Shadow Hearts -From the New World- Original Soundtrack
Shadow Hearts -From the New World- Original Soundtrack
August 24, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
OK, so since this is my first real review, I thought I’d take a casual approach to looking at this Original Soundtrack. The Shadow Hearts series is my favourite series of games, and I have been impressed with the music of all three. There have been, of course, some tracks that didn’t keep my attention, but there are also some very memorable themes that stick out as being unique and very fun to listen to time and again. Instead of providing a track-by-track review of this album, I’m going to split it up into sections, and talk about some of the tracks (both good and bad), and how they are used in the game. Read on!
Let’s start with the obvious. The dominant theme of the series is the Icaro theme. First heard on top of a train in the first game, the Icaro theme was presented as an Asian chant. Female vocals were the only instrumentation, providing a rich backdrop to the first incarnation of Alice’s power against Albert Simon. Since then, the Icaro theme has evolved to fit its surroundings. The first game (which took place in Asia and Europe) presented the Icaro theme first as an Asian chant, then as a beautiful orchestration melding into Alice’s theme, followed by a techno beat version in the final dungeon of the game. In the second game (which took place in Europe primarily, and then Asia in the second half), the Icaro theme had evolved into a very European sounding track. The theme is presented as a march (to fit the military theme of the opening of the game) which is later presented on an even larger scale during Yuri’s battle with Rasputin. Finally, we are treated to a rich full orchestration of the track (which doesn’t appear on the soundtrack), followed by a piano arrangement during the ending of the second game. Now, in the third game (Shadow Hearts From the New World), the setting shifts to the Americas and the Pacific Ocean. The Icaro theme once again changes to fit the setting. In a return to its roots, the track is heard primarily as a vocal piece in “Et Unam -Chant of ICARO-” completing the transition from Asian, to European, to Native American.
Of course, multiple versions of the track are to be expected, and the next track on the soundtrack, “Great Ghost Dance (with ICARO)” delivers. This is my favourite rendition of the Icaro theme. Throughout the track, we’re given small snippets of the theme before a full vocal and instrumental rendition occurs at 1:47. We are then given an acoustic arrangement of the theme at the beginning of the second disc, in “ICARO -acoustic arrangement-.” It’s a very beautiful track, combining the tell-tale violin on the higher melody accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Quite fitting, since this is the second last strong appearance of the Icaro theme on the soundtrack. We also get a small return to it during “Dream Catcher” and “Galvloi”. “The Wheel of Fortune” gives us the final Icaro theme, through a nice violin and flute combo backed up by light percussion. Although I have my personal reflections on who or what exactly the Icaro theme is associated with, I have no doubt that it will appear again in the fourth addition to the series, if that game is created.
Another theme which is dominant on this album is Lady’s theme. Throughout many tracks, we’re given small snippets of her melody, which in my opinion is right up there with Icaro as far as musicality goes. “From the New World” and “Kiss of Malice” are some examples. Lady’s theme has many similarities to the Icaro theme, but some very noticeable differences as well. In a way, the theme is much more melodic, but through its composition, sounds very sad; a nice contrast to Icaro which is quite uplifting. However, it is the perfect theme to accompany Lady’s character, even though she is supposed to be devoid of all emotion. Lady’s theme really comes into play during “Lady Tears I” and “Lady Tears II” which occur at the end of the game. The final battle theme of “Lady Tears II” really brings her theme out with rich orchestration in the piano and strings, backed up by vocals and strong percussion. The track “Much More Together…” provides the end of her theme, quite fitting for the final scenes of the game. Although it wasn’t included on the soundtrack for Shadow Hearts From the New World, a full piano arrangement of Lady’s Theme was released on an extra audio CD that was released when the game came out in 2005. The track is quite beautiful when you hear it the full way through, sadly I can’t recall the name of the album its on.
