Phantasy Star Online Original Soundtrack
Phantasy Star Online Original Soundtrack
January 24, 2001
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Back in 2000, Sonic Team and Sega took Dreamcast gamers into a whole new world with the release of the online action RPG Phantasy Star Online. Its music set the foundations for all subsequent Phantasy Star games, rejecting the synthy rock-based approach of the Genesis games in favour of spacey electro-acoustic hybrids. Featuring a mixture of stage, battle, event, and vocal themes, it successfully established a formula and complemented the game. But did the resultant one disc album release stand the test of time?
Hideaki Kobayashi’s opening theme for Phantasy Star Online is especially memorable and emotional. After a vocal introduction, it moves into a grandiose orchestration featuring that captures the courageous, mysterious, and boundless journey to unfold. Probably the weakest aspect of the theme is the vocalist Loren, who just sounds out of place with the orchestration and occasionally poorly intonated. Fortunately, the vocal line is still sublimely shaped and most other sections are entirely instrumental. Furthermore, the instrumentals are stunningly arranged and implemented, whether the lyricised opening version or the bonus instrumental version recorded with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra at the end of the soundtrack. While imperfect, this theme is always a stunning listening nevertheless and really depicts the space adventure to unfold.
Following the stunning introduction, Hideaki Kobayashi reflects the sort of styles to expect from the instrumental pieces. The first two event cues have a cinematic quality to them, yet are unusual for how they blend typical Western orchestration with spacey electronic elements. Meanwhile the first stage theme “Mother Earth of Dishonesty” captures listener’s hearts with its soft piano passages and subtle waltz tact. However, the various electronic elements or excessive reverb also give a very ethereal and futuristic quality. Atmospheric themes like these reflect the paradoxical ethos of the series’ music — personal yet alien. Others like “Revolution to the Origin Part 1” and “After the Story 1” are even more subtle. They almost seamlessly blend into the environment, yet are curiously compelling and even addictive to listen to on their own too.
There are nevertheless weakest entries on the score. While most compositions are effectively developed and implemented, sometimes their core ideas are sparing and uninspired. Perhaps the worst example are Fumie Kumatani’s “Empty Space Out of Control” themes, which attempt to create a minimalist warped sound, yet rely too heavily on some very superficial electronic overtones and percussive fragments in doing so. These sorts of elements also ruin the introduction to “The Kink in the Wind and the Way”, but fortunately there is enough deviation during the development for the theme to offer a richer listening experience and gameplay support. Some of the action themes also give an impression of sloppiness in “Mother Earth of Dishonesty Part 2” or “The Crazy Program”. In these cases, the freedom to create dissonant and chaotic themes seem to be used as an excuse for mashing together some totally unrelated ideas. They’re hardly bad, but not particularly artistically appealing either.
While much of the soundtrack is unobtrusive, it begins to intensify at the conclusion. Event cues such as “After the Story 2” certainly deepen the score while the action-packed “Revolution to the Origin Part 2” sends it propelling towards its conclusion. The final battle themes, “Pray for ‘IDOLA’ the Distorted” and “Cry for ‘IDOLA’ the Holy”, are certainly the most dynamic and expansive additions to the musical experience. It’s impressive how Kobayashi manages to assemble so many divergent elements into each piece while still achieving a momentous and frightening overall sound. The ending theme “Can Still See the Light” suffers less from Loren’s wretched vocals. The reflective, sorrowful, and almost operatic vocals elegantly carry the melody while often surprising listeners during the development. After an awkward transition, it leads into an orchestral coda that takes listeners on an emotional rollercoaster while rounding off the score as a whole well. Again this theme also receives an instrumental performance by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.
The score for Phantasy Star Online was pretty innovative for its time. It was extremely rare for a game to create so much atmosphere and drama by blending orchestral and electronic forces. That said, the score is far from the cumulation of the series’ efforts with a number of weak ambient themes and mischosen vocalists. The other scores in the series are actually more refined and accessible, though this album is still pretty interesting for seeing where the musical phenomenon all began.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.