VM Japan has one of the most remarkable soundtracks ever created by the masterminds Nihon Falcom and their amazing Sound Team JDK. Unique, modern and stylistic, it is a grand achievement of our Japanese friends. But first, some background.
In the late 90s, Falcom brought about a tactical simulation named Vantage Master. Featuring hex based movement, diverse locales and cameos from beloved characters like Adol, Chris and Jurio, it was truly a treat for PC owners. Lucky for you, now it’s a free download at Falcom’s site! In English, even (You can’t beat that)!
Fast forward to 2002. After the monumental success of Ys I and II Eternal, a new Vantage Master came to life – VM Japan. As the name implies, there is a profound Japanese influence, but with some interesting twists. The same can be said for the soundtrack it boasts.
First of all, the music is different. Very different. This is not your whiny, drawn out, pseudo-epic wannabe soundtrack. Two discs of heart-pounding dance, peaceful piano, and riveting orchestral numbers. Calling it “traditional Japanese meets dance music” is inadequate. A slew of dance styles. Beautiful piano. Up-tempo, gentle, loud, stirring. Old-school Falcom melodic sensibility meets 21st century arranging technique. Call it what you will, it’s great. And there are two discs of it!
The blaster opening “Alone in the Moonlight” has sweeping strings, a solid beat, and grumbling bass. Everything about the song is good, especially around 2:13 when the killer synth lead kicks in, and the peaceful calming down that follows.
“Traveling Skies” is one of my favorites. Starting out with a great piano intro, a sweet, silky drum pattern gently lifts the flute, piano and synth across the tune. “Warriors” is even better – most of the song is really great. But when the chorus hits at 1:53, one the best Falcom melodies since the days of Sorcerian comes forth, shimmering with thick synth leads accentuated by faint choral traces. “Distant Blazes” will remind you of Chrono Cross’ “The Dream that Time Dreams,” while “Rainy Scene” is soothing and gorgeous. Round it out with “Yearning” and you’ve got a solid Disc One.
Disc Two brings out more hard hitting numbers. “Gathering of the Fates” is simply spectacular – the perfect opener. I’ve yet to hear a song match the huge, grandiose space it fills. Starting with a very cool synth arpeggio, the choir begins the melody, slowly leading in the ever so sweet bassline. Then come the strings. Then the guitar. Then the drum programming. And it just gets better and better.
“An Ill Omen” is great, but its remix at the end of the disc is even better. “Battle Cry” is a cool, laid back, midtempo dance fest. Its drum pattern is very similar to that of the awesome Tales of Phantasia single, “The Dream Will Not Die.” You don’t want to know many times I’ve tried to recreate that *clap-CLAP* rhythm in my own music! “Master of Chaos” is also a hot track. Nice house style beat with a thick bass have a biting attitude, nicely contrasting the cool, calm, uplifting flute and koto melody.
I have to admit there a couple stinkers – relatively speaking, of course. “If It Is Done, It Will Be at the Time of Parting” is kind of weak, and all that great drum programming seems to be lacking here. It’s far from bad, though. “VM March,” despite having a cool name, stinks, as does “Attack the Villain.” Most of these are stuck at the end of the OST, leading me to believe they are ‘bonus round’ type tracks, like the fanfares at the end of other scores.
Thankfully, the whole thing ends with a superb remix of “An Ill Omen.” It rounds out the soundtrack ever so nicely. Ah, that choir and synth at the end! Perfect! Then it lets you down slowly and gently, until it’s over, just like that, with a whisper. It makes me want to put the whole thing on repeat.
Interestingly, the soundtrack has been met with highly divided views. Some are not terribly fond of it, have labeled it an oddity, and generally blast it for being, well, weird. However, there are those like myself, who love this unknown gem of a soundtrack. One claimed some of the best moments in VGM history can be heard from VM Japan. I’m not going to argue with that.
So…should you buy it? Yes! Please do it now! It’s really easy to get (at this time). Cocoebiz.com carries it in stock, as does Falcom themselves. Do yourself a favor; listen to this unique and remarkable landmark in Falcom’s amazing musical history.