Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2- Original Soundtrack Integral
Shin Megami Tensei -Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2- Original Soundtrack Integral
December 22, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
In 2004, developer Atlus released the newest addition to their popular Shin Megami Tensei series, Digital Devil Saga. This was the first game in the series to feature a direct sequel, with the release of Digital Devil Saga 2 in 2005. Because they are directly connected, both games feature many similarities in their presentation, beyond characters, setting, and plot. Shoji Meguro provides the compositions for both games, and similar themes or motifs can be heard throughout both scores. The game’s score style is also consistent, featuring industrial and jazz rock forms, intense piano ballads, and other quirky humorous themes. Now that you’ve got a brief, and somewhat stuffy overview, let’s look at what this album is, and how this review is going to work. In short, this album is massive: Integral refers to a collection of the entire score from both games, put together into one four-disc set. The first two discs feature the music for the first game, while the second two are for the sequel. There are also a lot of tracks — 136 tracks in total, to be precise. Since this album is so large, I’m going to be picking out the more important pieces which represent the overall design of the games, as well as some of the hidden gems. The review is structured by disc to make it easier to navigate, instead of my normal themed comment groupings. Alright, enough chat, lets go.
Lets start things off with a few broad statements. I had the pleasure of finally getting my hands on these two games (they’re very hard to find!), and I’m very happy to say that overall, the use of each track is a perfect complement to how it is featured in the game. City themes have that necessary jazz to them, without becoming tiring or repetitive while wandering around. Dungeon themes all have a presence about them that keeps your attention to the game play, while still allowing you to appreciate the music. Battle themes are varied, and give a nice amount of variation as you progress through the game. Finally, the vocal themes, while not the best, provide some rich melodic themes that become expressed through non-vocal pieces, which become some of the most emotional pieces in the game. The attention to detail given to each track is also extremely appreciated, as it adds a seamlessness to the integration of the music into the game. I also appreciate the risk that was taken when creating this score. Shoji Meguro is somewhat known for his experimentation and exploration of musical themes within a score, and he has done an incredible job fusing techno and various forms of rock into his musical style, creating a perfect match for the sci-fi industrial setting of the game.
Lets look at the first disc. 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. Overall, I think this song becomes much more effective in its other instances within the game, as an orchestral and piano track (which I’ll talk about later), and as the song sung by the character Sera within the game’s fiction (which is represented on the soundtrack as “Pray -Sera’s Prayer-“, and later on the second disc, “Pray -A Cappella Version-“).
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.
Looking at the softer portions of this disc, “Aurora” gives us a slow, piano driven ballad. This track really shows off Meguro’s talent with the piano, as very few notes are required to really create an impact with the music. The track proceeds from the solo piano and synth, to include light strings in the background. Additionally, a solo guitar can be heard duplicating the main theme on the piano. This escalates into a powerful rendition of “Pray” in the piano and guitar, while loud bass and snare come in through the background, complementing the rhythms in the strings. The structure of this piece is very simple, yet the result is very multi-dimensional, which is perfect for its use in the game. Used with a particularly emotional cut scene (which happens to be one of my favorites in the game), this piece really does a great job of drawing on the drama on the screen to enhance the track.
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.
Moving onto the second disc, “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. Changing gears into a slower track, “What is it to Live a Life” is another slow, piano driven piece with light string work. As with “Aurora,” this piece uses the light strings to provide some simple accompaniment to the repetitive piano melody. However, in the second half of the track, instead of getting a rock ballad, the strings are substituted with low brass, allowing the strings to get some rhythm to pick up the speed of the track. It’s quite pleasant to listen to, although I would have liked to see a little more variation in the piece.
Looking at two tracks that you’ll hear a lot of while playing the game, we have “Never Ending Rain” and “Level Up.” 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.
