I have a confession to make: I am a SaGa freak. Have I played many of the games? Nope. Do they kick my butt and make me harm controllers in frustration? Yep. But by God do I love them and worship the music as if it were unto ecstasy incarnate.
That said, my knowledge of the Romancing SaGa is sketchy at best. Not being much of an import player in my youth, nor blessed with knowledge of ROMs, I had not the opportunity to learn about them first-hand. Thus, when I heard that the first Romancing SaGa game was going to be remade, not to mention released in the US of all places, I was jubilant. But I was also wary of both game and music. SNES music of old is famous for being revamped, but not all of it has done so well upon being resurrected from the dead to walk among the modern. And certainly it hasn’t been often done to such the degree that Minstrel Song would require. But when I heard a few glowing words about the OST, I just had to listen for myself.
Holy zombie Jesus, Batman. This ROCKS.
These words were uttered from my mouth as I began to listen through the Minstrel Song soundtrack. To say that I was totally blown away would be an understatement. Kenji Ito, through some incredible musical muse, not only revived his old compositions to both sterling and awesome heights, but composed new music to be companions in the total overpowering of your ears. Perhaps I’m raving a bit, but only for justifiable reasons as the music really just is that excellent. To do it justice, a disc-by-disc review is perhaps appropriate.
Getting down to the actual nitty-gritty of tracks, each disc has its highlights. The first disc shines through from the very first track with the singing of Masayoshi Yamazaki. I’ve never heard of this man before, but his voice is spectacular. There’s a certain stereotype that I tend to fit voices into when they’re supposedly “minstrels.” Yamazaki not only pegs that stereotype square in the eyes, but does so with excessive style and vibrato. One of the best male Japanese vocals I’ve ever heard, that much must be said. The next two tracks continue to impress with, from what I gather, real instruments. Being a player of a musical instrument myself, I must applaud the use of live instruments in the album. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the compositions themselves are top-notch material.
Continuing on with the first disc we get into the character themes. All of these are nice, excellently arranged pieces, but I miss the glory of the first three tracks. Still, they’re brilliantly recycled material in their entirety. But what really blows your socks off again is the first battle theme of album, “Prelude of Battle.” Whoever decided to let Tsuyoshi Sekito, composer of “Brave Fencer Musashi” of all things, handle most of the album’s battle tunes was an absolute genius. This song is one of those taken straight from the original Romancing SaGa, but you wouldn’t know its age by listening to it. Featuring a massively rocked out guitar and central synth, it’s physically impossible to listen to this song without bopping your head. It’s also fairly hard to get tired of, as I’ve listened to it on repeat for over an hour and never been annoyed at all.
Moving on to the second disc, we get somewhat more of a mix of music. The first disc with its character themes had a very heavy focus on the heroic. The second disc, however, is much more of a wildcard. From the dark and gothic “Wicked Melody” to the beautifully Spanish “Passionate Rhythm,” you can find the entire musical spectrum on this disc. It also has an oddly named track, “Sewers,” which features beating techno. Either the sewers of Minstrel Song are neon-lined, technological wonders, or someone decided to have some fun. Either way, it’s great stuff.
The second disc also features one of the album-making songs, in the form of “A Challenge to God -Four Guardian Kings Battle-“. What makes this song such a treat? Horn. Yes, that’s right, horn; most likely a French horn from what I’m hearing. The main instrument for the first part of the song is a horn with a wailing, shredding guitar in the BACKGROUND. It’s not even a real horn from what I know, but you’d swear it is from the smooth, flowing sound of it. It takes major gall to make a horn your main instrument in a battle theme and still make it work, but somehow it was done to spectacular effect. My hat’s off for this one.
Ahh, and what early SaGa game would be complete without the classic sad theme, “Wipe Away the Tears.” This song has existed since the very first SaGa, and is Nobuo Uematsu’s sole contribution to the series from what I know. Never has this song sounded as good as it does in this rendition, featuring this most excellently gentle guitar. I never expected to hear this revived so for me it was a powerful moment of nostalgia.
The third disc is the shortest of the four discs, but it’s probably also my favorite. Beginning with the beautiful, epic “Final Trial,” a certain air is established. This is the endgame. Everything here has a sense of finality, a certain feeling of there being no going back from this point on. Whether this is true in-game or not I don’t know, but it would certainly seem that way. It also features one of the most beautiful, haunting pieces of the entire album, in “Mysterious Glitter.” I absolutely love this track, both because it’s wonderful and because the synths used remind me of my father’s old Korg.
Of course from here, the album tips into full battle overdrive by shooting straight into three huge battle themes, beginning with the pure metal “Awakening Memories -The Battle with Sherah-“. Personally, though, I don’t like this song as much as some of the others, perhaps because the sheer amount of guitar used in this piece is a bit overkill for me. The rest, however, is genius. “Written Invitation to Death -The Battle with Death-” is, if I’m remembering correctly, the music put to one of the game’s trailers, and it is just incredible. Again, as a fan of live instruments, this song makes me applaud heavily.
“Written Invitation to Death” is not the best battle theme of the entire album, though. Instead, that lofty title is saved for the final battle theme, “Decisive Battle! Saruin -Final Battle with Saruin-“. This theme is interesting in that it’s an example of the album’s philosophy of both recycling and composing new music. The first few seconds of the song is straight from the first Romancing SaGa’s track “Coup de Grace,” albeit with new instruments. Everything after that, though, is purely new, and my God is it absurdly awesome. If everything else on the album was sub-par, this guitar-laden song would still make the album a viable buy, it is just that great. It’s also impossible to get tired of to the best of my knowledge as I’ve repeated it for several hours and still found my head bopping like a maniac. And then, once it’s all over, we get four more tracks of live instruments. Thank you, Kenji Ito. Thank you very much.
The fourth disc is the longest disc, and is probably the only disc that I wouldn’t listen to regularly. Most of the music here is incidental or, I’m guessing, town music. It’s good stuff, but I’m glad they stuffed it all on another disc so as to leave the first three discs with all the stellar material. Still, the last track is a beautiful piano solo rendition of an already pretty piece on the third disc, so it’s not like the last disc is forsaken.
I’m not sure if there’s any more glowing words left to describe this album. It’s a definite must-have soundtrack if you’re at all into game music and something you need to get right now if you even remotely like SaGa or Kenji Ito.