Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack
Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack
First Smile Entertainment
November 18, 1998
Buy Used Copy
Released in 1998 by Enix, Star Ocean: The Second Story was an RPG that pushed the boundaries in many ways. Offering the option of choosing between a male and female protagonist, it encouraged multiple playthroughs; the story, while generally the same between them, offered aspects of the story that could only be discovered by playing as both characters. In addition, the multiple endings in the game as well as the multiple difficulty levels was something not seen in many RPGs at the time. Composed by Motoi Sakuraba, the soundtrack to the game also broke the mold for many RPGs at the time. Utilizing his progressive rock background, he was able to create a rather refreshing score for an RPG. How well does he do? You’ll just have to read to find out.
Star Ocean: The Second Story was the first tri-Ace game I had ever played. At the same time, it was also the first time I had been exposed to Motoi Sakuraba’s work. The PlayStation era had its fair amount of gems by reputable composers with whom I was familiar, such as Nobuo Uematsu and his Final Fantasy VIII score as well as Yasunori Mitsuda and his Chrono Cross score. Having mainly listened to them in my early years of video game music, I was used to the powerful melodies provided from Uematsu and the stirring, emotional pieces with ethnic influences from Mitsuda. However, when I first heard the music in the context of the game, I was utterly amazed. I thought it worked wonderfully in context.
The battle themes, with all their variety and quantity, were surprising, as most RPGs at the time utilized only a single battle and boss theme, aside from the final battle. The progressive rock style was also something that instantly captured my heart. “Stab the Sword of Justice,” the normal battle theme, is a driving piece with an intense percussion rhythm and a mixture of a pseudo-brass / synth melodies to comprise the meat of the piece. Exhilarating and intense, I looked forward going into every battle I could. Ten years later, I’m still not bored with it. While only a single battle theme was used, there were a ton of boss battle themes. “Dynamite,” the normal boss theme, showcases Sakuraba’s ability to pump up the listener. Focused more on chaotic synth work, it creates this feeling of intensity that matched the hectic nature of many bosses. “Incarnation of Devil” is just one of the many fine examples of a perfectly executed progressive rock battle theme from Sakuraba. The biggest draw for this battle theme is its amazing melody. It’s catchy, works well with the accompaniment, and best of all, the way it changes as it progresses. There are parts that are heavily focused on the bass, and there are times where Sakuraba decides to improvise. In the end, it’s a culmination of the best things about Sakuraba’s battle themes. He must love it as much as I do because it finds its way onto every tri-Ace game he’s worked on!
Battles with the true villains of the game, and I’ll avoid spoilers, were definitely where my favorite battle themes were features. Themes like “Tangency” and “Mighty Blow” with their chaotic nature truly portrayed the intense and evil nature of these enemies. In both the synth and percussion work, Sakuraba is able to craft amazing rhythms and harmonies. “Beast of Prey” is a rather interesting boss theme. To be honest, when I first heard it, I was a bit put off by it. However, the longer the battle went on, the more I couldn’t get enough of it. Utilizing a harpsichord synth over the familiar progressive rock percussion work featured on the album was something I would have never thought of. In the end, it worked wonders. My personal favorite battle theme belongs to my favorite battle as well. The final battle theme, “Integral Body and Imperfect Soul,” takes a major departure from the majority of the battle themes. While it still has that progressive feel to it, mainly in the accompanying percussion, the raw power and emotion behind this piece is stirring. Extremely evil in nature, it does so much to really showcase how insane the final boss really is. After hearing it in game, I was blown away. It’s quite the fitting end for the ultimate battle.
So I’ve talked about my love for Sakuraba’s battle themes, yet at the time I played this, I expected evocative melodies and emotion. Well, fortunately, Sakuraba was able to deliver in that department as well. In fact, some of my favorite soothing pieces came from my experience with this game. From the moment you step foot on Expel, you are greeted with a harmonious creation, “The Venerable Forest,” featuring woodwinds, harpsichord, and harp. It’s an extremely beautiful piece that conjures up images of a forest. Even after stepping out of the forest for the first time, I expected something more akin to a Uematsu town theme, but my expectations were surpassed once again. Keeping with the same instrumentation and overall flow of the piece as “The Venerable Forest, “Pure a Stream,” the first town theme, simply made me stop playing the game and listen to the town theme for about 15 minutes. It’s a breathtaking piece full of emotion and peace. The emotion doesn’t stop there though. “Cuddle” plays as you are ready to set off on your adventure into the great expanse of Exper. The beautiful, flowing passages heard in this theme have an adventurous sound to them, while still retaining the peace and harmony heard in “The Venerable Forest” and “Pure a Stream.”
