.hack//G.U. Game Music O.S.T. 2
.hack//G.U. Game Music O.S.T. 2
January 24, 2007
Buy at Play-Asia
Welcome to the second of three reviews in a series, looking at the music of the .hack franchise game installments. If you’re new to the .hack franchise, I recommend reading the .hack//G.U. Game Music O.S.T. review (if you haven’t already) to get a fresh look at what the series is, how it has developed, and what it entails. Throughout my first review, I talked about the Lost Grounds, the Epitaph of Twilight, the Phases, and the general workings of an MMORPG called “The World,” and this review will be very similar in its structure. As with the first review, expect spoilers. For many tracks on the .hack albums, a proper context is needed to really understand the reasoning or vision behind how any particular track is composed. To give this, I’ll be referring heavily to the storyline of the .hack games, as well as diving into past history of the characters and “The World” itself. In all essence, you can basically read this review as if it were a continuation of the first in the series.
This review is looking at the .hack//G.U. Game Music OST 2 album, which features music from the remaining two installments of the G.U. story arc, .hack//G.U. Vol. 2 Reminisce and .hack//G.U. Vol. 3 Redemption. As far as he review is concerned, I’m going to split it up by disc, and treat each disc of the album as a separate recording. Also, I may refer to tracks that aren’t on this album, but which can instead be found on another .hack album. This way, I’m able to tie the recordings together, and show how a particular track has evolved, or how an idea or motif has been reinvented. Since we’re looking at two games, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!
Let’s begin this review properly with a look at “Over the Mountains ~Opening Loop Demo 2~ which plays during the opening cinematic. Events in “The World” have shifted dramatically. Tri-Edge has been defeated, but the clue to reviving the coma victims remains a mystery. Even worse, Atoli has been attacked by AIDA hiding in the lockers in the White World, and is now unconscious. This opening track is much darker in tone, reflecting this dynamic shift within the game. Powerful, overwhelming synth introduces the track, before being joined by a consistent wood chime/shaker beat. The first vocals are synthesized, before being joined by an alto male voice with surprising volume. Ovan whispers the bait to Haseo: “Do you not wish to finally know the truth?” and finally the female vocalist comes in with soft humming. The real essence of the track then begins, where the strings pick up, and the speed doubles with a vocalist duet in the upper register. Finally, we return back to the synth and chime of the opening, where the male vocalist takes us to the end of the track before passing onto more female humming. Altogether, a perfect track to bring you back into the .hack world.
I’m going to skip past the general battle tracks to save a bit of time (and reading!), and move onto the abundance of Lost Ground themes. The “Grief City Eld Sleika” is a Lost Ground which exists underneath the Dead World of Indieglut Lugh. It represents the underworld, or the world of the dead, and the track reflects this well. Slow piano and airy vocals hint at a profound sadness, while a solo cello provides a counter melody. One thing that always strikes me about these Lost Ground themes is the untraditional melodic style of the vocal work. Notes from both high and low ranges get mixed together flawlessly, and sound perfectly natural, even if the chord progressions or note progressions aren’t what you might expect. The “Battlefield of Coiste Bodhar” is a Lost Ground which is significant to the Twilight Brigade, as it was here that the Key of the Twilight was thought to be found. The location of a great battle between the Twilight Brigade and TaN (an opposing guild who traded in information, and was run by Yata and Pi in disguise), the Twilight Brigade brought together five virus cores to gain access to another Lost Ground. The track is very epic in nature, with large echoes and repetitive gong hits. The synth in this track is a bit overpowering, and can lend a sense of mixed audio channels when you hear it, but the crystal clear vocal work in the upper range cuts though the murkiness of the instrumentation, giving a wonderful contrast that fits the area splendidly. The “Molasses Storehouse of Sif Berg” is a Lost Ground featured in mythology of “The World: R2,” and is the only Lost Ground to not directly advance the plot of the series. However, every Lost Ground becomes the location of a ‘Sign’ (a three lined cris-cross design) which acts as a transport, and this one is no different. The vocal is prominent in this piece, and provides most of the melody. Brass and low strings offer a regal sound to the location, giving it a powerful and respectful atmosphere.
