Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack
Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); King Records (2nd Edition)
October 1, 2003; October 27, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
Tales of Symphonia, the GameCube-exclusive RPG that later went on to the PS2, is one of the latest instalments of the long-running Tales series. As ever, Motoi Sakuraba, who is renowned for his works on the Star Ocean series, was chosen as the game’s composer along with Shinji Tamura and programmer Takeshi Arai. For a man with such an impressive resume, the chances of the album not being amazing are slim. But composers can’t be inspired all the time…
As I haven’t played the game, I had to do an extensive background check on each character to prevent me from creating my own little story for the music to fit to. Before this album, “Theme of RENA” was the only character theme that I had heard from Sakuraba, so this album was an experience for me, seeing as though there are plenty here. Not only did he write a track for each character, but he also composed a variation for some of them too. Lloyd, being the main character, deserves an exciting theme and, well, he gets almost that. Even so, it is his arranged theme that truly shines — “Lloyd ~ Ocarina ver.” is a much more delicate version of our hero’s theme, with some harp and strings being the main accompaniment. I wouldn’t listen to this theme over and again, as much like “Genius,” it never really grows on you. Most of the character themes are interesting to listen to, but the majority of them lack something. “Collet”, for instance, is a pretty peppy theme, but for a girl who is ‘The Chosen One’, the composition assigned to her is pretty short, clocking in at around 30 seconds before looping. Her arranged theme is a lot better, but each is underdeveloped.
Next is “Refill,” in which the melody is played by a woodwind with what sounds like a harp and string accompaniment. Its development is quite interesting, because a piano appears along with a synth accompaniment. After the three previous character themes, this comes as a blessing. What’s even better is that its arrangement “Refill -Relical Mode!-” is quite enjoyable. This theme-arrangement pairing is the exact opposite of Collet’s in terms of mood. “Zelos”, which represents a womanizer who just happens to be the comic relief of the game, is certainly very enjoyable to listen to, due to its fun nature, but that’s pretty much it. It fails to have the depth of “Presea” or the awesomeness of “Kratos”. Even so, Sakuraba arranges this theme brilliantly in “Zelos ~serious arrange~,” which explores dramatic heights. Shihna’s theme is also pretty nifty. Percussion is widely used to give the track some rhythm, and the overall atmosphere of the track leans towards the hopeful more than the sad side. It is quite an awe-inspiring onn, but still not as memorable as one would have expected it to be.
Kratos, the clichéd mysterious enemy, receives the most effective character theme and he is so evil that his theme’s arrangement is a battle theme. Brass instruments are used to give the theme power and a certain sense of grandeur, while a wind instrument plays a certain rhythm repeatedly, but alternating notes between measures. Further embellishing the atmosphere, the distortion guitar used in “Unsatisfied Desire” gives it an awesomely evil tone. Sakuraba hit the nail on the head with this one, and although it is quite short and lacking in instrumental variety, it manages to keep the listener interested with some great dissonance later on. The last track that you hear from the character section is “Mitos”. If the sinister organ, the bells, and the creepy choir didn’t tip you off, this dude is the villain, and, of course, as villains’ themes always go, it’s a lot better than the regular character themes. After a brief a cappella moment, the track unfortunately loops. This theme could have gone places with some more work, but it’s really good the way it is. All in all, while not being the greatest character themes known to man, the Tales of Symphonia tracks are good.
The character themes are acceptable, but the battle themes are great. When I think of Sakuraba, battle themes are the first things that come to mind. The regular Sylvarant battle theme “Full Force” is classic Sakuraba with a simple and enjoyable melody and some great percussion use. Unfortunately, “The Struggle to Survive” doesn’t have the same luck. With a dull melody and boring rhythm, this track has it all. Moving on, “Fatalize” has one of the coolest parts you can hope to hear in a battle theme from this album. A brass instrument plays the melody before sending it to an electric guitar, which prepares us for the awesomeness which is about to come. At 0:24, the brass comes back, and, weirdly enough, with orchestra hits. What’s even weirder is that it works perfectly. This track is ranked very highly in my favourite Sakuraba battle theme ranking. Too bad for “Fatalize” that “Like a Glint of Light” is ranked higher. Being another regular battle theme, it has an obligation to not get old, and in this purpose, it is a success. “Fighting of the Spirit,” which had appeared before in Tales of Phantasia, also appears here. Unfortunately, in the meantime, it seems to have lost some of its power.
