I’ve long held the belief that Motoi Sakuraba has had diminishing returns in terms of his musical output due to being tapped for nearly every entry of the Tales series. Considering that the Tales series has been known to push out at least two or three games per year, it’s expected that at some point Sakuraba would have reached his zenith and continues on a downward slope. Where his pinnacle lies is certainly debatable but it seems that it has long passed and now his work is consistently in a slump.
None of this is more evident than in his more recent works in the Tales series, which have gotten more stagnant and generic with each new iteration of the franchise. In the past, Sakuraba’s music has offered well-composed and memorable battle themes, at the very least. With Tales of Graces, however, this is no longer the case. Hibiki Aoyama’s name has been added to the mix this time around, and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether Aoyama or Sakuraba had more influence over the musical direction. As far as I’m concerned, though, regardless of who had more creative control over the soundtrack, the quality of the music suffered, and is a pedestrian offering at best and an insult to my ears at worst.
What might contribute to the declining quality and stagnation of the music of the Tales series (and, by proxy, Sakuraba’s musical talent) is the fact that nearly the same tunes are used between each game, with only minor changes made to the composition; I honestly cannot differentiate between this soundtrack from any of the previous soundtracks of the series, barring the battle theme, and even then it’s only because a good chunk of every RPG is spent in battles. This isn’t something that can be said of all JRPGs either; each entry of, say, the Suikoden or Final Fantasy series offers thematically varied musical scores that are dependent on anything from the inspiration of the setting to the art and story direction. That’s not to say that the Tales of Graces soundtrack is totally unsalvageable, though. There are a few passable, if not well-composed songs that save the soundtrack from being a total trainwreck.
Chief among these is the song I Want to Protect You, which is a remix of the game’s original theme, which coincidentally, wasn’t even composed by Sakuraba. Sakuraba and Aoyama offer a few decent battle pieces, as well. However, buying the soundtrack for these tracks is comparable to digging through manure to find a few dollar bills. It’s not worth the effort. Music is a huge part of the experience for any game, and having a substandard soundtrack hurts the overall quality of the game itself regardless of the quality of gameplay or graphics.
Though they are unlikely to do so, Tales Studio needs to give Sakuraba a sabbatical to refresh his talents and rope in some new blood for the music in their games; Go Shiina’s tracks in Tales of Legendia were excellent and a breath of fresh air – why not give him another shot? As it stands, the music in the Tales series is in serious danger of being deemed inadequate by anyone not enamored with the series.