The “Keel Mountains of Briona Gideon” is probably the most interesting and ambitious track on the album. This Lost Ground is significant to Ovan, as this is where he reveals that he is “Tri-Edge,” and is responsible for creating the Signs, and for putting people (including Shino) into comas. Earlier, Ovan had become infected by AIDA, but was able to control the infection to some degree. He contained the AIDA in his left arm: a massive cannon with a gigantic lock. However, he began to lose control, and was slowly corrupted by AIDA. When AIDA broke free and attacked, the result condemned the victim to a coma. Tri-Edge, an AI designed by the system to search out bugs and correct them, was drawn to Ovan every time AIDA broke free, hence why this Tri-Edge was thought to be the cause of the comas. Eventually, Haseo and the team were able to defeat Ovan, but the coma victims did not wake up. This track is unique, in that it is the only Lost Ground theme to exclusively feature a solo vocalist. The voice work is given in almost a whisper, with the volume turned way up with a large epic echo. This creates a very powerful yet soft tone for the piece, and creates an atmosphere that reacts well with such an important place, as far as the plot is concerned.
The “Backtop City Magni Fi” is another Lost Ground that is significant to Ovan. After the Twilight Brigade gained entrance to this Lost Ground via the virus cores and the Sign at Battlefield of Coiste Bodhar (Magni Fi is located on top of Battlefield), Ovan was captured by Yata, and his prolonged absence in “The World” lead to the disbandment of the Twilight Brigade, Shino’s time of mourning, her coma, and Haseo’s madness to defeat Tri-Edge for revenge. After it is revealed that Ovan is the cause of the comas, he retreats to this location and fights Haseo. Afterwards, he uses his Avatar in an attempt to revive the coma victims, but is unsuccessful, and his mind becomes scattered within “The World,” mimicing the fate of Harold, the game’s creator. This is probably my favorite Lost Ground theme, in that the strong vocal is supported by full percussion, staccato harp, and strings. The rhythm of this track is very similar to the “Arche Kloen Falls” from the .hack//G.U. Game Music O.S.T. album, and suggests a finality between the game’s main protagonist and antagonist. The “Galleon Maze Temple” is a Lost Ground that is dedicated to the Avatars. Their weapons are located here, and it is significant to what is to become of the avatars in Redemption. This Lost Ground theme is the last one to appear on this album (meaning disc), and has similar elements to the phase battles. A softer vocal is accompanied by chromatic harp and chimes, with low and mid range strings providing a full background.
But enough of “The World” locations for now, let’s get to the Phases! “Double Prayer (Gorre)” is up first, and it is the theme for the fifth phase, Gorre – The Machinator. Gorre is the avatar of Sakubo, and presents itself in a very interesting fashion. The character Sukabo is actually played by two people: a sister (Saku) and brother (Bo) pair. The phase reflects this, by taking the form of red and blue twins. However, there is really only one player. Tragically, Bo’s sister was stillborn, and, blamed by his parents for her death, he retreats into the game and develops a second personality which manifests itself as his sister. Bo truly believes his big sister is alive and well, and that she is playing the game when he isn’t (there’s one scene where you feel so bad for the little guy because she used all the money he was saving up to buy her a present in the game *sniff*). The two have very different personalities, with Saku being very outgoing and aggressive, while Bo is timid and shy. This duality is reflected in the track by the back-and-forth nature of the instrumentation. We’re given a strong synth beat accompanied by a harpsichord to start off the track, before moving into a section dominated by guitar, strings, and synth. Throughout, the chromatic bells strike different chords as the above melody sweeps through — a perfect representation of Saku. Later, we switch to a delicate waltz with bells and organ (a great representation for Bo) before moving back into the Saku melodic pattern.
