Etrian Odyssey Original Soundtrack
Etrian Odyssey Original Soundtrack
March 21, 2007
Buy at CDJapan
In this soundtrack to the RPG Etrian Odyssey (Etrian Odyssey in Japan) veteran composer Yuzo Koshiro brings to the table an old school feel to an old school game. Much like ye old dungeon crawls in the past such as Wizardry and Bards Tale, this game invites players to create their own party and head out into a large sprawling dungeon. As such, the soundtrack doesn’t really showcase the full power of the DS sound system, but instead gives into the nostalgia of the old sound chips from the early days of gaming. That being said this soundtrack is still a stellar work as long as you can look beyond the sound quality and listen to the composition.
Even though this soundtrack is an homage to classic sound, structurally it’s not extremely elaborate, but in my opinion it doesn’t need to be. You have the melodic voice, the rhythmic harmonies that work their magic underneath, and the drum track. One of the beauties of having a soundtrack pared down to the core elements like this is that if you have weaknesses they’re exposed for all the world to see. In this way Koshiro is a master craftsman, who knows how to draw out exactly what is needed at exactly the right time. An early example can be found in the early dungeon track, “The Green Green Woodlands,” which combines a simple yet catchy melody line, with an unobtrusive, yet effective background track. Everything is perfectly arranged into a nice neat package that, even though you’d never accuse it of being a live orchestra, still manages to draw you in.
The one thing which I find lacking of the dungeon tracks is that they feel a bit too calm. Tracks such as “The Green Green Woodlands”, “The Vast Primeval Hidden Grove”, and “The Thousand Year Old Blue Woodlands” don’t generate a feeling like you’re entering a place where danger might be lurking around every corner. I’m sure they fit the environment well, but they feel a bit too calming.
The various town themes which are scattered throughout the soundtrack all make their mark in different ways. The first incarnation “That Name Was Engraved Into the 100th Volume!” is an epic and militaristic sounding track. With a bold march-like tempo and a snare drum keeping the beat and a strong melodic presence, the piece fits the sound of a guild hall where you take the time to form your adventuring party. Following in that vein is “Festival of Worship” which also sounds more epic and stately. The track both conveys a sense of upcoming adventure, and a celebratory march through the city streets.
Other town themes like “The Roadside Trees Outside the Window” fit the bill for a general town theme more closely. This track is relaxing and works well despite its sort length. However, I’m not entirely sure about “The Lounge Where We Speak of Tomorrow”. It’s a nice theme to be sure, but it feels a bit out of place and feels a bit too modern in feel. It sounds like background for a nightclub rather than a fantasy adventure game. Lastly, “Bird-Shaped Vane on the Roof” once again returns to the relaxing calm of “Roadside Trees…”. The only unfortunate thing about this track is that it’s a bit short and underdeveloped as a result. It’s still quite a good listen.
It wouldn’t be an RPG without battle themes, and there are a lot of them. Starting with “Initial Strike” we get a pulsing rhythmic track that makes me nostalgic for Koshiro’s early Nihon Falcom days. The structure and tone of the track flow from power rock style. Even though the synth isn’t well developed enough to be able to discern a guitar, it feels like a track that would be great to rock out too. The only negative about the track is that there is no break off sections for solo work. It mostly moves as a single unit with very little deviation.
Unfortunately the trend isn’t continuous as “A Sudden Gust of Wind Before Your Eyes” is a bit too formless to be a good listen outside of context. The structure is crafted to give a very visceral reaction of fear and tension, but without a melody to hum, it’s not something you’d listen to more than once. I do like “Dyed in Blood” though, as while it shares the same rhythmic structure, it at least throws in a melody line to keep you engaged. Although the introduction to that theme is a well worn cliché, there are only so many ways you can introduce the element of battle in music.
“Destruction Begets Decay” is good, but you can easily hear the Ys in it. Or perhaps what you’re hearing is the Koshiro style that started off the Ys franchise musically. The rush of the tempo and the power rock style is something which gave birth to the phrase “Falcom rock is alive and well, as long as Yuzo Koshiro brings it out occasionally”. And tracks like this keep the memory alive and bring a smile to an old school gamer like myself. Some would label this as derivative. I’m going to label this as nostalgic homage to the classics.
There are several tracks which are labeled “Scene”, which I would assume would be connected with dramatic nature. “Red and Black” seems like the underscoring for something sinister. It’s amusing how a simple repetition of the same four tones over and over and over again can evoke a response. Although it’s not something that you’d want to listen to for two minutes. Unfortunately, “Blue and White” while not sinister in nature, is much the same repetition. While there are limitations to the sound variety that you can extract from the early chips, most were able to work in melodies into the work. This one doesn’t even try, and that’s a shame.
It’s interesting that “The Story of the Hero’s Birth Continues” reminds me of the ending theme to Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. But it also goes off on its own way in the middle third, throwing in a neat melodic diversion. Unfortunately the track seems to get mired under its own mess, where the sounds start to get a bit muddled. It’s hard at times to discern the melody to follow.
As an added bonus, you get a copy of the soundtrack again in PC-8801 soundboard MIDI. It’s an interesting addition and something that people who appreciate the old style sound would enjoy. But not something that makes or breaks the decision to purchase this album. Interestingly enough, I really cannot tell much of a difference between the DS and the 8801 version. So kudos to the synthesizer programmer for replicating the feel of the old sound chips on the DS.
This is an enigmatic soundtrack as well as a risky venture of a game in this age. Old school RPGs which required patience and a willingness to accept defeat; a lot have long since been swept away for more cinematic and visionary marvels. For some reason I don’t see a sweeping return to the past, for the same reason that you don’t see Pong in arcades anymore. There are those who have a certain appreciation for the past, because either they’re interested in history or they grew up in the era, as I had.
So, because of this, the pressing question about the qualities of this soundtrack become both important and irrelevant at much the same time. Speaking to people who first experienced role playing games with Final Fantasy VII will get a different reply than speaking to someone who started with the original Final Fantasy. Is it good? Does it have merit? The answer is yes. I think that people should venture back into a simpler time where game music required an imagination and a willingness to look beyond the surface of the lifeless nature of the triangle waves and sine waves which come off as bleeps and bloops.
As such, the numeric score for this soundtrack is based around the musical merits of the work as a whole. But if you are someone who cannot stomach going back to the past and listens to acoustic game music exclusively, this soundtrack probably isn’t for you.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andrew Oldenkamp. Last modified on January 17, 2016.