Front Mission -Gun Hazard- Original Sound Version
Front Mission -Gun Hazard- Original Sound Version
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
August 1, 2001; May 10, 2004
Buy Used Copy
To call Front Mission: Gun Hazard a sequel would be slightly inaccurate. True; it was released soon after the original Front Mission, and supports the same franchise name, but it is quite different if you look beyond the surface. For one thing, the genre is somewhat more akin to a side-scrolling shooter, as opposed to an RPG, and the production team is fairly different; although artist Yoshitaka Amano drew conceptual designs for the game once again, a whole new set of composers was drafted in to take care of the music department. In retrospect, there are few partnerships that could have been quite as pleasing as this one: Nobuo Uematsu, at his peak following Final Fantasy VI; Yasunori Mitsuda, who had recently made a name for himself through the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version (which featured Uematsu too); and the two relative newcomers at Square, Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano, each of whom have made a significant impact on the industry by their own accord of late. With these names on board, at least the music was certain to be a hit, regardless of the nature of the game.
Front Mission: Gun Hazard itself is based in a world of misery and political unrest, wherein a dark organization referred to as ‘The Society’ manipulates governments to start fruitless wars for their own profit; people fight on false pretences, kill, and die, all for the purpose of serving this single group’s heartless schemes. Throughout the game, the player slowly finds out more and more about the powers that control the world behind-the-scenes and ultimately make a treasonous stand in the name of peace. Clearly, the tale is a dark one, and the four composers, by signing onto the project, promised to make an appropriately grim, militaristic score. What we are presented with in the final Front Mission -Gun Hazard-Original Sound Version release is something special, which really does not get as much recognition as it deserves. A point that really interests me about the album is the way in which we get to hear the development of the styles of Uematsu and Mitsuda, in particular, and it serves in both cases as a prelude to their next major works, Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears. This is not to say that Hamauzu and Nakano do not intrigue, as they certainly produce some fine tracks for this album too, but I love the artistic progression we get to witness in the two lead composers. In both cases, on the whole, we see them move away from the more light-hearted sound of previous works, and delve into the depressing world of Front Mission: Gun Hazard.
Arguably, Nobuo Uematsu knew what he was getting himself into more than the rest when he agreed to work on the soundtrack. Although his previous work on the Final Fantasy series was often centred around having melodramatic themes reflect the epic storylines, his legendary scores for the fourth and sixth instalments showed a flair in his narrative craft; moody themes such as “Opening Theme” and “Catastrophe” from Final Fantasy VI are two such examples. It might be due to this experience, or perhaps the fact that he was probably the most popular of the four composers of the time, that he was chosen to compose the main theme, “Gun Hazard”. From listening to this first track, we get an idea of what the rest of the soundtrack will consist of, and it already begins to conjure up the image of the bleak world that I have already described. Instead of a strong melody bursting forth, we hear some odd sounds that are of an unusually high quality for a Super Nintendo game soundtrack; they gradually seem to get louder, and three repeated drum beats work their way to the fore alongside them, while, simultaneously, we hear a far away choir, which somehow has the effect of sounding like the wind, and is very atmospheric indeed. It is not until the 37 second mark that the main melody comes in, and even then, it is not the kind of epic march theme one might have expected. Instead, it is a morose choir section, which seems to depict a certain enormity and gives us the impression that not all is right in this futuristic setting; and yet the way the more solemn string section builds up to the final soaring chants inspires wonderment, and leads us to believe that something big is going to happen. And indeed it is…
Uematsu’s role on the soundtrack is primarily limited to mood setting, so anyone hoping to hear memorable melodies that will stay with them after the soundtrack will find themselves a little taken aback by what is here. For example, his second composition on the album, “Tension”, properly introduces us to the main industrial type of music on the soundtrack; there is a nice jazzy section in the middle, but it does little to play down the importance of the battles that lie ahead. Through the simple but effective string chords at the beginning of the piece, we are made to realise that there is a certain desperation that plagues the people now, and they are urgently hoping for a solution to their problems; it’s a shame that any movements to prevent the constant outbreak of war are forced to bide lots of time if they wish to stay out of trouble. You might notice that the driving force of this piece is actually the percussive work, and this is something to look out for throughout the whole soundtrack; the use of percussion and rhythm throughout is a key to the success of many themes, and seems to be a staple in most futuristic games due to the way it can be used to portray the mechanics of the surrounding world. Other tracks, such as “Shivering” and “Move”, have strongly dissonant tendencies, which reflect the programmatic state of the machinery and ensure we do not feel any sentiment toward the surroundings. Of course, this works wonders when paired up with the factories, bases and futuristic towns in the game, but also makes for some imaginative standalone listening — there is little doubt that it will transport you somewhere else, unless you really cannot stand this kind of ‘early generation’ music.
