Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- Original Soundtrack (JP Edition)
Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- Original Soundtrack
September 24, 2004
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In 2004, developer Atlus initially commemorated the release of Shin Megami Tensei spinoff Digital Devil Saga with a one disc commercial soundtrack release. It featured most of the important compositions from the game, including industrial and jazz rock forms, intense piano ballads, and other quirky humorous themes, all composed by Shoji Meguro. While most entries on the Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- Soundtrack CD were well-selected, it wasn’t a complete soundtrack unlike its eventual follow-up, the gigantic Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack Integral. Is it still sufficient for those who just want the important tracks rather than absolutely everything?
Beginning with “Pray,” the first game’s main vocal theme, we get a pleasant rock ballad that makes use of heavy synth elements. The first time I heard this track, I didn’t like it. Mostly this is because of the strange melodic line; there seems to be too many syllables in the phrasing for it to flow really well. Putting that aside, the rest of the track is quite nice, bringing in light rock and keeping the synth tones present, yet in the background to not cover up the vocals. The Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- Soundtrack CD exclusively opens with an extended version of the song, though it omits the more effective orchestral and piano arraangements of the theme featured in the full release.
Moving onto “Muldhara,” one of the city themes, we really start to experience the groove of this score. This piece has a rugged, heavy bass line to push the track, while a deep guitar solo melody anchors the piece. Percussive elements in this track are light, focusing on bass drums and hi-hats, while rock organ and other synth elements fill in the middle range. I particularly like the short solo in the middle of this track, where the guitar solo gets paired with only percussion; it shows that you can have guitars in a video game score as a prominent instrument if its treated and used well. Another city theme, “Anahata,” borrows from classic rock rhythms and instrumentation, focusing on driving guitars, a cool bass line, and animated percussion. The rock organ also appears in this track, once again providing the filler. The instrumentation as a whole works together in this track, with each instrument providing a link to another — a straight rhythm in the drums connect to the background guitar chords, which are connected to the rock organ, which are connected to the light but present melodic line in a solo guitar. One other point to note is that there is very little cymbal action in this piece, beyond some soft hi-hats. It really puts the emphasis on the rhythms created by the instruments, rather than having the cymbals create a beat.
With a more upbeat track, “Spider’s Thread – Second Movement” provides an illusionary rhythm through its use of guitar. A solo jazz guitar plays a repetitive rhythm throughout the track, supported by only light brush work on a snare. Throughout, light additions of strings break through, before dropping away. Later in the track, a bass line picks up that emulates the guitar rhythm bringing in a nice lower range. Strong guitar riffs begin to accompany the string portions, hinting at something big that occurs later in the track. As more percussion comes in with the use of shakers, snare, cymbals, and bass drums, a driving guitar melody soars over the rhythmic guitar, turning the track into an epic rock piece. This track is a great example of Meguro’s ability to take only a few elements and expand them into a full audio experience with only a few small changes in the structure — something that he repeats fairly often throughout this album. “Man’s Tomb – Second Movement” provides a look into Meguro’s synth work combined with his expressive guitars. This short repetitive track offers low synth elements and simple chords, and overall isn’t very impressive. What gives this piece its edge is the rhythmic guitar that comes in underneath the synth, giving the droning chords some animation.
Looking at two tracks that you’ll hear a lot of while playing the game, we have “Configuration” and “Karma”, respectively entitled “Never Ending Rain” and “Level Up” in the complete release. The first of the two offers a strong piano track, supported by light string work with violins and cellos. When I listen to the composition of this track, I would say it most closely resembles a hymn of sorts, or at least it does for the first half of the piece. In the second half, we get a soaring rendition of “Pray,” which allows the strings to grow in volume. Altogether, it’s quite a nice track to listen to when you’re facing the Game Over screen. On the flipside, the second track offers an upbeat, funky melody on the rock organ, with a heavy bass melody driving the track in the lower range. Rock percussion pushes the track forward with quick snare work and hard cymbal hits. It’s a short but fun track, which never really got old on the good old Level Up screen. More disappointingly, soft piano-driven pieces such as “Aurora” and “What is it to Live a Life” were omitted from the single disc release and really leave an emotional hole in the soundtrack.
