Star Ocean -Blue Sphere- Arrange & Sound Trax
Star Ocean -Blue Sphere- Arrange & Sound Trax
Scitron Digital Contents
August 22, 2001
Buy Used Copy
The last great role-playing game that Enix released for the SNES was the tactfully designed and graphically profound Star Ocean, and although this game never left its home country, the PlayStation sequel, namely Star Ocean: The Second Story was greeted as a revolutionary RPG in foreign lands. With this great history behind the series, tri-Ace soon designed Star Ocean: Blue Sphere in 2001 for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. But, with some bad planning along the line, or alternatively a total disregard of the sales boom in the USA, they once again made it a Japan only release. So, due to this, I sincerely doubt that many of you will have experienced the score either. Sakuraba, who composed the music for the two prior games in the series, is also the creator of the score for this game. So, with his style already an established asset to the series, this album features much of the same type of music from him, with some arrangements of the original themes from the game and the original themes themselves being featured.
Many game music fans or fans of the Star Ocean series will have a poor reaction to the soundtrack section of this album, as, although the music itself has potential, the Game Boy sound quality is off-putting and it severely limits the development of the tracks, too. Even so, this is a feature of the album that can be easily conquered by some open-mindedness and respect for Sakuraba, who pushes the system to its limits throughout. Nonetheless, the album publisher Scitron Digital Contents ensures that the arranged tracks are recognized as the main content of the album by placing them on the first disc. I intend to write about this part of the album after an analysis of the original soundtrack section, as although it is slightly unorthodox, it is important that the original themes are established first for a precise comparison of the two discs.
The second disc is introduced with “Star Ocean Forever” and “Myth of Fate,” which are two grand tracks that share the same melody. The idea of having a drum line playing against some high-pitched synth, which is typical of the rest of the album, is introduced in these tracks. The melody is appealing in “Star Ocean Forever,” but in “Myth of Fate,” it is beyond this, as the upbeat development that the track holds is definitely a positive enhancement. The next track that we hear is “Pacifism,” and this, combined with “The Surface of the Blue Sphere,” acts as the main introduction to the gameplay. “Pacifism” sounds extremely pure whereas “The Surface of the Blue Sphere” sounds decisively grand and glorious. So, although the two contrast in nature, they come together perfectly to create a flawless start to the RPG. Overall, ignoring the Game Boy synth, Sakuraba gives the game the best start that it could have hoped for. Unfortunately, the rest of the disc is a mixed bag, but as per usual, he entertains the listener with a captivating mixture of different emotions.
The most prominent themes at the start of the original soundtrack section are light-hearted and jolly, so it probably won’t surprise you that the next theme is the hearty and joyous “Peace of Mind.” Admittedly, this track is horribly restricted by the Game Boy’s synth, but, it also holds a strong melody, despite a lack of harmony. The next instance of a light-hearted track is “Greed City.” This track is completely melodic, and it features a great developed section in which three melodies come together to turn it into a heartfelt theme. Although this track is far from being epic, Sakuraba ensures that the contrasts in rhythm and melodic variety work well together. “Greed City” is definitely the most complex light-hearted track; yet, with tracks like the simplistic “Victory Pose!!” preceding it, this isn’t much of an accomplishment! All in all, each of these tracks has potential, but Sakuraba fails to fulfil this in most cases with a considerable lack of crescendos, diminuendos, or intriguing harmonies.
As ever, the rest of the disc is littered with dark and ghastly themes that aim to build up tension as the final destination gets closer and closer. So, with a cocktail of mysterious and eerie vibes, “Treasure Hunter” is the first of these. This is one of the better themes from the original score, as with a moving harmony, a great melody, and an effective developed section, it truly rings out amongst a majority of the other tracks. “A Heavy Heart” is another great theme, and in comparison to “Treasure Hunter,” it is much more atmospheric. The start of the track is eerie and mysterious and Sakuraba even adds echo effects to the melodic line to enhance the atmosphere, and then, he even moves the track into a section that holds a single melody and a simplistic harmony. Although the two sections are very different in nature, they work together superbly; one can almost envision a mournful person who has lost something close to them. The next track, “Forsaken Wastes” is an example of a theme that never really reached its full potential. This track features an impressive melodic run that explores the full range of the instrument, but, due to a lack of dynamic contrasts, it never fulfils its intended effect. Overall, his atmospheric tracks are a mixed bag, but the impressive themes that he does offer here are amongst the best from the original score.
