SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack
SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack
April 21, 1999
Buy at CDJapan
The SaGa series has never been one of Square’s most popular series as it has understandably been overshadowed by classics such as ‘Final Fantasy’ and the ‘Chrono’ series. SaGa Frontier was the first of its kind to be released overseas and reactions to the game were quite varied. It managed to forge a discreet group of fans, however, and the game’s sequel, Saga Frontier II was released out of Japan also. Unlike other RPGs, this game spans a generation of heroes and covers a large amount of its world’s history, creating a unique gaming experience not found in traditional examples of the genre. After composing the scores for the last 4 SaGa games, series composer Kenji Ito decided to hand over the workload on the second SaGa Frontier soundtrack to Masashi Hamauzu. At this point, Hamauzu was still trying to establish his own musical style:
“I’ve come to think that, until finishing work on this, my own SaGa title, I had experience of nothing but writing music for other people’s gratification . And yet one day, in a moment of serendipity, my whole attitude changed, and I decided here was where I would assert my own musical identity.” – Masashi Hamauzu
And thus, he promised to deliver a SaGa soundtrack like no other.
…And that is exactly what he would do. In the first two tracks, “Prologue” (“Vorspiel”) and “Prelude” (“Pr‰ludium”), Hamauzu’s superior compositional ability is already made evident. “Prologue” begins with a slow piano motif before increasing its pace and developing into something quite magical; it also introduces the main theme, which is constantly re-used throughout the soundtrack. In “Prelude,” Hamauzu once again shows off his extraordinary piano skill that makes game music seem like a medium for lots of different genres of music instead of just the typical RPG-fare less inspirational artists like Uematsu were creating at the time. The game itself has a medieval theme, and I do wonder whether the music always fits its location very well, as while much of the music is rendered in a classical fashion, some of the instrumentation seems a little modern for the game. This does nothing to detract from the soundtrack itself, however.
The majority of the tracks seem quite light-hearted, resulting in tracks like “Majesty” (“Majest‰t”), which manage to avoid the usual clichÈs found in other games set in a similar medieval setting. Hamauzu has the ability to compose music for a variety of different situations without detracting from the music’s overall sound. I think the emotional themes scattered around the soundtrack are particularly good. “Rosary” and “Theme” are two examples – “Theme” (“Thema”) is reminiscent of some of the work on the Final Fantasy XI soundtrack, which shows that the composer is ahead of his time in terms of quality music. “Rosary” (“Rosenkranz”) on the other hand, is a unique, light-hearted piano piece accompanied by a woodwind instrument, which creates a feeling of nostalgia and is one of the more memorable pieces on the first CD.
Each of the three CDs is populated by a number of different styles of music ranging from moody ambience to lively jazz. Some of the most interesting tracks are Hamauzu’s experimental pieces that cannot really be classified under one particular style. He elaborated on this unusual form of music more in the Unlimited SaGa soundtrack; just as in UNLIMITED SaGa, sometimes the experimental tracks work and other times they don’t. “Dithyramb” and “Miracle Drug” are two very good examples of this kind of music fulfilling it’s potential. “Dithyramb” (“Dithyrambus”) is presumably an area theme of some sort, and the track is layered well and creates an unusually pleasant listening experience. “Panacea” (“Wundermittel”) borrows heavily from the main theme, but its arrangement is really quite wonderful to listen to, and creates a sense of tranquillity and perfection. However “Siren” (“Wasserjungfer”) is an example of the experimentation not paying off. It feels lacking somehow and just isn’t very enjoyable to listen to when compared to other themes on the soundtrack; it uses the main theme again, but does not utilise it to it’s maximum potential and sounds bland and uninspiring.
Another sore point for me is the battle music. The ‘field battle’ themes are quite disappointing, especially when compared to the amazing battle themes Hamauzu composed for Unlimited SaGa. “Field Battle I” (“Feldschlacht I”) is a very average track which relies on the main theme completely; I hardly see myself feeling compelled to kill enemies to this theme. It does get slightly better after the 2-minute mark, but still does little to escape mediocrity. ‘Field Battle II’ (“Feldschlacht II”) is similar. It starts off quite well, but as it develops it relies on the main theme once again and doesn’t seem to do anything new; very uninspiring music, which is a rare thing indeed, coming from Hamauzu. “Field Battle III” (“Feldschlacht III”) is slightly more original, and the inclusion of an organ and the piano makes it more sophisticated than the last two, but it still lacks the interesting melody that is vital to the success of a battle theme. Thankfully, “Field Battle IV” (“Feldschlacht IV”) takes a slightly more epic approach and is more successful because of it. It develops better than the last 3 and actually fits its purpose a lot better than the rest in my opinion. Each of the four battle themes has a separate victory theme, which are all criminally repetitive and unfortunately lower the quality of the album as a whole, if only slightly. I actually think they sound quite like work that Hitoshi Sakimoto might have created, only the techno styling makes them seem quite tacky.
