The 3rd Birthday Original Soundtrack

 

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Review by · January 23, 2011

With The 3rd Birthday’s soundtrack, Square Enix had the delicate task of connecting the game aurally to its predecessors while still forging ahead and creating something new. Much like the evolved gameplay and the “new” Aya Brea, the soundtrack had to evoke feelings of the old with new material. Thanks to a strong pedigree and a collection of exceptionally atmospheric, evocative tracks, that is exactly what they’ve accomplished. However, on the other hand, there are a great deal of tracks which are both well-produced and pleasing to hear, but after a while, start to sound very similar, which was ultimately the problem with the album as a whole. No track is outright bad; in fact many are quite good. The issue is that the majority of the music here is very ambient in nature, and not melody-driven, which can make it difficult to distinguish between songs.

Some notes about the album: it does feature Yoko Shimomura, the composer of the original Parasite Eve, though her contribution is rather small. Also contributing a few tracks is Tsuyoshi Sekito, former Black Mage, whose previous work includes Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and some tracks for Dissidia: Final Fantasy, among others. The primary composer for the album, however, is Mitsuto Suzuki, who now is probably best known for his contribution to the excellent Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack. Suzuki was an underground electronica artist (of some repute) who later joined up with Square Enix as a sound engineer. Some of his more recent work, besides the aforementioned FFXIII OST, can be seen on the Chill SQ and Square Enix Xmas Collection albums, and they all serve as a testament to his prodigious talents as an artist.

The album opens with Tsuyoshi Sekito and a track called “From the End – The 3rd Birthday.” It is a memorable song that most certainly seems in line with the Parasite Eve sound, but is overshadowed by the track immediately following it, Yoko Shimomura’s “The Babel: Genesis.” It starts out slow and dark, adding a synth organ and a choir backing which build up until the middle of the song, where it breaks down into some intense synth and piano rocking that sounds most evocative of Shimomura’s recent Kingdom Hearts work. It then segues into another calm piano sequence with a very dreamy synthesized soundscape. As Shimomura’s first contribution, it sets the stage well for what is to come. However, the pattern of Sekito’s tracks being outshined by the other two composers is one that is repeated throughout the album, which makes many of his contributions seem weaker than they actually are.

Mitsuto Suzuki is up next, with a dense, atmospheric piece called “Investigation of the Past,” full of eerie synths and foreboding female vocals ebbing in and out—eventually integrating some pulsing percussion that picks up the energy of the song and makes it a great lead-in for the rest of the album. The track immediately following this one, another Suzuki piece, is called “Beginning of Breeding,” and, honestly, it is the first track that made me say “This is a Parasite Eve soundtrack.” It opens with tense piano stylings accompanying very dark synths, building into a string section that would make Yoko Shimomura proud. The slow build to intensity makes me imagine the song is going to accompany the first battle or first encounter with The Twisted (the game’s enemies).

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The next track breaks with both the slowly building tension and impenetrable atmosphere that the album has been working on thus far and delivers a homey cover of Joy to the World, the Christmas classic. The vocalist is, at first, incredibly odd-sounding—but the track honestly begins to grow on you, and by the end of it I found myself singing along in his odd tone of voice. It’s a weird song, to be sure, but it does give the album some Christmasy flavor.

“Dive into Myself” is a Suzuki-penned, calm, string-heavy piece that contains one of the album’s very few musical themes. As a theme, I found it to be competent—but not as compelling as any of the themes from the original Parasite Eve. “Equinox of Insanity” is another ambient track, but an exceptionally effective one, featuring a very sparse soundscape populated by a chilling piano line (punctuated the occasional dissonant chords) and ambient synth. It sets the mood impeccably, and is another point at which the album succeeds at sounding undoubtedly like a Parasite Eve game. “Equinox” is followed up by another Shimomura track, “Insanity of the Enraged,” which seems likely to be a battle theme. It channels the original PE incredibly well, starting off at a middling level of intensity and accelerating into an energetic piece of piano and synth that works exceptionally at setting the listener in a “battle” frame of mind.

“Moment of Humanity,” is a somewhat ironically named piece, as it features a very powerful, otherworldly sound, featuring some heavy background synth and a plucky sort of piano playing. This track made me realize that while the album is perhaps too heavy on the ambience, by no means is it uneffective. “Moment” is one of the best tracks on the album and is very evocative of Suzuki’s work on Final Fantasy XIII, particularly in the beginning.

Sekito’s next track, “Bloody Back,” is disappointing, featuring a heavy bass line and some electronic sounds— coming across as nothing more than filler. Following this, Mitsuto’s “Frozen Time” is yet another piece of atmospheric ambience, with an unsettling, high-tech synth-y sound floating around in the background. The next track, Suzuki’s “The Boss” is a refreshingly calming song, featuring a peaceful string intro that leads into a calming piano line.