As well as this, there are a number of battle tracks in this section of the album, but in all honesty, they could never reach their full power with the limitations posed by the system. The first of such battle themes, “Like the River Styx” is a turmoil filled battle theme that features a pulsating rhythm and an eerie melodic line, and the next, “No Mercy” is similar in style, but this time Sakuraba focuses mainly on an erratic harmony rather than a crazy melody. Each of these themes is effective in its own right, but he misses one key element each time, and this is development. He finally hits the spot with “Death is the Great Leveler,” a track that starts off with a suspense filled bass line that makes way for a captivating melodic line. The asset of this track that makes it superior to “Like the River Styx” is its tension enhancing harmony that constantly falls to give an image of death and fear. The pace of this track also adds to its battle-like atmosphere; yet, Sakuraba also shows us how effective the track can be when it is slow paced, too. “Created, Destroyed, and Regenerated” features the same melody, yet it is just as eerie and suspense filled as “Death is the Great Leveler.” The lack of power is sadly evident in all of these themes.
The ending themes for the original score are average and nothing too original. “There is Nothing Permanent Except Change” is the first of these, and despite its contradictive title, it proves to be an exception in that it creates an impressive atmosphere. This is one of the few tracks that hold back from piercing your ear drums with the Game Boy synth that they hold, and due to this, it is relaxing, if not pleasant. “Serene Heart” is the next theme, and, although the track title may suggest something peaceful and ambient, the sharp Game Boy synth completely obliterates anything soft and gentle. The bass line in this track moves up and down the scale whereas the melody repeats the same pattern of rises and falls over and again, so, it is pretty unoriginal in this area. “Challenger From the Other Side” is another track that features towards the end of the album, but in all honesty, it isn’t threatening or climactic at all. The last theme on the album is “Penance,” and although it holds an intriguing melody, it hardly excels above the other tracks on the album. This is truly a poor climax to the original score, and this is down to the poor sound capacity of the system.
Sakuraba is hardly at fault here, as although his themes are frequently underdeveloped and harmonically bare, he tries his best to push the Game Boy’s sound capacity to its limits. The majority of this section of the album is built up from tracks that could never reach their full potential, but, with Sakuraba’s sound manipulation skills coming into play, there are a few good themes, too. “Star Ocean Forever,” “A Heavy Heart,” and “There is Nothing Permanent Except Change,” are all great tracks, and the best thing is that they all feature different emotions, too. Sakuraba shows us here that there is always a way around a problem, which, in this case, was a major one to solve. It’s a pity that he couldn’t wave his magic on the rest of the tracks on the album, but at least his compositions satisfy the gameplay, if not the listener. Nonetheless, this part of the album is merely a bonus CD, and it is the arranged CD that should be focussed on the most. So, if you have been disappointed so far, don’t turn your head, as there is a lot more to come.
Moving to the arranged tracks, “Myth of Fate” starts off the arranged section perfectly. The melody in this track is repeated later on in “Star Ocean Forever,” which just happens to end the album. This rendition of the melody is just as effective, as with some atmospheric instrumentation being present, it rings out beautifully. At first, the track takes a calm and buoyant stance, and it is through a piano melody and some airy instrumentation that the melody is first presented. Sakuraba builds this section up well, and through a solid build up and the addition of some brass instruments, the initial atmosphere becomes more triumphant and pride filled. This section continues until the one minute mark where a new, but short, mystical section is added. This mystical section soon results with a recapulation of the grandiose part of the track, but this time, a piano plays the main melody and everything is played in a subtler fashion. Sakuraba makes sure that the pride of the triumphant section returns, however; increasing the volume of the track and reintroducing the brass section, Sakuraba makes this section sound even statelier than before. In a nutshell, this track is an epic opener to the disc, and it ends as quaintly as it starts.