Fortunately, the battle themes provide some of the greater highlights. Most, from normal battles to boss battles to final battles, are on this disc while the omissions does not make a big impact. After all, one thing to remember about the battle themes in this game is that they are very similar. All of them borrow the same elements from one another, and in most cases, only have different openings or a slightly different approach to the one recurring theme. “The Hunted”, entitled “Hunting – Surprise Raid” in the full release, provides a variation on the main battle with a different introduction and the hunting melody played in short segments. The track then transitions into the normal battle theme and continues from there, so the loss of the stand-alone normal battle track does not matter. “Hunting – Compulsion” offers a different take on the battle theme, using the same instrument set with a more prominent guitar melody. This melody is much faster and more animated than the regular Hunting theme, and gives a great sense of speed to the track. This piece also features heavy syncopated rhythms, and a wonderful, almost improvised solo in the middle of the piece.
“Hunting – Comrades” again offers some additional variation. This time it is focused on staccato bass and guitar elements, leaving a lot of empty space in the piece. With the more animated snare hits this time around, all of these parts come together extremely well. “Hunting – Rare Demon” rounds out the battle themes, and is a battle theme that is quite different, focusing on guitar elements supported by rock organ. A lot of the rhythm in this piece is generated by the fast bass line, as opposed to the drum track. There are tons of chord changes in this piece as well which make it a joy to listen to. From here, it’s only natural to switch to the boss battle theme, appropriately titled “Big Battle”. Although I really enjoy the battle themes on this album, I have a particular love for this one, due to the longer strummed portions of the track. Wailing guitars and the drum line are still here, but there are some additional elements, including some light synth, rock organ, and a higher bass line, that set it apart from the regular battle themes.
Speeding ahead, we come to “Hari-Hara,” the final boss battle theme. During the first form of this battle, the musical accompaniment is very different than what we’ve heard previously on the album. It is more melody driven, with extra instrumentation heard from the location themes, mixed with the established guitars and drum kit from the battle themes. But, in the game, you won’t be hearing this for very long because the first form of the boss is easy. Which means we should shift our focus to the second form, “Hari-Hara – Second Movement”. Just stating it now, I really like this piece. A lot. Why? This piece is incredibly different than anything else heard on this album, as it mixes together different rhythms, instrumentation sets, and time signatures to provide a great deal of variation throughout the piece. We begin with low guitar work that gradually builds, bringing in a church organ, synth effects, and strings. The next segment focuses on quick string work, before being paired with a guitar note waterfall. The church organ makes a larger appearance, creating a build in the track while being joined by brass elements. Switching gears, the string become the melodic focus, while their pattern is mirrored in a guitar, pushing the piece forward. Throughout the entire track, a steady and insistent drum pattern repeats, changing slightly to match each new element of the piece, rounding out a battle track that is every bit as important as the figure being defeated on the screen.
Closing out this disc is “End Theme” (aka “The Rain Stopped”), a piano piece that plays during the credits. The melody from “Never Ending Rain” plays onward, while additional strings are gradually added, adding new layers to the piece. Light staccato strings come in, while the entire piece steady builds, dropping away suddenly to a piano and flute duet with the Pray main melody. Half way through the track, things change up a bit with the introduction of a light percussive rhythm. The previously heard “Never Ending Rain” comes through again, but this time has low chords and low strings giving it a cool bass line. We get another build, thing time augmented by more strings, before moving — once again — into Pray, this time with guitars. This is the best way to listen to Pray in my opinion, with the full guitar sound supported by high and low strings. Of course, we can’t end it there — there needs to be a techno section! Yes, for no reason, the entire piece goes techno right at the end.
Overall, the Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- Soundtrack CD offers a more consistent and interesting listen than the Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga- 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack Integral. That’s since there isn’t as much repetition and most of the short event themes are omitted. However, there are a few notable absences in the release, particularly among the emotional tracks and variations of the main theme. If you’re a completist who has played the game, then the full release is for you, but the single disc release will suffice for those simply looking for an hour of good music. That said, it isn’t available commercially anymore, so it’ll be necessary to find a copy of the release or its closely related domestic counterpart second-hand.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andre Marentette. Last modified on January 17, 2016.