A Note Regarding Tracklist Translation: Square Enix has not offered an official English translation. A quick glance at the album’s back cover reveals a kind of symmetry in the tracklist titles. However, the middle character, whether it be “no” (backwards “of”), “to” (“and”), or something else, can appear in Hiragana or Katakana form. The use of letters and words being an important aspect of the SINoALICE plot, we have decided to demarcate the change via capitalization rules. There appears to be some correlation between the overall title meanings and the particle tying them together (compare tracks 01, 14, and 28). Our thanks to translator Dag at VGMdb for providing this translation.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but my own interest in SINoALICE came from one thing, and one thing only: pedigree. Many of the key players behind NieR and its sequel, NieR Automata, brought this project together. Yoko Taro created the concept and did writing for the scenario. As for music? We have the wonderful sound team from MONACA, including fearless leader Keiichi Okabe and the glorious pianist Keigo Hoashi. A third composer, new to the MONACA team, also provides some pivotal pieces for SINoALICE: Syotarou Seo (also romanized as Shotaro Seo). Seo’s contributions include a total of seven tracks, including the incredible “Sweet Memories” and “Bitter Memories” tracks, as well as the ending music “Truth And World.” As for the other composers, if you know NieR, you will recognize the styles (including instrumental and vocal performers), and music theory buffs will even recognize similar chord progressions.
What is SINoALICE all about? Again, were it not for pedigree, I probably wouldn’t have taken notice. The game is a new IP that mixes fairy tales with a JRPG…for smartphones? That’s not exactly an original concept. And you have some powerful competition when you try to take a revisionist approach to the Brothers Grimm or other black forest German fairy tales, perhaps best seen in Stephen Sondheim’s seminal musical Into the Woods. And for Japanese fans of game music, there’s also REVO / Sound Horizon’s original album Märchen, which I have adored since the time of its release. Fans of Bravely Default should really look into that album.
But I digress.
If we put pedigree aside, the good news is that SINoALICE holds its own through the power of leitmotif and variations on a theme. Imagine a puzzle where the pieces can fit together in multiple configurations. For example, in “Maze of Solitude” (19) and “Maze of Spirits” (20), there are aspects of the rhythm and background instruments that are shared between the two songs. However, in that same “Maze of Spirits” (20) and the subsequent track “Fate of Spirits” (21), the “Spirits” motif, which is obvious to the listener with its strong melody, is shared. The song titles foreshadow shared musical themes. My analytical mind can’t get enough of this sort of thing.
This is probably best personified in the “Showdown” theme. There are three total, and we have audio samples for two of the three (“Prelude” and “Anthem”). “Unison of Showdown” is also an incredible piece, but I did not want to pull listeners and potential consumers away from other melodies. However, I will state that this reoccurring “Showdown” theme is, in my mind, the single strongest melody across the entire soundtrack. I cannot wait to experience it in the context of the game — and thanks to publisher Nexon, English speakers will be getting that chance soon. It is hard not to make comparisons, and in that spirit, I will simply say this: the original NieR (Gestalt & Replicant) had four versions of the memorable “Song of the Ancients.” In my opinion, the “Showdown” theme is SINoALICE’s “Song of the Ancients.”
I enjoyed this soundtrack enough to hope for arranged albums and a sequel to the game for more original content. I would also like to make a challenge to Keigo Hoashi, should he ever get word of this review, to release an EP-sized piano solo collection for SINoALICE. Maybe digital only? Maybe PDF-format sheet music? This would be a personal wish come true. The music would lend itself to a piano redux extremely well.
Finally, I look forward to the larger fan response in the West once this game is localized and published by Nexon. Will more people be talking about Yoko Taro’s quirky and/or dark takes on these classic fantasy stories? Will more people be gushing about MONACA’s latest soundtrack? Time will tell. In the meantime, count me a happy owner of this fine OST.