Last Ranker Original Soundtrack
Last Ranker Original Soundtrack
July 28, 2010
Buy at CDJapan
Yoko Shimomura has been tied to the Kingdom Hearts series since its inception, through all of its original work, and plenty of arrangements and rehashes, as found in spinoffs and the like. Besides for a few guest contributions, a Seiken Densetsu title, and the occasional Mario & Luigi RPG, for the past eight years she hasn’t worked on much else. This year and next she is set to branch back out to a variety of series, including Radiant Historia, The 3rd Birthday, and this, Last Ranker, all to culminate in her next major work, Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The first of her many fully original works this year, how does Last Ranker stand up to her classics? Can she shift from the mostly carefree tone of the Kingdom Hearts series, back to a more serious, standard RPG fare similar to Legend of Mana‘s? Or has she exhausted her creativity by this point, doling out merely shadows of her once fantastic, melodically powerful compositions?
The first thing the listener realizes as the game’s initial track, the “Main Theme of ‘Last Ranker'” starts, is that this is the first original soundtrack of Shimomura’s to be fully orchestrated. The track starts off with a lilting soprano voice supported by cautionary, tremolo strings, which leads into a heavy beat very reminiscent of that heard in the second half of Legend of Mana‘s opening theme. The brass and strings play the main theme for a bit, until the track slows down and some very nice counterpoint on the strings is heard. The track makes for a most excellent introduction, establishing the relatively dark tone that the soundtrack will portray.
“Wanderers, Look Up at the Sky” is the first town theme on the soundtrack, and introduces an ethnic flair not heard previously in Shimomura’s styling, thanks to the heavy sitar use throughout the piece. The track builds upon itself, adding layers of instruments and harmony, until the introduction of a violin helps bring it to an emotional and melodic climax. The beginning of this theme is heard in “The Tower Draped in History,” an event piece, albeit in a different key, and with a slightly different, darker tone. The violin is introduced in a similar fashion but leads into a different melody, with the flute taking the reins for the second half. This version isn’t as heavily layered as its progenitor, but it still pleases the ear. The oboe that punctuates the opening notes of “Ghandoar, a Gorgeous Capitol” is very evocative of the composer’s more playful town themes from earlier works, but the piece soon becomes an orchestrated wonder, once again exhibiting multilayered complexity amongst all the instruments. The staccato flute is a nice touch and the dramatic, sweeping strings accurately portray the feeling of an exhilarating introduction to a grand metropolis.
“The Town with an Exotic Fragrance,” the theme for a more confined area in the city, is Shimomura’s most playful piece on the album. It sounds very similar to town themes from Super Mario RPG, yet is orchestrated and given a touch more of a serious tone. Her final proper town theme on the album, “Before a Powerful Radiance,” sends the listener on a journey through the most grandiose section of Ghandoar. This theme is a bit more climactic than the main Ghandoar one, given the progression of the game and its story by the time this piece is heard, though it does give off a similar majestic feel, thanks to the sweeping orchestrations.
There are some fantastic area themes on the album. One of the most noteworthy is also the first, “A Breeze Blowing Towards Tomorrow”. This piece sounds quite similar to Yasunori Mitsuda’s well renowned forest themes, though with trademarks of Shimomura’s style. The flute introduces the track with a lilting melody, repeated after a short, yearning interlude by the violin, with the latter playing counterpoint. The track picks up steam for a brief few seconds before repeating, reaching a most excellent culmination with a guitar reminiscent of some themes in Legend of Mana. “What Awaits in the Deep Forest” is a far more somber piece, very similarly styled, in its first half, to the composer’s recent “Enchanted Dominion” theme in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Soon Shimomura’s trademark staccato oboe is heard playing in the bass, as the track leads toward its conclusion. “Ice and Darkness” is a rather poignant snow area theme. The lilting voice of the violin is used to great effect in this track, as is the sad, mournful tone of the chorus. The second half of the track breaks out into a bit more of a hopeful theme, though one still unable to fully break free of its previously established tone.
“Feudal Organization Bazalta” meanwhile is introduced with a short movement on a church organ, but quickly breaks out into a more standard, militaristic sort of theme, which concludes with a brief yearning melody on the violin. “A Round Table Conference,” while not a solo organ piece, still evokes memories of the composer’s earlier pieces from the instrument on Live A Live and Legend of Mana, with its heavy tone and complex movements. The addition of a militaristic beat only helps, not hampers, the mood portrayed by the main instrument. The most notable villain in the game gets his own theme, “La Valse Noire,” an absolutely fantastic waltz for piano trio. The complexity in this piece is astounding, as all three instruments paint a picture of madness comparable to Final Fantasy VI‘s “Kefka.” The piano always sounds slightly off though always perfect, and the frantic violins only help add to the richness of the piece.
The other event themes are few and not terribly interesting, like “Sleeping in Deep Sorrow,” a nice but rather boring and depressing piece comprised mainly of strings playing minor chords. A slight exception is “Distant Sea,” a piano and violin duo made somewhat interesting due to the crackling heard in the background, similar to old records, and “The Truth Handed Down,” an event theme that isn’t as depressing as the others, rather being quite hopeful. “The Flower that Blooms on that Shore” is certainly the best event track, with its hopeful Eastern European melody and spicatto on the violin. The introduction of the violin at the halfway point really helps the track shine. Of the three pieces to accompany FMV sequences, “Furnace of War,” is the most interesting and developed, melding themes and excellent orchestration into a climactic piece leading to the game’s conclusion.
