Live A Live Original Sound Version
Live A Live Original Sound Version
March 25, 1996
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Producing great scores throughout the ’90s for games such as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and Street Fighter II, and also throughout the modern era with Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Yoko Shimomura’s rise to fame has been a somewhat long term one. This album holds the music to a classic Super Nintendo game called Live A Live, which was released around the same time as the highly successful Final Fantasy VI. The style of composition is very similar to her Kingdom Hearts scores, so pretty much every area of the game is given a different atmosphere through the music alone. The Live A Live Original Sound Version holds some really impressive themes that Shimomura must be proud of, and quite a few of you would like them, even now. So, read on for an insight of one her earlier works.
“Live A Live” starts off the album in a classic introductory style that involves a sweeping melody and rampant brass. The track provides a great opening to the album, and its atmosphere is impressively light-hearted, too. Even so, it pales in comparison to the next track, “Select-A-Live,” which sounds as if it was written for a film, since it seems to describe a certain story that only a moving picture could tell. It flows elegantly and develops profoundly, both with its instrumentation and its dynamics, to create an ultimate atmosphere that sends chills down the listener’s spine. Both of these set a high standard for the rest of the Sound Version to follow, and with the album being set out in order of the different chapters of the game, the listener is subjected to something new at every turn.
There are a number of light-hearted themes in this Original Sound Version that really stand out, but these are sadly accompanied by some really poor themes, too. The first of these is “Secret Mission,” which fails simply due to its poor instrumentation and its lack of a consistent harmony. This is the type of track that works in-game, but fails on an album such as this. “Sound of Shinobi” also falls victim to its instrumentation, but it manages to become a good listen through its catchy melody, though this hardly suffices as a great feature. “Nice Weather Ain’t It!” is another light-hearted theme, but its overly dramatic nature doesn’t really do it any good on the album. It develops nicely, and the flute melody intertwines perfectly with the chord centred accompaniment to create a very relaxed atmosphere overall. “Captain Square,” from the ‘CUBE’s quest’ chapter, is another fun theme to listen to. It has some scientific synth that makes it stand out amongst the likes of “Nice Weather Ain’t It!”, and is a perfect example of how Shimomura needed to add something new at every turn. “Captain of the Shooting Stars” plays in the same area, and is a charming track with an inspirational melody; frequent transitions and a creative bass line make this a good listen, and places it amongst some of the best on the album.
The lively tracks on this album go hand in hand with the more natural and ‘organic’ themes, too. For example, the acoustic guitar based “Sancho de Los Panchos” creates a perfect image of a fresh Spanish town with cobblestone streets and white buildings by staying lively and cultural at the same time. “Native life” takes a more nature centred role; complete with bird sound effects, the setting of this theme is truly enhanced by its instrumentation. When the flutes, steel drums, and tribal drums are combined to make a melody, the resultant effect is a great one. “Wanderer” is another natural theme, but this time, a wild western style is brought about. The track flows nicely and is certainly very picturesque, and although I am not a fan of the track on the whole, its style is intriguing to say in the least. If Shimomura had developed this theme a little more, then I am sure that it would have been a hit. “Under the Fake” is a better track that makes a greater use of its melodic line and accompaniment. Indeed, it is relatively short in comparison and once more it lacks development, but the experience that the listener gets is far more favourable. The album’s last natural theme is “The Bird Flies in the Sky, the Fish Swims in the River,” an eloquent theme that is short but sweet. Shimomura’s more relaxed themes are a great listen, but it is such a pity that she doesn’t develop them to the extents that they deserve.
