Time Travelers Original Soundtrack
Time Travelers Original Soundtrack
August 8, 2012
Buy at Sweep Record
Time Travelers is a new Japan-exclusive game, released by Level-5 for PSP, Playstation Vita, and Nintendo 3DS. It has been described as a “game without a genre,” and instead has a huge emphasis on its story, featuring the intertwined stories of five seemingly unrelated characters and a “time-travel” mechanic, both present in the gameplay and story progression. As a result, its soundtrack — composed by Hideki Sakamoto, arranged by Hiroyoshi Kato — run the gambit of emotions, while staying true to the multiple characters’ individual stories, which make up the larger unfolding tale of Time Travelers. Despite being written for handhelds, the score is a fully-orchestral and spans some three discs. It also features vocal performances from yanaginagi, Rie Ojima, Satsy, Rumi Shishido, and Sarah Àlainn that all fit into respective character themes.
The album begins straight off with the main theme, simply entitled “Time Travelers”. It quickly becomes apparent that this is the main identity of the whole score, as the main melody of the theme is often repeated in softer variations during the soundtrack. This first version of the piece is presented as a full-orchestral march filled with brassy and choral sections. It has a certain epic, determined march flavor about it, while having some brooding, melancholic undertones. It maintains this atmosphere till before the loop, where a mysterious, almost science-fiction motif is introduced. While a strong theme, the softer variations tend to be more emotional and poetic in nature, and the vocal version of the theme emerges as particularly stunning.
The single strongest track in the game, however, is the second track, “Another Timeline.” It uses the “Time Travelers” theme throughout, staring with a brief soft piano motif, which is the sub-motif of the soundtrack. It then transforms into a fanfare-ish piece, as we move along in this bustling theme. The main theme then appears and settles right in, as most of the rest of “Another Timeline” consists of repeating segments of this theme, with some tonal alterations. It goes from sounding sweet and melodic, to flowing and anticipating, to fully dramatic and once again, like the march in the first track. Finally, the piece quiets down from its restless, but consistent, energy, and around the 6 minute mark, the piece introduces the vocal version of “Time Travelers,” which is a segment of the last track in the soundtrack, “The Final Time Traveler,” with vocals by Sarah Àlainn. Her voice is simply beautiful, and the way it echoes in the silence is a very artistic and inspired direction for the track to take. However, the track soon turns tragic with a light piano and strings motif. Finally, the main theme erupts again, announcing the start of the game in amazing fashion.
But this track reflects perhaps the main problem with the presentation and perhaps the entire implementation of the Time Travelers soundtrack: it peaks much too early, and no other track comes close to the cinematic beauty of “Another Timeline”. It is rather unfortunate, however, the other main highlight of the soundtrack are the six individual vocal character themes. It’s pleasing that Hideki Sakamoto went all-out by composing so many vocal pieces and actually including them in the soundtrack release, rather than a vocal album. That said, they’re something of a mixed bag. “Dr. Schrödinger, tell me please? (Mikoto’s Theme),” with vocals by yanaginagi, is one of the most enjoyable character themes on the soundtrack, and in fact becomes a recurring theme throughout the soundtrack. It consists of a bouncy rock track, having a tad taste of jazz in its chords. Yanaginagi’s vocals aren’t terrible per say — second best only to Sarah Àlainn’s vocals — though the pitch of her voice takes some getting used to. The lyrics on the other hand are a mix of being scientifically poetic and scientifically silly, but they work for the most part.
“The Door into Summer” is also somewhat enjoyable, featuring electric synths, and soft but uplifting string sections. The track is overall bouncy, and the lyrics work quite a bit better, even though they still have their cheesy moments. Unfortunately, even though having a lovely tint, and sometimes even beautiful, Rie Ojima’s vocals, especially with the broken English, just don’t sound as good as yanaginagi’s vocals, and can be quite annoying at times in fact. Thankfully, the bounciness of the piece makes the piece mostly bearable and it’s a good fit for enthusiastic reporter Hina. Moving on, Rumi Shishido performs “Mirai no uta ni nose (Ressentiment Lady’s Theme),” which is one of the only Japanese-only vocal songs on the album. It is a soft ballad-style song, with some cheesy 80 style synths thrown in for good measure. It is quite pretty, thanks to Shishido’s vocals. However, a lovely piano version is present on the third disc provides the superior version of this theme.
