Tales of Berseria Original Soundtrack
Tales of Berseria Original Soundtrack
KSCL-2780/3 (Regular Edition); KSCL-2775/9 (Limited Edition)
September 28, 2016
Buy at CDJapan
The Tales series has often stumbled in its musical quality over the years, with its games all too often treated as side projects for its lead composer Motoi Sakuraba. However, the series’ music has recovered in recent years, with the recent soundtracks for Xillia and Zestiria among the best of the series. Unfortunately, the latest entry in the series Berseria is a major regression. This title is a solo effort from Sakuraba, in contrast to its predecessor which featured Go Shiina. But rather than step up his efforts to fill the void left by his co-composer, Sakuraba instead ended up producing his laziest, shoddiest work to date.
While most of Sakuraba’s Tales soundtracks feature their share of dull or derivative tracks, Berseria takes things one step further with many utterly awful ones. Right at the start of the soundtrack, listeners will have to endure “The Beginning”, “The Opening”, and “Nightmare” in close succession. Between them, these crisis cues are filled with the Sakuraba clichés most audiences have come to hate: blaring synthetic brass, horror-style tremolo and pizzicato strings, and over the top discords. The atrocities don’t stop there: “The Great Sea Gate” and “Unwavering Reason is Power” are textbook examples of unbalanced orchestration, “Raise Your Soul and Burn It” and “Refulations of Asobinin” are hideous in both arrangement and synthesis, and “No Time to Look Back” somehow manages to descend from bad to worse. Cinematic tracks such as “Sacrifice” and “Birth of Therion” all build-up from unremarkable ambient soundscaping into blaring overbearing messes. Likewise, there’s nothing brilliant about “The Brilliant Castle” and plenty to lament in “Sorrow”.
While only about a third of the soundtrack falls into this territory, the remainder is generally bland and generic. “Nostalgic Home Town” channels classic RPG themes with its peaceful flute lead and humble guitar accompaniment. While passable, it lacks the melodic distinction and development needed to distinguish itself among the many similar tracks in the genre. For the first dungeon theme, “Evil Surging on Prison Island”, Sakuraba attempts to blend orchestral and funk timbres into a tension builder. However, the dull basso ostinato that runs through the piece gives the composition a laborious, oppressive feel. “Determination from Within” attempts to convey hope in a dark place, but is letdown by its thin arrangement and low-fidelity samples. Quieter compositions such as “Handed Down Place”, “Villa of Silence”, and, recalling the ethereal ambience of Silmeria, “The Sound of Silence” are serviceable in-game, but are too bland to be worth stand-alone listening. Other tracks such as the gothic choral theme “Will and Reason”, the jazzy infiltration grooves of “Secret Scheme”, and a trio of tropical themes at the start of Disc 3 bring some much-needed variety to the soundtrack. However, they’re essentially exercises in genre and lack the creativity or polish to be substantial highlights.
With 96 tracks featured on the release, there are still a few that are enjoyable. Perhaps the best setting theme on the soundtrack is “Snow and People and Shipbuilding” with its bittersweet melody and sombre orchestration. It doesn’t reach the heights of Zesteria’s score, but it’s relatively effective in and out of context. “Forest of Life” captures the feel of a mystical forest with its gorgeous interweaving clarinet, oboe, and flute work. However, its instrumental samples are of surprisingly low quality for 2016, with the articulation of the flute part particularly unconvincing. Likewise, “Rokurou Rangetsu” is pretty catchy and “Magilou” a breath of fresh air with its upbeat jazzy stylings, though both are nevertheless dampened by poor synthesis; the saxophone lead of the ladder even paling compared to FFVIII’s “Compression of Time” made all the way back in 1999. “Theme of Velvet” and “Velvet’s Hope” are some of the most melodically rich and emotionally potent in the score, but again would have greatly benefited from live instruments. The soundtrack closes with two ending themes that, while among the most emotional and extensive tracks on the album, still suffer from the superficial orchestration and dated samples that plague the rest of the soundtrack.
And finally there’s the battle themes. “Shout Your Soul” sticks to the formula of his normal battle themes, with its frenetic synth rock stylings and motivating violin lead. Some will find it a welcome throwback to his classic Tales and Star Ocean battle themes, others will find it dated and predictable. Potential highlights in similar vein are the harder-edged “Daemon’s Assault”, the retro-flavoured “The Way of the Embodied Dragon”, and the relatively well-developed Xillia throwback “Clenched Fist and the Sword Dances”. Others such as “The Will That Opposes Reason” and “Burn Your Soul & Fly” have their moments but, like so much of the soundtrack, lacks the refinement to stand out among the best is the series’ best. And then there are those tracks that are simply unpleasant to listen to: “The Line Between Persistence and Affection”, “Masters of the Heavenly Steppes”, “Sudden Attack of Dire Foe”, and “Flames of Vengeance”. “Flames of Vengeance” is perhaps the single most jarring composition I’ve heard from Sakuraba (and not in a good Drakengard kind of way), blending all the worst features of his orchestral and rock stylings into a single intolerable mess.
The Tales of Berseria soundtrack isn’t merely a step down from the Tales of Zestiria soundtrack. It’s a low point for the series and its composer in general. The majority of the pieces on the soundtrack feature unmemorable melodies, formulaic stylings, thin development and arrangement, and extremely dated synthesis. While there are a few genuine highlights, these are dwarfed by compositions that are downright awful. I’m astonished by the lack of quality control here, from both composer and developer, and hope that lessons have been learned from this soundtrack’s reception. I would only recommend this soundtrack for those who especially enjoyed the music in the game. For everyone else, use the 4200 JPY you could have spent on this on the best soundtracks of the Tales series instead.
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Posted on April 23, 2017 by Chris Greening. Last modified on April 23, 2017.