Every time an RPG with voice acting comes out in the US, I hope that those localizing would consider including the original Japanese voice with subtitles as an alternative to English dubbing. So far, the only example I know of this happening is Shenmue II for X-Box, and the only reason that happened was because Sega didn’t have the money to hire an English cast.
Suffice it to say that I love the Japanese language. I just love to hear people speaking it. It doesn’t seem right that a game made in Japan should have to be made “English” in every respect to be enjoyable. I always watch anime in its original language with subtitles: the dubbing is usually terrible. Even the games and the anime that have good English dubs (such as this game, or perhaps Final Fantasy X) pale in comparison to their original Japanesse counterparts. It’s a whole different feel.
That said, when Motoi Sakuraba originally released the Valkyrie Profile Voice Mix Arrange, I was enthralled. I hadn’t even played more than an hour of the game, but I knew it had to have had great Japanese voices. Sure enough, I was right. And I couldn’t get over how clever an idea it was to put out high-quality music and then throw in voice samples from the game to add to the drama and the effect. VP Voice Mix was one of my favorite Sakuraba CDs for a long, long time. Then, one day, it was announced that Sakuraba would release another Voice Mix, this time for the newest Star Ocean release. For some reason, I hesitated in hunting it down, but now that I have it, I have a lot to say about it.
First and foremost, the formula that worked for Valkyrie Profile has again succeeded for Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. The number of voice samples are many, and their intonations and expressions are far-reaching. This allows for a lot of creativity on Sakuraba’s part, and I think the result is splendid indeed. Even though I don’t know a word of what is going on, I can’t help but enjoy it!
Second, it seems that some of these songs will feature just one, or sometimes two, characters saying some of their best phrases (Moon Base, which is sampled, is a good example). If I knew Japanese, perhaps I would enjoy the track even more, or maybe I would enjoy it less (nonsense vocals can be appealing, as those who listen to the band Sigur Ros have learned).
Third, there is a healthy balance of intense, emotional, and light pieces on this album. “Gaiety Company” is out-and-out the happiest track of all, and it reminds me of watching an anime targetted toward six-year-old girls. Requiem for a Saint is inspiring, and the accompanying voice only adds to this mood. Some of the faster tracks (battle themes) have repetition of voice, which accurately reflects what a real in-game battle would sound like. And of course, the music chosen to go along with the voices are all some of the OST’s greatest tracks: many people complained about the poor track selection on the arranged album, but I think Voice Mix has a much better tracklist.
Finally (and I truly believe this statement deserves its own paragraph), the opening and ending tracks are such beautiful pieces, and it works so well in framing an already wonderful CD. The opening track has voices from each of the primary characters, and clocking in at 40 seconds, it works great as an introduction. Furthermore, I was almost brought to tears by the ending piece. Keep in mind that I haven’t even played the game, and I don’t know Japanese, so I have no idea what’s even going on: just a vague sense of what Sakuraba is attempting to convey. That on its own is a very powerful thing: I can only imagine how much better this soundtrack is to a Japanese person who’s already played the game.
SO3’s arranged album was so-so, and the OSTs are standard Sakuraba. If you’re going to buy one CD to remember Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, I recommend this one. Now if only Square Enix would have the sense to bring us this game with the Japanese vocal tracks…