Shin Megami Tensei III -Nocturne- Original Soundtrack
Shin Megami Tensei III -Nocturne- Original Soundtrack
SME Visual Works
March 5, 2003
Buy at CDJapan
Shin Megami Tensei III came out eleven years after the first entry in the Megaten subseries, Shin Megami Tensei. In this long period of time many new composers had joined Atlus’ sound team, the most notable being Shoji Meguro, who finally got his big chance when he was handed the duty of spearheading the soundtrack of Shin Megami Tensei III. While staying true to the original atmosphere of Shin Megami Tensei series laid out by Tsukasa Masuko, the composer of SMTI and SMTII, Shoji Meguro tried to complement the third iteration with his own style. Two long-time members of Atlus’ sound team, Kenichi Tsuchiya and Toshiko Tasaki made their contributions alongside Meguro, helping to craft the soundscape of SMTIII. Did Meguro, Tsuchiya, and Tasaki succeed?
Let’s start with Shoji Meguro. The album opens with two different title loops. The first one starts off with soft percussion and ominous ambient before the heavier percussion sets in, backed by futuristic synth, which gives the track a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Its slow build up hints at a climax, yet it ends abruptly. The second title loop has more meat to it, but it’s also different, as the gloomy feel has been replaced by a more relaxing style where a sweet electric guitar takes the lead until a soothing piano introduces the main theme of the soundtrack.
Battle themes make up some of the more important facets of Shin Megami Tensei III, as there are whopping nine of them featured on this soundtrack. The main battle theme, simply named “Battle”, opens with a screeching synth line until guitars and percussion make an appearance, keeping a steady beat as the guitars make way for the growling vocals. The growling, which infests almost every battle theme with its chaotic nature, is one of the reasons why the album is so distinctive. “Forced Battle”, the battle theme playing when the main character is pitted against tougher foes, is a fine example of the effective use of vocals. The vocals are preceded by cymbals, an electric guitar, and organ, creating a sense of danger and exploding with ferocious growls backed by tight percussions which get faster and crazier till the loop. Another enjoyable fighting piece is “Battle -Town-“. In contrast to the other battle themes, it’s funky and playful, employing nice percussion and electric guitar, and it ends with a pulsating and rapid line of chaotic vocals. “Battle -World Map-” with its optimistic flair and minimal vocals is weaker than the others, but still succeeds due to the energetic guitar work and tight percussion.
“Boss Battle” is actually the weakest battle theme. It lacks necessary build up and relies too much on the vocals that are incapable of being constantly on the forefront. Fortunately, it’s compensated by the magnificent “Reason Boss Battle”. Opening solely with cold, sterile bass, it doesn’t take long until various layers are added. At first, cymbals and percussion come in, later followed by an organ and harpsichord painting a grim fate, death, that is, before the main character successfully pulls himself together when the melancholic and even frantic electric guitar joins in, portraying a clash of epic proportions. It’s definitely one of the best tracks Meguro has ever done and a highlight of the album. The two final boss battle themes abandon the traditional instruments in favor of purely electronic soundscape, especially “Last Boss Battle Before Transformation”, which acts as a prelude with its electronic beats, slow development and repetition. “Last Boss Battle After Transformation” ups the pace, starting right off the bat and keeping the blazing speed of percussion and electric guitar through the whole piece, having only few moments of breathing time.
Now to dungeon and town tracks. Most of the dungeon and town themes are omitted from this soundtrack due to their inaccessible nature, as most is straight ambient. More listenable pieces are present, especially town themes like “Ginza”. The groovy town track is an arranged version of “Arcade Street” from the first Shin Megami Tensei. Like its counterpart in the first game, it relies on percussion to craft a toe-tapping melody. Another percussion heavy town piece is “Ikebukuro”, which has a nice cool edge to it. The best dungeon theme in my opinion, however, is “Mantra Troops”, an ominous piece with downright evil strings and sound effects such as the sound of a cannon blast. Still, the likes of “Kabukicho” and “Kagutsuchi Tower” work better in context.
