Front Mission Original Sound Version
Front Mission Original Sound Version
February 25, 1995
Buy Used Copy
Perhaps the most underappreciated of Square Enix’s major franchises is the Front Mission franchise, which first appeared on the Super Nintendo in 1995. Just as the series has gone mostly overlooked, the Front Mission series has had a continually high standard in soundtracks that has never gained much mainstream exposure. The Front Mission Original Sound Version, composed by Yoko Shimomura and Noriko Matsueda, manages to hold the two composers’ styles to create a convincing game atmosphere while exploring each composer’s different expressive strengths. Though the score has its moments of naïvety and some stale tracks, the whole of the album sets a solid standard for music in the Front Mission series.
The first track on the album, “A Minefield”, is a fabulous musical representation of the game as a whole. The piece opens with ambience, adds an ominous low string sample, a score of industrial sounding noises, and a rhythmic bit of low register. The piece develops around rhythm, eventually adding drums and background arpeggios underneath dramatic string melodies. After the strings disappear, rhythm is given even more focus as brass is added to the arrangement and plays lines focused more on rhythm than harmony. The piece is a fairly good capsulation of what to expect from the rest of the soundtrack, and although there are certainly more tricks up Shimomura’s and Matsueda’s sleeves, the general atmosphere of the game is set up right from the outset.
Though the difference between composers never hinders the continuity of the soundtrack, the two composers have very distinctive styles that make it easy to tell each composer apart. Shimomura has a very distinctive rhythmic sense, and even in her melodies, a great deal of rhythmic emphasis is noticeable. “Take the Offensive” is a good example of this trait. Listen to the rhythm in the first melody especially, which is emphasized by wide melodic leaps and florid ornamentation on important melodic areas. Matsueda is by no means rhythmically boring, but her rhythms typically follow more conventional, generally feel looser, and have less immediately identifiable patterns. It is easier to identify Matsueda by her harmonies, which tend to derive less from different melodic lines interweaving and more from pure harmonic motivation. Her harmonies are on average more dissonant than Shimomura’s which contributes to Matsueda’s jazzy sound.
Dramatic action tracks are the main strength of soundtrack. Pieces like “Manifold Irons” with its inspired rhythms paired with energetic woodwind figurations that support the intense but almost melancholy main melody. “Terrible Destiny” also manages to capture an energized mood though its rhythm is much more rudimentary, the piece remains effective thanks to its almost oppressive repetition of the main rhythm in the snare drum and timpani. “The Evils of War” takes idiomatic Shimomura rhythms and places them in one of the best melodic offerings on the album. Not all of the dramatic tracks work to success though; there are some pieces such as “Hard Drag” which places accenting stabs in almost random rhythmic locations and thanks to its relative lack of melody and uninspired harmony succeeds only in being annoying. “Holic Shot” is almost identical to “Hard Drag” and in addition to creating a sense of redundancy on the album, the piece is no more musically interesting than “Hard Drag”. Despite a few problems in “Hard Drag” and “Holic Shot”, the game’s action pieces are very inspiring and are the definite strength of the soundtrack.
Outside of combat, there are some nice little setting pieces across the soundtrack. Some of these pieces really show off Matsueda’s jazzy style. Though simple and overly repetitive, “Shop” and “Bar” reflect the atmosphere of the two locations quite well. “Rise to Action” may well be one of Matsueda’s best contributions to the album as well, with the composer’s most energetic piece and most interesting interplay between instruments. Shimomura’s contributions of this nature are not nearly as strong. “Arena”, despite its quick tempo, never manages to feel all that energized, and even feels somewhat forced. “Field Hospital” does little to set up any mood or atmosphere but is not obtrusive either, and is one of the more average tracks on the album.
Front Mission Original Sound Version‘s main disappointments are in its more lyrical moments. “Kalen” never really finds its melodic drive, and ends up emotionally lifeless and unmemorable. “The General Situation” comes close to expressing a sense of dramatic piece, but is too melodically stiff to elicit any real response. There are some fine lyric pieces; “Natalie” and “Elegie” are both expressive and musically interesting, but these are rarities. “Natalie” is perhaps the most effective instance of Matsueda’s jazzy progressions over the course of the album, and shows her melodic strengths as well. “Elegie” combines Shimomura’s rhythmic energy with what I consider to be the strongest progression in the game. The remainder of the album’s sensitive moments are either not memorable, are inexpressive, or are a combination of the two. Fortunately enough, there is not all that much music on the album that attempts lyricism.
Part of the trouble with the album is that so many of the tracks fall so securely into one of the major groupings I’ve set up here, and there is not always a great deal of variety within those categories. Once a listener has heard a couple of the pieces in each category that each composer has to offer, the novelty of the style of the album can wear off. That’s not to say that the album ever feels like it is repeating itself, but there is a sense that a little bit more stylistic diversity could have helped make the album as a whole more interesting to listen to.
Though the Front Mission Original Sound Version is not especially memorable and often fails to support the game from an emotional standpoint, the soundtrack does to a good job of expressing the futuristic atmosphere of the game, and supports the dramatic action of the game well. Perhaps the greatest weakness of the album is its unevenness, sometimes showing signs of a great soundtrack, but sometimes showing an almost complete lack of inspiration and emotional drive. On the same hand, the soundtrack has no single piece that really grabs my attention as a truly extraordinary theme. While there are some very good moments, none jump out as spectacular, and in light of some of the album’s weaker tracks, I cannot recommend this album for independent listening. The soundtrack suits its game well, and is a good introduction to a series whose music continues to impress, but is not a remarkable accomplishment itself.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on August 1, 2012.