Tales of Hearts Original Soundtrack
Tales of Hearts Original Soundtrack
December 10, 2008
Buy at CDJapan
Tales of Hearts was released on December 18, 2008 exclusively for Nintendo DS in Japan and marks the eleventh title in the prominent RPG series. With its release Namco produced two different versions: one with traditional anime cutscenes by the famed animation studio Production I.G. (Tales, Professor Layton, and Ghost in the Shell series, only to name a few) while the other contained HQ rendered CG cutscenes alá Square Enix produced by Shirogumi in the first time of the series. The music was composed by series veteran Motoi Sakuraba together with Tales of Vesperia co-composer Hibiki Aoyama and newcomer Hiroshi Tamura (no, not Shinji Tamura and no sign yet of the former Tales of composer, mysteriously). For musical details, let’s check out my review of the latest score for the series.
For the theme song, the famous Japanese three-man group DEEN returns after their contribution on the second instalment Tales of Destiny 11 years earlier. They contribute the brand new “Eternal Tomorrow”, a charismatic and emotional rock ballad in similar style to “Like a Dream”. The game uses a shortened, but polished up version instead of the original extended version from the single. I prefer this version more, because while it may be shorter, it features the grand core of the track without being too repetitive or long-winded. Also the arrangement is much clearer here. It’s one of the tracks which should inspire some nostalgia for fans of the series, especially those who played Tales of Destiny. I wish I could say the same for the remaining music, but I can’t. At least in no such a positive way…
Motoi Sakuraba is a busy and restless man; that he proved in the last couple of years in particular with lots of scores for one project after another. It’s clear that someday his color gets worn and his glamor withers away — the Tales series are a good example therefore. While Tales of Hearts still has the same characteristic whimsical, adventurous, and epic style, the music isn’t anything new here and Motoi Sakuraba didn’t even try to bring up some fresh ideas up; this he saves for other project series like Star Ocean or Valkyrie Profile. The similarities to earlier installments are overwhelming, but that’s a point where almost all soundtracks suffer from in the last couple of years of the composer. I won’t criticize too much here; just listen for yourself and make your decision if it’s a good thing or not. To be honest, the game itself isn’t much better either, so things fit together in some sort of way. But let’s take a closer look at this.
There are only a few tracks which really stand out and I will focus my review on these, because in some way the others aren’t really worth of mentioning. “Town -Lives of Peope-” was actually the first track I heard as the official website opened its gates and I immediately thought: “This is a typical Tales of game with its usual soundscape”. The same goes for “Warmly Hometown” and “Present World”, the first more than typical village and world map themes. A favorite of mine is “Bonded Wings, Lienheit”. It may sound like a typical flying theme from earlier soundtracks, but its mystical and pulsing aura is something special compared to the remaining tracks. Maybe it’s because of the instrumentation, but it’s a nice track. “Crystal World -Quartia-” is also one of the more experimental gems within with its minimalistic soundscape of whistle and bells. “-Whitening City-” is similar, but less interesting.
Of course, there is quite a lot of diversity across the soundtrack. There are also silly and happy-go-lucky themes like “Enjoy Life” or “Let’s Challenge!”, mysterious setting themes like “Fear of the Unknown”, sad themes like “World Filled with Sorrow”, or simply military and brassy tracks exemplified by “The Global Imperial Capital, Estrega”. They’re all standard stuff and absolutely nothing new is offered from the heavens. “Everyday is a Carnival” opens the second disc nicely with its typical Port city atmosphere. However, the melody can get repetitive after a while even if it has potential. “Strayless Runaway” and “Erosion of the Imperial Castle” use slightly different rhythms, but are not very interesting at all. And if that isn’t bad enough, Sakuraba reuses the “Reda” theme from Tales of the Tempest in “Found! Mysterious Town”. That was one of the less enjoyable pieces from the score and, besides, it’s recreation is clear sign of lacking imagination if you ask me. Tales of Rebirth and co. are calling…
The same goes for the more prominent part of the series, the battle themes. For the main battle theme “Mysterious Arms Soma”, Sakuraba went back to the roots and created a soaring upbeat number with usual synth instrumentation similar to his work in Golden Sun. The melody has its catchy parts and better development than the first DS contribution “Encounter” from Tales of the Tempest. However, it is still missing the impact Sakuraba can create while composing an battle theme and sounds too colorless and dry. “Activate, Soma Link!!” and “Restless Spiria” were written in similar styles except with slightly better developments. Further uninspired and disappointing themes include the boss themes “Zerom Appears”, “Who Are You Fighting For?”, and “Unbroken Sword”. Even the two final boss themes aren’t much better either, sadly. Just as I thought my hopes where lost, I detected a glimmer within. With “Fly! Anti-Air” Sakuraba finally breathes a little life into his action tracks. The secret dungeon battle theme “Exceed the Limit” and its boss theme counterpart “VS Proto Zerom” are absolutely delicious too and display just the right spirit. “Approaching Sorceress” is another of the little gems from the battle music; a catchy, energetic, and delightful old school arrangement, whoever contributed it did a good job!
