Tobal No. 1 Original Soundtrack
Tobal No. 1 Original Soundtrack
August 21, 1996
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Just like Tobal No. 1 itself, Square’s first ever PlayStation title, its soundtrack is completely unprecedented for several reasons. As well as being the ill-fated DigiCube’s first ever CD release, it features the largest number of composers to have ever been featured on a Square soundtrack, excluding Hanjuku Hero 4. Chrono Trigger‘s Yasunori Mitsuda, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest‘s Yasuhiro Kawakami, and Front Mission: Gun Hazard‘s Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu are the most prominent, though four other popular composers contribute as well. It also features the GUIDO team from Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time, who not only arrange, but are among the several live instrumentalists featured. Indeed, this is the first Square album to feature live instrumentists, though it features electronic music consistently as well, making it Square’s first electronica soundtrack and a natural predecessor to the scores for Tobal 2 and Einhänder. It is, however, influenced by a wide variety of genres, which makes it diverse as well as unusual. Clearly, this soundtrack is a must-have for game music historians, though it demands a slightly more in-depth analysis to conclude whether the standard gamer would find it an enjoyable purchase.
The score’s producer, Yasunori Mitsuda, takes a reasonably large role in the soundtrack, composing four major themes and two fanfares. “Tobal No. 1,” the title theme, has an alternative sound due to its unusual combination of overdriven electic guitar melodies, sitar arpeggios, and drum beats. It’s decent and immediately adds to the score’s character. “Vice” is one of his more unusual compositions, managing to be mesmerizing yet agitating at the same time. It combines lulling tuned percussion ostinatos and repetitive synth overtones with synthesized vocal chants and an aggressive bass line, making it both dramatic and misleading. “Your Name Is…” is a lovely fusion track that combines elements of new age, jazz, and hip-hop music into one delicious blend. The female synth vocals used throughout are unique and give the theme a tropical feel that has interesting similarities with certain themes from the Katamari Damacy Original Soundtrack. “Electrical Indian,” probably the game’s ending theme, is the most catchy of his efforts and largely succeeds as a complex fusion track. Because of this, it made a good subject for Tobal No. 1‘s arranged album, the Tobal No. 1 Remixes Electrical Indian. As the longest track on the album, however, it does grow repetitive fairly quickly and this negative feature is much more noticeable than in most other themes on the album, though most sadly feel a tad repetitious at times.
Junya Nakano’s contributions combine his trademark ambient and rhythmical style with outside influences. This assures they’re considerably more unique than his sometimes run-of-the-mill works and fit snugly in the soundtrack alongside the other composer’s contributions. The ‘new age’ “Hills of Jugon” is a subtle gem, which features some beautiful timbres, particularly when Haruo Kondoh’s bagpipes are added. These bagpipes are not at all blaring, simply adding to the character of the piece and giving some exotic flair to the album. “Cosmic Desert” is a complete contrast, however. Gone are the lulling melodic lines, replaced by hard-edged bass lines and all sorts of techno effects. It’s a definite grower and works well as a scene-setter too. “Gravitation Palace” is also a unique gem and this is largely thanks to the dissonance created by the prominent and somewhat out-of-tune bass riff. It’s one of Nakano’s most effective works ever and progressively intensifies, providing an enlightening experience. Though the latter two themes are not all that melodic, their unusual style and inherent groove make them inspired additions.
