Tactics Ogre -Let Us Cling Together-
Tactics Ogre -Let Us Cling Together-
DPCX-5052/4 (1st Edition); DPCX-5222/4 (2nd Edition)
October 25, 1995; January 13, 2000
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It is no surprise that when two quality composers, Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto, team up for a soundtrack that the end result will be nothing short of phenomenal. No surprises here. Continuing in the tradition of the Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen soundtrack, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together features some of the most wonderfully adventurous battle music you could hope for… luckily it doesn’t stop there.
Whereas the Ogre Battle: Mach of the Black Queen soundtrack anchored its success in championing formidable battle themes, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together differentiates itself in many ways, particularly in diversifying the emotional qualities that the soundtrack is able to explore while still retaining a relative quality to the Ogre Battle musical idiom. While there is no shortage of excellent battle themes on the soundtrack, more consideration and care has been given to providing a significant number of contrasting emotional textures. Sakimoto and Iwata have upgraded their arsenal extensively. Therein lies more diversified fundamental qualities of the human experience; things such as hope, sadness, redemption, vengeance, anger, and wonder. The spirit of each of these qualities is represented appropriately within the layout of the soundtrack.
Allow me to explain and cite examples as to why this makes Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together such a subliminally excellent work. Due to the very large number of tracks in this game I will be only illustrating a portion of the themes. Given my overly extensive reviewing method, that will hopefully be enough to give some insight into this phenomenal score.
This soundtrack begins exceptionally. Sakimoto’s introductory theme, “Catastrophe”, is presented magnificently and sets the musical intonation for the soundtrack in a very oppressive light. The instrumentation and orchestration is very powerful and foreboding. The complex harmonic nature of this track is very well suited to an introductory theme; it is complex in its progressions but also very moving. Dissonance gives way to consonance; darkness succumbs to light for mere moments and then fades back again into most certain, illimitable darkness. This illustrious piece toys with the emotions. Sakimoto begins the piece in very dark harmonic territory utilizing dissonance to achieve this effect and then flirts with hopefulness later on in the piece (0:37-1:00) before trouncing the demeanor of the piece back into the darkness from whence it came (1:00-1:28). The way that he interjects consonance alongside dissonance is incredibly tactful and very fresh. It is not often that a composer can put these two qualities together to such good effect. The key change at 0:36 is masterful. The orchestration leading up to that point is also brilliantly executed. Actually, I will go so far as to say “Catastrophe” is one of the finer orchestrated pieces in the RPG genre, especially considering the limitations of the SNES sound chip at the time that are quite easily overcome here.
Ominous basses lull in the distance while a timpani accompanies alongside. (0:01-0:09) A cymbal crash abruptly ends the stillness of the night, bringing danger closer to the frontlines. The ominous bass begin to boil, now accompanied by an impetuous violin string section. The instruments slowly build into an orchestral explosion! (0:23-0:36) The emotional quality of the piece switches from dire hopelessness to cloudy with a chance of hope. (0:36-1:00) The orchestrations lighten up and a flute brightens up the darkness of the day, rising above the impending doom gracefully and eagerly. In contrast to the great orchestral violence that the piece projects leading up to this point, this section of music is almost tender, reflective and hopeful. (0:54-1:00) Amidst the darkness, this section of music very nearly paints in the mind a picture of a dove carrying an olive branch, searching for a sanctuary which may never be found. In the case of this piece, it isn’t. Symbolically, the dove is decimated by a dark arrow and the hopefulness that had seemed close enough to touch crumbles as easily as a grain of sand in the presence of a most sinister foul breathed wind.
