Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack
Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack
First Smile Entertainment
November 18, 1998
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The original Star Ocean, developed by tri-Ace for the Super Nintendo, was never released in the overseas market. Many people imported the Japanese gem to find that it was well worth their money, also realizing a number of good features within the game, mainly the graphics and the music. The composer was a man by the name of Motoi Sakuraba, who had worked on small amount of video games in the past, but little did he know about his success until the sequel to the game was announced in 1998. Star Ocean -The Second Story- was the first of the games to be released outside of Japan into the US and European market which resulted, surprisingly, in an accomplishment to the industry. Sakuraba had returned to compose for the sequel, and since it was made available to North America and Europe, the composer’s name was much more recognized. The soundtrack to the game was critically acclaimed, finally giving Sakuraba the praise he was asking for, and, with that, he set foreword accomplishing much more. But what made Star Ocean -The Second Story-‘s soundtrack so good? Read on and find out.
Introductions have always proven to be a strong point in the indestructible force of Sakuraba, as proven on the original Star Ocean Soundtrack, but compared to the preceding chapter, he attempts a more straightforward approach with the combination of both “At the Crack of Dawn” and “Silent the Universe.” While the former is a short introductory theme, “Silent the Universe” is a full-on Sakuraba-esque epic that gives a large taste of what the remaining of the album will sound like, and also contains excellent signs of construction and thought that are apparent through its comprehensive development. It is easily one of the most memorable tracks on the album. In “Feel Refreshed,” Sakuraba takes a well-deserved break from the orchestral style and molds a delightful piano solo. It is completely obvious that similar sound equipment and chords from the composer’s previous piano solos (more noticeably “Elegy for the Bewildered” from the Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack) were borrowed to form this charming title. It is nothing as impressive as its formers, though. “A Feeling of Oppression” isn’t anything special or a great listen, but the harmonies and the wide melody are flowing and true to the name of the Star Ocean series. “A Feeling of Oppression” must have been used in a short cut scene, as shown by its conclusive ending and lack of repetition. It, to me, sounds like the prologue of the adventure, bearing in mind that “Silent the Universe” was introducing us to the extensive galaxy. The chilling atmosphere the track invokes creates a vision of the great power that a dominating adversary has against the vastness of space and time; Sakuraba makes excellent use of the melody (which appears later in the Original Soundtrack) to effectively emphasise these images further.
Following the impressive introduction, three highly notable electronica compositions pursue and maintain the high quality of the already exhilarating album. The first one, “Electrical Dance,” may have been used for a danger track, with the enemies swarming all around the heroes, stopping them from progressing deeper into the journey and discovering the many secrets of the universe. At first, this track seemed underdeveloped, leaving much to be desired, but after reconsidering its position where I thought it was used in the game, it sounded a whole lot clearer, showing its true purpose. Granted if you liked the track or not, it perfectly leads into the next techno / electronica based track, “Stab the Sword of Justice,” the regular battle theme. When compared to “Tense Atmosphere,” used for the common action sequences in the first Star Ocean, it stands up well. Its predecessor, while very well-implemented and built on curving grace, failed to show true meaning of power with virtually no intensity; Sakuraba learns from this mistake and molds a truly unforgettable theme that remains to date his strongest battle track. The thing that makes it so unique is the way its instrumentation and melodic development is so much more powerful than the composer’s previous combat themes. His standard pulsating bass guitar rages while the striking synth (that, to my knowledge, is supposed to be an electric guitar) performs a melody that appears to be the musical embodiment of raw power. It’s so good, however, that the subsequent track, the victory fanfare “Strike Your Mind,” is completely overshadowed. The track itself is better than most victory themes and is fitting in all aspects, but following such an awesome composition beforehand, it definitely lacks interest, though this is not an uncommon feature for the average video game soundtrack.