There are also plenty of themes for cutscenes on this score. Motoi Sakuraba greatly enhanced his skills for orchestral themes within the years and Tales of Hearts also displays his maturity. The special thing about this is that both versions of the game feature sometimes different music for the current scene. For example, “Thundering Hegira” is only used during the opening sequence in the Anime Edition as two people flee through the forest while “Flee -Escaping the Forest-” is used in the CG Edition during the same event only a little later. The music for the second cutscene “Link Out” is used in both editions while the second part “Spirune, Like a Flower…” is only used in the Anime Version. All these tracks are pretty effectively composed as usual and fit their purpose excellently. There are several special mentions. “Fearsome Pursuer” is a scary and cinematic track full of suspense. “Incarose The Sorcerer” features the same synth motif, only this time played on a harp. “Hearts to Hearts” features also one of the epic moments from the score and prepares the listener for the showdown in an fantastic way. “It Appears! -The Thorny Forest-” and “Spiria of the Stars” are excellent, too. Even if a dry and colorless soundtrack like this these tracks really shine through and showing Motoi Sakurabas true strength.
The use of different arrangements of the same melody is also here after the success of leitmotif usage in Abyss, Rebith, and Symphonia. “Spirmaze” is reused three times, for instance, each with a different atmosphere and instrumentation. The melody reuse is done a bit better here as, in addition to reinstrumentation, the structure of the melody is sometimes modified. The trend of using the theme song as motif for the ending theme is present here too. “Richea’s Lullaby” and “Sleeping Princess of -The Thorny Forest-” are delicious compositions with lyrical melodies suited for the context of the game. While the first is more mellow and serene the former features an charming arrangement with piano and strings. Refreshing and different compared to the overblown dramatic stuff the composer usually delivers. “Eternal Tomorrow (Ending Version)” goes the same way in a less epic fashion. Definitely a wise decision, even if the act of rearranging the theme song into an instrumental ending theme seems to become the fashion for Sakuraba these days…
At the end of 2008, Motoi Sakuraba and his sound team delivered a solid but usual soundtrack for Tales of Hearts. It’s typicality is exactly the problem I have with it. Usual techniques, arrangements, instrumentations, and even melody lines are reused from previous Tales soundtrack. Sakuraba in particular suffers from the lack of imagination and lacks the ability to color the game with an interesting and multifarious score. Instead of giving up the project to co-composers Hibiki Aoyama, who did some marvelous contributions to Tales of Vesperia, or even Masaru Shiina, Takuya Yasuda, and Kazuhiro Nakamura, Sakuraba still doesn’t give up and retire from the series. It’s good to see in one way, but if he can’t bring up fresh ideas, the soundtracks will only get worse and become lifeless.
The orchestral cutscene themes are one the best things among the ordinary stuff in my opinion and Sakuraba doesn’t hold back to show his abilities which he gained during the years, even if most of the tracks are too short. If I were to recommend picking up three particularly enjoyable pieces, these would be “Eternal Tomorrow (Tales of Hearts Version)”, “Approaching Sorceress”, and “Bonded Wings, Lienheit”. There are other well-composed tracks within, but you’ll have to wait a little until they grew on you, especially if you have listened to previous works from Sakuraba. Should you pick this one up or not? Well, to be honest, it’s not one of the strongest albums these days, neither from the series nor from the composer, but if you’re a fan then grab it up as long it’s in print. If you have the game you can easily enjoy the music without this; there is nothing special about it such as bonus or arranged tracks. Let’s hope that the composers, particularly Motoi Sakuraba, will create a more refreshing soundtrack for the next Tales title.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Max Nevill. Last modified on August 1, 2012.