I remember when the announcement came that, for the first time ever, Sakuraba was sitting out on a tri-Ace game. I could hardly believe it. And when I heard the man giving Sakuraba a break was none other than Lunar and Grandia composer Noriyuki Iwadare, I was thrilled. Surely, this game would have one of the greatest soundtracks ever made if it were done by Iwadare.
The soundtrack gets off to a good start: the first song reminds me of the sort of melodies heard in Final Fantasy IX: a hint of renaissance flair with plenty of flutes and a plucked string carrying the sweeping three-four / six-eight combination rhythm. Iwadare generally has a certain style in his compositions, but I hadn’t heard anything like this from him before. Beautiful, I say.
The next song does even better: after the introductory chords (with booming brass), the bass takes over, the piano goes to town, and the song turns into a hog-wild theme that we all knew Iwadare could pull out. Legendary Sword is without a doubt one of Iwadare’s great compositions. The breakdown is a little weird, I’ll admit, but it’s otherwise a stellar song.
And from here on out, things pretty much fall apart.
I haven’t played the game yet, but I’m pretty sure “Struggle” means “battle music.” And uhh…this is some pretty bad battle music for Iwadare. The first theme is almost childish. The second one reminds me of a techno-remix of an old Janet Jackson song. The third, which is the most impressive, sounds like a song from Final Fantasy X-2: lots of crazy bebop-style jazz. Musically, this one is pretty good, but it still isn’t what I wanted from Iwadare. And, frankly, that means I don’t like it as much.
Only six tracks in, and we can make one sure statement: this isn’t Lunar, and this isn’t Grandia. This is Radiata Stories. We better just get used to it and see what we can enjoy.
As for me, I didn’t enjoy very much of it. Much of the first disc sounded like boring filler music to me. Especially painful were the “Partial Version” tracks. I usually beg and plead for more “complete” OSTs, but having the same song gone softer and lacking some of the background sounds to make it fit another part of the game…I don’t think anyone really wants that. I remember when this sort of thing was done on the Shenmue OST. I didn’t like it there, and I don’t like it here.
After a whole lot of super-happy jazz songs and a lot of music I would count as “filler” tracks, I ran into one song I liked. Again, it was a jazzy song: but the jazz sounded good here. “Men’s Dirge” is the song, and you can hear the nice balance of guitar, upright bass, and piano. Iwadare has a pretty good grasp on some of the basics of jazz, and I really enjoyed this song because of it.
From here on out, disc one fares a little better off. I was pleased to hear a silly vocal track “Paya-Paya” right in the middle of it all. This song is really fun and silly, and it actually reminds me of the kind of stuff found on the “Lunar Songs” albums: not musically impressive, but peppy in the kind of way that makes me smile all over.
Before switching to disc two, might I point out “Scarlet Wind”, track 36. Again, the guitar work is superb, and this sort of Latin-pop-groove is the sort of thing that every game should have in at least one town or event sequence. You have to love it.
Disc two opens with a wonderful Engrish title, “Go Straight With My Brave.” If anyone would like to take time out of their day and explain to me what that could possibly mean, I would appreciate it. Anyway, this song is a march. Generally, I don’t like marches, but as far as marches go, this one is pretty good.
Two lame songs pass, and then we reach a boss battle theme. I sampled it to show that, yes, Iwadare still knows how to write his classic battle themes. Again, even this one doesn’t escape the jazz saxophone, but otherwise we’re hearing something we’d expect from Iwadare, and it is certainly marvelous. I still prefer some classic Lunar battle themes to this, but whatever, it’s still good.
“Demise of Paradise” uses a melody that I swear is used in Princess Mononoke (the Kodama Forest theme music). I mentioned it earlier with FF IX…I think Iwadare definitely borrowed a lot of musical themes from other people in making this album. This song is further proof to me that Iwadare didn’t quite make this game’s soundtrack his own.
Track 12, “Night Memories”, is a peaceful ballad that showcases the violin synths used in the game very well. I am pleased with this sound: it definitely shows what sort of non-live-instrument music we can produce today on systems like PS2. The violin is joined by what I believe is an oboe or a clarinet, and this too sounds wonderful. Enjoy this sample.
The next three songs are all the same song remixed in different ways. The fastest of these three is “To The Full.” In it, we find a snare drum, marimbas, cowbell, piano, and a nice backup of orchestrated brass and winds. This song is excellent. If only it weren’t so short, and if only it were slightly more memorable, I would call it one of my favorites.
For the next few tracks, the happy-go-lucky silly fun-loving feel that characterized disc one disappears. I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled about this. Iwadare makes good light-hearted compositions, but they should really be few and far between. These next few songs are very likely the end dungeon and end boss music that always has a soundtrack go out with a bang. They are, of course, very good. Yet, they have something lacking: for one thing, they are short.
The section of awesome tense battle-like music ends with a new version of Legendary Sword. Oh man, this is such a good song, I was so glad they brought it back for a second look. Go Iwadare! At this point, I’m jumping around my room, excited about how cool Noriyuki Iwadare is.
But of course, the Radiata Stories OST can’t end that way! There’s still a bit of silliness left in the game (apparently) that needs to be expressed in musical form.
The ending vocal, Tekuteku Aruku (Plod Along), is sung by Yuka Imaizumi. This song reminds me of the sort of song you would hear on a contemporary Christian worship album…in Japan. If you’ve never heard anything like that, well, then just listen to this sample and you’ll know. I make the reference because I am familiar with it, and I have to say that it makes me laugh. Truly “happy ending” music, jazzed up to Iwadare’s standards. My favorite parts of this song are the instrumental sections. It almost makes the Karaoke Version at the end worth it.
The next song, “Calm Melody”, is…well, I can’t describe it. Just listen to the sample. I really like it. Weird atmospheric lounge jazz…? I don’t know, I really can’t explain it. I really like it. This reminds me of something I heard on the Grandia arranged album “Vent.” Thank you, Iwadare, for showing your true colors in this song!
The next three tracks are all arrangements of Motoi Sakuraba’s songs from Star Ocean games. If you read my reviews, you know I am regularly annoyed by Sakuraba. I have to say that I really like what Iwadare did to these songs. They have his personal touch, and that makes me happy. They are softer songs now, but they still retain the intensity that Sakuraba puts into many of his songs. These three tracks really are a great bonus for the OST.
Things slowly phase out from here with some other silly songs that I think should’ve gone before “Plod Along” (but what do I know?). Among these final tracks, one did stand out: “Diffuse World.” It uses some chords and rhythms that sound like Legendary Sword…but this is a three minute jam session with lots of instruments taking the stage.
I’ve said a lot about this album. Let me summarize…
The album is not what you’d expect. Iwadare is still a great composer, but I’d rank this album lower than nearly any Lunar or Grandia album.
Disc one is especially poor, featuring lots of silly tunes and filler tracks that you can’t seem to “get into” no matter how hard you try.
The occasional awesome battle theme sticks out, and the vocal songs are great.
“Legendary Sword” is definitely a new “classic composition” from our man Iwadare.
That sums it up. If you like the game, you really ought to do yourself a favor and pick up this OST (and the arranged album too!). Otherwise, Iwadare fans should be warned: you might not get what you wanted from this album. I certainly didn’t. Enjoy it for what it is, and try not to be consumed by the sugar-coated tunes on disc one.