Ever since I started writing soundtrack reviews for the ‘Fan, I have learned so much about the industry that I had never thought about. My tiny world of Uematsu, Mitsuda, and miscellaneous RPG music that I would off-handedly mention that I liked suddenly exploded into a breadth of names I had never heard before, but very much deserve my attention, as well as anyone else’s who considers themselves an RPG fan. Now, I can happily add Shimomura to that list–and not just in the middle, but near the top. Boasting a staggeringly long discography at the young age of 43, Shimomura has composed for lesser-known and famous RPGs alike, including the Kingdom Hearts series, the Mario & Luigi series, and one upcoming hit (we hope): Final Fantasy Versus XIII. In November, and I’m sure with great pride, Radiant Historia had been added to that list.
Starting off strong, RADIANT HISTORIA, the first track, begins blissfully, then gets more peacefully dramatic with the horns, but Shimomura isn’t done there. Enter the harp to create a trio of tranquil repetition. Good music inspires us to birth paradoxically accurate combinations of words, like “peacefully dramatic.”
Perhaps Robo’s theme in Chrono Trigger has spoiled me, but when I see a track titled “Mechanical Kingdom,” I expect to hear something with steam-powered brakes and hammers. However, despite these expectations, the second track plays out with appropriate tension, and the intermittent violin puts the cherry on top that takes this track from simple SNES-era RPG music to modernity. In hindsight, expecting more mechanized instrumentation seems silly and shallow. Perhaps this strife-laden piece serves as commentary about technology. Thoreau out.
Blue Radiance, the fourth track, in part feels traditional and overwrought, but expertly expresses tension and vigor. At this point, we have to ask ourselves: although the style may be typical and overdone within RPGs, aren’t the involuntary emotional impulses all that are needed? I’ll always take ten variations of the same track over one innovative, vacant track–as long as the emotion is there. The cherry in this one? Bells. Always bells.
Track 5, Forever Proud? BELLS.
On the other hand, Dreams Showed by a Cloud of Dust could not be more archetypical of an Arab-esque desert scene, and left me feeling uninspired and lazy. I only include this criticism to officially illustrate that perfect soundtracks are a rarity, and that this serves as the entire package’s lowest point. This should not be read as a reason to not purchase the soundtrack, but rather as an endorsement.
If a track were ever capable of shaking my shoulders with hair and beads of sweat frantically clawing their way outward, and then turning me around only to kick me in the ass so I can save my own skin, it’s Impending Crisis. One of the shortest tracks at a humble 1:05, the immediate sense of urgency will last at least twice as long, leaving the next track’s opening heard, but not registered. Experiencing this track mid-game on loop would not only complement the context, but quite possibly paint the picture.
By the time I heard Memories of the World, I came to realize that Shimomura takes nearly every track a step further with the use of one instrument. All of her tracks initially communicate what any veteran of video game composition can do to adequately accompany a certain scene, village, theme, whatever. That’s not good enough, though. She adds, even if sparse, one instrument that sneakily garnishes the entire piece, creating some of the best video game music I’ve heard to date. This divine lass deserves a spot among the RPG composer gods.
I could quite literally review every piece on this brilliant soundtrack, but I think I’ve gushed enough to communicate one thing: Buy. This. Now. In fact, don’t just buy the soundtrack, buy the game this coming February. My only hope is that hearing these aural masterpieces on the DS doesn’t downgrade the sound in the least. If Matsuno ever decides to build on Final Fantasy Tactics, my one hope is that he signs on Shimomura to compose the soundtrack.