Romancing SaGa Original Soundtrack Remaster
Romancing SaGa Original Soundtrack Remaster
June 18, 2014
Buy at CDJapan
In 1992, the SaGa series finally made the transition from portable to home consoles with the first instalment of a Japan-only Super Nintendo trilogy, Romancing SaGa. This title firmly established SaGa 2 co-composer Kenji Ito as the lead composer of the series and one of the era’s greatest RPG musicians. Liberated by the technological possibilities of the Super Nintendo, after working with the Game Boy since his debut, he makes an effort to produce a fully-fleshed synth orchestral score to serenade gamers and stand-alone listeners alike. The soundtrack soon received an album release and was later featured as the fourth disc of the series’ box set. In 2014, the soundtrack was re-released in a remastered version by Square Enix complete with new packaging. It features recordings of the original sound source remastered to today’s standards by Yasuji Maeda at Bernie Grundman Mastering.
Kenji Ito demonstrates his ambition right from the two-tiered introductory orchestration, “Overture ~ Opening”. After building up anticipation with a rising and falling string motif, Ito exposes the main theme for Romancing SaGa eight bars later and offers a melody that is simultaneously personal yet epic. This section builds up cinematically, to represent the drama of the game’s title sequence, before fading into a series of harp arpeggios reminiscent of its big cousin. Following a pause, Ito captivates gamers with a march featuring a bright brass melody and bold straightforward orchestration. Both melodies are highly memorable and convey Ito’s unique sense of lyricism, while the orchestration proves balanced and effective despite the continuing limitations of the synth. The overall theme is a beautiful way to introduce the characters, while demonstrating Ito and Square’s huge ambition during the 16-bit era.
The various character themes on Romancing SaGa reflect the score’s rich melodic palette. Ito conveys plenty of strength and determination in “Albert” and “Sif” with rich brass fanfares, while emphasising their noble and warlike characteristics with some contrasting features. In contrast, he reflects the maternal nature of “Claudia” with an intimate small ensemble arrangement and the elegance of “Aisha” with carefree waltz rhythms, without defining the characters so strongly that they become one-dimensional. Some themes, such as “Captain Hawk” and “Gray”, do labour the march format and come across somewhat formulaic; however, the strength of their melodies and nature of their personalities still makes these themes highly enjoyable in and out of context. The only throwaway theme is “Jamil”, but even this is catchy on the first few listens. This theme was among those that were eventually built upon melodically and stylistically in the PlayStation 2 remake, though most of the original renditions are still very enjoyable.
Ito enhances the imagery of the game with a range of setting themes. A particularly evocative theme is “Lost Woods”, which blends an expressive flute melody with mystical arpeggios to capture the feeling of wandering in a magical location. Town themes such as “Crystal City” and “Estamir” provide a welcome contrast with their laid-back tones and blend typical RPG qualities with some novel approaches. The dungeon themes are a welcome deviation from those in the original SaGa trilogy, since they tend to combine ambient soundscaping with a melodic focus. “Dungeon 1” is particularly memorable with its elegant phrasing, while “Sewers” offers an electrifying arrangement of the game’s theme, though both could be more developed. “Four Guardian Kings Dungeon” and “Isle of Evil” are relatively intense with their dark gothic orchestrations and stern melodic progressions, capturing the malevolent influence that grows more dominant through the game’s storyline.
Perhaps even more impressively, the score for Romancing SaGa also features some of Ito’s most memorable battle themes. The iconic opening phrase of “Battle 1” gets listeners suitably invigorated and the subsequent sections keep the adrenaline flowing with their nonstop melodies and bold orchestration. “Battle 2” is even more catchy, with its passionate trumpet solo and slapped bass accompaniment, and mixes Latin, orchestral, and rock influences seamlessly. In both cases, the sound manipulation is top-notch, with each individual instrument being convincingly synthesised and strongly punctuated, to create a balanced overall timbre. In fact, both of these tracks exceed even those by Nobuo Uematsu in the first four Final Fantasy titles, which is no mean feat. The hurry theme “Escape!” tends to be less impressive with its ever-repeating crisis motifs, but still uses the SPC chip efficiently and conveys the desired emotions well, while the new victory and game over themes are also serviceable orchestrations.
The climax of the score does not disappoint. Kenji Ito offers two incredible arrangements of the main theme to contrasting effect on “Theme of Solitude” and the grandiose “The Trials”, before revisiting theSaGa classic “Wipe Your Tears Away” with a nostalgic and bittersweet chamber arrangement. “Last Dungeon” and “Revival of the Evil God” are effective pieces to build towards the final encounter, with their drab orchestrations and crisis motifs, but loop rather prematurely; this builds up tension in the game, but is somewhat disappointing on a stand-alone basis and it was only on the remake soundtrack that this was put right. Thankfully, “Decisive Battle! Saruin” compensates for this with a well-developed action-packed theme, mixing sinister chord progressions akin to the villain themes with motivating brass melodies to represent the heroes. The ending theme for Romancing SaGa is just as expansive and fitting as those from Final Fantasy’s 16-bit era, offering mature synthetic orchestrations and thoughtful theme arrangements across an eight minute suite.
Kenji Ito’s score to Romancing SaGa has received little exposure in the West, due to a combination of the game’s Japanese exclusivity and the composer’s lack of overseas fanbase. This is quite a pity as the soundtrack is one of the most functionally effective, melodically memorable, stylistically refined, and technologically commanded of its generation, rivalling even the likes of Final Fantasy IV, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest released around the same time. Due to the technological limitations of the Super Nintendo, the naivities of Kenji Ito’s musicality, and the relatively small number of tracks, there was still plenty of room for expansion and this was eventually achieved with the title’s PlayStation 2 remake. However, the original score is still an impressive achievement in its own right and, in many ways, complementary rather than inferior to the remake soundtrack. It’s an absolute must-listen for RPG listeners. Featuring all the music from the original sound version, the remastered soundtrack provides a great cost-effective way to check it out.
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Posted on May 30, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on May 30, 2015.