The meat of the soundtrack is the plethora of battle themes scattered throughout, a bevy of tracks to which the main battle theme, “Stand on the Earth,” is a glorious introduction. Fast and driving, this track seems simple at first, but opens to an excellent melody with the introduction of strings and complex melodies on the violin after about half a minute. Two battle themes feature the voice of Joelle Strother, and both are absolutely fantastic. The first, “Born to Survive,” features haunting (though sometimes indecipherable) vocals and a fantastic melody made more powerful with strings playing arpeggios. “Glorious Fights we Call ‘Life'” is even more powerful of a piece during its second half, which brilliantly builds on the first, with a more driving beat. The flute is used to great effect in this second half as well, as is the harpsichord. The introduction of electric guitar helps this piece stand out from the preceding.
Both of these vocal tracks have orchestrated versions preceding them on the soundtrack: “Beyond this World of Woe” for “Born to Survive” and “This Journey without End” for “Glorious Fights we Call ‘Life.'” Both bring out, through their orchestrations, shades and complexities not heard in the vocal version, with new instrumental sections, making them more than just simplified versions of the vocals, and giving them an air of their own. The latter is particularly noteworthy for being an extremely accomplished variation of its succeeding. “The Evinos” meanwhile is extremely evocative of Shimomura’s fantastic Parasite Eve final battle theme, “U.B.,” with its haunting and deep male vocals. However, dare I say the electronic influence introduced as the track builds makes this the better theme of the two, though this one is less climactic a piece, due to it being a mostly regular battle theme, and not the concluding one. “The Bloom of Passion” is a major boss battle theme for the early game, and it certainly is grandiose enough to be one, thanks to its rising chords on the strings and brass. The accordion makes this theme particularly unique, yet isn’t featured too overbearingly.
“Crudelis et Magnificus” I believe to be the best track on the album and very likely one of the greatest works of Shimomura’s, showing what she can do with an original track featuring a full choir and orchestration. This battle theme, reserved for a few very specific late game battles, is brilliantly climactic and relies on the violin work just as much as the choir, a relative rarity: the choir is usually the entire focus where it is featured in battle themes. The orchestration is fantastically complex throughout. The second “Crudelis et Magnificus,” frustratingly having the same name as the preceding, is an a capella arrangement of the first, slowed down somewhat and, similar to the instrumental versions of the vocal themes, specially arranged for the one voice and not just a barebones version of the original. This track, played during a very specific portion of a very specific battle, is haunting, melting and utterly fantastic, as its predecessor. “Fatem Foedus,” the last track utilizing a choir, is a simple loop that plays during enemy deathblows. It’s not particularly noteworthy, but is interesting at least for its short playtime, melding the choir with a frantic beat.
“On the Distant Ancient Land,” the closest approximation to the game’s final dungeon theme, is suitably climactic melodically, with a pounding, marching drum line that persists throughout the entirety of the track. Staccato strings are introduced for the repetition of the track’s first theme helping to drive the melody. The second theme is more subdued, being mainly occupied by a harp playing arpeggios and a simple piano melody, though it is none the less enjoyable. “Be the LAST RANKER -Battle Ver.-,” played during a very specific fight, is a medley of a bunch of previous battle themes, starting with the same choral introduction of “Crudelis et Magnificus” and continuing from there. It’s a rather capable arrangement, melding all the various tempos and melodies into a very stable and enjoyable whole. The final battle theme, “Infinite Spiral,” might be the most disappointing of the lot, not because of it being intrinsically deficient, but because it’s not as amazingly epic as several others of the battle themes. That said it’s a piece with a very electronic bass line, whose main claim to fame is the solo soprano voice featured and the solo violin. All these qualities certainly help it stand apart, though it still feels more like a regular boss battle theme than a final one.
The credits theme, “The Path Carved by Glorious Fights,” is extremely evocative of Shimomura’s Kingdom Hearts credit themes, portraying a conclusive, grandiose sound. Unfortunately this track ends sooner than the aforementioned, but it’s no less remarkable. The two last tracks on the album are both bonus tracks. The first is a PV track of the game, starting with an arrangement of “Feudal Organization Bazalta” and meshing into a snippet from “Born to Survive.” “Be the LAST RANKER” is the non looping version of the battle theme of the same name. This version has a special forty second conclusion with a fantastic but brief melody culled from “Crudelis et Magnificus.”
Without a doubt, this soundtrack is a remarkable achievement from Yoko Shimomura. The full orchestrations really provide a new dimension to her pieces, and the tracks themselves are replete with gorgeous material, each piece adding something different. This applies especially to the battle tracks, which are all unique and certainly her best yet. One can only hope that this work, along with her next few portable soundtracks, will be to Final Fantasy Versus XIII as Masashi Hamauzu’s Sigma Harmonics was to Final Fantasy XIII. If so, then we may be in soon for a milestone in game music history.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Marc Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.