Romancing SaGa Original Sound Version
Romancing SaGa Original Sound Version
N25D-009 (1st Edition); PSCN-5036 (2nd Edition); NTCP-5036 (3rd Edition)
February 21, 1992; Nov. 25, 1995; October 1, 2004
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The Romancing SaGa Original Sound Version is the definitive classic Kenji Ito score. Representing the SaGa series’ first Super Nintendo effort, it was Ito’s first chance to expose his style while relatively unrestrained by the technology that hindered him for his preceding Game Boy scores. While the music from this album now features in two impressive other collections — the immensely creative French-themed arranged album Romancing SaGa La Romance and the score to PlayStation 2’s 2005 remake Romancing Saga Minstrel Song — the classic themes remain perhaps the most charming and representative Romancing SaGa experience. The key? Melody.
The album starts with the two-tiered “Opening Overture – Dawn of the Romance,” one of the most epic and touching opening themes ever created. Written for a synth orchestra, the theme is introduced by low strings that repeat an arch-shaped motif to create agitation, anticipation, and a sense of romance. With the introduction of the melody eight bars later, the Romancing SaGa main theme is beautifully exposed a well structured theme that features a synth orchestra. The theme starts with a turmoil enhancing string motif that creates an image of a ship battling the waves at sea, but with a wind instrument playing over this with an inspirational melody, one knows that the panic stricken crew will be just fine. After this section dies down, a heart rendering and grandiose section comes in to introduce the listener to what will be a great musical journey. The inclusion of timpani, snare drums, and cymbals makes the experience all the more dazzling, and rest assured that Masaaki Mizoguchi’s Romancing SaGa La Romance arrangement, “Thème d’Ouverture,” brings out the best of this melody.
After such a great introductory theme, Kenji Ito then moves on to produce eight character themes. “The Young Nobleman (Albert)” is the first of these, and is certainly one of the best, too. It isn’t developed to any great heights, but instead, the melody is as flamboyant as possible and accompanied by some stately drum beats. “Warrior of the Iced Land (Sif)” has a very similar melody, but this time, the main instrument is a trumpet and the accompaniment consists of strings and a bass guitar. “Adventurous Spirit (Gray)” and “Ladyluck (Captain Hawk)” follow in the same footsteps as Albert and Sif’s theme, so perhaps the more interesting character themes are the ones which represent the female characters in the group. “Song of the Nature (Claudia)” is a very relaxed theme that brings out the nature-loving personality of Claudia, “Hour in the Steppe (Aisha)” is joyous, whereas “Dance Through the Road (Barbara)” is distinctively Latin American. On the whole, these nine tracks provide a great introduction to the album, but do they reflect what is to come?
Considering the style of the themes beforehand, one would expect the album to feature even more light-hearted themes, but surprisingly, there are extremely few. “Shop Around the Town,” a short melody, is the first of these, but it is particularly uninventive. Masaaki Mizoguchi’s arrangement, “Echoppes Autour de la Ville,” in Romancing SaGa La Romance brings out the best of this theme, however, and reveals what it could have been. The second theme, “Victory” is a standard success theme that plays after defeating an enemy, so it goes without saying that it isn’t anything to shout about. The next track, “Glory of the Knight” has a typically flamboyant melodic line that truly represents the pride of a Knight, and its accompanying track, “The Salute (Title Acquisition),” is just as pride filled, though hardly as well structured. The heavenly “Sailing the Ocean (Voyage)” is up next, and it is quite a mesmerising track that excels through its purity. Its instrumentation is perfect, and creates the ideal atmosphere for the situation. “Walking Down the Street (Estermil)” and “Barbara’s Tango (Tango Frontier)” follow this, and though neither are particularly amazing, they are impacting in their own special ways. “Walking Down the Street (Estermil)” is just as refreshing as “Song of the Nature (Claudia),” whereas the short “Barbara’s Tango (Tango Frontier)” is cute and stylish.
The rest of the album is much darker and based around a sense of evil, anguish, and tension. “A Requiem” is the first sad track on the album, and although it has a great melodic line, it loops far too much for it to be an interesting theme. Once more, the instrumentation is expertly chosen, but not even the saddest of flutes can save it. “Theme of Solitude,” however, is a great step up; being highly sophisticated and majestic in nature, it just seems to flow kindly, and with its flute melody complimenting its guitar accompaniment greatly, it isn’t one to miss. “Deserted Village” is another classic touching theme that wholly represents an empty town and the pain, suffering, and losses that must have happened here. In comparison to the two earlier themes, “Deserted Village” is very similar in nature to “Theme of Solitude,” and although this may reflect upon Ito’s lack of diversity, its similarities actually increase the listener’s fondness with this type of theme. “Heartful Tears” expands upon the style even further, and although it isn’t developed to the extents that it could have been, it is another great listen. The movement of the strings with the flute line is mesmeric, and certainly a highlight. On the whole, the poignant tracks that the album holds are great, but they aren’t as top class as you would expect. Nonetheless, they do their job, and Kenji Ito is hardly at fault by creating a group of good listens that prepare us for the more invigorating themes on the album.