Continuing to focus on Sakimoto, “Air Land” is a battle track with exceptional tenacity, vibrance, and poise; the main quality that this piece imparts upon the listener is a sense of hope and strength. On one hand, it is precisely what many have come to know and expect of the Ogre Battle musical universe; it is epic, grand, and completely driven towards the pursuit of victory (at least in the symbolic sense). On the other hand there has been a noticeable jump in not only the proficiency of orchestration, but the overall musical intricacy of the structures during the course of development. The development of this piece is significant in many ways in describing what lies in store for the Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together soundtrack: Bombast, with little exception. “Air Land” displays a much more detailed interpretation of what can constitute an epic battle theme without becoming too clichéd. Whereas a large amount of the music in the original Ogre Battle is predictable and generally lacking in the imagination department, the chord choices here are very unique and complex for a battle theme which keep it from becoming monotonous through repeated listenings. While the track provides a familiar sense of adventure within the musical layout, the musical sense of the piece is always one step ahead of expectation. That is, the music simply has a way of naturally ‘morphing’ from section to section in interesting ways while still remaining completely relevant to the original idea. Each new section is uniquely presented with chord changes and orchestration techniques (such as call and response) that are naturally occurring and yet completely dazzling within their own right. It is within this means that the emotional textures of the soundtrack are amplified, allowing themes to take on greater purpose and exploration during the course of the soundtrack.
Sakimoto’s “Fortune Teller” is a piece of music that is deliciously intimate; a work of true poignancy and detailed craftsmanship. The orchestration is impeccable and the musical language is inexplicably sincere. This piece imposes upon the listener a subtle yet touching quality. While “Fortune Teller” contains qualities of hope, there is also a notable sensitivity within the orchestration. The way the melody flows effortlessly from section to section is simply wondrous to behold. The piece grabs the heart fondly so that the mind can wander joyfully. This piece marks a great jump in Hitoshi Sakimoto’s stylistic arsenal. It contains his signature style but also serves as a nice breather from the intensity of the other parts of the soundtrack. Along with being harmonically rich, there are elements of romanticism and impressionism presented within the layout of this work; the orchestration of the piece lends itself to romantic depictions while the impressionistic quality of the piece manifests itself in the unique meandering chordal language and the nearly mysterious way that the chords happen to collide with the melody to complete each section, with utter gentility. People often say that Sakimoto’s battle themes are his forte; this piece proves that Sakimoto is just as adept (if not more so) at creating intimate portrayals of beauty and power as well. If I could use a few words to describe this piece, I would call it ‘divinely inspired’.
An ethereal flute makes its statement (0:01-0:08), lifting off from majestic lands and touching down to the ground only close enough to allow us to lay witness to its luminary brilliance, whereupon it once again flutters beyond the confines of the clouds; a deity of ethereal prestige. Free flowing counterpoint moves the piece from creek, to river, to tributary to expansive ocean.
Apropos, something to keep in mind is the fact that the thematic materials present in “Fortune Teller” are reissued in several other pieces of music, including the reflective harp-supported “A Cygnet” and the upbeat and rhythmically smart “Limitation”. Exploring Sakimoto’s contributions to the soundtrack more extensively, “Blessed Memory” is the save screen music. It is epic and thoughtful. A choir patch creates a thick sound in coordination with some high strings to create a warm enveloping feel of power. “Overture” is the Ogre Battle: March of the Queen theme and is nearly identical to the version that can be found in its soundtrack. “Warren Report” gravitates between two chordal centers throughout its entirety yet somehow manages to remain interesting to listen to due to its grand epic orchestration. The piece can make one quietly reflect upon the sacrifices that one makes in pursuit of greatness. “Song of Tundra” is one of Sakimoto’s signature snow themes; this particular music is bitterly cold while still somehow keeping the heart of battle warm. Instrumentally, Sakimoto paints this particularly dreary winterland with a cascading chime that scarcely resembles the falling of snow and the jingles of a sleighbell. However, this ‘Christmas’ is far from merry; the piece is very haunting and solemn. with deep basses, and choirs embellish the grandness of this feeling. “Passing Moment” is the denouement of the soundtrack; it contains traces of the “Fortune Teller” theme and is a joyous celebration of sorts utilizing trumpets, tubas, and strings to recollect the cumulative moments at the journey’s end and for the most part deals well with closing things out.