Much softer themes like “Cenktrich” and “Blue Sky ~ Blue Sky” are particularly successful on the first disc. Any fan of the atmosphere created in Final Fantasy VII are bound to cherish these for the same reasons; each create an image of beauty in a dying world, just like the character themes when juxtaposed with Midgar. I love the way they add a warm, human element to the album, showing the goodness that lies within individual hearts, and they come off embodying everything that the heroes of the game fight for. “Cenktrich” is one of the most charming pieces on the soundtrack, in fact, and its style seems to be a cross between “Anxious Heart”, “Balamb GARDEN”, and “Unrest”, all pieces that were created afterwards (from Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII) — it is possible that Uematsu liked this kind of sound so much that he wanted to revisit in later tracks. The piece “Wreckage” on Disc Two is another fairly strong entry from the same ilk, starting off as a fairly simple electric piano melody, but becoming something quite mysterious and quaint when the strings come in. Honestly, if you are tired of the composer’s music, you might find compositions like this fairly lacklustre, but I happen to think they work very well. This track has a tone not unlike “Sandy Badlands” from Final Fantasy VII, seeming barren and empty, almost as though whatever once lived in the surrounding area has been buried as time has gone by; as appropriate as it is in-game, it provides a satisfying standalone experience too, if you are willing to be swept away by your imagination.
Uematsu was also given the task of composing a series of more threatening action themes and some darker, evil tracks. Of the former, there are many to note that fit perfectly into the Final Fantasy VI/Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy VII gap; “Warning Two”, for example, has the origins of the bass line of “Fighting” combined with a pumping sound similar to “Crazy Motorcycle”. “Genoce” is a strong progressive rock boss theme, which keeps the industrial atmosphere as its priority while also managing to develop, and branch out in fairly unpredictable ways. The final section of composition before the piece loops is excellently realised, combining some experimental sound programming that is ahead of its time with yet more “Crazy Motorcycle”-esque harmonies; here’s hoping that Uematsu allows The Black Mages to do a version of it one day! “Secret Story” is the composer’s first attempt at bringing a channelled evil theme into the soundtrack, with the perfect blend of mystery and wickedness to represent the dark force of The Society. Thanks to the instrumentation and pacing, the piece sounds quite spacey, and strikes me as the inspiration whereby the “Great Silver Shrine” theme for the Eternal Arcadia soundtrack was formed. “Message of Genoce” and “Sentinel” continue the trend, each seeming to bear bad tidings. While the first of these seems more suited to a perplexing cutscene, the latter is the theme for The Society’s base, an enormous flying fortress. To reflect the sheer importance of this place, Uematsu’s instrument manipulation switches deftly between frantic and controlled determination; at over four minutes long, it is every bit as vast as the fortress itself, emphasising the militaristic tone through repeated drum beats.
This all seems to be leading up, however, to two of Uematsu’s most important contributions to the soundtrack. The moment “Nature” hits us, we detect a seriously menacing threat, with the unrestrained organ chords and choir dripping with menace. The only track one might compare it to is “Golbeza Clad in the Dark” from Final Fantasy IV, which uses a similar set of instruments to assert its authority. “Nature”, however, is different from that piece in that it actually settles down fairly quickly into what sounds like mourning for an omen through the solo choir. The title of the track is fairly confusing, in fact, because we wonder whether ‘nature’ is being defied here, or whether it is striking back against The Society with relentless force; either way, Uematsu helps bring us to the climatic section of the album with this disturbing addition, and nearer his penultimate contribution. “Atlas” is sure to be a hit with anyone who likes Nobuo’s skill with church organ, as it appears to be the spiritual successor to “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI — while not as incredibly well developed as that piece, this composition sounds perhaps most like it’s 3rd Tier but isolated as a track of its own. As with “Nature”, the composer succeeds completely in depicting the power of the devastating A.T.L.A.S, but also builds in an almost sacred tone of purification; whether it is humankind or nature at the receiving end of this judgement is left up to the imagination if you are listening to the soundtrack outside of its context. By the time Uematsu features again on the track listings, however, everything has been resolved and the battle is over. “Promise ~ Engagement” begins with some incredibly clean-sounding string work, which seems to depict beauty; it eventually evolves into a reprise of the “Blue Sky ~ Blue Sky” theme, which is not only appropriate, but also touching. The transition between the first melody and this reprise (1:20) struck me as being especially impressive, simply because it is not at all like anything Uematsu had done before, or has done since; so fluid, and elegant, it really is something to behold, and is an excellent way to bow out indeed. It’s like he was completely setting himself up for his next work.