As the name suggests, “Pure a Stream” is noticeably pure, presenting a heavenly essence and providing us with a blissful musical break from the concentrated electronic tracks before. As appropriately as possible, Sakuraba uses the flute and focuses it on the melody, creating a fairly beautiful tune with a natural feeling. He also manages to construct a thoughtful harmony with the symphonic strings and provides an even more delightful feeling with the bells; this sadness is nicely emphasised further in the next track, “Mist Began to Form,” even if it is short. Following these sentimental themes, we dig deeper into the magnificent world of the composer and find one of the two outstanding overworld tracks, “Field of Exper.” In comparison to the second world theme, this one has less diversity but its stronger musical composition makes up for this easily. Beside from the ending theme, “We Form in Crystals,” “Field of Exper” is one of the longest tracks on the entire double disc set, so, in a way, the quality of the track should be outstanding and Sakuraba doesn’t fail to impress me here. With its booming string melodies, constantly crashing percussion, and atmospheric interludes, everything works exceedingly well.
By now, you might be asking why there haven’t been any lighter pieces on the Original Soundtrack. Well, finally, we are offered a little medieval town theme by the name of “Weathercock.” The warm feeling made available is a refreshing change from all the intense string pieces and may even offer temporary relief for the people who don’t like Sakuraba’s orchestration. This feeling is continued with “Rescue Operation,” which is an excellent mid tempo rush theme, which has an awfully addictive melody and does exactly what is needed in the one minute it plays. What makes it more powerful is the way that the next track, “Cuddle,” follows it. You receive a sort of welcoming sensation that suits the situation well after the preceding rescue scene. After these tracks, the albums spotlight turns to happier themes, with one short-lived theme and one average composition; both are entirely void from the rest of the soundtrack, though it is nice to see some diversity over the huge mass of tracks related to the symphonic genre. Luckily, we are put back on track with “Sacred Song,” one of the most famous pieces to come out of the Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack. It features a large mildly-hard-to-hear-but-obviously-there choir and deafening cymbal crashes mixed with a bad trumpet synth sample. Nonetheless, the result is amazing and inspirational. The reason? Its development is heavenly, having several remarkable sections (i.e. the middle) and this is an excellent example of what features Star Ocean music is famously built on.
As we approach the halfway point of the first disc, we come across some unusual and excellently produced themes that are sure to grab your honest attention. The first one, “Misty Rain,” is the most obscure. It’s not clear what type of instrument Sakuraba sampled (it sounds very alike to either a harpsichord, acoustic guitar or electric guitar) but the composition itself is a very ominous take on the ambience genre and is made efficient due to a repetitive motif playing three notes and then pausing before starting again. “Heraldic Emblem” comes a close second, though isn’t quite as strange as the previous track mentioned due to its purposeful sound! The composer successfully and suitably produces an eerie atmosphere with the deep ‘cello and the loud echoing drum kit, generating a perfect scene to accompany spies trading valuable information. One cannot overlook this album without hearing “Pyroxene,” a very pirate-like tune, assorted with the classic high-pitched four note flute and hollow percussion. Despite its abnormal name (which is a group of important rock-forming silicate minerals found in many igneous and metamorphic rocks), it works well to create the sense of tropical surrounding, feeling like you’re in the middle of an island ruled by scallywags and scavengers. An interesting listen indeed.
Of course, the Original Soundtrack gets itself back into exciting nature with the final tracks on the first CD. “Intangible Body” could be described as a more interesting version of “Mist Rain.” It has the same instrument that plays the three notes, but the differences are that it is performed in a lower octave, has a bass guitar, and contains a lot more diversity. A similar high-quality choir from “Sacred Song” also makes an appearance but is darker more sinister. To my understanding, “KA.MI.KA.ZE” is used during an important and crucial event in the last section of the first disc, and to that, Sakuraba continues to surprise me with his electronica-crammed action piece. First off, he opens the track with a doomsday jingle, then unites his synth and a techno pattern with ease, and finally manifests a rushed mood. “Decisive Battle” isn’t what the title suggests, as it is not a battle theme, rather a confrontation track that is played before the last fight on the disc. As expected, it is brooding, but only in the first half, while the second shows a build up in suspense by means of militaristic percussion and rising strings. It noticeably gets you prepared for the next piece, which happens to be the major battle track “The Climax of the Tower.” I’m not too fond of the secondary and supporting melody in this composition. It feels loose and often uninspired, especially at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad; for instance, the energy and thrill factor compensates for its lack of immediate enjoyment and I can also see this working brilliantly in immediate context with the game. Alike to most RPG soundtracks, Sakuraba choose to end the CD with a soothing yet enigmatic piece called “Mysterious Dreams,” which I think the composer was trying to keep the listener interested but also incomplete, forcing them to move onto the next chapter. It’s nice and does provide a little bit satisfaction, even if it isn’t the greatest track to keep you motivated.