“Like the River Styx” is the first battle theme on the arranged CD, and although it isn’t as developed as one may have hoped, it is far better than the original version. With a distorted electric guitar pumping some powerful chords against a quickly rising melody, this track starts off with a distinctive rock style. The instrumentation that Sakuraba uses here is typical of his battle themes on other albums, and it is fantastic to see his musical talent being used to stop the original track from suffering a fiery doom. The organ is one of the most prominently used instruments in this track; at the 1:50 mark there is an impressive rock organ solo in which the initial melody is stretched to its limits. “Hand to Hand” is another prog rock arrangement that heavily features rock organ. Sakuraba concentrates for far too long on the melodic side of this track, and this is a pity seeing as though it has so much undiscovered potential elsewhere. Nonetheless, this certainly doesn’t effect the atmosphere, which is as battle-like as ever. Sakuraba also puts his rock organ to use in this arranged version of “Peace of Mind,” a track that could never reach its full potential due to the Game Boy’s sound limitations. But apart from the original melody being passed around a variety of different instruments, not a lot happens elsewhere.
When I saw that “No Mercy” was going to be one of the arranged tracks for this album, I wasn’t intrigued, in fact I was horrified. How could a fifty second track be arranged to the high standards set by the likes of “A Heavy Heart” and “Myth of Fate”? Well, ask Sakuraba. Amazingly, this track is as interesting as any of the other themes on the album. Throughout the track, one can hear the same piano part swaying up and down the scale, introducing melodic enhancements as it carries on. The original melody seems to get lost in this wave of drum smashing and guitar pumping, but one thing that doesn’t get lost is Sakuraba’s sense of direction. “Legacy from the Past” is also transformative, taking a simple repeating melody and expanding it into a fully-fledged well-developed arrangement.
“A Heavy Heart” was one of my favourite tracks from the original score, so I was pleased to see that it was granted with an arranged version in which its melody could shine out more than ever. This track is the longest, the best developed, and consequently the finest ambient arrangement on the album. “Sacred Ground” features a great amount of dynamic, textural, and melodic variation through its playtime. The way that the track develops and thickens in such a dominant way is truly sensational, and although the track is largely built up on repeated motifs, this is not a problem and merely serves to add to its unusual effect. By contrast, “Death is a Great Leveler” is perhaps the worst track on the arranged album. While once again impressive from a production standpoint, it hardly strays from its original melody.
“Every Extremity is a Vise” is the darkest track on the arranged CD. The first part of the track is considerably eerie, and with an organ being introduced at the 0:10 mark, the ominous side of the piece becomes even more prominent. During the time that the organ pounds out a series of chords, the track reveals a hypnotic melodic line that seems to interweave with the parts in the dungeons of the lower octaves. Following this, Sakuraba integrates a drum line and some synth lines into the track, and although this may seem unorthodox, the final effect is mesmerising; the synth line adds a glorious undertone and the drum kit acts as a reinforcement to the pace. The track increases in volume as we enter a section filled with tribal chanting that is then blasted over by a loud brass instrument. Sakuraba introduces the rock organ during this, and everything from here onwards builds up into a climaxing section at 3:33. “Star Ocean Forever” is the last track on the arranged CD, and what a track it is. A softly played trumpet and a sweet flute melody are amongst the first things to be heard, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a section full of power, grandiose vibes, and astounding orchestration. From here onwards, Sakuraba really goes to town and introduces a number of key melodies that add to the power of the original theme.
The arranged section of this album is a pleasure to listen to, and with a majority of the tracks expanding wonderfully upon their original themes, Sakuraba proves to be an inspiration. Sakuraba’s history with arranged albums is one with a lot to tell, and with Star Ocean: The Second Story Arrange Album, Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection, and the Beyond the Beyond Original Game Soundtrack being amongst his pre-Star Ocean -Blue Sphere- Arrange & Sound Trax works, he was certainly an experienced arranger before this album. This album is riddled with talent from Sakuraba, who even turns a 0:49 original track into a musically profound arrangement. The greatest thing about this album is that it also provides a bit of fun in otherwise sophisticated areas. The original score is the main contributor to this factor, and although the Game Boy synth is poor, the themes are certainly interesting to listen to. I would recommend this album to anybody, whether they are a Sakuraba fan or not.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Dave Valentine. Last modified on August 1, 2012.