Shimomura’s best themes actually come in the form of the dark and ominous. Her militaristic themes on this album are certainly worth a mention, though some are debateable as to which category they truly belong in. “Ultimate Strength – Victory Road” starts off the second chapter in the game and is a delightful theme that has some interesting instrumentation. At first, the track seems like it is going nowhere, but when Shimomura adds a melody and some tubular bells, it really starts to get going. Indeed, in comparison to today’s standards, this theme is relatively little, but its instrumentation makes it an impressive feat for the time. The next two themes, “Martial Arts Masters” and “Versus!”, are both themes that accompany a one-on-one fight, and as you may expect, they are pretty lame, too. Things do pick up, however; “Knock You Down!” holds a very strong melody that really draws the listener in. In my opinion, Shimomura doesn’t develop it enough, but it certainly rivals some of her themes from Street Fighter II, which takes a similar game format to the Masaru’s quest chapter. “The Ancient Master Descends from the Mountains” is the next militaristic theme, and although it is actually quite relaxed, the drum beats and the grand build ups are all still there. The oriental style to this track separates it from the rest of the field and certainly makes it a good listen. Next up, the march-like nature of “Prelude to the Demon King” makes it an extremely good listen; with the track shifting from the minor key into a major key, the melody receiving quite a bit of expansion, and a whole new section added, the development of this theme is far more impressive than with the earlier light-hearted themes.
Even so, Shimomura isn’t finished yet, as there are some tense themes still to come. “Unseen Syndrome”‘s tense feel is brought about by its irregular bass rhythm and bizarre sound effects that really catch you off guard. Melodically, it doesn’t really go anywhere, and is more of an industrial track than anything else. “Difficult Fight” takes a totally different approach and creates tension through suspended chords, a repeated bass line, and a rise in dynamics. This theme develops nicely, and just when it feels as if it is about to loop, Shimomura adds another line to make it flow even better. “City of Hopelessness” is by far her most tense track though; starting off with an organ and keyboard line, its atmosphere is heightened at every step, and when it reverts into something more melodic, Shimomura ensures that its ominous nature remains with the use of tubular bells and an eerie synth vocal line. Next up are the end of chapter battles themes, all of which were arranged in the “Battlissimo” medley on the 8cm Disc found with the Live A Live Perfect Strategy Guide Book. The first theme is “Killing Field,” and it is the combination of authentic instrumentation and a great rhythm that is the main highlight. “Knock You Down!” strays away from the oriental vibes of “Killing Field,” and turns out to be pure rockin’. Once again, the melody is profound, but this time it is accompanied by a guitar that is equally as effective, too. The passionate samba, “Kiss of Jealousy,” and the oriental “War in China” lead us to the most hardcore and the greatest chapter battle theme of all: “A Painful Death at the Hands of a Psycho.” This theme is pure rockin’ at its best, and although the theme is relatively short, it is an accomplished theme that explores every aspect of its melody before it finishes.
As we draw closer to the climax of the album, Shimomura seems to suddenly reach for the throttle and crank it to full power. “The Demon King Odio” is an impressive organ track that never ceases to persist. It is expertly composed, and is most certainly amongst Shimomura’s greatest early works. Following this, the penultimate battle theme, “Illusion…” is another great organ theme, and with it reverberating, too, it is almost as if the whole theme is being played in a massive lair. The action in the track is out of this world too, and creates a great pathway to “Pure Odio,” the final battle theme. As ever, the organ takes the centre stage, but with drums and another melody added over this, the overall effect is climactic and tension filled. After defeating the boss, the listener is then treated to “Armageddon,” a creative theme that is pretty much on par with the rest of the ending themes. It is depressing, full of fear and regret, but ultimately, pride; few themes that play after the boss has been defeated are as good as this, so it is a very special theme. Following on from this, the album leads out with the beautiful “Live Over Again” and the grandiose “Live for Live.” “Live for Live” is one of the most touching ending themes from the Super Nintendo ages that I have heard, and in all honesty, the whole album is worth it for this track alone. Well, not quite, but you’ll appreciate it once you have heard it.
I have nothing but praise for Shimomura here; barely putting a foot wrong, she steps up to the challenge of creating a different style for each chapter, whilst also creating a sense of equilibrium throughout the album, too. Sound quality is obviously an issue, and some themes could have done with a bit more development, but apart from that, this is a near perfect album. There are a great number of themes that stay in your head for many years after hearing them, especially “Live for Live.” This Sound Version is a success, and if you are impressed with what she has offered in recent years, then why not have a look for this album? It’s out of print and pretty hard to find, but if you do find it, it will be an album that you will treasure for life.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Dave Valentine. Last modified on August 1, 2012.