The real focus of this disc, however, is the battle themes. All of them, from normal battles to boss battles to final battles, are on this disc, and I’ll be looking at most of them. 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. This isn’t, however, a bad thing, because that small variation is translated into the game in a much larger way than on the soundtrack itself. “Hunting” is the base battle theme, and it presents an all out rock approach, with heavy guitars providing the melody and accompaniment, while a steady rock drum beat pushes the track along. It’s a little on the slow side for a battle theme, but the heavy beat does a great job at keeping the track grounded. “Hunting – Surprise Raid” starts off a bit differently, with bass trills and light guitar strums, along with the familiar hunting melody played in short segments. The track then transitions into the normal battle theme, and continues from there. “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.
Moving further into this album, we come to another rendition of Pray, this time as an Instrumental Version. I vastly prefer the instrumental version of this piece when compared to the vocal, and I think it is because you can actually appreciate the melody a lot more — you hear that irregular rhythm of the melody, and can separate it from a possibly misspoken or badly timed vocals. A lot of the funk that is built into the track really comes out in this version as well, in addition to having a bit more of a rock edge to it. The second half of the piece pairs a wailing guitar with piano, bringing out the main Pray melody. It’s a short track, but nice to hear.
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. The piece is slow and driving, with guitars becoming the main melodic focus providing long, drawn out phrases. Wailing guitars can be heard throughout the track in the background, while a steady pattern is repeated in the foreground. 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, and the first game, is “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. Don’t ask me why — I really don’t know why. Stop asking why!
Switching into a totally different direction, let’s move forward onto the third disc of this set and the first disc from Digital Devil Saga 2. One thing to remember with this set of discs is that the game world has changed drastically compared to the first game, and the music has changed to reflect that. Gone are the atmospheric, sad, gloomy pieces oozing with jazz and emotion, and in their place are more upbeat, transformative pieces full of life, but still with the edgy, industrial style. Except for this: run away! Hyper-happy J-Pop warning! “Alive” opens the album, and as my warning implies, it’s epic J-Pop at its best… or maybe worst… I don’t know. The entire track just feels wrong to me. All of the familiar instrumentation choices from Meguro are there, including the fast intricate wailing guitars and the techno elements, but the vocal performance is very hard to listen to. If you like funky dance music, you might like this track, but all I can say is skip skip skip!
Phew, now that that one is out of the way, we get “Om Mani Padme Hm,” one of this game’s main themes. It bears many similarities to “Never Ending Rain” in its composition and melodic style, mirroring the piano and string combination, with some of the same chord work. But on the whole, this piece gives a sense of hope, where “Never Ending Rain” was more sadness. I’ll likely touch more on this piece later on in the review with other tracks. “Man Hunting” is an entirely synth driven track, with a low saw-tooth melodic pattern, accompanied by heavy techno beats and light guitar work. This piece is extremely repetitive, but it doesn’t try to be more than what its made of, which gives the track its real sense of funk.
“Prisoner’s Nightmare” is another highly upbeat track, driven by a fast percussive line with tons of cymbals. The familiar guitar chord work is back, along with fast-paced panicked techno elements. Light strings also pop in and out during the track, extending their influence into the already tense piece. In the game, this piece does a wonderful job at energizing the player into recognizing the threat in the area. In total contrast, “Inherent Will” is a softer, slower, piano track with synth beds. Light strings appear in the piece, adding to the emotional piano melody — something that wavers between sadness and true despair. The second half of this piece totally drops away, while the piano melody becomes the focus. This builds to a powerful conclusion where the piano extends into the foreground, supported by strings and brass. This piece accompanies some of the most powerful and emotional cut scenes in the game, and its overall sound is certainly appropriate. For something a little more upbeat, we turn to “Egg of the Universe,” a techno area theme making use of heavy synth and techno elements. The background of the piece is incredibly repetitive, but the foreground is what draws my interest. A powerful, celesta and vibraphone melody plays overtop of the techno elements, creating a wonderful contrast to the beat pattern and techno synth.
