Imperial SaGa Original Soundtrack
Imperial SaGa Original Soundtrack
September 16, 2015
Buy at CDJapan
Imperial SaGa is a browser game set in the universe of the SaGa series. Series’ mainstay Kenji Ito returned to create the original score for the title, having helmed nine of the series’ previous soundtracks. This time, however, almost all of his compositions were adapted for the final soundtrack by a team of arrangers under the direction of Hidenori Iwasaki. The soundtrack for the title was released by Square Enix in a two disc set in September 2015.
The main theme for Imperial SaGa, “Light and Darkness”, is exactly the type of composition that Kenji Ito has written time and time again for the SaGa and Mana series. It encapsulates all the typical moods associated with a classical RPG through serene woodwind lines, motivating brass parts, and occasional dark undertones, while highlighting a conventionally-shaped melody along the way. However, it lacks the distinction in style or depth in melody to compare to Ito’s main themes for the Romancing SaGa trilogy. Thankfully, music director Hidenori Iwasaki realised that the composition probably wouldn’t cut it in its original formula. He therefore hired orchestrator Natsumi Kameoka and a Japanese session orchestra, giving the track a more polished, majestic, and emotional feel. Most other tracks in the score were produced in a similar way, with creative arrangements lifting average compositions created through Ito’s tried-and-tested formulae, although the main theme is the only one that benefits from a full orchestral performance.
Much of the soundtrack revolves around five original compositions that are arranged in multiple forms across the two discs. The original forms of the tracks are about what listeners would expect from Kenji Ito’s compositions for the series with their catchy diatonic melodies and straightforward rock/orchestral stylings. “Altermenos Empire” is a stereotypical ‘starting out’ track, blending serene and adventurous tones, whereas “Advance” is a tense scene-setter with more militaristic tones. The first major highlight of the soundtrack is “Battle ~ Adel”, a catchy instrumental rock theme reminiscent of Ito’s battle themes from the Romancing SaGa trilogy. The B-section from the 0:52 mark is particularly fun with its overdriven guitar work. The rock vibes continues with the similarly catchy retro-styled “Fierce Battle” and comes to a climax with the darker meatier “Decisive Battle”. All five tracks are each featured in three further arrangements across the soundtrack: rock/funk arrangements from Noriyuki Kamikura (labelled ‘Heroes’), militaristic orchestrations from Tsutomu Narita (labelled ‘Lazareth/Iris’), and dark fusions from Yoshitaka Hirota (labelled ‘Ivan/Olga’).
The arrangements are truly a mixed bag in both quality and style. Kamikura reinvigorates the boss battle themes with buoyant trumpet leads and overdriven guitar performances and brings some Sakimoto-influenced martial orchestrations to “Advance”. However, his retro funk takes on “Altermenos Empire” and “Battle” will prove a select taste, with the soprano sax lines of the latter proving pretty cringe-worthy. Narita’s arrangements are far less interesting between their unimaginative orchestration, repetitive harmonies, and flat synthesis; though he just about manages to transform “Battle” into a gliding orchestral anthem, he strips “Altermenos Empire” of what little charm it originally had with its repetitive snares. Thankfully, Hirota delivers with a series of transformative arrangements that hearken back to his Shadow Hearts style. Expect deep dark fusions of contemporary, ethnic, and orchestral elements, including his trademark bass guitar licks. His takes on “Decisive Battle” particularly stands out through its contrasts between radiant violin line and aggressive guitar parts above a tribal orchestral backing.
Looking at the rest of the soundtrack, there are three different arrangements of the ‘mission outcome’ theme to reflect the different outcomes (great, good, or bad). While the arrangements are fairly straightforward, the melody is charming enough to sustain repetition. Among the standout offerings, “To a New World” provides a nod to one of the series’ best-loved themes with a mature orchestration from Tsutomu Narita and a standout violin performance from Yuma Ito, while “Point Beyond the Darkness” and the stunning “Lost Ground” entrance listeners with their moody hybrid soundscapes and surprising developments. Less appealing are the likes of military march “Successors to that Era”, moody suspension “Triple Deity”, or the jarring jingle “Inherited Throne”, all of which are highly formulaic in their approaches and also suffer from heavy-handed orchestration. The soundtrack concludes with a suitably bold rock-orchestral fusion “The Woven Era” and four renditions of the comical vocal theme “Let’s Go! Wonder Man Robin”… none of which appealed to me between their Hanjuku Hero-esque stylings and KENN’s sleazy singing.
Imperial SaGa‘s soundtrack is entirely based on compositions that were lazily, sloppily written by Kenji Ito to a tried-and-tested formula. It’s only because of the involvement of arrangers that some tracks on the album still manage to sound fresh or polished. While this is mildly admirable, the end results would have been even more interesting if a more inspired composer were at a helm (Hidenori Iwasaki himself, for instance). The overall soundtrack captures the essence of the SaGa series, but lacks a strong core and is uneven around the edges. I would only recommend this if you’re a hardcore fan of the series.
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Posted on July 2, 2016 by Chris Greening. Last modified on July 2, 2016.