I recently mused in my review of the Timespinner soundtrack that some of the best soundtracks do not bother exploring uncharted territory; rather, they take well-known themes, templates, and progressions and give them enough of a new twist to call them something new. In Tales of Asteria, an entirely new team of composers bring new life to the “Tales” formula established by Motoi Sakuraba and others. Nobody here is reinventing the wheel, but they are building tricked-out wheels for a tricked-out vehicle.
Granted, I haven’t actually played Tales of Asteria. Originally released in 2014, this mobile title has yet to leave Japan, and given the gap in time, the chance that it will ever be localized seems slim. Asteria takes place in chapters, all with their own sets of music and even opening vocal themes (which do not appear on this three-disc collection). The most recent (and possibly final) chapter was released in May 2017. It is likely then that this three-disc soundtrack from SuperSweep encompasses the full soundtrack for Asteria, minus the vocal themes.
Seasoned VGM aficionados are likely to look at the list of composers and only spot one with any track record in game music. That composer is Kimihiro Abe, a former member of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basiscape, now a member of the KLab Sound Team (KLab being the studio behind Asteria). However, the vast majority of tunes composed for Asteria, almost every track on the first two discs in fact, is the work of Takao Ogi. Again, this name is probably unfamiliar to you, as it was certainly unfamiliar to me. At the time of this review, Ogi’s credits on VGMdb list only the Asteria soundtrack. However, per his professional biography, Ogi is a veteran composer and arranger for Japanese pop and rock bands, as well as TV commercial sound spots. He appears to have a knack for making especially pleasant and memorable earworms. I would argue that KLab was fortunate to nab this talent for their game.
The tracks sampled across the first two discs include less than half of the battle themes. This is mostly because there are so many of them! And let me assure you, the high quality of the few that are sampled continues across the other battle themes. From the outset, I can say that the boss battle theme “Dashing Fight Spirit” is every bit as good as the preceding regular battle theme “Unyielding Pride.” Want something a little more epic? The choral vocals on “The Guide to Destruction” take the intensity to a whole new level. If the battles are too much for you, how about the Ys-esque field theme “Journey at Your Side” for a change of pace? All of the aforementioned tracks are the work of Takao Ogi. And that’s just the first disc.
Outside of Ogi’s work, the KLab team is a mixed bag. Yasuhiro Isoda’s orchestral themes are certainly the highlight (the opening tracks on discs 1 and 2 are both Isoda’s doing). If Ogi is channeling Motoi Sakuraba, I would argue that Isoda is channeling Sakuraba’s old Tales partner, Shinji Tamura. But Isoda has a distinct advantage over Tamura’s past works with the simple passage of time: more realistic samples for traditional symphony/orchestra instruments. In fact, when I listen to “The Heavenly Oracle That Guides through the Chaos,” I am still unsure as to whether I’m hearing recorded instruments or well-crafted synthetic equivalents. The album’s liner notes do not credit any performers or sound studios for recording, so I can only assume what I’m hearing is a lifelike facsimile.
Sadly, this three-disc set ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. The first four tracks on the third disc are from Ogi; the rest are from KLab Sound Team. These songs are not bad, but they lack the sheen and polish of Ogi’s work and Isoda’s beautiful orchestral openings on the first two discs. To get a sense of what the others can do, check out “Peaceful Premises of the Temple,” composed by Tasuku Matsukura. This is a lovely little atmospheric tune — not memorable, but definitely pleasant. As for our veteran composer, and one of my favorites, Kimihiro Abe…his contributions to Asteria are a touch too whimsical. The best of his compositions, in my opinion, is track 17, “Unchanging Usual Days.” Abe has always been a great piano-and-strings composer, so it was satisfying to hear him sticking to his wheelhouse for one of his four tracks.
Finally from KLab, we have Sadaki Naoe, who contributed exactly one track to the entire album: “Premonition of Meetings.” It’s a dance-friendly pop tune one could imagine hearing in a shopping mall. Yet again, it checks the “pleasant” box, but glides right past “memorable.”
Whether or not you’re a collector of the “Tales” soundtracks, I would advise fans to get acquainted with newcomer Takao Ogi by acquiring this, his first major game soundtrack. I hope that Ogi continues working in VGM, as his music has thoroughly impressed me.
This review is based on a free digital review copy provided to RPGFan by the publisher. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer’s opinion of the album.