Themes for characters, endings, and cutscenes complement the rocking battle music and ambient dungeons. Most of them are simple yet effective in their dramatic approach. “The Conception” starts with a bittersweet piano rendition of the main theme and slowly descends into a sinister piece with tense strings and pipe organs, finishing with a ravaging electric guitar and nice use of bass. A similar template is used for most of the cutscenes which start with a sad or mysterious piano and end with tense strings. The same can be said for character themes. That’s not to say these lack imagination or feel boring; on the contrary, they’re one of the more powerful tracks next to battle themes, whether it’s melancholic “Chiaki”, majestic and creepy “Hikawa”, ambitious “Isawa”, or ambivalent “Hijiri”. Ending themes make use of the main theme, each having their own flair, for example, electric guitar driven “Musubi”, “Yosuga” with its heavenly strings, and organ heavy “Shijima”.
There are also three overworld themes and the staff roll. “World Map -Real Universe-” features jazzy synths and sweet electric guitar to convey a relatively optimistic atmosphere. “World Map”, the map theme after Conception (the destruction and rebirth of the world), includes similar synth line playing alongside electric guitars and occasionally the lush piano. Compared to the pre-Conception one, it evokes a sadder image. The last one is “World Map -Last Area-“, which starts off slowly and explodes into a bombastic electric guitar fest. Thanks to its melancholic sound it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album after “Reason Boss Battle” and “Staff Roll”. The album ends with “Staff Roll”, and what a conclusion it is! It’s essentially trademark Meguro. Opening with a soft piano, it gradually evolves, adding pop beats and synthezised strings into the background. Like a human trying to hold its emotions back, tries to calm down, but to no avail, and momentarily bursts into tears, portrayed by a sudden electric guitar introduction which carries the piece to the end with juicy guitar solos. The second loop is even better due to the longer guitar solos. Absolutely the most magnificent track on this album and maybe even in Meguro’s whole repertoire.
Besides Shoji Meguro, two other composers created music for Shin Megami Tensei III. The first, Kenichi Tsuchiya, contributed six tracks. Three of them are the tracks playing in the Cathedral of Shadows, and as such take cues from traditional church music while staying true to the experimental nature of the series. The normal theme for Cathedral is “Heretic Mansion”; mainly focusing on electronic beats and piano, it’s an atmospheric nocturnal piece, but the climax with woodwinds makes it a juxtaposition of synthetic and natural sounds. However, “Heretic Mansion -Bright-“, playing when the moon is full in-game, goes straight for the pure church music with its evil organ, sounding like something from Castlevania games. “Heretic Mansion -Cursed-” is the best Cathedral theme, though, and certainly the most unique. Mixing electronic beats, synthesized voices, and strings, it manages to succeed in every level. Tsuchiya is also the man behind “Puzzle Boy”, an arrangement of “Kichijouji” from Shin Megami Tensei; “Battle -Amala Network-“, a fast-paced battle track missing Meguro’s vocals; and “Game Over”, an ethereal New Age piece.
It seems that Toshiko Tasaki aimed for a quirkier sound. “Jewelry – RAG” is led by a simple glockenspiel tune with a soothing ambient background, while incomprehensible words or syllables voiced by a male and a female pop up from time to time. “Recovery Spring” favors Eastern sounds to mesmerize the listener, and it does well in that regard. That said, “Junk Shop” is easily the worst track on the album because of the extremely repetitive progression.
Without a doubt what Shoji Meguro, Kenichi Tsuchiya, and Toshiko Tasaki did is nothing short of marvellous, and at the very least, unique. The ferocious battle themes, dramatic character themes, ambient dungeon pieces etc., all form a cohesive whole. It should be worth noting, though, that in case of this album the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it shines brighter when it’s listened from straight to end. I recommend everyone who hasn’t picked this up to do it.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Raziel. Last modified on August 1, 2012.