I am not a very big fan of a growing trend in the video game industry that involves using fully orchestrated music for video game albums-whether it involves a studio or licensing live orchestras. The reason artists choose to use professional orchestras is that it supposedly makes for a more “movie-like” and less “video-game” like experience. I for one think video game music SHOULD sound like a video game, not a drama or action flick on the big screen. I have always been a fan of the old-school, almost cheesy tunes of yesteryear. Any fan of music from the Arc the Lad or Lunar series (or any album more than 6 or 7 years old) knows what I mean. However, UNLIMITED:SaGa‘s music makes such a great use of a wide and interesting make-up of instruments it really builds a case for using orchestras for future games. And while the album isn’t recorded by a live band (as far as I know), you’d never guess it given the quality of the work. So I tell you this: those of you who may be turned off by the fact that this album uses real instruments for its music and excludes your traditional quirky studio sounds…don’t be! And for those of you who do enjoy orchestrated albums, you are in for a real treat.
What makes the soundtrack so special is that all the songs have a distinct feel to them. Unlike some other albums that use real instruments, UNLIMITED:SaGa‘s music avoids the pitfall of having every song sound the same. For example, Xenosaga‘s album, which took advantage of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was largely disappointing to me, because unlike Mitsuda’s music for Xenogears (my favorite album of all time), many of the songs on Xenosaga sounded too similar and therefore lacked personality. Similarly, some of the songs on the Star Ocean 3 OST Vol.1 balance on the brink of mediocrity because although most of the songs are good, they just sound too similar to other songs on the album, which kill any sort of originality they had in the first place. I notice this happening more recently with the introduction of live orchestras so my guess is for one reason or another, less originality goes into work when composers use live instruments, or maybe orchestrated music just sounds the same after a while…I could be wrong about both. Nevertheless, SaGa‘s music should be commended for avoiding this.
Yet at the very same time, each song on the album carries a same sort of…feel to them. Masashi Hamauzu laces each song with tunes very consistent with “UNLIMITED:SaGa Overture”, which really sets the tone for the duration of the soundtrack. So while each song is distinctly different, they each share common traits that serve to contribute to a whole piece. In the end your left with a very cohesive (and for the most part, consistent) album. This, ideally, is what every artist strives to achieve-a group of songs that all work towards a common theme while each standing on their own right as great individual pieces. Masashi Hamauzu passes with flying colors.
It should be noted, however, that the two discs that make up this soundtrack are very different from one another. Many claim this to be a pitfall of the album. I disagree. The songs on disc two aren’t bad by any sense, and to fault Hamauzu for separating them from the others is wrong. If in fact the songs would have been mixed up, the album would be very inconsistent with the types of music between tracks. As it is, Hamauzu leaves you with a choice of what style of music you want to listen to. Whereas disc one has your mellow, emotional, town-like, and character themed typical RPG music, disc two concentrates almost entirely on a hard rocking, techno driven, sometimes even jazzy sound. James McCawley did an excellent job describing the work on the separate discs in his review so I won’t go into great detail here. It should be noted that even though the two discs sound quite different, you will still hear many of the same sounds, themes, melodies and instruments from disc one. So while the two discs are very different stylistically, they each support the other to create one of the better albums in a long time.
You really can’t go wrong with this soundtrack. For you emotional saps out there (like me) disc one will captivate you with the power of some of its songs. For those that prefer to pick up the pace, the battle themes from disc one and almost all of disc two will surely satisfy your needs as well.