Moving from the emotional pieces that utilize flowing woodwinds, it brings us to, in my opinion, one of the most emotional pieces of the PlayStation era. The feeling that Sakuraba instilled within “Theme of Rena” is absolutely breathtaking. Hauntingly beautiful, the entire premise of the piece relies on powerful operatic vocals with a simple harp accompaniment. As the piece advances, woodwind and strings are added, only heightening the beauty and mystery of the piece. It’s a very fitting character theme for a character whose past is shrouded in mystery. In addition to the main theme, this theme can be heard in a few other pieces. There is also a music box version of the theme. While not as emotionally stirring as its counterpart, it still has that inherent air of mystery and beauty about it. “A Quirk of Fate” opens the second disc and is a very haunting arrangement of “Theme of Rena.” It focuses more on strings and woodwind passages, with some harp arpeggios, at an increased tempo to create something that retains all the qualities of the original. The last arrangement of “Theme of Rena” can be heard in “Lose One’s Illusion.” This is, by far, the saddest arrangement. Acoustic guitar, brass, and strings are the dominant aspect of this version. With these instrument choices, Sakuraba is able to create a version that seems bogged down with a heightened sense of sadness. It, along with every other version of this theme, is the one piece I looked forward to hearing whenever I played this game.
Another clear difference from my normal experience with Square Enix RPGs that I mainly played at the time was the way in which dungeon themes were written. Most of Uematsu’s and Mitsuda’s dungeon themes were very befitting. Creating a perfect balance, for the most part, with the area it was depicting in the game, it was always a treat to hear what was in store whenever I would traverse a new dungeon. Boy, was I surprised when I first heard the dungeon themes in this game?! Not to say they were bad, far from that, but they definitely shattered the mold of how I viewed dungeon themes from henceforth. The first dungeon you encounter, in order to save Rena, had an aptly named “Rescue Operation” piece that played in the background. Full of energy and in a progressive rock style, it was motivating and full of urgency. It was quite fitting for the game and it’s one of those aspects that instantly drew me to Sakuraba’s music. The mixture of brass, pulsating percussion, and synthesized keyboard work was a marvelous creation and one I fell in love with instantly. It’s still one of my favorite dungeon themes from Sakuraba! In fact, many of the progressive focused dungeon themes were absolutely amazing in my playthrough of this game.
The best dungeon theme on the first disc, and at the real climax of the game, came with “KA.MI.KA.ZE.” Take one part pulsing and energetic percussion, mix it with one part pulsing brass, and add an extremely catchy melody and you’ll get this result. It’s an absolute marvel, despite being rather straightforward, and really fits the urgency of the situation encountered in the game. This game also spawned my love for one of my favorite dungeon themes of all time, and definitely within the Star Ocean universe. “Mission to the Deep Space” is a progressive rock piece near and dear to my heart. Featured in EVERY Star Ocean game to date, since the re-release of the original Star Ocean on the PSP, it must be one of Sakuraba’s defining pieces for the series as well. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s extremely well-crafted piece of music, filled with futuristic synth, amazing percussion and keyboard work, and brass melodies. The final dungeon theme, “The Ultimate Terror,” departs from the norm for dungeon themes on this soundtrack, but it’s extremely fitting. It’s a very dark piece filled with bass guitar, crashing percussion, and extremely foreboding synth and string harmonies.
The ending music for the game is also rather emotional. “Resolution” is a fairly straightforward piano piece. While nothing ultimately spectacular, the way the piano climaxes as the piece progresses is really nice. “We Form in Crystals,” while being one of my least favorite Sakuraba ending themes in retrospect, really finishes off the game quite nicely. It’s a very ethereal piece, full of violin passages and choral accents. While the accompaniment can be rather repetitive after a while, it’s the beauty of the melody that really makes it a worthwhile listen. The main theme for the game (and series, subsequently) is also rather spectacular. “Star Ocean Forever” is a heroic composition filled with futuristic sounds with hints of “Mission to the Deep Space” interspersed throughout it. The brass melody is intoxicating and the militaristic percussion that accompaniment makes for a well-crafted composition.
To put it bluntly, Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of my favorite Playstation era soundtracks. The soundtrack release does have some flaws, such as the inclusion of every instrument theme that can be played in the game to help accentuate various skills in the item creation system. Nevertheless, overall it’s a fantastic release. Full of amazing battle themes, dungeon themes, and emotion, it’s what first drew me into the world of Motoi Sakuraba. Sure, he may not always be the freshest of composers in terms of musical ideas, but his progressive rock is always enjoyable. In my opinion, his work on all the Star Ocean titles his where most of his creativity is truly shown, and while this is not his best Star Ocean soundtrack in terms of the technical details (that one belongs to Star Ocean: Till the End of Time), it is easily the Star Ocean soundtrack that is the most successful on a personal level. I highly recommend this one to all fans of Motoi Sakuraba or those who are looking for something a bit different from the VGM scene. Since it was just recently re-released as Star Ocean: Second Evolution, you might want to pick up the soundtrack if you haven’t already.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.