“Here I Come (Innis)” is the theme for the second phase, Innis – The Mirage of Deceit. Innis is the avatar of Atoli, which gives her a unique and useful ability within the game. All of the avatars provide their player characters with an ability that they possess: Kuhn uses propagation to create a copy of himself for Haseo to fight in battle; Ovan uses rebirth to attempt to destroy AIDA. Innis allows Atoli to use a variation of a mirage skill to hear things – more specifically, she can hear the frequency emitted by Signs. After being attacked by AIDA, Kuhn revives her only to discover a problem: Atoli can’t speak. A similar problem fell upon Mia when she first started to ‘doubt’ being real, and when Atoli attempts to restart her game to fix the problem, she finds that she cannot log out. Something has gone wrong with the server, trapping all of its players in the game! Atoli’s player character then starts to deteriorate, losing her arm. When the server is restored, Atoli still cannot move her arm, even in the real world. To make things worse, an AIDA infected Sakaki captures Atoli, and infects her with AIDA. This spawns the summoning of her avatar, and a battle between friends ensues. The track starts off strong, with multiple instruments building a repetitive pattern on top of the chromatic bells. The track then shifts to a synth driven piece, with cello and violin providing an accent melody. The middle of this track presents a cool variation, by changing the time signature, and becoming more melodic with strings, cello, and vocals. A light beat comes in and provides an excellent mesh, before the track returns to the first synthesized theme.
“Dark Infection (Corbenik)” is the theme for the eighth phase, Corbenik – The Rebith. Corbenik is the avatar of Ovan, and has a very interesting style. When Ovan confronts Haseo at Backtop City Magni Fi, he is completely consumed by AIDA, and their battle begins. After he is defeated, Ovan uses his rebirth ability to try and restart the entire internet; an act which should be capable of removing all AIDA from the system. Unfortunately, his attempt fails and, unknown to him, begins a process that will bring an even greater danger back to “The World”… I mentioned in my first review that the phase themes “‘She’ (Macha)” and “Phase No. 6 Macha” had similar melodic styles and instrumentation choices. That phase theme is not the only one that features a similarity. To a degree, all of the phase themes have small characteristics which are common in all forms of the theme: a melodic phrase here, a percussion choice there, etc. The Corbenik themes go a bit further. At its core, the theme features an arpeggiated piano scale that plays over and over. This scale appears in both in this track, and “Phase No. 8 Corbenik Pt. 1+2.” In this version, the entire track is faster, giving a real driving force to the scale while kaitos and other percussion are shot through the opening bars of the piece. The chromatic bells return, followed by low male synth voices. The melody then picks up through the cello and violin before returning to the vocal and percussion patterns. Altogether, this track isn’t the most melodically structured track, but the intricate bell and scale work more than makes up for it.
Moving on to this game’s (meaning disc’s) vocal work, I find myself wondering how I’m ever going to make myself write this. Probably the most annoying character I have ever encountered in my entire video game library, Piros is a graphic designer who designs the landscapes of “The World.” He speaks in Shakespearian English, likes to use the world ‘hark,’ and is exceedingly full of himself. In the first game series, he had a very annoying and repetitive character theme. In this game series, he is ‘lucky’ enough to recieve three. I’ll say it right now, these themes suck. I don’t care how quirky they are, they’re just bad. Bad I tell you! Which brings me to my point — I strangely feel the need to talk about one of them, because it’s somewhat catchy. “Our Hero! Piros the 3rd! ~Piros the 3rd’s Theme Part 2” features a very ugly sounding male vocalist — the same vocalist featured in the first track of this review. Except this time, he’s singing Japanese, and sounds like a bad opera singer trying to sing pop music. But, the vocalist aside, the instrumentation of the track is upbeat and has some really cool rhythms. Brass, percussion, and general synth make up the bulk of the piece, accompanied by “fangirl” type singing in the background. When you throw all of these elements together, the piece draws you in, and leaves you with a happy-fun-moment expression on your face.
