The Eightfold Road is an arrange album of incredible music from the acclaimed JRPG Octopath Traveler. Octopath Traveler won several awards in RPGFan’s Game of the Year proceedings, including one for Best Music or Sound Design thanks to rising star composer Yasunori Nishiki’s evocative creations. Another rising star in the world of music is Jules Conroy, a.k.a FamilyJules (or Jules) who is best known for his guitar driven arrangements of popular video game music. Although he specializes in electric and classical guitar, Jules is a multi-instrumentalist who also plays bass guitar, cello, keyboard and ocarina. FamilyJules’ and his many musician friends’ myriad talents combined with Yasunori Nishiki’s masterful compositions equals one of the absolute best guitar/metal arrange albums I’ve heard in years.
Over my many years with RPGFan, I’ve heard countless “guitar arrange” or “metal arrange” soundtracks that were simply awful because they had synthesized guitars that sounded anemic, fake, and very toy-like. Being a bassist myself, who’s toured up and down the east coast with rock bands, I believe that nothing beats the thick, rich, organically resonant tone of a real guitar. Therefore, hearing real guitars in these arrangements made my heart leap for joy. Guitars aside, all the instrumentation in this album sounds amazing because it’s the real deal. Plenty of guest musicians feature on this soundtrack lending their skills on flutes, saxophones, and all manner of other instruments to the party.
The astute aficionado will note that the official title of this album is The Eightfold Road: Metal Arrangements from Octopath Traveler, and wonder “What do flutes and saxophones have to do with metal?” Plenty, to be quite honest. I’ve been listening to metal for over 2/3s of my life and while this soundtrack has plenty of metal hallmarks like scorching guitar leads, crunchy rhythmic riffs, and pounding drums, metal music itself is so much more vast than that. Many people perceive metal as a whirlwind brutality of noise, but the sensibilities of this soundtrack evoke the incredible melodicism of European folk metal, the soaring nature of European power metal, and even twinges of progressive metal that leaves you more inclined to close your eyes and let the music wash over you rather than than bang your head and mosh.
I dare say that several tracks don’t have big guitars, brash drums, and other typical metal stylings at all; rather, they keep to the traditional and often folky instrumentation true to classic JRPG style music. While many folks might chant “no guitar no metal” or somesuch, I must point out Eluveitie. Eluveitie is a Swiss folk metal band who boldly infuse melodic death metal with traditional folk music and folk instruments like hurdy-gurdy, tin whistle, and more. More than that, though, some of Eluveitie’s albums are 100% folk music with no metal trappings whatsoever; those albums are very good and showcase their appreciable levels of musicianship. I also mentioned hearing saxophones throughout Eightfold Road, and I couldn’t help but recall the time I saw this band called Ever Forthright playing live. During their set, their singer would sometimes brandish a saxophone and play these jazzy saxophone interludes over deathcore riffs. To say that blew my mind is an understatement. So because Eightfold Road features metal, metal blended with traditional and often folky or jazzy JRPG music, and traditional JRPG music, I caught some of the vibe that made me think of dynamic, yet heavy, bands such as Eluveitie and Ever Forthright.
This soundtrack starts off with the many evocative character themes before presenting, what I assume are, the early location themes. This segues well into the second disc, which starts with later location themes before ending with a bang with all the battle themes. I said “assume” regarding the location themes because I do not own a Nintendo Switch, have never played Octopath Traveler, and listened to this soundtrack with no other context than the music itself.
The first wave of location themes had more of a happy adventuring tone to them (“The Riverlands” was my favorite of those), whereas Disc 2’s location themes were far more complex. “Sunshade, City of Pleasures” had that darkly sinister sensuality that’s both compelling, yet somewhat frightening. It made me feel like the adventure’s getting serious and we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore. Among the character themes, my favorites were Primrose’s theme, with its cool flamenco elements, and Cyrus’s theme which felt surprisingly aggressive for someone labeled a scholar. The battle and boss themes are where this soundtrack gets totally “METAL!!!” with plenty blazing fretwork and head banging intensity. The whole thing ends with an indescribable vocal song featuring an operatic singer. Words simply do not do that song justice and it must simply be heard to be appreciated.
I know this piece of writing has felt more like a stream of consciousness essay about the eccentric, eclectic, and often esoteric nature of metal rather than a review of The Eightfold Road: Metal Arrangements from Octopath Traveler, but that’s only because I’m more skilled at expressing how music makes me feel rather than getting into technical aspects of it, despite being a jazz-trained bassist decently versed in theory. What is most important to me is whether the music “moves” me. Does it make me feel that uniquely intense euphoria that leaves me breathless? When I play it in my car, does it turn my humdrum commute into a grand adventure? In this case, the answer to all of that is a resounding “YES!” I must have listened to this for a week straight during my work commute and adored it every time. I can’t think of a clever way to end this beyond simply saying that this soundtrack absolutely rocks and you need to listen to it now.
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.