Ys VI -The Ark of Napishtim- Original Soundtrack
Ys VI -The Ark of Napishtim- Original Soundtrack
October 28, 2004
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A few years ago, word of a new Ys game would have been looked upon with the same merit as a news story breaking on the internet on April Fools day. With the last installment in the series, Ys V, coming out with seemingly little fanfare in the mid-90’s, it seemed that the series had all but reached its conclusion. However, when Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim was officially announced, it was clear that Falcom’s premier franchise was back for another round of action. Even better, thanks to Konami wanting to expand their RPG lineup beyond the Suikoden series, Ys VI looks to be the first Ys game to come out of Japan since Ys III, and the first Falcom game to come out of Japan since Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes on the TurboGrafx CD. The game was even a Japanese launch title for the PlayStation Portable and thankfully that version made it to the US and European markets as well. Of course, since this is Falcom we’re talking about, one question weighed on everyone’s mind who was even remotely familiar with the series: “How would the music turn out?”
To be honest, I was a little worried about how the soundtrack for Ys VI would sound. The music for Ys V was good for standard SNES RPG music but did very little to distinguish itself from virtually every other RPG soundtrack out there. While the softer tracks were quite decent, the soundtrack itself bared little resemblance to the awesome synth-rock laden Ys soundtracks that had come before it. I tend to associate more energetic pieces like “First Steps Towards Wars”, “Palace of Destruction”, “Ruins of Moondooria”, “Termination”, “Be Careful”, “The Strongest Foe”, “The Ordeal Becomes Great”, and “Battle #58” with Ys. Having RPG music that can fit seamlessly into an old-school Mega Man game is something I find very appealing. To me, these tracks were what truly distinguished Falcom from the rest of the pack. Well, those and their frightening catalogue of arranged albums. Falcom’s recent resurgence has done little to help these fears, as their newer efforts have ranged from good (Zwei!!) to strange (VM Japan) to just plain boring (Legend of Heroes V). Even though Zwei!! was probably the best of these newer soundtracks, it was nothing like the simplistic pleasure of soundtracks like Ys I-IV, Legend of Heroes I and II, and Sorcerian. Arguably, it offered an experience some might call “deeper” with its wide array of instruments and soft melodies, but it simply lacked the energy and memorable tracks that even the 8-bit versions of old-school Falcom soundtracks had that separated them from the rest of the pack. I need something that goes beyond just easy-listening and I was worried that Ys VI would follow in the same vein as Zwei!! or, even worse, Ys V or Legend of Heroes V. Fortunately, the composers of Ys VI decided to take the best of both worlds, concocting a dangerously volatile hybrid of both new-school and old-school Falcom goodness.
The Ys VI The Ark of Napishtim Original Soundtrack is divided into two discs, both of which have completely different tones. Disc One is where many of the lighter, more pleasant themes reside, while Disc Two is dark and downright evil. Unlike Ys music in the past, many of these pieces are rather complex, containing passages that link together different parts of the pieces and, as a result, bloat the playing times a bit. This isn’t a bad thing at all, because while each track is dynamic, the pieces manage to stay within themselves and expand on the ideas they’re trying to convey, rather than droning on for the sake of making themselves longer. This added complexity is one thing people raised on old-school Falcom music need to adjust to, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. On top of that, each piece is looped, which explains why some track times that are generally in the neighborhood of 4-5 minutes apiece. Kudos to Falcom for choosing to loop the tracks and go to two discs, instead of putting everything at a single loop and having the soundtrack be on a single disc. The synth quality is perfectly acceptable, much better than the poor sound systems used on Ys I and II Eternal. Instrument samples are noticably artificial, but unless you’re completely synthaphobic, they shouldn’t bother you too much.
The main theme of this soundtrack seems to be “water”. This shouldn’t be at all surprising, considering the subtitle is “The Ark of Napishtim”. A lot of the tracks seem to exude a watery ambiance to them, especially towards the end of disc 1, with soft, bubbly synths for harmony and plenty of echo. The best examples of this are “Overwater Drive” and “Ultramarine Deep”. “Ultramarine Deep” starts out with a few soft notes, sounding as if it will be primarily an ambient song, but it picks up and becomes more like an old-school piece of Falcom rock being played underwater. The drums kick in around 1:15 in and, later, a long, watery chord is played over the piece to add to the underwater feel. “Overwater Drive” is very much the same way, except it focuses more on adding real water effects and the beat itself. Imagine an underwater version of “Beat of the Terror” from Ys 1 and you’re essentially listening to this. Both of these pieces are long and beautifully drawn out, making them easy to settle into. Sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and listen to all of the various bridges in both. “Ruins of Amnesia” and “The Zemeth Sanctum” are done very similarly. “The Zemeth Sanctum” is a beautiful piece that mixes piano, for the main melody and harmony, with the watery feel. “The Pirate Ship” is one of the more heart-warming melodies here, using an acoustic guitar in the background. Later on, the underwater tone is used to enhance the sense of danger in several tracks. “Ruined City Kishgal” gives the feel of an underwater city, but at the same time, the piece itself features a driving techno beat and a loud, chaotic violin. Going a step further, “Black Ark Unveiled” comes out of the gate with watery effects harmonizing with the hardcore techno-fest, giving the feel that this is the game’s final area. You’ll be dancing away to this one, despite the lack of any real melody.