The second star on the album proves himself just as much as Uematsu. Right after “Gun Hazard” has finished, Mitsuda enters, with a track called “Crisis”, affirming that there will be no such thing as a calm beginning; the situation is dire, and to end the first mission you must either do or die. The excellent futuristic percussion contributes once again to the success of the theme, which otherwise is one that wills us to demand an explanation, with the strings seeming particularly mysterious and secretive. The next three tracks on the album are all short victory, retreat or loss jingles, which are frankly unnattractive when placed at such an early stage in the album — each has it’s merits, with “Game Over” standing out for supporting a nice, melancholy melody, but it distracts us from the tension built up by the first two tracks on the album. I should point out, however, that this is the only questionable bit of track listings arrangement, which was otherwise superb. Following Uematsu’s “Tension”, Mitsuda presents us with “Iron Footsteps”, which sounds as though it is a march to war that fittingly lacks pride or purpose. Comparisons to the famous Chrono Trigger theme seem inevitable here, because many of the notes for this track’s main melody seem to have been pasted across from it; whether this would be deemed a good or bad thing is probably fairly subjective. “A Store Keeper” is another fine addition, which has a pleasant retro-jazz feel about it; lasting for a minute and a half before looping, the melody is given ample time to develop, and provides a nice contrast to all the more ‘cinematic’ compositions.
Mitsuda also gets to compose a fair number of area themes, each of which seem to work remarkably well due to the futuristic instrumentation (which he has rarely used in his other individual scores). Standouts among these include “Voice of Ark”, which combines a compelling march with a restless piano, the ambient and percussive “Invasion,” and the jazzy “Sneak and Attack”. Of the three, “Sneak and Attack” shines the brightest, showing successful experimentation and a nicely realised connection with “A Store Keeper” and Uematsu’s “Tension” and “Richard Millman”. On Disc Two, Mitsuda also contributes the mysterious “Cavern”, which centres itself on building up tension through unique sound effects and carefully layered harmonies. This composition is likely to baffle people who listen to it outside of the game, and perhaps annoy due to its repetitive nature, but you have to give the composer credit for his eccentric ideas; this ambient dungeon style was not tapped into again until the release of the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Mitsuda is the most innovative of the four composers though, because pieces like “Monologue” and “Royce Felder”, while enjoyable, try nothing outlandish. The latter shows a style that would be used a lot more in his next project, Xenogears, and highlights this album’s impressive sound quality.
While it might be difficult to give an answer as to whether it is Uematsu or Mitsuda who excels more on the soundtrack, Mitsuda’s ending themes are worthy of a lot of praise. “Heaven’s Door” follows Uematsu’s “Promise ~ Engagement”, and sounds like a conclusive fanfare or a celebration of victory; lasting only little over twenty seconds before looping, it is certainly not a piece that the listener is likely to remember, but perfectly sets up the next theme. “Emotion” is one of Mitsuda’s strongest tracks on the album, having a thoroughly epic tone comparable to that of “Flight” on the Xenogears soundtrack; with some lovely string melodies, pumping brass accompaniment, and some militaristic drum beats, it is as good a closing theme as you could hope for. Consuming six minutes of listening time, it is also the longest composition on the album. With excellent development and high sound quality (for the Super Nintendo), the piece is almost flawless, but I feel that after a few listens you might find that certain sections repeat a little too often. It is followed up by “Trial Zone”, the last track on the album, which some people might find a little anti-climactic; however, if you avoid comparing the piece to “Emotion”, it is just as worthy, combining an interesting electronica introduction with neat new renditions of the Chrono-like “Iron Footsteps” and Uematsu’s main “Gun Hazard” theme. The most interesting part of the track for me, though, is the conclusion, which features some situational helicopter sounds, and some kind of radio transmission; these drop away to allow an alarming string chord to make it’s way to the fore, and we are made to feel as though we have been betrayed, and the story leaves off on a cliff-hanger. While not as satisfying as the previous piece, this unusual twist helps bring an unresolved feel to the soundtrack, as though daring us to seek out the sequel; clearly, Mitsuda knew exactly what he was doing when he created his final piece, and leaves on an impressive note.
Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu both only contributed four tracks to the album, but none are worthy of criticism. Nakano makes his entrance with the enigmatic “Enemy Attack”, which remains true to the industrial sound established by the previous tracks, while also adding an unusual spin on the idea; though fairly repetitive, it’s unique ambience works in its favour, and the sound quality and realisation is truly commendable. “Edel Ritter” has a similar quality to the last track, still showing Nakano’s creativity off well; it is also an excellent attempt at forcing a menacing sound upon us, while complimenting Uematsu’s “Sentinel”. “Evil Power” is his arrangement of Uematsu’s “Nature” theme — it is an interesting take that begins with a suggestion that the danger has subsided, before the synth bass and accompanying drum enter to convince us otherwise. Once again, this is an excellent contribution to the album on the whole, and lives up to the quality of Uematsu and Mitsuda’s work. Nakano’s strangest contribution is “Royce’s Death”, which partly goes over Mitsuda’s original theme for “Royce Felder”; its convincing tragic sound is really not something I would expect from him, but works well, with some unpredictable chord progressions preventing it from becoming too clichéd.
Masashi Hamauzu is certainly the more prolific of the two composers now, and the same is true on this album. Though I don’t think there is much in it, I think that Hamauzu’s tracks are slightly more engaging than Nakano’s. “Naval Fortress” is an incredibly powerful introduction, and is one of the most aggressive pieces on the whole soundtrack. Though the development is not particularly commendable, the composer’s style and talent is evident, and proves very effective. “Trap” is less focused, but is just as intriguing, mixing rising chords like those featured in “Fantatics” on the Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version with some crazy sections of inspired harmonic work. “Approach to a Shrine” is perhaps even more eccentric than its predecessors, building in some Far Eastern scales and wild use of the choir and strings. Of course, since each composer is limited by the same sound quality, this piece does fit, but also stands out as one of the most experimental compositions on the album. Hamauzu’s last addition is to the final battle theme “Impatience”; using the basis of Mitsuda’s opening melody, he creates something that is very direct and sure of itself. With the use of a well-defined synth bass line, some strings and a piano, Hamauzu builds a unique sound that is speedy and aggressive, and quite possibly the best battle theme on the soundtrack. The style is not unlike that of a piece that might have been featured on the Saga Frontier II soundtrack and remains a fantastic piece in its context, quite possibly the single composition that landed him his next job. Great work!
It is difficult to summarise the Front Mission -Gun Hazard-Sound Version; it is one of those soundtracks that astonishes me by being so good, and yet so underappreciated. If you mention Uematsu, Mitsuda, Hamauzu, or even Nakano to somebody with limited video game music knowledge or to a seasoned listener, very few would ever mention this album — the ‘glory days’ were those of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, yet Gun Hazard deserves to be up there too, I feel. I would not hesitate to say that it’s worse than Uematsu’s abovementioned magnum opus, but it surpasses Chrono Trigger in consistency and goes much further than just being a worthy attempt. With Uematsu delivering good tracks at a high success rate (“The President’s Struggle For Life” notwithstanding), Mitsuda delivering some of his best electronica, and Nakano and Hamauzu adding their own individual touches, there very few negative comments I could make about it overall. While the sound quality might put a damper on it for some, Gun Hazard otherwise provides an excellent listen even outside of the game, where the industrial sounds transport you to another time and place, and the excellent narrative atmosphere guides you through the tale.
Unfortunately, the album is not easy to obtain, and, so far, Square Enix have not announced a reprint, meaning that if you want a copy, you will have to have an alert eye and be prepared top part with a fairly large amount of money. I would not like to say whether it would be ‘worth’ it or not judging on price; however, it boasts a quality that is praiseworthy even by modern standards, and holds up really well despite its dated sound. While anyone wanting a more cinematic score might be better off looking at the Front Mission 4 Plus 1st Original Soundtrack and Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack, this is a terrific hidden gem and a first class example of a good set of composers on top form.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ross Cooper. Last modified on August 1, 2012.