Xenosaga Episode I


Review by · August 13, 2005

I adore the work of Yasunori Mitsuda. I know I am not alone in my adoration. Even those who are not particularly interested in a videogame’s music cannot help but appreciate the work Mr. Mitsuda has put into such games as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Xenosaga. He has a more than adequate grasp of different ethnic styles, and he knows how to blend them without creating confusion or losing track of the song’s melody: something composers begin to overlook all too often.

The specific work we find in Xenosaga Ep. I is monolithic (get it? “Monolith”-ic?) to Mitsuda’s career, and we at the ‘Fan know this to be the case. DigiCube’s release of the OST was treated to four different reviews on our site: that’s the most reviews we’ve ever seen for one soundtrack release.

Mitsuda himself decided to re-release the soundtrack through his “Sleigh Bells” catalog, adding two new tracks and three new recordings of older songs. Unfortunately, this particular release is now harder to find than the original release from DigiCube. This is a shame, especially because this soundtrack is one step closer to being “complete” than the previous release. The new recordings are also, in my opinion, superior to the original recordings.

The most noticeable change made from the original release to this release is the tracklist order. Whereas DigiCube’s release attempted to put the tracks in the order you would hear them in the game, the Sleigh Bells release categorizes them in terms of live recordings / cinematic events vs. keyboard-based recordings / in-game music. Disc I, then, is the more impressive of the two discs (especially since the London Philharmonic performs on more than one occasion), but both are outstanding achievements.

I remember the first time I saw Xenosaga’s opening movie sequence: I had downloaded the movie off of the internet just after the game’s Japanese release, and I remember thinking to myself, “the accompanying music is the best part of this movie.” As such, I have sampled one minute of it: as the Zohar rises from Lake Turkana, loud and chaotic instruments cloud the aural spectrum; as the rain begins to fall, a female choir haunts all those bearing witness to the event.

Along with the Philharmonic’s performances, Mitsuda also worked with the “Metropolitan Voices” to record tracks such as “Ormus.” Mitsuda has done his homework: the music sounds like some of the best “church” music written during the baroque era, yet it is not confined to the patterns used by Bach and others; a touch of the romantic period can be glimpsed in this song, giving us the impression that this particular religious group is not your ho-hum traditional religion. Whatever’s going on, it’s secret, and it’s probably bad.

One of my recent favorites in film scores is for M. Night’s “The Village”: it had these violin/cello parts that were simply to die for. The melody and timbre of those songs are similar to what I hear in the new recording of “Beach of the Void.” You have to love it.

Of course, Joanne Hogg’s beautiful voice is what completes the Xeno-experience. I myself have been a fan of Hogg’s solo work, as well as her vocal performance with the band “Iona.” Though these two songs “Pain” and “Kokoro” are not nearly my favorite songs from her, they still stand out among the rest of the OST tracks as something to enjoy. Between the two songs, I think Kokoro surpasses Pain musically and lyrically.

Disc I ends with the two bonus tracks not found on the DigiCube print: “World to be Born” and a piano solo version of “Pain.” It turns out that neither of these songs are spectacular; in fact, when taken in with the whole of this OST, I prefer many other songs over these two: definitely an anti-climactic ending for the disc.

Then there’s Disc II. Disc I’s music, for the average gamer, is less memorable precisely because you only hear it once or twice in your entire playthrough. These in-game tracks are, for the most part, heard for the majority of the long ride through the game.

This isn’t the case for the opening track, which I sampled because it makes a musical reference to a theme from Xenogears (it appears halfway through the minute sample provided). This five minute track is used during a well-executed opening sequence that introduces Shion, KOS-MOS, Allen, and other characters relevant to the Xenosaga plot.

If there’s one song that will forever be stuck in my head, it’s “U.M.N. MODE.” This spacey-trance-techno-loop plays while Shion accesses her U.M.N. device…and if you’re like me, and you wanted to read about all 250 terms/phrases in the game’s encyclopedia, and you always opened new and unread emails, then you probably had this music played to you for at least 3 hours of your entire gaming experience. It’s a classic song.

Perhaps the best in-game song of all is the “Last Battle”: I couldn’t help but notice the beauty and wonder of this song the first time I went up against the game’s last boss. Strings, piano, xylophone, and male vocals come together to create one of the best battle themes Mitsuda has ever made. Ever. Don’t deny it. This song is amazing.

As I said before, it’s a pity that this version of the Xenosaga OST is terribly difficult to find, even though it was released almost two years after DigiCube’s print. I write this review as a reminder to fans that this soundtrack has stood the test of time (at least for a few years): we’ve seen a lot of soundtracks come out, but few have surpassed the greatness of this one: Episode I.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.