Tales of Zestiria Original Soundtrack
Tales of Zestiria Original Soundtrack
Warner Music Japan
February 18, 2015
Buy at CDJapan
Being a 25th anniversary title, the soundtrack for Tales of Zestiria was composed by the series’ two most popular composers, Motoi Sakuraba, staple of the series since inception, and Go Shiina, who composed the mainline title Tales of Legendia. How do their differing styles affect the soundtrack, if at all, and how does it turn out as a whole, given the two composers?
Although there are two composers on the soundtrack, the majority of it was written by Motoi Sakuraba, who comprises three of the four discs on the soundtrack release. His style of music focuses more on the symphonic/orchestral side of things, although that’s not to say there aren’t more prog-inspired pieces on the soundtrack as well. For fans of the Tales series, it is definitely more reminiscent of his past works, more so than his recent Xillia outings. The story of Tales of Zestiria revolves around the main protagonist of the game, Sorey, and as such, his theme takes a prominent role in the soundtrack. “Sorey’s Theme -Purity-” is a lighthearted and bright woodwind and strings led piece that really manages to grab the listener’s attention, despite its simplicity. This theme, in many variations, appears on the soundtrack to provide different atmospheres. “Unchanging Everyday,” for example, uses this motif to create a sense of sameness in the main character’s routine and, as such, uses instruments to create a more mundane sound. This motif is also used in the ending theme, “Memories Coloring the Journey.” Here it is a reflective and poignant piano melody with some orchestral backing. It’s an extremely beautiful theme and one of my favorite iterations of the theme. The motif’s other major appearance is in the three normal battle themes of the game. “Uphold Your Will with a Sword in Hand” is its first iteration and as such, as a very vibrant and adventurous tone. The horn aspects of the piece are quite nice and really stand out against the strings and progressive rock accompaniment. Of the normal battle themes, this is one of the shortest, running at only 45 seconds before it loops, but it is quite catchy and reminiscent of older Tales music in general. The second iteration, “Combine Your Fists and Proceed Your Path,” has a more of a serious tone, but still utilizes the main melody. The tonal shift helps keep the theme fresh as does the new bridge before the loop that really reinforces the seriousness of the piece. The last iteration, “Spread Your Wings and Open Your Future,” features the fastest tempo of the three, and as such, has the most progressive rock sound of the three iterations. The new bridge between the melody, while symphonic in nature, also has a progressive rock feel to it and is by the far the most accomplished of the three iterations, in my opinion.
Speaking of battle themes, the rest of the battle themes composed by Sakuraba also have some nice sounds, as well as throwbacks to earlier games in the series. The normal boss theme, “The Hellion’s Assault,” is an extremely intense orchestral theme that focuses on powerful brass passages and sinister strings. For a normal boss, it is extremely dark and is a breath of fresh air compared to some of his more recent boss themes, despite being orchestral in nature, thanks to the nature of the horn in the piece. “Take Up Your Bow and Shoot Out the Truth” is another frenetic battle theme with some great horn melodies, a nice progressive rock touch, and an awesome atmosphere. There is definitely a sense of urgency in this piece and it shows. The final boss theme, “Chaotic Calamity That’s One with a God” comes in two varieties, the aforementioned and the “Awakening Ver.” The former is an extremely powerful orchestra and choir piece, not unlike his past orchestral themes, but I feel this is one of his more successful ones, channeling a heroic sound and some choir usage that would fit right in a Dark Souls game. The “Awakening Ver.” keeps the same overlying feel, but also adds a progressive rock element to it, which helps amplify the effect. The extra percussion and keyboards work well with the original material and make it sound more menacing. Sakuraba also revisits some of his past battle themes in the series with “The Wise One -TOZ Ver.-” and “Finale Where Melodies and Flashing Fists Intersect,” which original from Tales of Vesperia and Tales of the Abyss/Graces f, respectively. The former turns the original into a much more upbeat orchestral theme with some prog rock elements, particularly in the percussion. It’s quite an enjoyable listen. The latter battle theme, on the other hand, is entirely progressive rock in nature and is a medley of four themes. After the brief original intro, it moves to “The Arrow Was Shot” from Abyss before moving into “Risk Everything / Epic Release” and “Sword Drawing! Grind! from Graces f, and finally ends with “Never Surrender” from Abyss. Each theme, despite being short in length, transitions extremely well and works quite well as a whole piece.