Getting more serious now, “Shinikitsu no Yukue” (also known as “The Whereabouts of Truth”) is a vocal theme to be reckoned with. It is the second of three ending vocal pieces of the G.U. games, and is in my opinion by far the strongest. The track presents itself as a pop piece, without that annoying high register gunk, leaving a pure and dramatic sounding track that sounds fantastic. The instrumentation of the track sticks to strings (with solo cello and violin) and keyboards, creating a great middle range. The percussion and bass line of this track are top quality, giving the piece a driving force provided by a rock kit and other synthesized percussion. Overall though, the vocal work is what truly makes the track spectacular. The piece combines the lovely vocalist we’ve come to know oh so well, with the choir ensemble heard in the first track of this review. The melody is memorable, and the harmonies produced through layering really offer a rich and full sound; something that “Yasashii Ryoute” was missing (to a degree.) The placement of this track is also well thought out — at the end of Reminisce, Ovan surprises Haseo and Atoli in the Hulle Granz Cathedral, and commands him to ‘get stronger’ in order to defeat him. The screen then cracks, again, suggesting that “The World” is close to being destroyed, an act which would release AIDA into the real world, and ultimately destroy it. The vocal track then comes in during the credits. The darker, more dramatic tone of this track brings us back to the first track of this review, and further reminds us that events within “The World” are only going to get worse as we head into the third and final chapter of the G.U. story…
Which we’ll get to right now! Moving onto the second disc of this album: the score for .hack//G.U. Vol. 3 Redemption. Starting *this* album (disc) off, lets continue the tradition and look at “Eightfol Illusion ~Opening Loop Demo3~.” Like the previous two intro themes, this one really presents itself as something that suggests finality. A driving percussion rhythm is supported by strong female vocals, which together presents an image of the characters marching to war, which in reality is exactly what they’re doing. Brass and strings then come in with powerful sweeping melodies, giving solos o the french horn, and the vocals return in full spread. The harmonies in this part of the piece, combined with the french horn and arpeggiated harp is an immensly satisfying thing to listen to, and it gets better – the percussion then returns, and everything comes together in an intense and full harmony of different sounds and melodies. A strong punched out gong note ends the piece, with softer vocals fading out at the very end. Altogether, a great way to start the final game.
Moving onward, we look at the final Lost Ground theme. The “Land of Sins Ran Badhi” is a Lost Ground which is significant to Haseo. This was the location of the Forest of Pain event, a significantly powerful area with high leveled monsters and tough restrictions. The reward for clearing the area was a powerful weapon. The event was only cleared by two people: Haseo, and the Icolo battle arena chapion, Taihaku. When Taihaku approached the final goal of the event, a mysterious shade appeared and asked him a simple question: “how is my daughter?” Taihaku respectfully responded by saying he didn’t know who she was, but wished her well. The shade, revealed to be a fragment of Harald’s consciousness, gave him a powerful sword as a prize. When Haseo approached the goal and was asked the same question, he rashly discarded the shade’s concerns. As a result, Harald corrupted Haseo’s character data, forcing him to jump to his third adept rogue class; an act which was against the rules of the system, and shouldn’t have been possible. Because of this, Haseo was targeted by Tri-Edge, and was data-drained. The track is primarily harp and vocals, giving a very serene and peaceful sound to an otherwise traumatizing and dangerous location. A perfect balance of light and dark, if you will.
Next, we look at the final phase theme. “Chain of Fate (Fidchell)” is the theme for the fourth phase, Fidchell – The Prophet. Fidchell is the avatar of Yata, and has a very different style when compared to the rest of the phase themes. After the Serpent of Lore is taken over by an AIDA infected Sakaki, and Yata is taken captive, his avatar is the last to awaken. When you think about it, it’s interesting that the person controlling the guild devoted to seeking out and destroying AIDA, as well as researching the avatars, would take this long to realize he had one. In a way, this is very significant, since the character controlling Yata is the same person who controlled Wiseman during the second network crisis (fancy way of saying the first series of games). With a very Arabian and desert sounding track, the chromatic bells are a bit out of place. But the real strength of this track is the emphasis on percussion. In “Phase No.4 Fidchell” the track features midrange techno, without much of a baseline or upper register melody. This is another example of how the previous style of a phase theme is carried over into the next generation. Sweeping strings further emphasize the pulsing rhythm of the track, and offers a real sense of impending doom.
