Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- Arrange Tracks
Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- Arrange Tracks
First Smile Entertainment
February 21, 2001
Buy Used Copy
In 2000, the popular Adventure RPG series, Shin Megami Tensei, developed by Atlus, was brought to the Game Boy Color. The game was released in two versions, Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- – Black Book and Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- – Red Book, both which had different characters and story, but identical gameplay. These were considered by many as resembling Pokémon’s cuteness. The composer was Tomoyuki Hamada, quite new to the VGM industry, only having composed for Enix’s Dark Half in 1996, and fully contributed to both Black and Red Books. Soundtracks were planned for both, but cancelled due to low demand. But one year later, Hamada teamed up with Motoi Sakuraba, who was best known for his acclaimed compositions for the Star Ocean series, and they both create an arrange album containing tracks from both Books. The album was unique for two reasons. For Sakuraba, this was the first time he had arranged another person’s work in an arranged album, so an interesting result would be expected; and, for Hamada, he got use of a small two guitarist team which would surely boost the amazement of his arrangements. But the outcome of the album would surely surprise the listener in both good and bad ways.
Motoi Sakuraba opens the album with a power synth rock arrangement of Hamada’s “Reality Theme (Black Book)”. It holds nothing back to pull you into the Shin Megami Tensei world. The electric guitar alongside the synth makes the theme sound a lot like an epic showdown of some sort, but still stands out as being appealing, especially to the people who love battle themes. There is a combination of a techno and normal drum beats, which noticeably add a lot more excitement to the life of the piece, and the composer effectively programs and uses both flawlessly together. This track is also one of the more addictive themes on the album, mainly thanks to Hamada’s engaging melody, but if it weren’t for the arranger’s compelling skills, it would just be a plain old good track. In comparison to Sakuraba’s strong opener, Hamada doesn’t stand as strong in his opening theme, “Reality Theme (Red Book).” It doesn’t grab my attention as much as the former track in terms of remarkable qualities, but on its own, it’s an exceptional arrangement with much to offer. Hamada, unlike Sakuraba, decides to take some advantage with using the two man band, comprising bassist Satoshi Miyashita and guitarist Toshiki Aida. Both have their time to shine with their little solos, Miyashita’s being the more interesting one and because of my unusual fondness for his instrument. Hamada definitely knows how to make a piece entertaining, though I feel this piece can be also be repetitive and sometimes dry at parts.
Regular battle themes are supposed to be energetic but generally not very serious. Hamada does manage to take on this guideline in his arrangement of his own battle theme from Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- – Black Book, but, in very similar circumstances to his previous arrangement, he doesn’t seem to fully understand how to amaze the listener. Once more, the band is put into perfect practice and all players are doing their best, but I can’t help but feel that there seems to be something missing. Maybe it’s the style that the whole track is arranged in, as it seems too light and isn’t too threatening, especially when it comes to that this is a battle theme. I thought Aida’s guitar solo wasn’t necessary and, what’s more, Hamada doesn’t use time efficiently and it is clearly evident in this track more than the others. Sakuraba’s “Battle Theme 4 – Event (Redbook)” is a good example of how less can be more. Hamada used a bass guitarist and an electric guitarist, while Sakuraba only has his synth to utilise, but still manages to produce a better result than the take by his fellow arranger. Not much stylistic diversity has come from the arranger in contrast to his other pieces on the album, but when thinking about it, using another style would have well and truly killed the life of the arrangement. The sound quality is very good for synth, especially the sampling of the electric guitar, brass, and techno beats. However, the generic nature of the original melody is somewhat limiting.
Hamada brings us the first real dark tune, “Demon World Town 3”. I feel this track is one of the weakest arrangements on the entire album. Why? First off, Hamada tends to make the composition drone on and on tiredly, but also tries to get a bit of life into the piece by adding some unusual synth instruments, though it doesn’t succeed as well as it should have. Secondly, no matter how much effort is put into the guitar work, it never seems to go that extra step and accomplish my needs — not even the solo directly after the synth seems to quench them — while the development and track length is a little underwhelming. Easily the most creative arrangement on the album, Sakuraba presents us with a dark electronic track in “Demon Combination Theme”. The electronic harmony is very appealing, being repetitive yet memorable, and is the source of about half of the track’s quirk, even overriding and overpowering the main melody. Due to this, the track isn’t melodic at all, but rather beat-filled and ambient. This could be a problem to some listeners who like more melodic compositions. If you focus enough in the background noises, you can actually hear recorded voices talking to add a more haunting and chilling environment. There’s nothing remotely flawed and expression in the production of the piece, though my only little gripe with the track is its consistent approach.