Given the large amount of content on the soundtrack, there is filler material, with most being around the one minute mark or below that works in the game, but doesn’t really stand out too much on its own. However, the other large area that Sakuraba was responsible for were the town and area/dungeon themes. When it comes to the town themes, they aren’t anything that particularly stand out, but are still enjoyable listens. “The Peaceful Hometown,” is just that, utilizing instruments like acoustic guitar and woodwinds to create a very quaint atmosphere. One of my favorite town themes is “The Capital with a Beautiful Lake and the Holy Sword,” with its very rich orchestral sound that reminds me of Eternal Sonata stylistically speaking and features a very playful and bustling sound. One of the weaker town themes, in my opinion, is “People Who Understand the Benefits of the Large Tree.” It is another theme with a playful sound, but it is rather simplistic instrumentally speaking and doesn’t really grab the attention like some other tunes. When it comes to area/dungeon themes, they are a mixed bag, but overall enjoyable. “Mountain Ruins Overflowing with Passion for History” and “Civilization that Didn’t Enjoy Prosperity” have very mystical, but grandiose sounds and stand out as some of the more memorable tunes on the album. Unfortunately, themes like “Bottom of the Large Tree that Hosts the Epidemic” don’t really stand out as much, but do offer a darker tone to the dungeon themes. Perhaps my favorite dungeon theme is “Throne of the God that Caused Everything,” with its epic choir, ominous tone, horn harmonies, and strings work. Of particular note, and an equally nice touch, is the fact that the introduction of this theme is carried over and used in the aforementioned battle theme, “Take Up Your Bow and Shoot Out the Truth.”
When it comes to the music by Go Shiina, it is stylistically different to that of Sakuraba’s and, as such, definitely stands out. I think it was a wise decision to segregate his music to its own disc, as it definitely flows better in terms of a listen, or as best it can given the drastic shifts in style between them. In addition to the stylistic change, the quality of the music is also affected since Go Shiina’s music features live instrument performances, while Sakuraba’s do not, aside from his progressive rock components. The music that Shiina is responsible for largely falls into three categories: character themes, dungeon themes, and battle themes, although there are also some event themes he is responsible for, including a 12 minute vocal theme that plays in one of the cutscenes near the end of the game. His character themes, “Alisha’s Theme” and “Zaveid the Exile,” both offer a different flavor of music. The former is a very beautiful ballad-esque piece featuring choir, piano, strings, and brass. For the most part, it features a very romantic sound, although portions do feature a light march approach. As for the latter, it is a much more explosive show of force, focusing on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, brass, strings, and woodwinds to give it a bit of a Spanish flavor to it. However, in addition to all of the orchestral components, there is also a steady electronic beat incorporated with some dubstep influence and some synthesizer manipulation. It’s an extremely fun tune and gives off an essence of wind.
His four dungeon themes are also quite varied in style, but do share some motifs between theme. “Flaming Bonds Are Being Tested,” the theme for the fire elemental dungeon, is definitely more exotic in sound, compared to the others, offering a very flamboyant and vibrant soundscape, thanks to the Spanish stylings incorporated alongside the orchestral elements. As the theme progresses, there are synthesized elements that are incorporated, as well as electronic beats, that while sounding like they might not fit with the overall soundscape, work quite well and don’t necessarily detract from the overall experience. Of particular note, the flamenco guitar solo really helps reel in the idea that this is a fire themed dungeon and is one of the highlights of the piece. The earth elemental dungeon, “Competing with the Honor of the Land,” focuses more on grandiose choir and adventurous orchestration. The choir and brass dominated melody really work quite nicely, although the softer elements in the piece, such as the woodwinds or even the change in tempo make for a nice contrast. As with the fire dungeon, this theme also features some electronic incorporation and manages to add a slightly dark sound because of it. I really enjoy the vocals during this portion of the piece. The shortest dungeon theme, “Melody of Water is the Guide in Spiritual Mist,” for the water elemental dungeon, significantly cuts down on the instrumentation compared to the other three dungeon themes, focusing more on virtuosic piano to guide the melody along rather than bombastic orchestra. It is befitting for the element of water and although it isn’t the sole instrument, it definitely takes the forefront. The strings, organ, and choir that are added as the piece progresses is also a nice touch and help elevate the tune as well. Lastly, the air elemental dungeon theme, “Fight Between the Wind and the Blinking Sky,” is more reminiscent of the earth dungeon stylistically speaking, focusing on grandiose orchestration and choir. However, there is more of a delicate approach to the piece. While it is largely still bombastic, the strings taking the forefront of the melody really help bring that softer touch to the piece, as do the various romantic/slower sections of the piece. The choir here really helps bring a lot of contrast to the piece, sometimes elevating the softer pieces, while at other times, bring a more ominous approach.
