SaGa Frontier Original Soundtrack
SaGa Frontier Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
July 21, 1997; February 1, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
While most of Kenji Ito’s time at Square was spent working on Japan-only games or handheld consoles, he did manage to work on one major title that received some overseas recognition: SaGa Frontier. The title alienated many expecting something like Final Fantasy VII, with its more humble presentation and non-linear gameplay, though it still satisfied most SaGa fans and enjoyed cult recognition. For the soundtrack, Kenji Ito maintained the series’ distinctive sound, while offering some new directions and exploring the PlayStation’s technological capacity. The resultant soundtrack was released across three discs and was later compiled into the series’ box set, with some bonuses.
Much of the music on SaGa Frontier will have a familiar sound for followers of the SaGa franchise, despite a lack of conserved themes. For example, the opening overture is written in the spirit of Romancing SaGa‘s, with its bright march-like orchestration. However, it benefits from the greater weight offered by the PlayStation’s MIDI synth here. Likewise the first battle theme is written in reminiscent of the Romancing SaGa trilogy with its bright keyboard lead and slapped bass accompaniment. The richly shaped melody is one of Ito’s most inspired and the various dark shifts during the development keep gamers entertained. Meanwhile “Sunset Town” and “A Blue Town” provide a welcome moment of relief away from the excitement and drama. These tracks feature warm melodies and soft timbres, just like earlier SaGa town themes, but emphasise a somewhat more jazzy vibe. In addition, there are some lighter experiments like the soothing “Junk”, technofied “Leonard Laboratory”, and mischievious “Kylin’s Theme” to keep the soundtrack accessible and enjoyable.
Relatively relieved of technological constraints, Kenji Ito was nevertheless able to offer a range of more artistic experiments here. One of the most impressive tracks on the album is “Doubt”, an intricate two-part invention between harpsichord and organ inspired by Baroque greats. It’s pleasing that Ito took the opportunity to evoke anxiety with such an artistic piece here, when mundane suspended strings could have served this role instead (as they have in many of his other soundtracks). “Castle of Needles” develops upon this gothic influence using mostly heterophonic textures, culminating in an expressive climax at the 0:54 mark. “ALONE”, on the other hand, conveys a sense of being isolated in the forest with its minimalistic textures inspired by Mike Oldfield. The track manages to evoke a great sense of melancholy as it explores a succession of woodwind solos over its five minute playtime. Ito also offers one of his best instrumental ballads to date on the airship’s “Theme of the Cygnus”, topped off by its gorgeously synthesised flute.
Despite all its exceptional offerings, the soundtrack isn’t consistently enjoyable on a stand-alone basis. While most tracks are functional, not all are memorable and a good proportion are uncreative. Indeed, when Ito is too exhausted to make a two-part invention or minimalistic masterpiece, he reverts to his old ways of offering thin functional orchestrations. For example, the series’ drab strings and overaccentuated timpani make their return on “Shudder”, “Resolution”, and “Ancient Tomb of Sei”, leaving most listeners cold. The latter, in particular, reflects the hit-and-miss nature of Ito’s work given its partner “Ancient Tomb of Mu” is a delightful tribal anthem. Upbeat tracks such as “Nakajima Factory” and “HQ” are temporarily enjoyable with their technopop beats, but grow somewhat annoying with repetition. Perhaps with some revised synthesis, these highly lyrical tracks would have been as delightful as intended. That said, wile not as technologically commanded as its sequel, the synth used on SaGa Frontier is a major step-up from both Romancing SaGa 3 and Final Fantasy VII, which particularly shows in the acoustic tracks.
The most interesting aspect of the soundtrack is how it portrays the unique quests of the seven protagonists. A large proportion of the music is used in just one of the game’s storylines and has been carefully tailored to match the character or scenario. In fact, there are unique character, dungeon, battle, and ending themes to represent each character. With the exception of the ornate two-tiered theme for Asellus, the character anthems themselves tend to be relatively straightforward anthems, just like in earlier soundtracks; for example, the alluring Emilia is portrayed with infectious Latin-influenced flute lines, whereas the quest of the mage Blue is represented with a serious mystical orchestration. The impressive feature is how the various other themes are carefully integrated into the non-linear storylines. However, one of the finest tracks in this respect — “Tears of Joy” for Asellus’ conversation with White Rose — are actually exclusive to the box set of the soundtrack.
The end of the soundtrack features the most almighty themes in many RPG soundtracks — the final dungeon, final battle, and ending themes — in sevenfold to represent each character. Despite the large number of tracks, Ito rarely drops his guard and offers some of his best compositions to date. Focusing on some specific highlights, “Battle #5” is an unforgettable homage to the old-school rock compositions of the Super Nintendo, while “Last Battle -Red-” is an impressive rock-orchestral fusion jam-packed with Ito’s characteristic lyricism. Lovers of orchestral music will also find much to like in the last battle themes for Coon and Lute, which manage to sound moody and epic without relying on drab orchestration. However, perhaps the finest set of themes is used to represent the robot T260G. While “The Ultimate Weapon” and “Last Battle -T260G-” both channel the techno influence of the soundtrack once more, in a faster yet less irritating form, “A Memory of Childhood” is an eight minute instrumental ballad that will inspire plenty of nostalgia for those who played the game.
On SaGa Frontier, Kenji Ito made an arguably premature exit from the series that defined him. He nevertheless departed on a respectable note, staying faithful to the series’ origins while offering a diverse, elaborate, and memorable score. Not all the tracks here are artistic or remarkable, but the soundtrack works excellently in the multi-scenario game and there are numerous highlights to be found across the three disc set. Note that the box set version of the soundtrack features a handful of previously unreleased tracks and, while most of these are throwaway additions, one of these is delightful. Either way, fans of traditional RPG music would be advised to purchase one edition of the soundtrack.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.