Unchained Blades Original Soundtrack
Unchained Blades Original Soundtrack (UnchainBlades ReXX Original Soundtrack)
Dog Ear Records
July 27, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
Unchained Blades Original Soundtrack (also known as UnchainBlades ReXX Original Soundtrack in Japan) is the score to the Nintendo 3DS and PSP game. Two of its themes are composed by Nobuo Uematsu, while the rest is composed by Tsutomu Narita, a member of Uematsu’s Earthbound Papas band. Although Narita has previously for many years arranged game music, this is his first foray into composing it. This dungeon crawler has a very classic JRPG style to it, both in visuals and in music, and Narita draws from the best in crafting a solid soundtrack with a few personal touches to it.
The soundtrack opens and closes with Uematsu’s two contributions. “Regain Power” is a light marching theme, embodying a hopeful and majestic spirit. It begins simply, with the brass leading with the melody before the strings sweep in with it later on. It sort of meanders and never becomes anything spectacular, but it has a memorable enough melody, as Uematsu is known for. The closing theme, “Main Theme of UnchainBlades ReXX” uses the melody of “Regain Power”, but develops it. It has a somewhat similar arrangement and instrumentation, but with several other figures added along and a grander, more dynamic sound. Later on it switches to different segments, one more light and wispy and another more mysterious, but when the theme returns it is victorious and spectacular, finishing strong in spite of the limitations of the synth orchestra sounds that make up the soundtrack.
The rest of the soundtrack is composed by Tsutomu Narita. A couple of these are event or special themes. “Encounter with the Goddess” is the first of these, an important theme in the game but unfortunately rather unimpressive in this incarnation. It has a slow and ominous digital choir and organ, and neither of the sounds hold up particularly well, leaving the track rather flat. The battle victory track “My Triumph” is typical as far as these themes go with a fanfare and bright theme following. “A Bit of Encounters” is a better cheerful track with a light band and a variety of supporting instruments and synths, and the main melody helmed by a charming woodwind. “Where the Wish is” with a combination of strings and piano, and although the strings are noticeably lower quality, the piano sound is good enough to convey the strong emotion of the track while the strings support. It has a good build, and I appreciate that the strings are able to offer some basic counterpoint later on, rather than merely filling out chords. “Unleashed Light” is the resolving track of the soundtrack, and is fairly standard with sweeping strings and growing bass that leads to a blossoming of sounds. It’s not too strong melodically, but it has decent dynamics and serves its purpose.
A number of area tracks are also present. “Tones of Towns” is another light theme similar to “A Bit of Encounters”, again with a variety of instruments that fill out the sound while drawing attention away from the shortcomings of the sound library. There’s plenty to hear in the track, and it comes together into a very warm song. It’s one of my favourites, despite surface simplicity. “The Temple of Trials” has a moody atmosphere, mixing strings, piano, choir, and spacious percussion lines together. Here too Narita’s use of layers is great, and the arrangement well conveys the character of its location. “The Temple of the Skies” is a bit similar in pacing, but it carries a much more sombre mood helped by emotive strings above and a constant undercurrent of tense bass below. A harpsichord plays throughout but never does any of the arpeggiations or flourishes that the instrument is known for, interestingly accentuating the solemn feel of the track. Even though these tracks don’t necessarily have strong melodies, they do a great job of communicating atmosphere and are still great listens both in and outside of game.
The other area tracks are the dungeon theme “Titan” tracks. The first, “Titan of Dallis”, is a bit of an outlier in a heavy rock style, though this is to the song’s benefit. It has a complex changing meter throughout that works really well, and it also has solid synths on melody that later give way to glorious electric guitars. “Titan of Tortuga” is more representative of the group, a nice slower track with an airy woodwind on melody and piano/percussion accompaniment. It has an expansive exotic feel to it, helped by echoing percussion and airy piano bits. “Titan of Slon” is even more overtly tropical with its marimba and exotic vocal overtop. The track has a great build, with the strings taking centre stage later on adding a majestic character to the track. “Titan of Aguila” is one of my favourites from the score, with a wonderful layering of differing rhythms that is really great when it all comes together. It’s also quite varied in its instrumentation, passing the spotlight around to keep things interesting. The tropical atmosphere persists here, but Narita in no way feels like he is repeating himself. The last of these tracks is “Titan of Loewe”, markedly different in that it is an ominous track with organ and orchestra. It uses the “Encounter with the Goddess” theme along with a neat slowed down reprise of the lead up to the regular battle theme of the game. This track is much better than the original “Goddess” theme thanks to its grander sound from the fuller orchestration (mainly the strong brass) and the introduction of supplementary melodic figures throughout.
Last to be discussed are the album’s battle tracks and other more upbeat themes. The regular battle theme “UNCHAINED” is a decent rock and synth battle track that is fairly typical but suffers a bit from lower quality synths, though Narita keeps it strong enough with shifting sounds and a good amount of energy. “Follow the Master!” is much better with its synths, sounding much slicker. It also is aided by a piano and a more energetic sound that makes the track plain fun. “Envoy of Hades” is more serious, starting ominously at first with deep percussion and orchestra, but soon picking up with the rest of the band. It gains a great epic sound as it builds, and the melody is quite solid too. The Titan battles theme “Trial of God” brings things back to more typical sounds, here with a darker melody but still with an energetic atmosphere. This too has a good amount of variation as it goes on, keeping it from being repetitive. Then there is the climactic “The Very Strong”, which is also based on “Encounter with the Goddess” and “Titan of Loewe”. It sports a very powerful sound to it, mixing choir, orchestra, and organ to great effect. The instruments sound their best here, and they are at the service of a great arrangement that is epic and has strong development. There are also great contrasting moments of quiet and epicness, among many rhythm changes, all coming together in a track that stands among some of the finest JRPG ending boss battle themes.
Unchained Blades Original Soundtrack is a great first effort from Tsutomu Narita as lead composer. It falls squarely in the style of traditional JRPG soundtracks, but Narita has a good ear for melodies, and is also capable of making atmospheric and layered works. Some of it is at times a bit unimaginative and even cheesy in how close it adheres to genre trappings, but there is enough stronger material to help overlook those shortfalls. It’s a shame that sound quality limitations also hamper the score, as it is really deserving of more live instruments and better sound. Still, Narita does his best with what he’s given, and the result ranges from the passable to the really great in the boss battle tracks and in the inspired Titan dungeon themes. Fans of the game will certainly enjoy this release, but even others looking to find some new rising composers would do well to check this out.
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Posted on March 23, 2016 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on March 23, 2016.