“Step into the Unknown (Dungeon 1)” is the first tense theme of the bunch. The strings take the lead with a strong melody and the accompanying instruments enhance every beat. The overall effect is eerie and grand at the same time, so it perfectly represents a mission taking place in the dungeons of a castle. The next theme, “Lost in the Forest (Forest of Illusion)” is an intricate theme that focuses purely on its eerie melodic line. With a flute taking the main melody, some natural drums featuring in the accompaniment, and the overall slow tempo of the theme, “Lost in the Forest (Forest of Illusion)” is picturesque and amongst the best of the tracks on the album, despite a lack of development. “The Conspiracy” takes upon an even more tension enhancing role in the Sound Version; being made up from a constantly reverberating bell line, some carefully played pizzicato string notes, and a dark synth undertone, its atmosphere is electric. Even so, Kenji Ito makes his first big mistake on the Original Sound Version with this theme: he doesn’t develop it. Unfortunately, this becomes an all too common problem on the album, though a lot of it can be blamed on the Super Nintendo’s sound capacity.
Nonetheless, we now move onto the intense themes, which are definitely the highlight of the album. “The Conflict” starts these themes off in a classic style; with a fast paced bass guitar line underlying a highly inspirational string line, it does wonders for the album. Not only this, but Ito develops the theme to a great extent too. The next theme, “Hurry Out” doesn’t receive as much development, but it is just as captivating as any other theme. Ito keeps this theme lively with its fast rhythm whilst also introducing a flamboyant melody to keep the listener entertained. “Beat Them Up” is the next battle theme to be heard, and it is certainly amongst the best of the Super Nintendo’s regular battle themes. The melody is the most entertaining part of the track, and with there being masses of development too, it is a really good listen. Once more, we see the return of the bass guitar line, and it truly does wonders; with the theme initially focussing on the melody, the bass guitar later acts as a main part to link two sections together, whilst also underlying the melody throughout, adding a certain sense of anticipation to each beat. The arrangement of this track in the Romancing Saga Minstrel Song Original Soundtrack just highlights how good it really is.
As well as the intense themes, Ito also introduces some melodic, battle-like themes. The main instrument in “Horrible Shadow (Sewers)” is a clarinet, and although this may not seem ideal, its contrasts with the drum and bass guitar create a passionate timbre that really brings out every note, without the need of added accents. The atmosphere created is impressive and on the whole, it is as a successful theme. The next theme, “Dim Gleam of Emerald (Island of Magic)” roars out at the listener with its strong chord sequences and powerful timpani, but perhaps its most prominent feature, is its melody. Indeed, its lack of movement may seem like nothing, but the atmosphere that its ascending and descending nature creates is extraordinary. The last of the melodic battle-like themes that we hear before the final battles is “Destined Fate (Ordeal),” which combines melodic and harmonic power with dynamics, pauses, and articulation elsewhere. This theme is far more pronounced than the others, and this is down to the way that each instrument is combined, and with the added articulation, too, the atmosphere is intense. The development of the track is another key asset, and with it representing the last mini boss battle, the listener knows instantly that something far more intense is about to come.
So, with four tracks left, what can Kenji Ito do to impress the listener even more? Well, the answer is to provide three awesome final battle themes and a superb ending theme. “The Forbidden Realm (Last Dungeon)” starts us off on this epic ending in style. With an intense beat, a flurry of xylophone notes, and an awesome melodic line, this theme is equipped to represent the fight in the last dungeon. As you may have expected, the string section takes the main melody, but then, something out of the ordinary happens; the brass section come in to fight alongside the strings, enhancing the feel of companionship between the fighters. Further enhancements when a turmoil filled section comes in, and when this is followed up by some beating drums, the image is complete. “Beat of the Evil (Devil Revival)” carries on where “The Forbidden Realm (Last Dungeon)” left off, and although it isn’t as effective, it provides a great lead up to the ultimate battle theme: “Coup de Grace (Decisive Battle with Saluuin).” The talent that hides in “Coup de Grace…” isn’t hard to miss, as with such flair, development, and enrichment, it is an extremely fulfilling piece that is perfect for a final battle. Nonetheless, it doesn’t steal the show, as it is “Ending Theme – The Saga (Ending Theme)” that does that instead. This ending theme is an eight minutes long masterpiece that I rate as one of Ito’s greatest early accomplishments. It has everything that is desired from an ending theme, and even more on top of that.
On the whole, this is an epic album that has very few flaws along the way. The first thing that may cause any trouble is the sound quality, but Yasunori Mitsuda’s sound programming brings out the best of the instruments, including the bass guitar, which is one of the most realistic Super Nintendo ones that I have heard. The only other problem that I have with this album is the way that the earlier non-battle themes are rarely developed. When they are developed, they are impressive, so it just seems like such a loss when Kenji Ito decides against giving the themes a bit more style and development. Nonetheless, the battle themes on the album are absolutely superb, and you only have to look as far as the arrangements on the Romancing Saga Minstrel Song Original Soundtrack to hear what they are like. Overall, the Romancing SaGa Original Sound Version is a worthy album that should be in anyone’s collection. Why not give an early score a chance?
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Dave Valentine. Last modified on August 1, 2012.