On the fourth disc, we move once again to battle themes. As you might expect, the battle themes on this disc are much faster and hectic compared to those from the second disc. “Battle for Survival” keeps many of the familiar battle elements such as the drum kit and guitar melodies, but enhances them with truly frantic synth work in the background. When you listen to this track on its own, it provides far too much energy to listen to it without having it become boring, but in the game itself, it works quite well. “Madness” sounds very much like it’s name, and takes the frantic approach of the synth in the previous track to a whole new level. Everything in this track sounds like the speed has been randomly turned up to eleven, while a simple piano and guitar melody makes its way through the mess of synth.
“Hunting” slows things down a bit into a piece with quite a bit of funk — and it might sound a bit familiar, since it’s the battle theme from the first game only totally redesigned. I really like this rendition of it, because the synth elements add so much more to the already cool theme. “Heroic Battle” starts things off slow, but quickly jumps into speed when the synth elements are introduced. With far too many wailing guitars, this one gets quite noisy a little too quickly, but again, this is a situation where the track sounds and works much better in the game than on its own. The melody elements of this one however are quite interesting, taking a hint from “Hunting” by mixing synth and guitars together in a melody. To finish off the battle stuff, we have a new version of “Level Up”. With the same melody as before, this time it has been redesigned for synth elements. Strangely enough, it doesn’t lose any of its spunk from its original form.
Shifting to the final portions of the album and the game, we come to “Seraph,” a piano and string track that is very similar to “Inherent Will”. In the later portions of this track, the melody and strings become augmented with a light rhythm, while the piano steadily grows in volume if not in notes. Overall, it is a wonderful fit for the character that it is designed to emulate. “Brahman” is the final boss music of this game, and it doesn’t hold a candle to “Hari-Hara.” The piece doesn’t try to be very different from the other battle themes on the album, except for a more intricate piano and string melody that becomes paired with a guitar later in the track. The synth elements bother me a little, if only because they seem to create the sense of urgency for the battle, rather than the rest of the instrumentation providing it. Overall it isn’t a bad theme; I would have simply liked to have more of a contrast to the other battle themes.
Moving into the final scenes, we have “One Word,” another piano and synth driven piece with light string work. Overall, it is a wonderful track for these scenes in the game, particular at the end where the entire piece shifts into a melody full of hope. This transitions into “The Rising Sun,” which begins a bit on the quiet side, with light brass, drums, and a bass line. It continues the hopeful melody throughout the piece, into a section that feature a more prominent guitar melody, before being joined by strings and a rock organ. This drops away to just the piano, which completes the melody with a very pleasant finish that leads…
Into the credits! I have to say, this is one of the coolest credit transitions I’ve ever seen in a game. The piano of the previous track fades away into funky acoustic guitar strums, shakers, rock organ, and drum kit. Throughout this piece, the strings work with the brass, organ, and acoustic guitars to create a seamless transition between melodies. At the chorus, the electric guitars come in, but the focus remains on the brass and strings, while the rest of the instrumentation keeps the track moving. This is one of those tracks that can’t help but make you smile as you listen, because its has so many interesting elements to it. Overall, a fantastic way to end the two-game set with the spirit of the message of the game.
At the end of it all, this album has a lot to offer, but at the same time has a lot of repetition that doesn’t translate as well outside of the context of the game. As you may have seen from the review, there is a steady split of piano drive pieces, and rock oriented themes, and not all of them have a sense of individuality about them — prompting the thought of why include all of these tracks? However, even when considering this repetition, there are strengths on this album that really resonate. If you have played the games, then you’ll have fond memories of where these tracks occur. If you haven’t played the game, this album might give that incentive to try and find them, to give them a try. And if you’re looking for some interesting music to try, give this one a whirl. Who knows where it might lead you? Shanti-Shanti!
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andre Marentette. Last modified on January 17, 2016.