Arguably the worst of the vocal themes are sung by male vocalist, Satsy. “Time After Time (Shindo’s Theme),” while having a somewhat enjoyable jazzy riff, with some brassy elements in the mix, sounds especially terrible thanks to Satsy’s vocals and the absolutely atrocious lyrics. Seriously, the verses consists of names of famous science-fiction writers, in reference to the character’s background as a physicist. Satsy attempts to have this “cool-guy” edge in his voice, but this effort comes off as laughable and unintelligible because of his, unfortunately broken English singing. Perhaps if the lyrics were in Japanese it could be a bit better. He also performs “Hero Behind the Mask (Ressentiment’s Theme),” which is somewhat better. His English actually improves quite a bit, thanks to him singing more dramatically. The song itself is “epic,” while undoubtedly appealing to the 80s stereotypical “hero” themes, which is clichéd but enjoyable overall. The lyrics mirror this to a key, being cheesy and heroic to match the self-proclaimed superhero. The song even has a cheesy bridge section which reminded me of the “Rocky Theme.” Overall, it is an improvement over “Time After Time,” but is still one of the least enjoyable tracks in Time Travelers.
The orchestral bits of the soundtrack fare quite a bit better than the vocal themes, even though every other piece is a looping track. Following “Another Timeline” we have a few soft, and downplayed orchestral themes such as “Cosmic Elevator”, following in the same vein as the main theme. The majority of the tracks on the first disc centre on Yuri, a high school student looking for love and eventually finding mystery. “Wanderer (Yuri’s Theme)” and “Midorigaoka High School” are nicely done, sweet themes that set this environment. The former highlights acoustic guitar and harmonica, while the latter dazzles with pizzicato strings and some beautiful orchestrations. “Yuri and Mikoto” brings the acoustic guitar back, in what I can only assume is a love theme, erupting softly with a pretty violin duet, while keeping the piano at the forefront. “Days with Mikoto” is also quite a lovely theme, featuring some of the chord progression as the main theme, but gets much too repetitive due to the extra loop. Thankfully, “Gone Are the Days” is much more developed, and sounds absolutely lovely and pleasant, almost seeming like a good ending motif for a typical JRPG.
From there, we move abruptly from the “pleasantly sweet” section of the soundtrack, to more diversified sounds. “TV-FIVE” is exactly what’d you expect it to sound like — a news broadcasting jingle, which ties directly with Hina’s background as a TV reporter. Once again, the loop is excessive, as there is no build up or development to the piece. “An American Joke” continues the novelty tone with something which… I guess sounds American? It consists of a humorous, yet somewhat patriotic sounding motif, sounding like it belongs to the Louisiana area of the US. Interesting, but it works best in context. “Ahn-Nyeong Hah-Seh-Yo” is a dramatic and sad piano jingle, which I swear sounds like it belongs to a Game Over screen. Unfortunately, it acts as mostly filler, though it does use some of the same chords as “The Door into Summer” in order to represent Hina. There’s also a light orchestrated version of her theme, entitled “Hina Fushimi”, that works much better than the original version, being very, very sweet, and pleasant to listen to. It works wonderfully well.
Let’s move on to the portrayal of Shindo. Following the atrocious “Time After Time” theme, we have the mysterious “Ingenious Imposter,” composed entirely of bass notes and some jazzy arrangements. It works as a mystery theme in context, but is a bit overbearing and under developed for a listening experience. Not bad, though. The first disc ends with “Family Ties,” the secondary motif in the soundtrack, introduced in the beginning of “Another Timeline.” While a very light for solo piano, is a good closer to the fist disc, ending on a bit of a ominous note.