As for the setting themes, “The Land of Sylvarant” is notable for all the wrong reasons. The best world map themes never bore, but with this one featuring the same snare drum line over and again, the replay value of this track is zilch. This track is no match for Star Ocean -The Second Story-‘s “Field of Expel,” which is a style that Sakuraba should have aimed for here. “Walking on Tethe’alla” is present in Disc Three to make you forget it. Although still not as good as Star Ocean equivalents, it at least manages to be listenable. The brass used gives the track a much needed epic feel, and the woodwinds split the melody with the strings wonderfully. “Harbor Town” is quite relaxing and after the long list of unmemorable themes on Disc One, it’s nice to hear one that feels good. To open the second disc, both “Roman Caravan” and “Venturers’ Colony” are fun tracks to listen to. The former has a cool Latin-esque guitar melody, while the latter features a festive violin. “On the Hill at Night” could have easily become one of my favourites on Disc Two, but it doesn’t have a climax! What a pity!
“The Kingdom City of Mektokyo” has just one good thing going for it — a melody — but its potential is salvaged by the especially creative “Darkside of Meltokyo”. It has none of that dull harpsichord accompaniment, so there’s no need to worry anymore. “Deepest Woods” uses the same echo effect as “Darkside of Meltokyo,” but what really caught my attention was that the harp; at the beginning, it sounds exactly like Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. “Tethe’alla Castle” is another great arrangement. The church organ used in the beginning sounds holy, so you know that the place is important. The build up is excellent, and it is another track to listen to. “The Edge of Nowhere” has some really interesting dissonant distorted guitar chords. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the only track like that in the album, so that gives it some points in the originality department. It’s also well developed, but the weird synth section later on proves to be a weird addition; it’s short enough not to be important, but also long enough to be distracting. The four “Derris-Kharlan…” tracks all feature the same melody, but I found none to be interesting by itself, only as a group. Even still, the only interest I have is getting past them, because four tracks with the exact same melody and featuring minor instrumental differences is not my idea of fun.
Disc Four has plenty of other fight tracks. “The Law of the Battle” has got some nice rockin’ going on there, with an awesome electric guitar that shows Sakuraba’s prowess with that instrument. The next prominent theme, “Beat the Angel” takes a while until it feels like a battle track, because of the rather slow pace it has in the beginning. The synth instrument playing the melody feels very appropriate, but the harpsichord gets annoying rather quickly when it starts to repeat itself over and over again. “Keen-edged Blade” is a proof that Sakuraba knows how to keep his battles themes simple yet make them so enjoyable. It features a simple electric guitar passage going on against an aggressive percussion. What separates this track from the others is the inclusion of what I can only describe as ‘beats that sound like you’re hitting someone on a really old fighting game’. “It Can Waver and Fight” floats for about thirty seconds before turning battle-ish, and is this point that an electric guitar plays the melody. This type of theme becomes almost clichéd in that Sakuraba has utilised the style in many tracks prior to its creation. Finally, “Final Destination” begins with an evil-sounding choir accompanied by an organ. Unfortunately, like the majority of the other battle themes, this one also features an electric guitar. This just spoils the overall effect, which would have been a great one if it weren’t for its presence.
Moving on to the remaining themes, “A Prologue” is ominous in nature and features a harp to the composition a nice duality. Considering a few quirky themes, “A Selfish Want” is utterly awesome. It’s a jazzy piece that features piano, percussion, and a saxophone. If the sax synth wasn’t so bad, this could easily pass as non-VGM, so that you can trick those non-believers into listening to game music and enjoying it. “Off-key,” despite some annoying instruments, has some pretty nifty piano lines. This is one of most original tracks on the soundtrack, as the piano adds a sense of enjoyment to the surrounding brass parts. “Harmony” is a gorgeous piano, choir and strings piece. I absolutely adore the variation of dynamics this track has. The strings go from way in the background to ‘in-your-face’ in a manner that is anything but crude. The whole track is very refined, and I wouldn’t complain if it were twice as long. After all the mediocrity, “Ending Staff Roll” will be a godsend. It combines features of both tracks into a fantastic 6-minute masterpiece. With great transitions between sections, wonderful use of all instruments, and a development to die for, everything seems perfect.
Like I said many times throughout the review, the reason why I chose not to mention most tracks was because they were not good, for any number of reasons. They could simply be uninteresting, or just plain bad. For a soundtrack that has over one hundred pieces of music, it’s hard to choose a few to analyze, for it becomes hard to judge the album as a whole. Fortunately, since most compositions had nothing special to offer, I chose simply to ignore them. With that said, the Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack is not Sakuraba’s best work. Filled with dull, generic tracks, there is nevertheless some gold to compensate. This soundtrack is suited for fans of the game or the music of the Tales series, but not necessarily casual game music fans.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.