(There are actually 16 other tracks following “Mysterious Dreams,” but they are only about 40 seconds each, featuring merely solo instrument samples. Nothing worth commenting in detail about, though they worked nicely in the game.)
Considering how much praise I have given the first disc, the second one is ultimately stronger, being more focused and having a lot less filler (or uninspired) themes. It even has an excellent opening composition that could well and truly rival the greatness of “Silent the Universe.” “A Quirk of Fate” is exactly how one should compose for the field: considerately and immaculately. Sakuraba bases the track on the much latter fantasy composition, “Theme of RENA,” and arranges it into a full grown Sci-Fi epic to rival any other orchestral arrangement the composer has ever done. The amount of emotion and power pressed into the piece is nothing the mouth can word, even surpassing the original version in most ways due to impressive simplicity and expert orchestration; it certainly is a bold and standout track, commendable for pushing the emotion over the edge. “The Dim Light of Dusk” takes form of a beautiful but unfortunately short guitar solo. Sure, its length is an issue, but it is unquestionably memorable, though it’s not clear why it is so. But feelings of happiness and tranquility would soon be crashing down, for the next track, “Desert Island” is regrettably a filler piece resulting in a huge mess of sounds and noises that sounds simply ear piercing, especially after two ravishing delicacies. Thankfully, the soundtrack returns back to its normal state and grants us “Lose One’s Illusions,” a most wonderful interpretation of the “Theme of RENA.” Unlike other versions, this one has a decent amount of instrumental diversity, ranging from the acoustic guitar to symphonic strings; it also includes very nice scales of bells and some heavenly flute samples, yet it doesn’t seem to quite surpass the earlier theme, mainly because the orchestration isn’t nearly as prominent.
“Hydrangea” marks the composer’s second dive into medieval music on the album. The track is heavily guitar-based, supported by a small variety of different instruments, including the ever so airy harpsichord and the elegant flute. The trio paints an appropriately delicate picture of a town. It will come to a surprise that, after such a lazy composition, we are greeted with a large production such as “Field of Nede.” Stated earlier, the variety in this overworld theme overpowers its competition, mainly due to more instrumental and composing diversity, but it’s less enjoyable by the fact that it has slightly weaker structure and the melody is less memorable. The most important feature about the piece is its rich and vibrant harmonies. They bond vigorously together with the primary line of music, strengthening the emotion and overall effect of the piece. “Endlessly” is one of those tracks that is undoubtedly good, but could have been improved on in a number of ways. First, while it has good synth quality, remastering the track would work wonders, as it sounds rather weak as it standards; this is especially so in the bass, which I felt sounded, at times, incredibly tacky in comparison to everything else. Second, for the type of music that Sakuraba does best (Progressive Rock), it doesn’t stand very well, but I’m not certain why this is the case. It simply doesn’t feel complete. Going back to Sakuraba’s sentimental side, the next such piece he conceives is “Teary,” a deep and thoughtful creation. Using a harp, flute and gorgeous strings, he shares with us agonising and tear jerking images that can saturate somebody’s positive state of mind into an unwillingly depressed condition. Perhaps one of the most beautiful tracks on the disc. But you won’t be able to understand the musical power of the previous endeavor until you experience the amazing “Breezy Afternoon,” the spiritual sequel. The composition was used as the flying theme in the game and I can safely say that it works well in both circumstances inside the game and outside of it. I would call describe it as light and heroic, because the flutes and militaristic percussion supported equally well by the epic strings. It certainly is a marvelous creation from beginning to end.
