The Alliance Alive Original Soundtrack
The Alliance Alive Original Soundtrack
August 18, 2017
The last time Masashi Hamauzu collaborated with The Alliance Alive developer FuRyu, the results were phenomenal. Together, they created The Legend of Legacy, a minimalist JRPG with a soundtrack that was decidedly shorter than most others in the JRPG category. What The Legend of Legacy’s musical score lacked in expansiveness, it more than made up for with its unique electro-acoustic edge and plethora of original ideas. With The Alliance Alive, Hamauzu-san has a much longer game on his hands and, consequentially, more ground to cover. So how does Masashi Hamauzu’s latest video game soundtrack compare with one of his previous best scores?
One of Hamauzu-san’s greatest strengths as a composer is his capacity for contrast. His musical works run the emotional gambit from chipper to heavyhearted, and often contain elements of both all at once. This is as true of The Alliance Alive as any of his previous works, and “Main Theme ~ Understanding ~” makes this clear from the get-go. No sooner than a violin solo over chilling synths plays out comes a warmer unison of syncopated grungy guitars, flowery piano rolls and danceable percussion. These elements defined the sound of The Legend of Legacy, and they make a triumphant return here.
Then things take a turn for the somber. Track two on the album, “Rainy City Svarna,” eschews the optimism of the previous track with sparse guitar strums and piano lines. Hamauzu-san’s aptitude for dissonance comes out in full force here, made stronger still by his choice of brittle synthesized ornamentation. What results is a fractured soundscape that sets an introspective mood for the listener, and this makes for a wonderful contrast to the perky opening track.
For all of the album’s implied positive energy, there’s no shortage of mystery and melancholy. “Closed Art Museum” is at once foreboding and somehow inviting, as the piano cracks through the ominous choral backdrop like light through a clouded sky. “Lost Light” is sorrowful and subdued, with raspy pads that sound almost as if they were drowning in a distant space. “Living Forest” is a textural cacophony of harp and piano ostinatos given life by a meandering flute line and a clever accelerando at the track’s end. Those looking for a piece as tragic yet uplifting as Hamauzu-san’s “Servants of the Mountain” from Final Fantasy X will find hope and lamentation in equal measure in “Area 18.”
Yet perkiness and positivity dominate the album overall. “Machine Tool City Gears Rock” comes packed with twanging plucks, clanking keyboard riffs, and a metallic percussive groove reminiscent of “TeNiOE” by Hamauzu-san’s band Imeruat. “Penguin” showcases some cute and classical interplay between piano and violin. “Banquet” begins deceptively, soothing the listener with soft staccato strings, but just wait until the beat drops. Then there’s “Guild” – the true standout track of the album. “Guild” is a dance track unlike any other. Pads fizzing with an electrical energy push a uniquely Hamauzu chord progression to the forefront with an intricate and infinitely listenable rhythm. As these pads recede, atonal acoustic guitar riffs fill the space, creating a sonic experience that is both jarring and somehow completely compelling.
Where The Legend of Legacy’s score took some inspiration from Saga Frontier II and Final Fantasy XIII, The Alliance Alive seems to recall Hamauzu-san’s lesser known works: namely, Musashi: Samurai Legend and Sigma Harmonics. The parallels to the former are strongest in some of the album’s field tracks: “Rain World,” “Burning World,” and “Snow World” may not draw much attention to themselves, but they each feature a spunk and steady forward momentum that keep them pleasant to the ear. “Prison World” merits special mention here for the its more industrial tone and abrasive synth risers. Meanwhile, “Basketball Game” and “Sneak Nopp’s Cave” draw on the dark, dissonant, and nearly lethal vibes that made Sigma Harmonics so unique.
Worth noting are the two tracks on the album not accredited to Hamauzu-san, but rather to his daughter Ayane. The first of these, “Aristocrat and Butler,” steadily grows from precious to uplifting, seamlessly trading the melody between clarinet and oboe even as a sweet string harmonies swell beneath. “Hot Spring,” on the other hand, is a hypnotic resort track with an intriguing mix of time signatures and a calming effect. Neither of these tracks are direct imitations of Hamauzu-san’s style, yet both blend well with the rest of the album and are welcomed additions.
The battle themes themselves are classic Hamauzu-san fare: riveting melodies, wild chord progressions, and catchy rhythms. This is particularly true of “Ignition,” driven by a passionate violin solo to rival even Final Fantasy XIII’s “Blinded by Light.” Then there’s the complete pandemonium of “Combined Destiny,” where pianos, strings, and even an accordion clash at breakneck speed beneath a slow, steady brass melody. “Determination” is complex and catchy, constructing its melody from disparate piano, oboe and flute lines while juggling three-four and six-eight time signatures.
A few of these battle tracks could even be described as epic. The Alliance Alive may feature a mere fourteen live musicians total, but you wouldn’t know it from how massive “Force Gear Battle” and “Black Machine God” sound. The latter, by the way, features a truly special ritardando in its most climactic moment, delivering the spine-tingling sense of desperation that this final boss track deserves.
All of the aforementioned tracks make wonderful additions to Hamauzu’s library of game music. However, as one might expect from a 55-track album, certain pieces fail to stand out. “Human and Magic” reaches for a sense of urgency with its punctual beat and staccato string stabs; but the melody, lacking development, verges on redundant, making it hard to get invested. “Judgment Tower” is serviceable as a tension-building track: its forceful brass and a string tremolo bedding are a recipe for inducing anxiety. Yet compared to the rest of Hamauzusan’s work on the album, it comes across as a little generic. For an album that otherwise sports a sharp edge, tracks like these are dull by comparison, though they don’t detract from the overall experience.
The Alliance Alive may be a sequel to The Legend of Legacy, but it has surprisingly little in common with its counterpart. The Legend of Legacy was concise and rife with a sense of mystery and danger. The Alliance Alive, in contrast, is larger in scale and sets out to make its world more vibrant and accessible. The sum of its parts may not make as cohesive a whole as its predecessor, but the parts themselves are as invigorating and innovative as one could hope. Those looking for a truly unique work in a style that only Masashi Hamauzu could deliver need look no further.
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Posted on February 20, 2018 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on February 20, 2018.