As with any RPG, there needs to be a strong battle theme. The Shadow Hearts series has always preformed rather well in this area. In tradition, this soundtrack features a total of ten battle themes: two standard battle themes, two boss themes, one final boss theme, and five corresponding ‘insanity’ themes. “Dead Fingers Talk” is the first battle theme, and occurs in the North American battle locations. Its strong 6/8 time is split up throughout the track into strong two beat and three beat groups, providing a fresh rhythm to the battle. The orchestration in it isn’t particularly strong, but the heavy beat and complex percussion makes up for it, creating a decent track that doesn’t get old. Its corresponding insanity theme “Gestalt Collapse” brings in elements of “Dead Fingers Talk” and totally distorts them, something that is particularly effective at telling the player that one of the characters have run out of sanity points. Personally, the ‘insanity’ themes aren’t my favourites, but they are certainly original in their overall sound. “Le Gran Luxe” is the North American boss theme, and like “Dead Fingers Talk,” it provides a strong recurring beat and powerful percussion. Vocals come into play for long ‘ahhh’ sounds which help to form the melody of the track, and although they can get a bit shrill at times, they do a decent job at it. “A Silver Smile” is the corresponding insanity theme, and like before, distorts the original theme.
“Mauve” is the second battle theme, and appears in the South American battle locations. I’m not particularly fond of this one: it’s faster, with an emphasis on rhodes organs, flutes, and strings to provide the melody. Musically, it isn’t the strongest track, but it definitely suits where it is being used. “Bailar?” is its corresponding insanity theme, and as before, components of “Mauve” are twisted into something very new. However, with these insanity themes, they can get very repetitive and very annoying over time, which is good, since in the game you have no control over your character till you restore their sanity points. “Electric Hallucinations” is the second boss theme for South America. Like “Mauve,” it isn’t as strong as its north American counterpart. Repetitive rhythms and an odd use of some electronic sounds somewhat obscure the theme, and prevent it from being as clear as it could be. “Auditory Hallucination,” the insanity theme, is equally as weak as “Bailar?” in that it’s hard to determine exactly where the theme lies because of the distortions. I’ve already explained the final boss theme, “Lady Tears II”. Its corresponding insanity theme, “Astral Tears”, is just painful to listen to. It’s the same chord on the piano blasted over and over again with an over-abundance of percussion and strange sounds. Although its purpose is clear, it really detracts from the beauty of “Lady Tears II.”
The next set of themes I’m going to look at, are the fusion themes. The fusion ability of the harmonixer is a new battle class which was introduced in the original Shadow Hearts. Basically, the person can absorb the souls of monsters or spirits into their bodies, and summon their power. In turn, they ‘fuse’ into an image of that monster or spirit. The two most notable fusions from the past games are Seraphic Radience (the form of Yuri’s father), and Amon (Yuri’s form), both of which have been presented in FMV form. In Shadow Hearts: From the New World our new harmonixer Shania treats us to four fusions, each with their own themes and FMVs, although for now, we’ll overlook the fact that for some reason she must be naked to accept their spirits. Go figure that one out.
The themes for each of the fusions and their subsequent transformations are very beautiful, and are suited to the spirits being absorbed. “Ala of Sacrum” accompanies Shania’s first transformation into Thunder Bird (a sky spirit, comprised of mainly white with large feathered wings), although the theme itself is nothing like the fusion. The track is quite boring, with the same low set of notes being played over and again. A few vocals and some percussion near the end help to break up the low notes a bit, but in the end the track fails to deliver a good relationship with what’s being viewed on the screen. “Ta Tanka” does much better, with the theme drawing on elements of the Grand Canyon (where the fusion is acquired). There’s a real sense of ethnicity in this track, with the vocals, strong flutes and tribal percussion providing an excellent match to Shania’s transformation into Ta Tanka, an earth spirit. “La Sirene” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It starts out with a strong oboe and strings, merging into some decorative piano, harps, and vocal lines. A perfect match for the water spirit being acquired. “Tirawa” is the last of the fusion themes and is very eastern sounding, which suits the sun fusion extremely well. The beginning of the track starts with some light flutes, percussion, and bells leading into the dominant theme of the track, which uses heavy vocals and drums to drive the track. Again, this track suits the visual transformation perfectly. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t skip “Thunder Bird.” This is the track that plays during battle when you choose the menu option to transform into one of the acquired fusions.