Everybody remembers such memorable character themes as “Tina” by Nobuo Uematsu or “Chrono Trigger” by Yasunori Mitsuda, but Sakuraba, being the daredevil he is, tries one of his own. “Theme of RENA” is what many people deem to be the most heartrending character theme of all time, and there’s no question why this is so widely thought. Experimenting with his incredible vocal selection, the composer goes with female operatic and shapes it, with help of the melody, into a beautiful and always interesting character track. Now, although this theme doesn’t rank quite as up with his other famous compositions (e.g. “Incarnation of the Devil”), it is very famous on the Star Ocean -The Second Story- Original Soundtrack alone and is arranged several times throughout the entire album. “The Vulnerable Forest” is the first of them and is also the weakest variation, but still is very good nonetheless. It features a nice flute to portray the melody and lush instruments to fabricate the forest, though it could have been stronger if it were longer and more developed. The theme also has a brief appearance in the first field map, “Field of Exper,” but it only resides in the track for a brief period of time. After “A Quirk of Fate” (which was discussed earlier), the character theme appears in a musical box form, called “Theme of RENA (Music Box),” and, while nice, doesn’t have the same effect as the following version, which is the themes true form. “Theme of RENA” could be best stated as ‘the original and the best; however, “A Quirk of Fate” is also entertaining at the very least.
“Mission to Deep Space” is, like both the “Field of…” themes, another long track on the album. It is a blend between orchestral and rock, and I must admit that it works well. The rock side of the piece easily outshines the orchestral area, but sounds fairly balanced as well. It has become a classic theme since its appearance on this album. Approaching the climax of the album, we see a reasonable amount of suspense and attack themes, and coming right off the bat at number one is “Shiver.” I think it’s rather obvious what Sakuraba was trying to represent in this track; rushed, fast-paced action, and I don’t think anybody could have pulled this one off any better than the composer himself. “Tangency” is a fitting lead on from “Shiver.” Noticing how the previous theme was less rushed, you can tell that this track was used for a major conclusive battle, and, while not the absolute best climactic rushed theme, it’s certainly up there. Like most of the other battle compositions, it borders techno / electronica, though; it can’t ever be classified as the genre because of its progression and lack of mass electronic instruments. “Invade” is, quite perceptibly, an invasion theme. While it has the right idea, Sakuraba doesn’t develop the theme effectively, with the result being that it sounds like something someone would play during a coronation. It’s because of the non-driving strength that it presents that inflames this theory, and going deeper, it fails to catch my attention. I know that it probably doesn’t deserve criticism because it is actually a very good piece, but it still sounds inappropriate. The last of the suspenseful themes is possibly the best gripping composition on this album. “Fight to the Last” is slow, dark, and foreboding. After an impressive build up, the ‘cello helps to emphasise the shadowy nature of the piece, immediately telling the listener that great power lays ahead. This is when the soundtrack gets to its peak.
With the mass amount of major enemies in the game (or more commonly known as “The Ten Wise Men”), Sakuraba would have need to compose several themes for each significant battle. The upcoming tracks are used for these unavoidable encounters. “Beast of Pray,” as well as this being the second best battle theme on the album (first is “Stab the Sword of Justice”), luckily sends a most welcoming thrill. It’s just like any other battle theme when it comes to diversity and style, but goes that one step further with the focused electronica beat and the rushed harpsichord motifs. This is definitely a theme you would want to play full volume out of your stereo to impress (or annoy) your neighbours. Quite sadly, the successful theme isn’t effectively ensued. “Mighty Blow,” half the time, is in complete chaos. Everything about it is amuck including the synth (which strangely reminds me somehow of a racing game), the arranging, and most importantly, the composition, which, much to my disappointment, doesn’t blend in anywhere near as well as the other tracks of its kind. I may also point out that this is another of the few exceptions on the album that better synth would have been a major improvement. Most fortunately, this trait does not carry on into the following trademark Sakuraba piece. Most certainly one of his most famous additions to video game music, the composer creates “Incarnation of the Devil.” The theme itself has gone through many transitions and arrangements (found on almost every tri-Ace soundtrack) from the organ heavy adaptation on Star Ocean -Till the End of Time- Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 to the similar version on Valkyrie Profile Original Soundtrack, but the original variation on this album, though weaker in arrangement, is stronger than most in spirit. Musically, it’s not complicated; in fact, it’s amazingly simple, but simple things can also be excellent delicacies, providing instant satisfaction if one would crave this.