The next several tracks were largely ambience, and this was really where one might start to grow a bit weary, as everything seems to blend together. Track 22 is a revisit of the “Dive Into Myself” theme, featuring a nice evolution of the melody, but the surrounding tracks all felt very similar to me.

The album comes alive again with “Memory 2 – For the 3rd Birthday,” a Suzuki track that makes use of the “Primal Eyes” theme from the original games. It is a moving, chilling song that stuck in my head, and serves as one of the most beautiful, memorable tracks on offer. Shortly after, Shimomura returns with a cover of her own “Arise Within You,” that gets a little more electronic midway through and changes up the sound quite nicely. “Out of Phase” is another cover of a classic tune (by Suzuki), which is functional and survives on the strength of the original composition. “Pain of Assault” is a battle-sounding theme, featuring a great main hook and a sound that seems to channel both PE and Kingdom Hearts. “Human Seeker,” by Suzuki, is one of the best tracks on the album, with its outstandingly surreal introduction and a great, atmospheric sound that brings to mind more of Suzuki’s FFXIII work. Right after is the equally excellent “Human Seeker – Battle Side,” which pumps up the intensity and adds a very processed-sounding guitar element and heavy percussion.

Later on is Sekito’s “Worm,” an intense track that sounds like it would accompany a pre-boss cutscene. I felt a very God of War kind of vibe from the song, and it certainly came off as one of Sekito’s better tracks, though it was a bit out of tune with Suzuki’s work that surrounds it. However, his next track, “Desperation,” is a high-octane song with lots of big swells and a heavy, dramatic sound that gives way to an exceptionally effective lonely violin section in the middle. It is one of Sekito’s best tracks, in contention with the two songs immediately following it on the album, “Ray of Hope” and “Triumph of Wing.” This three-song block of Sekito is without a doubt his strongest showing on the album, with “Desperation” flowing into “Ray,” with its heavily synthesized, building and cresting sound. Next is “Triumph of Wing,” a synth-heavy track with an epic slant that honestly reminded me of the best that Phantasy Star Online’s soundtracks had to offer.

“King of Closing Time” is an incredibly foreboding, dark track with a slow, beating percussion that sounds like a throbbing heart giving way to a tense, vocal-assisted breakdown. “A Piece of Remain – for The 3rd Birthday” is very downbeat and features some nice, twangy string sounds. “Into the Babel” seems like it would accompany a long cutscene, but unfortunately comes off sounding very repetitive due to its six and a half minute running time. Suzuki and Sekito collaborate on “Escape from the UB – for The 3rd Birthday,” a cover of the final battle track from the original Parasite Eve, and it is an excellent evolution of a song that was already very dissonant and unsettling.

“Blue of the End” is an excellent, near-final battle sounding track that is quintessentially Shimomura, featuring all of her staple sounds coming together in an awesome, dramatic piece. “The End – Back to the Beginning- is a very melancholy, ending theme-type track, featuring nine minutes of sad strings and piano in a very Kingdom Hearts vein. One of the last songs on the album is “Primal Eyes – for The 3rd Birthday,” an energetic, enthusiastic cover of the original theme that kept me, as a longtime fan, very happy. The final track of the album, “Theme of Aya – The 3rd Birthday Early Essence Arrange” is an awesome finale, featuring piano, organ, and synth coming together in an intense and dramatic way. Truthfully, it comes off as something I would expect to hear in a Kingdom Hearts-style secret ending video, with its slow build to an explosive finale.

The 3rd Birthday is a large album full of well-produced music that especially showcases the talents of Mitsuto Suzuki and Yoko Shimomura. Tsuyoshi Sekito is, by and large, simply along for the ride and is in the presence of artists who have simply outperformed him, though his contributions late in the album do make his inclusion worthwhile. Many of the tracks are potent, effective, and will accompany the events of the game very well. Unfortunately, there are so many tracks and such a heavy reliance on synthesizer ambience that it becomes very difficult to distinguish between them, which is the album’s biggest (and perhaps only real) fault. As a new Parasite Eve soundtrack, it succeeds in bringing back themes from the classics to keep its identity, and the new tracks sound similar enough to make it feel like we’re still in that world, but the lack of any new memorable themes means that it isn’t likely we’ll be hearing too many remixes of any of this game’s tracks in ten years.

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Stephen Meyerink

Stephen Meyerink

Stephen used to hang out here, but at some point he was either slain by Rob or disappeared after six hundred straight hours of chanting "I'm really feeling it!" while playing Smash Ultimate. (But seriously, Stephen ran RPGFan Music for a portion of his six years here, and launched our music podcast, Rhythm Encounter.)