The second disc starts out with the “Ressentiment” character section of the album, beginning with the vocal theme, and following up with “My Blunders”. This has a comical, almost march quality to represent the superhero, featuring an accordion and whistle-like instrument. Once again, the loop plays out to a disadvantage, as it becomes much too repetitive by the time the second minute comes in. “Hero” uses the “Hero Behind the Mask” theme to great effect, being a bouncy, almost Spanish theme, while containing some romantic elements and still maintaining that this is a ridiculous character, thanks to its somewhat outrageous fanfares. “Love Ballad,” on the other hand, shifts this musical direction 180 degrees, becoming a melancholic love motif, using piano and strings. Unfortunately, it once again shifts to that 80’s vibe of music, using soft drums to expand on this dramatic, yet lovely theme. “Big Hand” presents another tonal shift, sounding full of doom. It almost sounds like a penultimate boss, with all hope lost. It works, only for how different it sounds from the rest of the soundtrack.
While Time Travelers is an eclectic soundtrack, not all the pieces come together to form a satisfying whole. Much as with Hideki Sakamoto’s contributions to 428: In a Blockaded Shibuya, there are many novelty pieces that serve as amusing gimmicks in the game, but take away from the cohesion of the stand-alone experience. One example is “A Tribute to Seven (From Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.54 – I Allegro Affettuoso),” the most curious, odd, and misplaced fanfare in the soundtrack. This eight second reference to Schumann’s piece is absolutely baffling. It makes no sense to include this here, especially considering that no other piece on the soundtrack features Schumann’s music. UIt would’ve made more sense for Hideki Sakamoto to make his own fanfare, which ironically he does with “Signature Pose,” featuring a 4 second reprise of Ressentiment’s dramatic motif. Once again, only brief filler.
An Honest Heart (Kamiya’s Theme)”, presents yet another tone, moving into high energy action to represent a detective. It’s a good departure from the rest of the soundtrack and Sakamoto, having scored various action scores for video games, does well here. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t get more of these on the soundtrack. “Angst” keeps using the synthesizers, but in an even more repetitive fashion, despite having a mysterious and ethereal energy in the track. “Son” goes for pizzicato strings and music box type of music, returning to the sweetness of the beginning of the soundtrack, though there is a strangely ethereal choir in the background. It’s a nice fit to represent Kamiya’s drive to save his family.
“Sawaki’s Trap” is a major low point out of context. There is simply nothing in this piece of ambient underscore and the extra loop once again labours it, especially with its dead-rhythm. It serves to emphasise a dark atmosphere, but does so in a dull way. “Dead End” relies on more electronic ambience, proving a taxing bore on the ears, while the repetitive “Dilemma” isn’t much better. “Lost Hall,” once again rings in the death and dismay of Time Travelers, using the familiar violin passages with an ominous piano melody. It works well much better than the aforementioned tracks in terms of signalling incoming destruction. “Leaping Through Time,” though also brief and ambiance-focused, uses its digital flavor for its advantage and incorporates the main theme in an interesting way. “Tokyo Annihilation,” on the other hand, is big and brassy, and definitely sounds like a before-the-disaster piece. However, the sound drops a bit in quality, due to the what appears to be a smaller orchestra playing it and the repetitive string section.
“Moment of Truth” brings the orchestra back into full play, and sounds like a before-the-battle piece. It’s good overall, and still conveys both mystery and a sci-fi feel to it, while carrying a good amount of energy. This also transitions us into a small suite of battle themes: a welcome addition. “Ready for Combat” sounds fantastic, and definitely sounds like a battle already erupting. The rising trumpets are a real highlight to the track and are beautifully performed. “Victory Grasped,” a triumphal piece, is good as well despite its cheesy factor. “Now or Never” is the last battle theme presented here, and possibly the best one overall. It sounds very much like “Don’t Be Afraid” from the Final Fantasy VIII Soundtrack, and that’s a good thing.
“Shady Business” returns us to the jazzy side of Time Travelers, featuring some smooth bass slapping for good measure. Good, but different. Once again shifting even further, “The Bright Side of Life” features a kindly sounding orchestra, with very light jazzy elements, going back to the sweeter sounds. “Sultry Fantasy Escape” brings in the full romantic jazz, with a smooth saxophone, in a stereotypically “sexy” soundscape. Once again, different, but it works rather well, and is a nice respite. The second ends with “Harbinger of Sorrow,” a sad, but still romantic piece, evoking some nostalgia from near the beginning of the soundtrack. It is beautiful but bittersweet, making us feel like we have indeed neared the end of Time Travelers.
