Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack
Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack
May 24, 2000
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There’s something that eludes me about the soundtrack to Breath of Fire IV. Sure, at face value, it can be shrugged off as a featureless RPG score as you’d find in any other game of its genre; even as the first notes of Taro Iwashiro’s “Opening Animation” begin, certain expectations are fulfilled as premeditated patterns of countless game score openers fill out right and left with the onscreen cues. And following that, there are certainly tunes that wouldn’t have been missed had I not ever heard them in the first place. So, what’s escaping me? I’ve been thinking, maybe taking things as they we hear them, at face value, is all part of a composer’s master plan. Because somehow, some way, Yoshino Aoki has caught me off guard with just the right number of unremarkable imitations of the ordinary and mundane. And then, as my back is turned and my mind ready to dismiss, my ears pick up a sound that stops me dead in my tracks. Whatever was dwelling beneath the surface had cleverly lulled me into believing there was nothing to be found. Good thing I took the time to have a closer look.
Aoki walks a fine line between the modern mainstream RPG sound and her own carefully plotted image of a fantasy adventure; and while standing in between the two, she scoops up a bucket of musical mannerisms from one side and throws it like a can of paint across the border, drenching tradition with a strange yet delightful amalgam of various lights and darks. Thus, what we may recognize in general shape and size is now reflecting colors that don’t quite add up as being correct; our minds struggle to ascertain what it is we’re looking at, trying to figure out why this is here and that is there, why these are so something but those so something else. It’s that uncertainty that buys Breath of Fire IV the time it needs to fully explain itself, and, while it may not be worth the wait for some listeners, I know that it’s had a lasting effect on me.
There’s a reasonably wide variety on this album, certainly wider (if more ‘normal’ by RPG standards) than what you’d get out of Breath of Fire III. Yet at the same time, there’s plenty this soundtrack presents that distinguishes it in its own right. Take for example the regular battle theme “It’s An Easy Win”: the first two bars of strings and horn don’t even hint at the idea of a battle theme. And even when it does start to sound like viable battle material, the surprisingly minimal percussion and melancholy melody tend to make you think twice. Yeah, I can definitely call this one of my all-time favorite RPG battle themes. And while the notes of “The World Beneath Your Feet” seem to drift along like feathers over the jazzy harmonies of a small orchestral ensemble, the ghastly ambience of “Destruction” seems to methodically claw at your psyche with malicious intent.
Aoki’s creative energies shine brightly in selections like “Men of War” and “God of War”, both battle themes for the Western continent. In the game, this continent is home to the Fou-Lu Empire, a faction heavily inspired by ancient Asian military society; and as if the game had a musical history of its own, these battle themes play an exotic combination of shakuhachi, sitar, and various Asian percussion against electronic breakbeats and bass. The atmosphere of these tunes is reprised later with tracks like “First Emperor” and “A Raging Emperor’s Banquet”, and all contribute vital color to the soundtrack as a whole.
The Celtic “Yet the Merchants Will Go” is a lively and witty tune representing a hub of merchant activity in the Eastern continent. The fresh brass harmonies in “Bastard Sword” make for a unique (and memorable) boss battle theme, again reinforcing the already distinctive image the soundtrack brandishes. “A Bitter Atmosphere” really does possess the air of physical tension with its ambient backdrop and occasional hum of a muffled bell strike. “Landscape” paints a perfect image of pastoral Japan as woodwinds trade beautiful verses over a bed of hushed synth. Aoki even borrows from Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante dfunte for a piece of the nearly the same name, certainly fitting perfectly with the poignant corresponding scene in-game.
“Turismo” is a clever techno tune with a groovy bassline surrounded by syncopated dabs of synth, while the carefree “Seagull Flies” features a lazy acoustic guitar solo complete with fret noises, harmonics, and a laidback rhythm in four depicting the sun-soaked harbortown Shikk. Two tunes from Breath of Fire III even return for a cameo, namely “Go by Ship” and “It’s A Faery”, both pleasant reworks of the originals. Aoki finishes strong with some agreeable final battles followed by a satisfying trio of epilogue selections. Now, the soundtrack could’ve very well ended with the third movement, but it doesn’t: there’s still the exotic remix of the penultimate battle music, the questionably sane remix of the Pabu-Pabu Puka-Puka song, and of course, the obligatory ending vocal. To its merit, “A Little After the Dream” relies on a small ensemble of acoustic guitar, piano, bass, flute, and drum set (don’t worry, the rock-ballad beat doesn’t last very long, and even when its there, it’s pretty minimal). Way more tolerable than the trainwreck at the end of Breath of Fire III. Oh yeah, and after a minute of silence at the end of the song there’s some random guy singing the tune’s melody a cappella for some reason or another. Don’t ask me.
In short, this is an RPG soundtrack that is different while still being very much an RPG soundtrack. Of course, Aoki had already outsmarted the genre once before with Breath of Fire III‘s soundtrack (which she composed alongside Akari Kaida), so it’s hardly a surprise that she’s back with more new ideas and sounds for Capcom’s treasured franchise. It’s a welcome break from the norm, and although not for everyone, can definitely stand on its own feet. I definitely hope to see more of Aoki in RPG soundtracks in the future, but really, she’s welcome anywhere.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Joe Schwebke. Last modified on January 23, 2016.