There are many Hamauzu fans out there, but some of them will probably be disappointed with his contributions here, which are neither as quirky nor as well-developed as his contributions to all other soundtracks. Experience cannot be the only factor, as tracks such as “BT ‘ultimate'” from the Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack were written when he first started his career yet had no opportunity to utilise. “Shinto Shrine” = A Big Plus. It’s a wonderfully groovy piece, featuring a funky bass line and some great pads; Hamauzu expertly incorporates traditional oriental elements into a piece of electronica here. “Vision On Ice” is also pretty good, sounding spacey due to its unusual synth use yet also having a feeling of sereneness due to the way everything is so consistent and subtly pieced together. “Volcanic Zone” is where Hamauzu starts to disappoint, however, and the theme fails to establish much coherency and suffers from a bass line that simply penetrates too much and becomes irritating. It has the fundamentals for being a great theme, but ends up sounding very annoying. “Poltano” is another minor disappointment, as it relies far too much on repetitive riffs and never really sounds as melodic as it could do. GUIDO’s remix in the Tobal No. 1 Electrical Indian Remixes album was definitely top-notch, however, and they allowed Hamauzu’s inspiration to be a realised in a much more effective way than it is here.
Of all the composers on the album, Yasuhiro Kawakami has easily had the least remarkable career, but his three contributions here are all wonderful. “Urban Sight” is one of the more interesting fusion pieces and is based around the contrast between jazzy guitar riffs and techno beats until it eventually develops. While what comes before is fun, the development section is truly awesome, filled with flair and ingenuity, though it eventually returns back to more electronic beats. “Disused Mine” is absolutely amazing, as it combines elements of jazz, industrial, urban, and techno music into one and also features an unforgettable saxophone hook. It sounds both hardcore and funky, making it ideal for adding some substance to the album. As for the Latino “Toridon!!,” this piece just gets better and better, with its catchy riffs at the beginning making the perfect basis for the theme to develop from. Half way through, the track reaches its finest point as distorted voice samples from Miki Koizumi are prominently featured, later imitated by Toru Nakajima’s trombone solos. It’s a very original addition, making it one of the first Square tracks to ever use pre-recorded vocals. (“Urban Sight” was actually the first, showing Kawakami is the source of all the inspiration when it comes to vocal use in the score). Overall, “Toridon!!” just grooves from beginning to end and really keeps the feet of the listeners tapping.
Several composers are only represented by a single track on this album, and, though such small contributions may not seem notable, each composer makes their mark and adds to the diversity of the album. Take Ryuji Sasai’s “Character Select,” for example; it reflects Sasai’s love for 1980’s rock well, with its groovy rhythms and quirky electic guitar melody, yet something entirely unique about is created by all the sound effects added and the unusual synth playing the bass riff. Its unusual concept alone makes it a firm winner. Yoko Shimomura and Kenji Ito also make small compositions, each creating one developed piece plus a simple fanfare. Ito’s major contribution, “Cloud City,” is an incredibly fast-paced, relentless, and brash electronic piece that appears to be inspired by psychedelic trance music. It’s extremely unusual, incomparable to anything Ito has ever created, yet keeps one enthralled and is fitting for the surreal image of a city in the sky. As for Shimomura’s “Aqua and Trees,” this is a likeable track that combines her trademark light-hearted styles with tropical sounds and jungle backbeats. It’s convincing and natural, not to mention hugely creative. Noriko Matsueda’s single contribution, “Tower Block,” concludes the soundtrack after a series of fanfares, and, despite not being used in the actual game, it is a fine and comprehensive theme. It is built up from a funk bass riff, which jazzy melodies, driving drum beats, and industrial tuned percussion motifs are all featured above.
This album does have its problems, but they’re tolerable. The most sinister of its failings is the fact that many themes are underdeveloped; even the better ones are often repetitive, suffering from endless loops and little distinctive melodies, and this doesn’t help the album collectively either, as it is already short. If listeners can ignore this, however, the album should be otherwise wholly appreciable for some. With eight composers and an array of different styles, the definitive feature that makes this album so special is its diversity. Most styles, whether they be rock, jungle, hip-hop, new age, and funk, are represented at some point all within the framework of electronica. Though this unfortunately means the album will only be accessible for a select few, it should mean it is a source of great fun for those more open-minded folks out there. While out-of-print for a while, it’s not too rare and should pop up at eBay occasionally; it’s well-worth a try, though listening to samples first may also be wise, and it should also be a source of interest in that it was so influential and unusual for its time.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.