Now that we’ve finished with the Lost Grounds and the Phases, it’s time to turn our attention to the other major factor within “The World.” Cubia, the hidden one from the epitaph, is what can be considered the ultimate villain within the .hack world, besides Morganna. The Epitaph of Twilight speaks of the ‘cursed wave,’ an energy wave of destruction that would destroy the world of the sprites. In the first game series, Cubia is referred to by the system administrators with this title. The entity was created as an antithesis to Kite’s bracelet (the key of the twilight), and was an extremely dangerous foe. The only way it could be destroyed, was by destroying the bracelet itself. In the G.U. story arc, Cubia’s creation occurs a bit differently. At one point, Haseo’s character data is horribly damaged, but he is repaired when data from the eight avatars is absorbed into his character, allowing him to transcend the system and create a fourth form, the Xth form, for his adept rogue character. In effect, this turns Haseo’s character itself into the Key of the Twilight, creating a second form of Cubia. This time, Cubia threatens to destroy more than just “The World” as it is able to extend into the entire internet itself. Haseo is eventually able to defeat Cubia with the help of Ovan, but he is sacrificed in the process, becoming lost within the system. Each time Cubia appears on these albums, it is given multiple forms, usually with a different track for each. On this album, we’re given three.
“The Third Crisis (Cubia)” starts off the Cubia themes, and it brings a heavy sense of foreboding. Low strings, male vocals, timpani, and a sweeping mid-range melody give an oppressive and overwhelming atmosphere. After a short transition, the track takes a very serene route, keeping the low strings but having upper range harp plucks that waterfall down into the lower registers; very reminiscent of the earlier Cubia battle themes, which had only a hint of percussion to drive the tracks. “Full Force (Cubia Core)” brings the fight to another level. Similar in style to the phase battle themes, we’re given a repetative and catchy base line, while strings and vocals propel the upper melody. The track transitions into a very cool section, supported by rhythmic percussion while various melodic counterpoints bounce off each other in the upper register. The track then enters a softer phase, focusing on female vocals and the harp segments heard in Third Crisis. “Final Bout (Berserk Cubia Core)” sounds the most like what you would expect from a traditional final boss theme. However, there are things about this track that are disappointing. The track features solo violins, gongs, and organ at the beginning, before moving into a percussion driven segment. The drum pattern in this section, and throughout the rest of the song, is similar to the pattern used in “Cubia’s 4th Phase,” however the strength of the beats is not given as heavily, which damages the track. The piece then enters a segment dominated by the organ and male vocals, before heading into an ’empty’ transition with only the percussion line being heard. The biggest problem with this piece is that everything sounds out of tune. The violin work, which otherwise is crystal clear throughout the rest of the album, sounds like it has gone back ten years in terms of the sound quality, and the organ is slow and sluggish, rather than crisp and forceful.
Luckily, we’re not ending on a bad note such as that! We’ve got more to go, so sit tight! Like the previous album, tracks which involve solo vocal work are also found. “No More Shallow Dreams ~Theme of Aina~” gives the theme for a truly tragic character within “The World.” In the real world, Aina has a life threatening illness, and enters “The World” in order to be able to be with her brother. In “The World,” all health problems or disabilities which plague the player in the real world are removed (for example, someone who is paralyzed from the waist down can walk freely). Many characters in the .hack franchise have these problems, and use “The World” as a place where they can be normal again. When traveling “The World” with her brother, they discover the secret areas of the game, more specifically, the white rooms. Aina’s brother, Ovan, uses these opportunities to care for his sister, and tell her stories, such as the Epitaph of Twilight (one of her favorites). However, tragedy stuck the day that the mutant AIDA appeared. It tried to attack Aina, but Ovan blocked it, and became infected himself. He then turned on his sister and attacked her as the first victim of ‘Tri Edge’ and sent her into a coma. Despite his best efforts, Aina still became infected by an AIDA, and with her consciousness now solely surviving in the game (remember Tsukasa?), it was only a matter of time before the AIDA destroyed her, and she would die in the real world. So began Ovan’s journey to discover the Key of the Twilight, which was the only thing that could save his sister. The track itself, unfortunately, isn’t very strong. The track lacks any of the power seen in “Preparations for Loss,” but is still pretty to listen to. The female vocals do a great job at creating an atmosphere which suits Aina’s character.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit, and look at this game’s (album’s) vocal theme. “Yasashiku Kimi wa Hohoende Ita” or “You Smiled Kindly” is, in all essence, a very pretty vocal theme. However, there is a lot about this track that I like, and a lot that I don’t. The vocals are crisp and clear, and you get a real sense of longing and hope in the progressively stronger notes. The instrumentation is soft, yet provides a great bed for the vocals to build from. However, the biggest flaw of this track is the melodic shift. Throughout the track, the melody shifts between two keys. Normally, you would expect a key change in the latter part of a track, heading up to a big finish. The key change happens after EVERY chorus, effectively destroying any build created by the vocals and instrumentation. Especially at the end, where the rest of the track takes a huge step in the right direction, there is a fantastic fade out. And then you get the key change, and you feel like you’ve been let down; an incredibly disappointing sensation.