Disc Three opens up with “High Spirits” which sounds exactly as you would expect: adventurous, with an epic touch, and yet some bumbling and bustling energy overall. “Blissful Relief” and “Another Place and Time” are two more relaxing pieces, the former featuring a saxophone lead, the latter using many chords from elsewhere. “Carefree Days,” on the other hand, is a bit silly sounding, using plucked strings and mallets as progresses rather softly, before transitioning into Spanish flavored rhythmic piece. Interesting, and somewhat delightful, but not all that substantial. The Time Travelers main theme returns in “The Truth of the World,” combining piano with orchestra, and it sounds fantastic.
Unfortunately, the climax of the soundtrack is dominated by more atmospheric tracks that simply aren’t enjoyable. “Drenched in Dread”, “Perplexity”, and “In Vain” once again shift everything back into dark ambience, and is once again not all that interesting to listen to… The same applies for “Stunned”, which incorporates a horror-style piano motif well, but is still very repetitive. “An Emergency” also doesn’t sound as good as it could have, thanks to an obnoxious, almost scratchy electronic noise that consistently rises with the song. “Without Warning,” a digital focused action theme, is way too repetitive for its own good, though still creates a compelling timbre. Also holding back the climax of the soundtrack are more gimmicky pieces like the cheesy organ-based “Tragic Ending”, the bumbling march “Clumsy”, and a short fanfare theme reprise “To Be Continued”. The jazzy game show theme “Fool’s Failure” or cutesy Japanese ad “Rulers in Electricity” are much better, but still holds back the dramatic progression.
Since we’re nearing the end, “Dr. Schrödinger, tell me please? (Mikoto’s Theme)” returns in the orchestral/piano focused “Telephone That Passes Through Time” and music box version “The Final Letter”. They both sound great, complementing each other and leading to some thematic development. “Revolt of the Skulls,” the last real action piece, incorporates a repeating orchestral rhythm, in what appears to be the final stand in the game. “S.I.F.” is a foreboding orchestral piece that definitely signals an end, with its brooding orchestral pounding, while “Hour of Crisis” is big and dramatic but held back by its Psycho-esque string work. “For the Sake of Someone” forwards the end game, using a tragic motif and incorporating some of the same chords from “Time Travelers,” adding some reflective value to this nicely composed piece. “2031” is a very interesting piece, if not substantial enough, simply because of the desolation and mystery that it conveys. Just before the conclusion, “Skeleton” is brooding, mysterious, slightly chaotic, slightly sci-fi all at once. It is interesting, but also once again too unsubstantial to really leave a good impression.
Sarah Àlainn returns in “Farewell, Self,” once again adding some beauty in this destructio. This track quickly emerges as the strongest vocal theme, and the strongest version of the Time Travelers main theme. We end where we began, with “The Final Time Traveler,” Sarah Àlainn’s angelic voice now singing in Japanese. This final orchestral piece is simply beautiful, and is the best version of the main theme. The lyrics are also a particular high point as well, a welcome change from the rest of the vocal tracks. Although it doesn’t reach the same level that “Another Timeline” did, it is another definite highlight of this soundtrack. The vocalist is really the one who carries this piece forward, and the change from Japanese to English, while retaining that same beauty in her voice is impressive, and something that none of the other vocalists accomplish. With rising strings, brass, and voice, we bring this bold, flawed, but well-made soundtrack to a close.
The Time Travelers is a bold, pleasant, and sweet listener. However, it is far from perfect. It is filled with tracks that work well in context, but aren’t always interesting on a stand-alone level and don’t always come together to form a cohesive listen. It’s a particular shame that no track comes close to beating out “Another Timeline,” besides “The Final Time Traveler.” However, the good outweighs the bad, and Hideki Sakamoto proves to be a very good composer. I disagree with his own assertion that this is “his masterpiece” — it doesn’t come together as well as his Echochrome works or No More Heroes! — but it’s still well-done.+ If you want a diverse, melodic, well-produced soundtrack, and can cope with inconsistency, them the Time Travelers is recommended.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Julius Acero. Last modified on August 1, 2012.