Excitement aside, we take a break and venture into the final dungeon theme, “The Ultimate Terror.” This proves to be anything but satisfactory. It is evident that Sakuraba didn’t spend much time on it at all, as shown by its very short track time, failed harmonies, and wrong choice of instruments. It is simply a few strings playing some semi-creepy chords with the occasional action section. One thing’s for sure: I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time wandering throughout this dungeon. “Can You Say Yes With Your Eyes Open” has the same effect as “Fight to the Last” had; suspenseful and moody, and, while not as interesting as the former, it has a conclusive feeling that serves as a more intellectual way to follow onto the final battle. “Integral Body, Imperfect Soul” can be viewed in both ways: 1) it is a successful final battle track with some flaws, or 2) it is a failure with a small amount a pleasurable features. Personally, I’d pick the second one, as, in comparison to all the other battle themes (with a few exceptions), and being a final battle composition, it fails to depict immediate danger, which, ironically, other smaller battle themes did a lot better at. But seriously, a wrong decision was made by choosing to develop the theme with prolonged organ and harpsichord passages; I would have been more happier, not to mention complete, with another progressive rock / electronica piece.
The ending themes on the original soundtrack are some of the finest created by the composer. They are very varied from the elegancy of “Resolution” to the impenetrability of “We Form in Crystals,” but they all share one thing in common, and that is they are all magnificent. “The Fateful Moment” is played directly after the final battle. It is obviously used for an FMV cut scene due to the fact that it has an ending, and it is an outstanding piece, despite its short length. Coming fresh from “Integral Body, Imperfect Soul,” Sakuraba continues utilizing the organ with the healthy addition of the choir and some slight help from the percussion and harp. To put it simply, the piece is epic, and not only is it full of ideas, but it provides a thoughtful workout on the mind as you can visualize major event occurring in the vastness of space. The music created in “Resolution” is tear jerking. Like much earlier in the original soundtrack with “Feel Refreshed,” the theme is a piano solo (and, yet again, bares similarities to “Elegy of the Bewildered”) and, while I believe it could have surpassed its finished state by more development, it really wraps things up the album exceptionally along with putting to rest some of the unfinished ties of he game.
Many consider Sakuraba Ending theme, “We Form in Crystals,” to be his strongest conclusion track ever. Practically, it’s just a repeated secondary melody which accompanies the main melody that doesn’t have many transitions or a lot of instrumental variety. The idea of the composition sounds simple, but believe me, it’s not as it seems. The problem with having two melodies is that, on most occasions, they have to be parallel to one another, but Sakuraba completely takes this predicament out with ease, arranging the track with not only two melodies, but a whole lot more. The amazement of this theme starts off with the guitar and a synth slowly fading in, and as they continue to play the same notes, more and more ideas and instruments come flowing in to assist the two. Progressively, the piece becomes more complicated and harder to understand, and with the entrance of the mystical choir, the emotions become much deeper. Slowly, it dies down with the subtraction and addition of more instruments, including bass and symphonic strings. The track then comes to a balance with the violin’s entrance, which plays until the tracks finish at 5:49. Besides from “Stab the Sword of Justice,” this is the most rewarding theme that is presented on the soundtrack. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to finish such a celebrated album.
Ever since before this album was made, Motoi Sakuraba had been a partially well-known composer — a respectable man who was known for, back then, variable style. Releasing this Original Soundtrack was the single best thing that could have happened to him. The amount of different compositions and styles on hand are alone worth the purchase, and the sheer quality that they are composed in also qualifies. The great thing is, you don’t have to like orchestral music, yet, you would still enjoy the other genres offered; for example, you could buy this album for the large amount of battle music but hate the symphonic additions. Standout gems from each field include “Silent the Universe,” “Stab the Sword of Justice,” “Sacred Song,” and “We Form in Crystals,” all which are fantastic in their own right. The quality of the synth is also some of the best found on the PlayStation, though it is no rival for superior sound quality found on such albums as Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack or even Sakuraba’s later work on the Valkyrie Profile Original Soundtrack. While it sounds great on most occasions, sometimes it can be a real ear grater and sound much more like a Super Nintendo chip tune rather than its superior and more advanced form. It may interest some that this soundtrack is the first album from the Star Ocean series to be released, and, even though it’s prequel’s sound quality was for the Super Nintendo, an album was released with all the compositions but with higher quality than the sequel.
You must buy this Original Soundtrack. It has some of the best tunes that the composer has ever recorded waiting for you on its double disc set. Any true Sakuraba fan, or even a Star Ocean supporter, needs to have this in their collection, as you won’t feel complete without it.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Harry Simons. Last modified on August 1, 2012.