Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack
Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
March 8, 2000; March 24, 2006
Buy Used Copy
Square has made some truly memorable games in its long history. Some were unbelievably well received by the public and critics (classics include Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and more). Some were surprising gems (including the beautifully created Rudra’s Hidden Treasure). But no games have been as deep and passionate as the ones created by Yasumi Matsuno and his team of talented developers. Those who know him will recognize his work on the Ogre games, Final Fantasy Tactics, and even the recently released Final Fantasy XII, his biggest project yet (with SaGa series executive producer, Akitoshi Kawazu). However, it has often been said that his work of the year 2000 was his best to date. Vagrant Story is one very unique game. Combining the traditional elements of Matsuno’s games with a smart new battle system and gripping story, it was rated a perfect 40/40 in an edition of the gaming magazine, Famitsu.
Like all of his games, Matsuno loves to use symphonic/electronica maestro Hitoshi Sakimoto. This has been a tradition since Sakimoto’s work on Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen back in 1993 (with partners Masaharu Iwata and Hayato Matsuo), even 13 years later with Final Fantasy XII. In Vagrant Story, Matsuno specifically directed Sakimoto to use a style and motif in the complete opposition of Final Fantasy Tactics. It is with a listen of this soundtrack that we discover the dark side of Hitoshi Sakimoto. The timbre of instruments largely resembles that of Final Fantasy Tactics but, like mentioned above, the mood is significantly darker. But, before I start this review, I’ll let you in on a secret. The original sound production aspects of the Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack were mediocre and, at times, out-of-date from the standards of Square at that time. This was largely at fault of the original mastering and the synthesizer programming. However, Square Enix did a more professional remastering of the original soundtrack in this new reprint, by Kenzi Nagashima, and now, the music sounds much clearer and the volume has been turned up, making this one of the many good reasons to buy this album.
We begin the adventure of Vagrant Story with “Opening Movie”, a nicely developed track specially programmed by Hidenori Iwasaki. The track has especially tasty brassy textures which lead up to a soft and presentable soft section and fitting conclusion. After the next track, we come to Sakimoto’s largest video game music track ever created, the famed “Climax of the Graylands Incident”. One thing that bugged me particularly was the poor synthesizer manipulation. The strings sound choppy and outdated, but this is no surprise with synthesizer operator Takeharu Ishimoto, who has since worked on Kingdom Hearts II. But never fear, this is no track that one should take lightly. Granted, it’s repetitive at times (as, in the game, it was used for the introductory movie) but the track is magically creative.
A good example of what many of the darker tracks progress like is found in “Catacombs”. Slow and eerie strings play an ambient melody line while horns come and compliment the strings. This is not to say that the whole soundtrack is ambient, but by the nature of the game, a good number of tracks have not got a whole lot of action in them. “Rosencrantz” is yet another of these tracks, but there is a lot more structure to it compared to the previously explained track. Low cello notes and awkward percussion dominates this track, with strings which enter at times to play melodic interludes. “The Great Cathedral” is specially programmed by synthesizer operator Hirosato Noda and you feel he had some influence on the track. An electronica beat starts out the track, then dark, ominous cellos confront the beat in addition with some strings.
There are, however, some tracks which are similar to the Final Fantasy Tactics‘ light but mature attitude. “Reminiscence” is emotional and mature, probably more akin to Sakimoto’s Ogre Battle tracks if anything, but the simple piano melody is perfectly associated with the flute and use of strings. “Joshua 2” has an amazing usage of orchestral strings and piano. Rather than having something on the lines of the slow melody, Sakimoto takes advantage of an upbeat melody. “Joshua” is slower but more complex with the way the melody is arranged, with the addition of more standard orchestral instruments. But really, all the lighter and mature tracks are highlights within their own right.
The ending tracks are often remarked as Sakimoto’s finest achievements. “Dawn of Lea Monde ~ The Story of a Wandering Person” is yet another track with ideal orchestration. The whole climatic feeling of the track is wonderful, as it is epic and moving. But it does not compare with “Staff Roll”, Sakimoto’s very first video game track that has live instruments in it (the orchestral strings are played by famous violinist Masatsugu Shinozaki and his string group). This credits theme has unbelievable development, reiterating the main theme of the game several times, but with much variation. The arranging, like usual, is phenomenal. I could not be happier with this piece!
The ‘remix’ tracks at the end of the soundtrack are interesting. The synthesizer operator, Ishimoto, has a go at arranging the original “Opening Movie” track earlier on in the soundtrack, and while this is an arrangement that may not be very accessible to people, the electronica addition to the track and the repetition makes this track enjoyable. Ishimoto has done a solid job. The next track, and the last on the album, is something I enjoy much less. Noda delivers something amicable, but to me, it’s not an electronica based track which I can listen to over and over again. Even more so, I cannot tell which original tracks Noda arranged.
Vagrant Story is not the Hitoshi Sakimoto work that is accessible to everyone. Like the game, it’s a unique soundtrack, with delicious ambient-natured orchestrations, with very often a breathtaking emotional track that will win your heart. If you already own the Final Fantasy Tactics Original Soundtrack, this is the perfect soundtrack to accommodate it as it contains the other side of the famed composer. For those who are unfamiliar with Sakimoto’s style, but love great orchestral music, I’d recommend this album in a heart beat, as it is one of the very few soundtracks that contain consistently high standard music throughout the listening experience. Hitoshi Sakimoto calls Vagrant Story one of his greatest achievements in game music, and it’s not hard to see why he has done so. It is a masterpiece worth the time of any game music fan.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Harry Simons. Last modified on August 1, 2012.