One clear thing about the Shadow Hearts soundtracks is that the music is always considered in relation to where it is being used. A South-American sounding track doesn’t appear in Europe, and an Asian track doesn’t show up when you’re running around New York city. The pairing of locations and the corresponding music in Shadow Hearts: From the New World lives up to this standard. Some particular favourites of mine include “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which plays as you may have guessed, in the Caribbean Sea where La Sirine is acquired. It’s a very upbeat track, with rich orchestration covering many instruments: flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, strings, and percussion come together to create a lively and hummable tune. “Moon Shine” is a very jazzy tune which compliments your journey into Chicago extremely well. “Chichen Itza” and “Vilcabamba Ruins” give you a realistic musical accompaniment for travels that take you deep into ancient Mayan ruins in central and South America. And “Laboratory” couldn’t be more appropriate for travelling around Area 51 with its very scientific but alien sound to it.
I’d now like to turn to the game’s vocal pieces. Shadow Hearts didn’t do extremely well with its vocal piece. Shadow Hearts -Covenant- hit the nail on the head, combining a rich rock sound with the soothing melodies needed to create a successful vocal experience. Shadow Heart: From the New World is on the fence. It does a good job in some areas with its vocal work, but has equally bad tracks. The most astonishing of these tracks is “Oh smania! oh furie! ~ D’Oreste e d’Aiace.” Originally composed by Mozart, this track noticeably stands out on the soundtrack. It is the first track to appear on any of the soundtracks to use opera. It’s almost a shame for all you hear it in the game. The track occurs at the start of the game in a theatre in New York, appropriately advertising The Phantom of the Opera on its marquee. As you travel up the floors of the theatre, this track gradually becomes louder, further giving you the feel that you’re getting closer to the person that’s playing it. However, because of the different levels of the theatre, this track always sounds out of focus and is distorted. When you reach your destination and the FMV occurs, the track becomes clearer, until it’s interrupted by a monster’s appearance. On its own though, the track is quite a joy to listen to if you don’t mind opera.
The other vocal tracks on the album are “Et Unam -Chant of ICARO-” which I have already discussed, and “Um gemito dell’estinto” which appears on the game over screen. I highly suggest getting game over at least once while you play the game so you can hear this track. The melody is very haunting, and the vocals drive the song on with their rhythm, rather than the notes (since it’s the same note). As you listen to it, you get the sense that it’s gradually getting louder, which is a fantastic illusion. However, the entire soundtrack is overshadowed by one of the worst songs I have ever heard on an original soundtrack: “SPREAD MY WINGS”. Why Hirota figured anyone would want to hear a rock/rap/country track by a Japanese rock band while they’re reading the credits is beyond me. This track is an absolute travesty after what the album has offered. And after the success of “Shadow Hearts” and “GETSURENKA” (the vocal credit tracks on the previous two games), this is a real trade-down for the series. My advice is to mute your TV while the credits role!
And so, as I come to the end of my review, I feel I should talk about the final track on the soundtrack, ‘SABBATH -Demon Banquet-.” I love this track. It’s just the right speed, with just the right instrumentation to pull off the rock genre without it being sloppy or corny. Guitars are the dominant instrument, backed up by a strong percussion and a lone tambourine. Later in the track, a piano comes in to deliver the Icaro theme one last time before fading out. It’s a great way to end the album.
So there you have it. A quick and painless guide to some of the best and worst tracks to appear from the third Shadow Hearts game. Overall, it’s a good album. Not great, since many of the themes have the potential to become very repetitive after repeated listenings. But there are some tracks that you’ll find yourself listening to over and over again, which make it worth the price tag. If you’re a fan of the game series, or if you’ve heard either of the other soundtracks and are curious about what you may find on the third, I would definitely recommend the album.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andre Marentette. Last modified on January 17, 2016.