Tengai Makyou (Far East of Eden in English) is probably one name in video games most Westerners aren’t familiar with. Unlike its sister series Sakura Taisen, it’s seen very little patronization from our domestic shores, perhaps due to being even more culturally foreign than its relative. A product of RED Company, TM has been a haven for in-jokes and cultural puns that would be remarkably difficult to translate into English, a fact that has prevented it from coming to North American shores over the years.
Nonetheless, there’s hope for TM reaching our shores yet, what with Hudson and Konami finally contemplating a domestic release with the Xbox 360 remake of the original: TM Ziria (an alternate spelling of Jiraiya, a semi-legendary ninja of Japanese history). In anticipation, it’s time to look at one of the key components to any RED Company product: The music.
TMIII opens with the track of its namesake: NAMIDA. It’s a surprising piece, not for its actual melody but because of its singer. Sarah Brightman, the notable soprano who gained fame for her work with Andrew Lloyd-Webber sings NAMIDA, lending her gorgeous voice to an already powerful album. The song is fittingly melancholy, but also fills the listener with a sense of great things to come. Cymbal clashes punctuate cries of “Namida!” (meaning “tears”) throughout the song, rising in crescendo, then falling to quiet tempo, only to rise back up to a proud, stirring of brass and strings that seem lifted from the score of a cinema epic like Lord of the Rings.
A very ornate piece to be sure, it sets a mood for the rest of the tracks. With 50 in total across the two discs, it would be impossible to do an accurate song-by-song review as I usually prefer. Instead, I’m choosing a sample of seven tracks to analyze, including the above NAMIDA.
Hurry to Kyushu is our first chosen track, and a compelling piece of music. Although its tempo is rather relaxed, the use of snare drum brings a sense of urgency and impulse, indicating that an adventure is at hand. Some of the music in this piece is taken from the aforementioned NAMIDA, and fittingly so. It ties the opening track in nicely with this track that seems to punctuate the sense of adventure best.
Infinite Zeku is another theme I love. It has a cinematic grandeur to it I haven’t heard outside of filmed Roman epics from the 1960’s. Heavy kettle drums pound and trumpets blare throughout the recording, as though announcing a God-Emperor of ancient times, parading the streets of his capitol. A wonderful example of the aural power TMIII has to offer.
A more playful tune bounds onto the stage next: Tonkararin!. Tonkararin! has a tempo one would expect of a Christmas parade band, combined with a graceful string backdrop that gives it a grace amidst the cheerful march. There’s also a Chinese influence at work with the stringed melody, reminiscent of some of the best work from Peking (Beijing) opera.
Finally, Tametomo is a ceremonial, uplifting melody that is both commanding and peaceful at once. Using a clamour of bells associated with Shinto ritual practice, as well as drum and flute in the same manner, it seems very much like something one would hear at a shrine in Japan. It’s a very calming piece, but without inducing lethargy. Even-handed, regal, and meditative, its only fault perhaps is that a high-pitched current running through its opening and ending may irritate a listener’s ears if they aren’t already used to it. Otherwise, a wonderful composition.
I want to look at two tracks I didn’t much like. Charming Shanne is one. There’s a cacaphony in Charming Shanne that irritates me. All the instruments seem to be slightly off key, including the droning brass which does plenty to make the song even less attractive than it already is. I’m sure it might work in the game’s context, but as a stand-alone piece, I really wish it wasn’t on this soundtrack.
Idaten the Swift is another strike against this soundtrack. Although not nearly as irritating as Charming Shanne, its weaving melody and hurried onset quickly blend with traditional Japanese drumming, but to poor effect. If the bamboo flute which accompanies this piece was more attuned and not so high-pitched, it would help bring the melody together. As it is, it only makes my ears hurt. That may be the intention of the creators, seeing as the tune does create a sense of urgency, but I could really have done without the high pitched flute.
Overall, Tengai Makyou III: NAMIDA is a great addition to any music lover’s library. Some of the tracks only serve as ambience, while others stand well on their own. Despite my criticism, even the bad tracks can be appealing at times, and I can see them working in a game context. I was truly surprised to hear Sarah Brightman’s voice in the opening track, but it’s very welcome. She brings a lot of spirit to the OST and I’m grateful for her inclusion. Well worth a look, and here’s to hoping Far East of Eden doesn’t stay in the East forever.