Frontier Gate Original Soundtrack
Frontier Gate Original Soundtrack
Konami Digital Entertainment
December 21, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
On paper, Konami’s Christmas PSP release Frontier Gate sounded like an instant winner: a collaboration between famed producer Shingo Mukaitoge and Star Ocean developer tri-Ace featuring cooperative gameplay and Monster Hunter-style combat. But despite good reviews, the game’s initial sales have been incredibly disappointing. The game featured a range of worldly themes that would fit the visual style and intense combat of the title. Instead of relying on tri-Ace favourite Motoi Sakuraba — who scored the simultaneously developed Beyond the Labyrinth — four composers led by fan favourite Naoyuki Sato and newcomer Yasuhiro Nishiki created the score. The two disc album release for the title largely impresses.
Naoyuki Sato introduces the main theme for Frontier Gate with the title track. This orchestral march — with its thick textures, vibrant rhythms, and cutting-edge implementation — reveals to listeners that an epic journey lies ahead. Yet, with all its light organic touches, the composition is also refreshingly unique and complements the game’s visuals beautifully. There are actually two main melodies here — the core of the theme featuring a rich and heroic one, the climax featuring a piercing and malevolent one — and both make prominent reappearances elsewhere in the soundtrack. The main melody is inherently simple and modest, so is sometimes laboured by its extensive reuse on the soundtrack — for example, its reuse across the first four tracks of the soundtrack is excessive. But thankfully, the melody proves sufficiently flexible — and each of its arrangers are suitably talented — that it rarely sounds contrived. Whether the feathery “Gate to Battles”, gushing (and spectacular) “Savage Land”, or reflective “Epilogue”, each reprise features a different orchestration style that suits the specific context.
The crowning achievement of Frontier Gate is its authentic use of acoustic and world instruments. Nearly every track on the score features performances from a skilled soloist or unique ensemble. For example, Naoyuki Sato demonstrates his command over the acoustic guitar with the rustic “Cat’s Cradle Restaurant” and “Wandering Guitar” — both are so much more interesting than the plain broken chords featured on so many other soundtracks. Equally impressive are the world instrument writing and performances from Masato Nakayama and Junpei Fujita — members of the specialist group Elements Garden. Whether the nautical flow of “At the Harbor”, folksy improvisations of “Notus Settlement”, or the earthy ululations of “Duranir Temple”, they all give an incredible sense of place and are quite pleasant to listen to. “Shitori Settlement” and “Seena Settlement” are more stereotypical with their use of Chinese and Indian forces, but provide some diversity to the soundtrack’s palette. Even “Alley” is just about tolerable, since Nakayama provides a few worldly twists on the prototype sleazy jazz track.
Like many action RPGs, the background music of each setting in Frontier Gate interchanges between field and battle variations. Much like the Monster Hunter series, the field themes tend to feature understated ambient soundscapes — with meditative ostinati and percussion patterns, but few true melodies. Such tracks are inspired and refined enough to complement the pastoral scenery of the four poles of Frontier, but may be too minimal and brief to appeal on a stand-alone basis. The segues into the battle themes tend to be much more impressive with their thicker timbres and elaborate development. “Battle ‘Western Area'” features truly heroic brass fanfares, while “Battle ‘Northern Area'” convincingly integrates beats and riffs into the soundtrack’s palette. What’s more, these variations share many of the same elements as the field themes — for example, exotic woodwind leads and tribal percussion in the Southern Area — to create a unified sense of place. These tracks fully realise the potential of initially modest tracks.
The soundtrack has several major weaknesses, though. The attempts to bring an emotional depth to the soundtrack, for example “Heartbroken Partner” and “Hero’s Lullaby”, tend to fall flat. Yasunori Nishiki’s piano and strings writing on these tracks is too stereotypical, while the reprise of the main theme in the latter is especially contrived. Darker tracks, notably the “Prophetic Omen” trilogy, “Despair”, and “Ominous Smokes”, also have little impact on listeners; after all, they’re little more than stereotypical crisis motifs on loop. The more striking “Niko Volcano” doesn’t quite fulfil its amazing potential either, due to an awkward choice of vocalist. A further problem is that, while the organic elements are well-produced, the occasional tracks featuring contemporary elements aren’t always convincing. For example, “Battle ‘Eastern Area'” features several cycles of generic electronic beats before it gets going and the mixing of “Battle ‘Underground Waterway'” is quite unbalanced. The inclusion of ten short victory fanfares is also excessive on the soundtrack release.
The climax of the soundtrack is nevertheless quite dramatic, despite the weak material filling much of the second disc. “The Narrator of Time” drives the soundtrack towards its conclusion: an orchestration that is so much darker and than the already formidable opener. Nishiki gets the progression of this one just right — developing the track towards a motivating yet uncertain climax, before leaving listeners in suspense and looping. The final battle theme “Gone to the Ends of the Earth” shifts the intensity up a few more notches and, while a relatively standard orchestration, it makes up for it with a stunning thematic reprise. Specifically, the piercing motif featured at the climax of the title theme at last returns in its most dominant form here. Following the obligatory main theme reprises for the game’s ending, the soundtrack closes with a few bonus battle themes. Fujita’s “Gossip Battle” series combines world music performances with epic orchestration and, in the final case, unexpected jazz elements. Nakayama’s “Everlasting Battle” is a more convincing example of the contemporary hybrids that round off the soundtrack.
Frontier Gate‘s soundtrack is more scenic than personal — often it conveys beautiful scenery or supports intense action, but rarely does it inspire strong emotions in listeners. This will be a turn-off for those looking for an intimate experience, but the music is still quite accessible. In particular, the strong thematic emphasis, rich instrument use, and solid implementation help to immerse listeners into the soundtrack. Overall, a cautiously recommended listen.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.