Masashi Hamauzu finally seems to have acquired a long-deserved series association, this being his second score for a SaGa game. You’d never guess though, as he makes no allusions to any of his themes from SaGa Frontier 2 and separates this new score from the former with an entirely different palette of sound.
There is a clear and intentional distinction made between the content of the two discs, with the first one consisting largely of orchestral and acoustic material, and the second experimental and electronic work, cleanly exhibiting the split sides of Hamauzu’s musical character. I will say that the first disc had me expecting the whole score not to measure up to the dizzying heights of his work on SaGa Frontier 2 or Final Fantasy X. The technical crafsmanship of the orchestral writing and lucidity of compositional thought is impeccable, but the disc lacks Hamauzu’s customary inventiveness and searching originality. Turns out a number of tracks on this disc were written several years ago and rescued from the bottom of the drawer, which creates the illusion of a minor regression of style, with many of Hamauzu’s characteristic phrases and progressions on display in incipient form.
There’s also a great deal of purely light-hearted, even flat-out cheerful music, as opposed to the light but fantastical, whimsical qualities of Chocobo’s Dungeon and SaGa Frontier 2, with a few tracks sounding more like Koichi Sugiyama than Hamauzu. However, there’s also a detectable South American influence flitting around the periphery, apparent in Hamauzu’s use of bossa nova and tango rhythms in select tracks that adds an ingratiating tincture to the composition of the whole, and the orchestral material towards the end of the disc begins to acquire the darkly redolent overtones more characteristic of Hamauzu. Overall, disc one contains a fine collection of music overflowing with character, charm and wit, and some exceptionally realistic acoustic sound modeling mixed together with live performances. Still, on hearing only the first disc, one may question whether Hamauzu hadn’t played the safe bet with a largely atypical homogeneity, and miss the stylistic embarrassment of riches his previous scores provided.
One will then have his doubts summarily rejected and sent back to shame him once the second disc starts up. For here is crammed all of the creative electronica, abstract ambience, twisted funk and general Hamauzu craziness that makes his music the most potent force in VGM today. His first vocal song is also highly appealing, with a melodic countour structured like a classical chanson set to a fantasy rock arrangement, neatly reconciling the score’s diametric personas. True fans of Hamauzu won’t be disappointed; this work matches his best.