The first of two contrasting themes, to represent heaven and hell, is arranged by Sakuraba. “Angel’s Theme” is, what the title hints, an angelic arrangement, with a mixture of standard Sakuraba excitement. The arranger uses a lot of his famous style from his many compositions in his token Star Ocean series to form this saintly track and also makes effectual use of the female opera vocals he loves to often utilise. The piano is the real triumphant instrument here and is the key to the holiness of the track. It works incredibly well directly after the orchestral introduction, when the theme suddenly stops to allow the entrance of the instrument; it is simply moving and inspiring. As with the piano, the choral and vocal samples are top-notch, neatly accompanying the other instruments. The second of the two contrasting themes, “Devil’s Theme”, is composed and arranged by Hamada. His light approach to the dark theme is interesting as it once again resembles Iwadare’s approach to the same kind of theme. Compared to Sakuraba’s godly track beforehand, this one doesn’t quite reach that status (in a dark way, of course), but it’s still very good nevertheless. As in just about every other Hamada arrangement on the album, it is mainly synth and guitar driven, but the instrumentation that is contained in this track is more bass guitar and orchestral determined, and I must say that it isn’t half bad, considering there is a lot less guitar to support the other instruments. The melody is very much like something you’d find relating to a Halloween theme, as it contains spooky and freaky features.
Hamada really nailed “Ending,” passing with flying colours and beyond. The idea of having an ending theme almost directly in the middle of the album seemed a bit farfetched at first, but after hearing the track for the first time, the arrangement doesn’t sound conclusive enough to be credited as such a composition. I was instantly hooked on this track from the very start with its synth melody and orchestral backing, but the power of the electric guitar, which enters directly after the introduction, simply takes me away. Aida doesn’t really perform anything complex or awe-inspiring, but the simple chords are exceedingly impressive and do well to help the memorable melody line that Hamada creates. The solo is pretty decent, being the fastest and the catchiest on the album, and is guaranteed to please guitar fanatics even though its length is questionable. Tomoyuki Hamada chose the most obscure pieces for his final arrangement. “Victory,” quite obviously a victory theme, would have been very hard to arrange, and, more importantly, impress the listener, because of its painfully short length. To make things even stranger, the composer hires another guitarist, Ken Yasumichi, to perform the supporting chords in a surf rock style. The weak synth, accompanied by the typical fanfare jingle that actually transitions well on to the guitar, is partly satisfying at first, but I would have loved to have more variability. Indeed, Hamada returns to his old problems with track length and time.
For some, arranging a final battle track can be dangerous as the music itself, but for Motoi Sakuraba, this isn’t a problem. “Final Boss Theme” isn’t progressive rock, but more of a powerful orchestral arrangement mixed with a mean dose of techno and a little bit of opera to emphasise the demonic scenario. The main body comprises of a brass-dominated synth orchestra, which performs the somewhat distant melody and keeps the whole track bunched together. Within the orchestra’s depths, the dark techno beat rages on, keeping the brass and the rest of the ensemble in shape and reflecting the enemy’s menacing form. Finally, the operatic vocals maintains the piece’s natural chaos. The final track, “Title”, is like most of Sakuraba’s main themes — powerful, dreamy, and enticing — and it is apparent that the composer easily made the original seem very average when compared to his own. The overall atmosphere is dark and epic, with some typical Sakuraba instruments to keep the impression the way it is through the entire theme. This theme could have been used in a movie sequence due to it being split up into various segments, from the slow beginning, fast-paced middle, and conclusive ending, and I could see this working much better as an ending composition rather than, say, Hamada’s arrangement of the previously discussed “Ending.
In almost every single collaboration album, there are a good number of flourishing themes and a certain amount of substandard tracks, and, unfortunately, the same problem lies here on this very album. The main issue here is that both arrangers, Sakuraba and Hamada, are affected by quality over quantity, and vice versa. Hamada had the privilege of using real electric and bass guitars, but he suffered from not using time and freedom to his advantage (for example, “Demon World Town 3” and “Victory”) whereas Sakuraba had only his synths, but managed to create some outstanding arrangements and was able to manipulate the use of time (best shown in “Reality Theme (Black Book)” and “Final Boss Theme”). Shown here, there is no question that Hamada was the weaker of the two in terms of arranging, because of the lack of thoughtful and interesting development in his themes, but then he comes up with great additions like “Ending,” which make me wonder if he was just having a relatively bad few days when molding the other tracks. But, if his presence wasn’t included on this arrange album, I’m quite sure that, with just being Sakuraba involved, it would have sounded a lot different, if not for better or worse. Shin Megami Tensei -Devil Children- Game Music Arrange Tracks is a two-sided album, but the great positive qualities more than easily recompense for the little amount of average themes. If you can find it, buy it. It’s well worth your money.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Harry Simons. Last modified on August 1, 2012.