Now for some Iwata, “Island Atlas” is the map theme for Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. The instrumentation of this piece is very majestic. There is a very striking ambient nature to this piece which helps it to maintain a sense of strength and purpose despite its lack of depth. This piece hardly says anything at all based upon the diversity of musical structures. It gravitates between two chords but it does so with enough orchestral savvy and sound programming that it doesn’t get old despite its obvious lack of developmental detail. The basses especially rumble with enthusiasm as two brass instruments cover the mid range melody while being hovered by a choir patch and a tubular bell. Besides that the music found in the piece is very imposing and stately. There is a quality of regality and confidence co-existing alongside an almost comforting demeanor. This piece particularly illustrates Iwata’s adeptness with finding the most illustrative programming to sell the nature of the piece to its fullest. “Retreat” is music that considers the possibility of death and failure while engaged in battle. Driving dissonance is portrayed through dissonant strings and a vengeful sounding tuba pounds mercilessly into dark waters. “Fog of Terror” is successful in perpetuating a feeling of isolation and terror. The harmonies used are often jarring and the sharpness of the strings cut any materializing efforts on behalf of comfort. The game over theme “Color of Chaos” has a bittersweet nature that betrays any indication of ‘Chaos’, though surely remains ‘colorful’; there is a pretty oboe solo that somberly dances and then fades into nothingness while strings slowly gather and dissipate alongside it… This piece embodies the quality of tragedy and ultimate disappointment more than anything. Think of it as a hopefulness that fades into obscurity.
Iwata stirs things up in a big way with the battle track “Fight It Out!”. This piece features very big bellowing brasses and a very vibrant intensity punctuated by steady movement, imposing dissonance, and good overall instrumental changeoff from section to section. Along with some really interesting compositional choices, Iwata gets the most out of his synthetic instrumentation in this piece. It doesn’t stay in any one place for any great amount of time, which in this case is a strength. One particular quality that I admire about Iwata is his indifference towards staying a musical course merely for its own sake; he allows his own musical expectation to fulfill itself naturally and as a result many of his pieces flow well and have an interesting perspective to boot. Initially, some may find it a bit difficult to listen to some of his tracks because of his unorthodox process of development but once one can warm up to it, there is a lot of good qualities to be exposed to. In the case of this piece, the harmonies are very explorative and the pacing is such that it never allows you to get your feet stabilized. The music has a tendency to explode in unexpected directions. I find that this exploits the listener quite dramatically by defying expectation, which ideally fits the premises of exposure and vulnerability in battle quite convincingly.
“Chaotic Island” is a beautifully dissonant submission. Again, Iwata favors the brass heavily as is usually the case for his tracks in Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and sets them on a course for unknown territories. The development of this piece is interesting in that each section contains a very different emotional quality; the first section starts off dark and then leads to something far more upbeat. This section is beautiful and completely unexpected in a very pleasing way. A flute and a harp joyfully sing and are soon joined by some fluttering strings and a heavy brass which brings out a very rich sonority. Concluding with another classic, there is something very Errol Flynn about “Chivalry and Savagery”. It is as swashbuckling as a track can be while still remaining somewhat serious. Very adventurous and full of danger, this piece boasts excellent brass work and good development from section to section. It really makes me envision a skull and crossbones flag while sailing the high seas in search of treasure. Unfortunately, it loses a bit of steam halfway through resembling either a mutiny or a shipwreck (not sure which!). This is one such piece where I feel that Iwata’s exploratory nature actually doesn’t do him or the listener any favors. The development seems contrived to the point where the piece just doesn’t move along properly and seems a bit forced. It’s still potentially a powerful piece but not as cohesive as some of the other works in Tactics Ogre.
There are a few cons of the soundtrack nonetheless. The thematic material in the soundtrack isn’t very indepth. The development is scanty and there are times when certain themes don’t mesh particularly well within certain storyline schemes. These can be excused as the musicality of the entire soundtrack is highly developed. If anything, this soundtrack can be witnessed as a musical experiment of sorts: a testing ground for both musicians to establish themselves creatively which gave them the means and the fuel of tackling a much more emotionally expansive soundtrack, Final Fantasy Tactics. There are many compositional similarities between the two although I find that the latter is much more mature with greater detail and illustration displayed in regards to fully maturing the thematic development. I hardly like to think of Tactics Ogre as a steppingstone though as it features very unique musical meanderings, especially to the genre of RPG.
Cons aside, it’s amazing to note the jump in artistry from Iwata and Sakimoto from Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen to Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. The development of each piece exhibits a great level of musical maturity and orchestral prowess. Whereas the first game of the series was more of a cookie cutter mold, bolder orchestration techniques and leaps in creativity and musical individuality makes this soundtrack a much more fulfulling listening experience. Macro and micro… intimacy and grandness in the music…
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ryan Reilly. Last modified on August 1, 2012.