It’s probably safe to assume the Zwei!! composers are behind at least some of the music, but it’s hard to know exactly, because Falcom only uses Sound Team J.D.K. to describe who does the music and avoids crediting individual names. “Reconciled People” is a lively town theme played using a flute and violin combination. Both instruments complement each other beautifully, even imitating each other during a series of pauses in the middle. “The Akindo” is a tribute to “Fountain of Love” from Ys I. Anyone who hears both tracks should be able to hear the resemblance quite easily. “Gratitude for Nature’s Blessings” is probably the closest track to Zwei!!‘s softer style. It features an acoustic guitar in the background, as a flute and the lead synth take turns on the melody. All the while, the tempo is constantly changing, making this one of the more interesting town themes I’ve heard. Other tracks seem to indicate the Zwei!! composers looking towards the classic Ys themes for more direct inspiration. The ending theme, “Spread Blue Sky”, sounds like the perfect combination of Zwei!!‘s quirky instrumentation with a tune that sounds like Ys I‘s “See You Again”, Ys II‘s “Stay With Me Forever”, and Ys IV‘s “Fantasy Horizon”, meaning it’s a very happy-sounding tune. The following track, “The Moonset Shore”, is a soft reprise of that.
This is all well and good, but what about the long overdue Falcom rock tracks making their triumphant return? Even if everything else had turned out to be a completely half-assed effort, the handful of them on here would more than make up for the rest of the tracks. We have to wait no longer than track 2, “Release of the Far West Ocean”, for the first of several great power rock pieces on here. This one starts out strong, with several whacks on the keyboard before the drums come in and the song explodes into a tune that is eerily similar to the “Dawn of Ys” from Ys IV. There are a couple of strategic breaks in the action, adding to the overall impact of this killer opening track. “Windslash Steps” sounds like it was pulled directly from Ys IV, as it’s almost a cross between “Lava Area ~ A Kiss from Eldiel” and (especially) “Celceta, The Sea of Trees”. Longtime fans of the series will be humming this one in no time. “Mountain Zone” is similar, but has a much more serious feel to it, using a harsh series of guitar chords to open before moving into the main melody. “Armored Bane” is pure insanity, using parts of “Battle Ground” from Ys II for the fast part of the piece and slowing it down a tad to play the main melody. The constant changing in tempo makes this one a lot of fun to listen to.
Finally, the two masterpieces of this album are the fierce combination of “Ernst” and “Mighty Obstacle”. “Ernst” is Falcom synth-rock at it’s finest, with a tune that’ll have you headbanging and humming at the same time guaranteed. The lead guitar, the lead synth, and a set of synthesized voices all take their turns playing the main melody. “Might Obstacle” is every bit as good, with awesome guitars throughout, both for the main melody and in the harmony. Major props to this one for choosing a rather unusual Egyptian flute instrument as the main instrument; whether or not it’s a tribute to the Egyptian interlude in “The Ordeal Becomes Great” from Ys IV is a moot point, because an Egyptian flute simply isn’t supposed to rock this much. Using my imagination, both of these probably sound closest to Ys III‘s “The Strongest Foe” because of some similar chord progressions, but even that’s a stretch. Both of these are original bad-assness at it’s finest (yes, I made bad-assness up). If these kind of tracks hadn’t been on this soundtrack, I would have been sorely disappointed, but even I couldn’t have guessed they’d turn out to be this good.
Overall, the Ys VI The Ark of Napishtim Original Soundtrack stands out as a bold example of how to mesh styles in a game soundtrack, while still functioning around a solid melodic core. There are a couple of minor, context-driven tracks that contribute little to the overall experience, but the main tracks don’t disappoint when they come up. This soundtrack was once incredibly difficult and expensive to come by (it was included as part of Falcom Special Box 2004, with no other way of obtaining it), but Falcom has since added it to their Falcom Millenium Series and you can easily snag it for about $30 either from them or through CocoeBiz. I highly recommend doing so.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andy Byus. Last modified on August 1, 2012.