Xenosaga Episode III is the series’ conclusion, and therefore the conclusion of a musical legacy reaching from Mitsuda’s Xenogears and Xenosaga scores, to the most recent two, which only had partial soundtrack releases, both by Yuki Kajiura. Three things, then, are brought up: how does this Xenosaga’s music compare to the last one, how is it on its own, and does it work as a suitable conclusion to a rich, diverse heritage?
Kajiura’s style used here is much like that in the previous game, with focuses on emotion in some tracks, and sound in others. However, the tone here is darker than in II, and many of the tracks have a focus on rhythm as well, giving this album a different sound on the whole. Kajiura’s strengths shine through here: many of the melodies are quite stirring and emotional, and there’s some fantastic mixing work done between seemingly disparate elements, such as in the fantastic “godsibb” or “she’s coming back.” She’s also very good at creating a kind of atmosphere with a female voice, and although there isn’t as much of that type of work here as in II, the few examples shine quite well.
Unfortunately, Kajiura’s weaknesses show clearly here as well, perhaps even more clearly than in II’s uneven score. While many of the orchestral tracks on here are competently written and aurally pleasing, several of them, such as “a dark omen” or “crisis coming,” are just not great on the whole. In this area, Mitsuda shines so much brighter than Kajiura: Mitsuda is able to create very dense music, that while easily listenable, is actually quite complex. Kajiura’s music, while certainly accessible, does not develop or grow within a listener’s mind. I think that this is partially due to the limitations within the pop style itself, which she certainly draws upon throughout her work.
In spite of that, there are some very strong pieces on here, starting with “we’ve got to believe in something,” which, while being thoroughly Kajiura material, has a great sound and ambiance to it that is almost reminiscent of some of Kenji Kawai’s work. “rolling down the U.M.N.,” by contrast, reminds me particularly of the experimental jazz work in RahXephon’s music. It’s a style that I haven’t heard in Kajiura’s work before, and she utilizes it quite well here, although it’s a short track.
As it’s Kajiura’s strength, and as this soundtrack focuses on them, it should follow that there are some really great emotional tracks on here. The crown jewel here is “Febronia;” the flutes and piano work together very well here, and the emotion doesn’t feel forced. Although not as good, the “when the grief lets you go” tracks are also quite well written.
“promised pain” sounds much like the successor to II’s fantastic “communications breakdown,” but the track is slower, and while it doesn’t feel as immediately gripping, the pace of the track serves Kajiura’s fantastic mixing capabilities very well. The beat, the orchestra, the chorus, all sound great together and complement each other. A track on here that definitely surprised me, in a good way, is “testament.” The female chorus used here has an incredible reserved tone to it, and the sound of the track is very pleasingly dark, and not overly melodramatic. About halfway through, it shifts into a slightly faster section. The same theme is developed quite nicely, and the harpsichord, a great instrument which finds little usage in video game music, appears briefly.
As great as “testament” is, my favorite track on this set by far is “hepatica (KOS-MOS).” The vocal complements the already beautiful melody; the performance is magnificently ethereal in its overall quality, and the background instruments never detract from the vocal. Even when the music is played in a more electronic form nearing the end of the track, it manages to retain the beautiful and emotional qualities of the track.
There is, unfortunately, one theme in this soundtrack that I cannot stand, and the reason is actually quite odd. The theme first appears in “to the last place,” and it is re-stated in “I love you, sincerely” and finally in the ending vocal, “maybe tomorrow”. It’s a decent melody line, but it is exactly the same, for a few measures, as the music that plays in every Home Depot commercial. (For those who’ve never heard of it for one reason or another, the Home Depot is a chain of hardware retail stores.) The association is so strong, that it actually ended up detracting from the soundtrack significantly at times.
But that isn’t the reason that I don’t particularly like the ending track “maybe tomorrow ~ ending medley.” First, on the vocal portions of the track, Emily Curtis’s recording seems very muted, and it’s hard to distinguish the words at times. It’s better over speakers, but I usually prefer listening to music through headphones. Then again, not hearing the words here may just be a blessing, because they are painfully bad. On top of that, the pop style of the song doesn’t particularly do much for the melody, and the arrangement is very bland. Although the medley section is better, it is undoubtedly problematic, due to the unbearably abrupt transitions. I’ve heard much better transitions in fan created work than here. If only Hitoshi Sakimoto could have done the arranging work, it could have been much better. Worst of all, I think, is that this track is the absolute end. Of the soundtrack, of the series’ soundtracks…it’s just a bad way to finish.
Like Xenosaga II’s Movie Scene Soundtrack, there are some exceptional pieces on Xenosaga III’s album, however, just like II, the quality is uneven, and some of the tracks that fail, fail miserably. Yuki Kajiura has talent, but I maintain that she may not have been the right choice for Xenosaga as a series. Her compositions lack the lasting power of something by Mitsuda. Add to that the worst vocal theme that the series has seen, and III seems to be on the wrong track entirely. However, like in II, the quality of the pieces that are good is exceptional, and it saves the soundtrack. In fact, as a whole, Xenosaga III’s music is better than II’s. So while Kajiura fans will praise this album, elevating it to the level of a masterpiece, I will continue to disagree with them. A masterpiece is necessarily more consistent than the work seen here.
Editor’s note 6/28/2013: Unfortunately, this album is completely out of print and no longer available from outlets like Play-Asia or CDJapan.