Go Shiina’s battle themes are quite varied. The battle theme, “New Power Awakens,” opens with a beautiful piano and strings introduction before moving into the actual meat of the battle theme, a grand orchestral/rock hybrid with a lot going on. The percussion has a very progressive rock sound to it and really works well alongside Sakuraba’s battle themes because of it. In addition, the melody for the battle theme is extremely strong and the electric guitar in the melody line and accompaniment really stand out and add so much to the theme. It’s an extremely heroic sounding piece of music and easily one of the best additions to the soundtrack. “Existence to Be Feared” is another epic battle theme with a focus on choir and orchestra. It is quite reminiscent of the style for some of his music in the God Eater series. One thing that is a bit disjointed about this theme is the sudden shift in tempo and atmosphere to a much softer approach before reincorporating the bombast. It does take the listener out of the element slightly, but on the whole is still largely enjoyable. His last battle theme, “Rising Up,” is quite different compared to the rest of the soundtrack, given that it is a vocal battle theme. Sung by Courtney Knott, it has a very heroic soundscape with inspirational lyrics. While the theme might be a bit “strange” for a battle theme, the underlying elements do fit quite well as a battle theme. As the theme progresses, the orchestral components of the piece are joined by an electronic beat, giving the theme more of a dance vibe. It’s a wonderful song, but may not be for everyone.
The other major song that Go Shiina composed is “Journey’s End,” the vocal theme for the game. Sung by Ingrid Gerdes, who also worked on the original PSP release of God Eater 2, it’s a ballad with a very simplistic approach. The lyrics themselves fit well with the story and Ingrid’s voice works quite well with the piano led piece. As the theme progresses throughout its nearly 12 minute length, the instrumentation keeps getting more and more lush, as well as featuring a children’s choir as well. On the whole, it’s a very successful tune and its pop flavor has a bit of an old charm to it, similar to some of his past work such as “my tales” from Tales of Legendia. Shiina’s final tune on his disc, “The Way of Katz,” is certainly my least favorite and perhaps the most off-putting theme on the soundtrack. I’m not quite sure how it’s incorporated in game, but the actual music featured on the disc is a stylistic medley. Opening with quirky vocal work, presumably that of an anthropomorphic cat species, it sets the melody and is probably the element that is sure to cause the most reaction. The instrumental versions of this piece, ranging from a string quartet style to even 8bit, are quite nice. It’s just that the opening vocals, and when they are reincorporated, detract from an otherwise solid piece of music.
In the end, the Tales of Zestiria Original Soundtrack is an extremely solid effort, both by Motoi Sakuraba and Go Shiina. While there is a lot of filler among the 100+ tracks, the more substantial themes definitely are worth a listen. Sakuraba’s symphonic approach is reminiscent of earlier games in his career such as Infinite Undiscovery and Eternal Sonata, and the overall sound brought by him is more akin to classic games in the Tales series more so than recent ones, although with some modern influences such as in the aforementioned games as well as the Dark Souls series. As for Go Shiina’s contributions, most of his contributions are also quite excellent and fit well for their respective uses. Because of the disparity between the two styles of the composers as well as the synthesized vs. live instrumentation, the soundtrack, despite being quite solid, is also the Tales soundtrack that is the most discordant. Fans of earlier Tales works, Sakuraba, and Shiina in general, will most likely find enjoyment out of this soundtrack.
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Posted on March 17, 2015 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on March 17, 2015.