Yuzo Koshiro delivers another Etrian soundtrack that continues the trend of his hybridization of cinematic score styles and fantasy themes infused by contemporary rock and easy listening. For those unfamiliar with his style, Yuzo embraced a mode made popular in 60s and 70s mythical-epic films such as Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, which features rhythmic but discordant brass and string sections, orchestral melodic percussion, and sometimes awkward and unsustained melodies that come together for unique sounds from a pre- and early synth era. Yuzo creatively blends this old fashioned cinematic style with varieties of contemporary jazz, easy listening, and his own flavor of video game rock. Yuzo’s style works well for the Etrian series’ hybrid sci-fi fantasy setting.
The technical and artistic specifications of the series have remained an excellent canvas for his talents. The games feature both PC-88 synth and modern synth-live tracks, showing off Yuzo’s expertise with synthesizers as well as live instruments. This soundtrack continues the tradition of including all songs in both formats, providing an interesting listen into how technology and medium change a composition. I have generally been more a fan of his work with live instruments in the Etrian series, but the PC-88 synth tracks on this album are some of his best in the series, and they prove interesting.
Another general note is that in prior albums, Yuzo has separated his historical cinema style songs from his more modern works and experimental tracks. Essentially, if you heard a song, you knew what you were in for and could build a playlist to suit. In this album, he has a few songs that transition between at least 2 styles, such as “Battlefield — Critical Situation”. It is an interesting experiment, though one that can be lost in the shorter samples we use in these reviews or a superficial listening of the album. For most songs on this album, he has done more to blend genres together, while leaning more on his apparent love of older cinematic styles. The blending is well done but isn’t immediately apparent when trying to discern what this album offers over its predecessors. The title track, “The Voice That Calls To Adventure”, is a fine example of this where his old fashioned use of orchestral brass gives depth to the chorus that would have otherwise sounded very “video gamey”. On the flip side, this blending of genres somewhat hurts the album’s feeling of diversity, as Yuzo’s hybridized genre becomes the only genre for most of the album.
Yuzo’s tracks for walking around the dungeons of EO have always been stellar, and this is no exception. Each floor emphasizes a different theme, and Yuzo’s stylistic variety gives him much to compose with. As usual, the first floor’s theme, “Labyrinth I — Guardian Spirit’s Woodland” is breathy, natural, and somewhat refreshing, masking the future danger. It combines woodwinds, guitar, strings, and a jazz percussion kit in a melody that would be at home in the relaxed moments of a 70’s drama. Later dungeon tracks hold more tension with a hint of the sci-fi nature of the setting. The extra dungeon, “Labyrinth VI — Redshift Corridor”, is, as always, a plunge into the depths of 70’s style tense mood music, generally lacking a discernable melody in favor of evoking an unsettled emotion through disharmony and percussive dissonance. As has been the case in every Etrian album, the 5th floor theme is my favorite, “Labyrinth V — Primeval Forest Ring”. This one lays a smooth trumpet playing lead on top of a complex bass guitar and small string section in a melody that evokes a sense of longing and passion. Just perfect for making the final stretch of a dungeon crawling experience.
Yuzo’s combat themes are, as in prior games, hard hitting, diverse, and show off his ability to handle complex rock and jazz rhythms in concert (“Battlefield — Critical Situation”). He also reverts to his cinema score style for the boss songs “Unrest — Empty Ringing, The Earth Splits” and “Unrest — Lord of the Beyond”. “Unrest — Ordeal of Stars” is epic, blending all of the genres discussed above, making a journey through epic cinema to prog rock with a decidedly rock opera flare.
In spite of the goodness above, my favorite song on the album is a short piece, “Scene — Cold Justice”. It shows off Yuzo’s handling of brass-led melodies. His work with this 70’s (US) and 80’s (Japan) style is perfect, and comes through in the various, more easy listening-oriented, tracks as well. I have included the PC-88 version for comparison.
This album is on the shorter side of more recent entries into the series, which was a bit of a surprise as the trend has been towards longer soundtracks. Also, a few tracks are carried over from the EO4 and EO:U series, a trend that has seems to have started with the simultaneous development of EO4 and EO:U1. Also, as with the EO:U and EO4 games, do not expect an orchestral arranged album. The compositional and performance quality is so high that the non PC-88 tracks already serve this purpose.
While shorter, this album is easily Yuzo’s most consistently high quality work in the franchise and a great example of what he is most capable of. It is more a perfection his more recent work and doesn’t break major new ground from EO:U or EO4. His best tracks are comparable, and his worst tracks are better than prior EO soundtracks. In fact, arguably, it is the only EO OST with no bad songs (well, maybe one). Perhaps achieving a step towards perfection was Yuzo’s goal for this album, and in that case, he achieved it, but having listened to this artifice build up over the last 10 years, I must admit to a slight let down at the sameness of it, even if it is excellent work. It will be interesting to see where Yuzo will take the 6th and final entry into the series (outside of my hopes for an EO:U3). I am eager to learn if he will attempt to push out a version of the same sound or venture a bit into new territory. While I suspect this album makes clear the currently intended direction, here’s hoping he lays it on thick with the 70’s-80s orchestral strings in the finale.
Yuzo is an outstanding composer and has poured a decade of his best work into the EO franchise. This album is a superlative example and shows off what he has to offer. But, as for whether you should purchase this album or not, that depends. If you are on to other things and largely not hungry for more of Yuzo’s EO sound, then you can easily skip this one; it won’t turn your head or tune your ear to something new. If you are curious, this or one of the EO:U soundtracks may be the best place to start, and this one will likely be the easiest to acquire. If you already are a fan of Yuzo or that distinct EO sound that takes you away to verdant forest and dungeoney adventure, I would suggest you place your order and get ready for another dose of ear candy.