves a thank you for not releasing this game in English with that convoluted title.
Whatever the name, this game is a dark and haunting visual novel in the otome subgenre (featuring a female protagonist, with the rest of the cast mostly being men that may or may not have romantic endings/routes). There are two Psychedelica games; this, and “Kokuchou no Psychedelica” (or Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly). However, the two games were developed by two teams, with some staff overlap and some unique team members. The other Psychedelica has an entirely different plot, and it also has its own sound staff. While Black Butterfly’s score was handled by Shigeki Hayashi, the music for Ashen Hawk is composed by Yuji Yoshino. Furthermore, for this soundtrack release, the opening and ending themes are included: “Drops of the Grey Sky” by Akiko Shikata (who you may recognize from Ar tonelico), and “Vermelho” by Eiko Shimamiya.
Before I continue, I should note the difference between FFCT-0088 and FFCT-0089. Basically, there is none. FCCT-0089 sold as a limited edition exclusively through Animate and included a 3-inch diameter full-color badge (with a safety pin on the back). I think it’s silly to differentiate releases with a separate product number just for this kind of bonus: other publishers do first print pack-in bonuses without making a new catalog number all the time. But this is just me complaining about product distribution when I should be focusing on the music itself. So let’s get to that!
Now, it might not be fair to compare this soundtrack to Black Butterfly — though I freely admit that I am going to do so throughout this review. We’re dealing with a different BGM composer (Yuji Yoshino instead of Shigeki Hayashi), but it’s the presence of singer/songwriter Akiko Shikata that seems to put Ashen Hawk’s soundtrack head and shoulders above Black Butterfly’s. I am not merely referring to Shikata’s opening vocal track. On Black Butterfly, Shigeki Hayashi keeps the sound palette limited to synthesized instrumentals. Yoshino, on the other hand, has access to Shikata’s voice, both in live recordings and in her unique vocaloid form (fans of the Hymmnos language in Ar tonelico know the sound well). The end result is a bevy of non-lyrical vocal parts that simply add an extra dimension to Ashen Hawk.
Not only do we get the excellent theme songs “Drops of the Grey Sky” and Eiko Shimamiya’s “Vermelho,” but we also get non-lyrical vocals on tracks like “Fog,” “The Heart,” and many more. The team also boldly took it upon themselves to give a new spin on the European folk song “Scarborough Fair.” I’ve heard this particular piece attempted, and generally fail, in other media scores (mostly film and television). And despite some “Engrish” pronunciation, the overall effect of this arrangement is something beautiful. The intentional rhythmic change for the vocal performance is what sets it apart. That and, of course, the excellent vocals themselves.
As for Yoshino’s compositions, the folk feel simply cannot be denied. His early work on Orrizonte and other arranged albums for the Suikoden series helped prepare him for original compositions that fit the folk style. Simply put, if you like Suikoden music (especially Suikoden II), you are almost certainly going to enjoy this soundtrack. Some songs are more memorable than others, but the majority of the BGM in this collection are worth listening to on repeat. They are a musical celebration, pure and simple.
While I can safely advise a pass on Black Butterfly’s soundtrack, I am inclined to give a strong recommendation for Ashen Hawk. Akiko Shikata’s Ar tonelico sound mixed with Yoshino’s Suikoden folk make for a lovely and memorable soundscape.