Lunar -Silver Star Story- Complete Soundtrack
Lunar -Silver Star Story- Complete Soundtrack
May 28, 1999
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Released in North America for the PlayStation in 1999 (three years after the Japanese Saturn release), Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was a remake of a beloved SEGA classic: Lunar: The Silver Star. Changes made from the original were drastic: a new script was written with several altered plot points, the graphics were overhauled and anime-style cutscenes were added, and a completely new score was written by Noriyuke Iwadare, who had also headed the composing team for the original. For the U.S. release, Working Designs produced a special box set, which in addition to the game featured a cloth map, a ‘making of’ video disc, and an arranged soundtrack: the only official soundtrack release for either versions of Lunar: Silver Star Story.
In listening to this soundtrack, one is forced to concede that it is by no means a subtle, intellectually challenging work that stretches the composer’s compositional creativity. Indeed, it’s undeniably cheesy. Most tracks are completely homophonic, with a single-note melody playing above an ostinato harmony/rhythm part. Unapologetically modern instruments, like electric guitar or bass, are frequently used side by side with classical instrumentation. And for most pieces, a drum pattern is used that sounds like (for good or bad) something lifted from the vibrant pop scene of the 1980s.
But through all this, Iwadare still manages to have fun. Lunar (particularly in the English translation) was a game that managed to present a classic tale of the young dreamer going on a quest to become a hero and save his love, while at the same time maintaining a clearly self-aware, tongue-in-cheek mood. An NPC is just as likely to comment on events going on in the world as he is to, say, make a reference to a Wheaties ad or comment on his powerful new anti-bed-wetting magic. The main characters, too, are a playfully dysfunctional bunch, adding to the levity of the game. So in this sense, Iwadare’s lighthearted score fits well within the context of the game.
Most tracks have an upbeat rhythm section, with some sort of melody playing over top. “Burg” is perhaps the best example of this style and mood of writing. The quintessential ‘happy town theme’, it features a plain melody over a harmonically simple, classically orchestrated backdrop. Other pieces like “Tumultuous Seas” are similarly scored. Though there’s not much about either track to surprise or catch interest, it’s still difficult not to bob back and forth to the gentle beat. In fact, many of the tracks on the album share this quality; while they may be mediocre in originality and execution, they still contain an undeniable charm. This charm is heightened by the nostalgia that a classic sprite-based game such as Lunar can bring about, leading to a generally pleasing listening experience.
Unfortunately, such tracks are merely pleasant to listen to. There are few really exceptional pieces on the album: tracks that get played over and over for the first couple days of owning the album. However, some come close. “Magical Weapon Nash” is one of these, succeeding by simple virtue of an energetic melody and an absolutely kickin’ (if I may apostrophize an adjective there) drum track. “Four Heroes” is another, a militaristic tune that builds to an exciting, electric-guitar-happy conclusion. “Thieves’ Bazaar” provides a playful but intricate atmosphere to seedy bandit town. And “Mysterious Dungeon”, with its soaring melody and peppy syncopated rhythmic backing, proves that not all monster-infested locales need to be gloomy or dismal. There are other pieces besides these that come close to this particular kind of greatness of course, but, fighting as they are against such outright cheesiness, a halfhearted effort isn’t enough to make them shine.
It’s difficult to put into words what exactly makes these four tracks so arresting, as their composition is quite similar to all the other ‘merely pleasant’ tracks that come before. It could simply be personal taste on my part. But I suspect that, in addition to a well-constructed melody, it’s a combination of orchestral complexity and structural simplicity that makes them stand out against Iwadare’s norm. All but “Thieves’ Bazaar” use a wide variety of instruments that vary in style from typical RPG classicism to modern synth leads (including, or course, the ubiquitous 80’s pop drumming, which imposes a modern flavor upon all tracks it graces). Also, there is often interplay between the primary melody and subsidiary instruments, which adds some degree of anticipation and excitement to the piece. But most of all, in these exceptional tracks, Iwadare seems to know what he’s doing structurally. Melodies rise and fall effectively, and there is a point of climax before the track loops back to the beginning. It is this essential element that makes certain pieces stand out, while others are consigned to ‘merely pleasant’.
But while the majority of the album is enjoyable, there are a few questionable tracks, the most obvious of which are the three dubious songs, featured as they appear in-game. Neither Jenny Stigile nor Shiya Almeda are particularly exceptional singers, and the lyrics for all three (presumably written by Working Designs company head Vic Ireland) are generically inspiring at best and a muddled cliché at worst. When these features are mixed with Iwadare’s hit-and-miss composing style, a product is created that is certainly palatable (provided one is in the right mood), but fails to excite. The best thing these pieces have going for them is the intrinsic emotional effect the human voice can have on the listener, an effect which is subdued hereby composition and performance.
Iwadare has also composed some rousing battle themes that contrast well with his overly happy location themes. To be sure, these pieces have the same stamp of positivism on them (Iwadare has said that he writes battle themes not to depict a tense combat, but to inspire courage in the player). Unfortunately, fighting music is inherently a more serious subgenre of VGM. These pieces are just not as fun as the other more exceptional tracks on the album, and overall tend to be either too tacky or too forgettable. A pleasant exception is “Go! Go! Go!”, which manages to integrate the “Main Theme” subtly enough to be inspiring without detracting from its own melodic material.
There are other disappointing elements to the album as well. Those looking for brilliant reinterpretations of classic Lunar pieces will be disappointed here. Many of the arrangements (especially those of tracks from the PlayStation remake) are little more than simple re-synthing of the original: a welcome feature, to be sure, but it still would’ve been nice to see Iwadare explore his own work a little more. Often, the form of an ‘arranged’ piece appears to be the same as that of the looped original, with a written-out improvisation on the melody added. A short, unsatisfying ending is usually tacked on for good measure. Still, there is some success within the simplicity. “Mysterious Dungeon” differs hardly at all from its in-game counterpart, and yet still manages to be fabulous. And because 1) there is no existing soundtrack for any of the Lunar 32-bit games, and 2) this soundtrack was released as a ‘bonus’ disc to the game, there is no feeling of a monetary loss.
It’s certainly possible to hate the Lunar Silver Star Story Complete Soundtrack. Iwadare’s tunes are often so simple and clichéd that it would be an easy matter to dismiss them as trite and meaningless. But as cheesy as his work can be, Iwadare is capable of writing a piece that is truly rad. It’s just a shame he isn’t more consistent. If he were, I’d consider this album a solidly enjoyable guilty-pleasure listen. But as is, it’s simply a decent representation of a middle-of-the road composer and a welcome addition to an excellent box set.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Phillip Dupont. Last modified on January 16, 2016.