There are very few dark themes in the soundtrack, but tracks like “Tobel” (“Tobal”) and “Cure of Souls” (“Seelsorge”) use a villain-like chord progression to build a suitable amount of mystery and tension. Neither is particularly interesting, but they do their jobs adequately without shattering the light-heartedness of the other pieces on the album. Perhaps the darkest theme on the soundtrack is “Conscious” (“Unmacht”), which is one of the pieces that sound reminiscent of classical music. The low brass instruments and morbid arrangement of the main theme create a dark and hopeless atmosphere that is uncommon for this usually bright and cheerful soundtrack; by incorporating these few sinister themes, Hamauzu makes the soundtrack feel more complete though.
One of the best additions to the soundtrack is “Arranger” (“Arrangeur”), which once again highlights Hamauzu’s talent with piano. The composition is very nice, and while original, it remains very coherent with the rest of the soundtrack. Overall, rather than create lots of different melodies which would be used only once or twice, Hamauzu has created many different arrangements of his main theme, which gives the album a continuity that could not have been achieved otherwise.
As with all Hamauzu albums, the SaGa Frontier II soundtrack is full of quality tracks that form bridges between styles and demonstrate a remarkable compositional ability. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to get as much recognition as it deserves; the majority of the piano work is amazing, and the arranged album Piano Pieces SF2 ~ Rhapsody on a Theme of Saga Frontier II is testimony to the complex, well-structured pieces Hamauzu has created. It is obvious that Hamauzu didn’t believe it necessary to revert to the sound and atmosphere of Ito’s soundtracks, but that instead he would create a soundtrack unique and personal to himself. I think this decision was an admirable one, and the quality and independence of his work really shines through in his work on SaGa Frontier II.
As a whole, there are very few problems with the soundtrack. I personally found the battle themes to be unsatisfactory, but that might be because I’m comparing them to music Hamauzu composed since this soundtrack, and I’m sure others might be able to appreciate their merits more than I do. I also think the amount of times the main theme was reused was like a double-edged sword; while virtually every arrangement possible was done through this method, and every listener is likely to enjoy one of these tracks at the very least, I would argue that it eventually wears a little thin. While the majority of these variations are very good, hearing the same main theme time and time again detracts from some of the later tracks on the album.
If you enjoy Hamauzu’s classical tracks, you will most probably enjoy SaGa Frontier II, as the soundtrack contains quite a few orchestral pieces, all of which are very good. The library of different sounds he can create on the piano is unbelievable. You have a rag in the form of “Interlude” (“Interludium”), a slow, emotional piano piece in ‘Loneliness’ (“Einsamkeit”), and then it can be heard in a variety of different area themes, each time communicating a different feeling. His manipulation of the instrument is truly masterful.
The soundtrack itself is structured very well. Each disc ends with an emotional theme that creates a certain mood or feeling: Disc 1’s “The Sacred” (“Weihalter”) is dark and seems to symbolise some sort of unresolved conflict; “Nightingale” (“Nachtigall”) is a sad but hopeful piece played by a music box; and the very last track on the album, “Ending” (“Postludium”), is a nostalgic, reflective theme which is a nice change from the all to frequent vocal themes that populate soundtracks these days. Contrarily, each disc begins with a light orchestral piano piece, which helps retain that coherent feel which contributes to the success of the album.
In conclusion, this soundtrack is clearly above average and any Hamauzu fan, or anybody else who enjoys piano music and is open-minded to different musical styles should definitely try to get a hold of a copy, which isn’t an easy thing to do now DigiCube is out of business. The sound quality is on par with the best of the PlayStation, and the instrumentation is top notch. This is not your typical RPG fare, and anyone who likes the traditional epic themes churned out by Uematsu and Sakimoto might find themselves caught off-guard, but give it a chance and the deep, complex music on this album will not disappoint.
“This is my own voice now, I would love for you to listen to this…” – Masashi Hamauzu
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ross Cooper. Last modified on January 16, 2016.