I’d now like to look at a track which, in my opinion, is THE track as far as the entire .hack franchise is concerned. This paragraph is contains HUGE spoilers, and I do mean huge, so read at your own risk. In .hack//IMOQ, we’re given several incarnations of Aura’s theme. It is an exceptionally pretty theme, and conveys all sense of power, mystery, and awe in its presentation. I’ve mentioned Aura a lot in these reviews, but let’s look at what happened to her. Between the end of IMOQ and GU, a lot happened within “The World.” It was a golden age, and the game became a real statement for excellence among real world critics. Then one day, Aura disappeared, and the game entered a dark age. No one knew where she had gone, but only knew that without her, the utopia of “The World” would crumble. So, the programmers of the game took it upon themselves to recreate Aura. They didn’t fully understand the program created by Harald, but believed they could do it anyway. They searched the system and extracted the data fragments of the eight phases and rebuilt them. They then attempted to find Epitaph Users to bond with the phases to channel the data originally done by Morganna. The experiment was an extreme disaster, and 80% of the game’s systems were destroyed. Instead of attempting to repair the old game, they created “The World: R2.” But what really happened to Aura? I remember the first time I heard this album. I was at my computer, skipping through the tracks, making mental notes in my head (this was a few months before Reminisce was released in North America and before I started looking up information about the plot for the rest of the GU story arc). Three notes pierced through my earphones, and the entire album immediately took on a whole new meaning. I quickly checked the title of the track, and I was stunned to realize that I hadn’t noticed it before. Aura had returned to “The World.” Of course, this changed everything that I had known about the game so far. If Aura’s Theme appeared on this final album, that means that she was in the game, and that she hadn’t been purged when “The World: R2” was created. So where had she been hiding? Well, the answer was there all along. Ovan, who had been searching for the Key of the Twilight (Aura), never noticed that he didn’t have to look very far. While AIDA infected his left arm, Aura blessed his right arm, keeping him balanced. When Ovan’s character was destroyed after battling Cubia, Aura was set free, her presence returning to “The World.” “The Hope of Dawn” is a truly magnificent piece. The melody of the original theme of Aura comes back this time even more powerful, with the vocals cutting through all the instrumentation. This time around, the piece takes on a very epic and powerful sounding tone while the original was a bit softer; a perfect mimicking of Aura’s age and growth as an AI. The sheer majesty of Aura’s Theme is indescribable in such a small space, so I’ll leave the rest of the track to your imagination…
To finish off this review (yes, we’re almost done), I’d like to keep with tradition and look at “Far Off Dawn,” this game’s (album’s) closing credit piano piece. The track brings together all of the important themes heard so far in the GU story arc. Bits of Aura’s theme, Shino’s theme, Aina’s theme, and Atoli’s theme all come together to create a flowing and passionate piece. While the track doesn’t necessarily have some of the power that the previous piano tracks did, the importance of the themes being played brings the GU story arc to an epic close.
Well, if you haven’t been able to tell, I love this album. I think it’s great. I think it’s cool. I think it’s very suggestive, experimental, and a joy to listen to. However, there are definitely some flaws and disappointments among all of the goodness. When I look at the .hack franchise, as far as the music is concerned, I can’t look at it as one album over another. Many of the installments in the franchise feature more than one album, and I always look at them as a group rather than individually. I’ll do the same here. If you enjoyed Vol. 1 of this OST, you’re going to enjoy Vol. 2. I highly recommend both of them, and I think they could have a prominent place in anyone’s game music collection. However, I can’t recommend one above the other in terms of ‘which is the better album’ because they both have their individual strengths which are important to the album as a whole. Keep that in mind if you see them on the shelves next time!
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 18, 2016.