Is it me, or have soundtracks for handheld RPGs been really good lately? I was quite impressed with Kumi Tanioka’s offerings on the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates (DS) soundtrack and now I’m reviewing the soundtrack for Wild Arms XF for the PSP. The game itself is very good, offering an epic adventure that will keep gamers busy for 40 hours or more. The OST spans four discs and the majority of tracks are lengthy and very good. Five composers (not including Naruke, whose composed work is all re-arranged for this OST) lend their talents to this soundtrack: Daisuke Kikuta, Hitoshi Fujima, Junpei Fujita, Masato Kouda, and Noriyasu Agematsu. There are also vocal numbers sung by Kaori Oda with lyrics by Michiko Naruke, who scored the first few Wild Arms games. Although Michiko Naruke’s contribution to the soundtrack is minimal, the Fab Five mentioned above prove more than capable of delivering music that beautifully captures the unique vibe of Wild Arms. The vibe of Wild Arms, to me, is “tradition with a twist,” those traditions being Japanese RPG and American wild west. Each composer captures these traditions and offers their own unique twists on them. The most amazing part of all this is that even with five cooks in the kitchen, the soundtrack is remarkably cohesive.
Noriyasu Agematsu’s style is characterized by big, bold sounds, even putting normally quieter elements up front in the mix. He loves using prominent horns, keyboards, and synthesizers in his compositions and tends to utilize whistling as a centerpiece in his compositions more frequently than the other composers do. Agematsu’s note and key choices seem more familiar to wild west soundtracks, but have a distinctive Japanese RPG flavor as well. To showcase his style, I chose the following samples: Track 21 from disc 1 is a vocal number with an instrumental by him. To hear the instrumental without vocal, check out track 20 on disc 2. Track 6 in disc 3 showcases Agematsu’s big bold and more traditional sounds with moments of prominent whistling. Track 16 on disc 4 does not have a wild west feel at all (given that Wild Arms XF’s tone changes dramatically in the latter part of the game), but clearly shows the big bold flavors Agematsu likes in his compositions. This is a bombastic hard rocking piece. I can definitely see how the big sounds of Agematsu’s compositions add bombast and punch to epic battles and gravity to cutscenes.
Junpei Fujita’s compositions are easily the most modern sounding. They have that Wild Arms feel through the use of horns, strings, and the occasional whistling that are softer than Agematsu’s usage of them, but are more akin to what this kind of music would sound like in more contemporary times. Fujita also enjoys using electric guitar in many of his compositions, which is always something I approve of. Of all the music presented in this soundtrack, I found Junpei Fujita’s compositions the most appealing to me. Even while playing the game, his compositions stood out to me and stayed stuck in my head. His compositions were the most catchy and he was not afraid to take occasional risks such as incorporating elements of techno and Eurobeat into his compositions… and make them work. He is definitely a versatile and talented composer I’d like to keep an eye on and hopefully hear more from in the future. For him, I chose the following samples: Track 2 in disc 1 is, to me, Junpei Fujita in a nutshell. This track employs everything I’ve said about him in this paragraph. Track 17 in disc 2 is a quieter track that I really liked. Track 16 in disc 3 showcases Fujita’s use of more modern synthesized sounds in a way that works with Wild Arms. Track 24 in disc 4 was a nice piano piece that I really liked.
Daisuke Kikuta’s compositions, though catchy, can get a tad repetitive. He also does not use as wide a variety of instrumentation as Fujita or Agematsu do in their compositions. His more sweeping style of music offers a nice sonic complement to Fujita’s and Agematsu’s works, but leans more heavily to more traditional JRPG style music than wild west style of “wasabi western” fusion music. I liked listening to his compositions, but I felt they were the overall weakest of the soundtrack and lacked complexity. The samples I selected of his work are track 3 in disc 1, track 3 in disc 2, track 9 in disc 3, and track 8 in disc 4.
Hitoshi Fujima’s compositions fall stylistically between those of Agematsu and Fujita. Although his compositions are not as distinct as those of Agematsu and Fujita, they are solid pieces and complement the other composers’ music very well. He also proves quite versatile, adept at fast paced battle themes, softer themes for quieter moments, and even whimsical themes with fun and humor. The samples I chose for him are track 2 from disc 1, which is a solid battle theme. I chose track 4 from disc 2 for its whimsy and humor. Track 15 from disc 3 is a good emotional piece. Track 5 from disc 4 has a cool Tex-Mex feel with its acoustic guitar and castanets.
The composer whose work is most prominent on this soundtrack is Masato Kouda. Kouda is a versatile composer who can capture many moods and styles, but his strongest tracks are easily the more ominous, atmospheric tracks. A few examples of this are track 16 on disc 1, track 17 on disc 3, and track 4 on disc 4. Track 5 on disc 2, with its modern cowboy desert vibe, is an example to show his versatility. Although Kouda’s offerings to the soundtrack are solid, I did not find his compositions as strong as those of other composers, like Agematsu or Fujita. Still, though, those ominous, atmospheric tracks he did are killer.
The quality and quantity of the compositions, as well as the sound quality, is something many would associate with an RPG on a full size console with higher production values rather than an RPG on a handheld. Whether you buy the game, the soundtrack, or both, you certainly get your money’s worth here. I’ve played RPGs on full size consoles whose soundtracks were far more meager in comparison. The music was easily my favorite aspect of Wild Arms XF and the soundtrack only echoes that sentiment.