Motoi Sakuraba’s music has managed to worm its way into every conceivable realm of gaming. To my knowledge, the only border he can’t seem to cross (or doesn’t care to cross) is the Pacific Ocean. He’s composed for games published by Square Enix, Namco Bandai, Atlus, Nintendo, and many others. In this case, Sakuraba worked under Asmik Ace and Shout! Designworks to write the music for Tenshou Gakuen Gekkouroku (trans. “Reincarnation School Moonlight Record”), a Sakura Taisen-style Adventure/RPG that is a spin-off (Gaiden) to the Tokyo Majin Gakuen series.
This two disc set features some of Sakuraba’s most blatantly traditional East Asian compositions to date. When Sakuraba does something, after all, it is rarely subtle. Though you can still find the synth prog rock you’re used to hearing from games like Star Ocean and the Tales series (see “Regular Battle 1,” “Opening,” others), Sakuraba goes all out with the traditional Chinese and Japanese instruments to create something you may not be used to. Not from Sakuraba, anyway.
Shamisen, shakuhachi flute, taiko drums, and the koto can all be found (emulated through synthesizers) on this album. The biggest surprise was finding these instruments used in some of the battle themes, particularly the three “boss battle” themes at the end of disc two. “Battle with Shirafu” was a very interesting piece, indeed. Not the most enjoyable thing I’ve heard from Sakuraba, no…but certainly worthy of study. A fast 6/8 rhythm (with additional beats thrown in occasionally to make the meter even more complex) is merged with the cutting syncopation Sakuraba is famous for. But instead of guitar, bass, drums, and an organ-synth keyboard, you’re hearing it with traditional Japanese percussion and some strings and woodwinds. It’s a unique take on the usual Sakuraba style, to be sure.
As far as pure enjoyment goes, I found that the “good stuff” was frontloaded. Most of the tracks on the first half of disc one are worth your attention. But after you get past the five-part “Inside and Outside the Moon Song Academy” section, things go downhill in a hurry. The “downhill” I speak of isn’t aggravating or grating to the ears: it’s just bland. I actually found myself, at one point, becoming captivated by the music in the Opening theme, the Shop music, and certainly the Moon Song Academy pieces. But after that, I discovered what I had feared to be true: this is another rushed project from Sakuraba’s repertoire, but dressed up in decidedly traditional Japanese sound structures.
If you can’t get enough of Sakuraba, you definitely need to check out this album, because there is something special about it, if only because it’s not (entirely) another Tales/tri-Ace album. But if you’ve already had enough of Sakuraba for a lifetime, there’s no reason to abuse yourself. Go on now, get out of here before you get sucked in to the monotonous drums, keyboard, guitar and bass that have somehow launched Sakuraba to stardom.