Game Music, Reviews

A Tactical Love Letter: Ravenmark OST (Review)

November 16, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook A Tactical Love Letter: Ravenmark OST (Review)on Twitter

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. An up-and-coming composer intends to please fans while flattering two of his favorite composers…

We hadn’t heard from Josh Whelchel in awhile. Yes, he did produce a three-album set for his 2011 “Songs for the Cure” charity series. But as for game soundtracks, I’ve been waiting and waiting for Whelchel’s next big release.

That release came out on 11/11/11, and it’s the soundtrack for an iOS Strategy RPG from Singapore-based Witching Hour Studios called Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion. The 70 minute soundtrack accompanying the game is available via Bandcamp for only $5.

After the jump, we’ll talk about the composers who influenced Whelchel for this soundtrack and what makes it a perfect, fitting addition to Josh’s growing discography.

The following paragraphs, written by Josh himself, appear in the album’s liner notes.

This is a love letter. It’s not written for you, but you’ve stumbled upon it (probably while searching for gold or something like that).

It is addressed to Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto, composers of the Final Fantasy Tactics original soundtrack. Like most declarations of infatuation, it is very obviously stated – but what it lacks in subtlety it retains in passion. The letter begins on track one and ends on track forty.

The Ravenmark: SOE soundtrack sits just at 70 minutse of music I composed and produced in my bedroom studio, originally located in Cincinnati, Ohio and now happily stationed in San Francisco, California.

I hope you enjoy the music as much as I enjoyed writing it!

While I hope the intended recipients of this love letter do manage to hear it, those lucky fans who “stumble” upon it are certainly going to get a lot out of it too.

By using what many believe to be the standard for Strategy RPGs as a starting point, Josh Whelchel happily imitated and built upon the score for Final Fantasy Tactics. That’s not to say that he is ripping the music. My ears detected a sum total of zero direct, melodic references to the FFT soundtrack, though I’m sure if we asked Josh, he might be able to point to one or two key items.

The way in which Whelchel lovingly acknowledges the strength of Iwata and Sakimoto’s classic score is in the musical genre, and in the sound palette. The entire Ravenmark soundtrack is produced using high-quality synthesizers. It is sequenced music, through and through. It uses all of the instruments of a traditional symphony orchestra. From my perspective, this is Whelchel’s most technically impressive work to date.

This soundtrack is made up of three general types of music: character themes, event themes, and battle themes. Among them, I am most fond of the battle themes. The first one to appear on the soundtrack, “Apoplectic (Estellion Battle A),” shares the song title of an FFT track. Whelchel’s score is on par. It’s string heavy: both bowed and plucked. There are these incredible, furiously fast melodic runs that I’d love to see a real orchestra attempt to play (I’m still holding out for someone to do an “indie game orchestra” venue.)

Among the character themes, my favorite is the piano-rich “Alejo’s Theme.” Basically, you have this minor key chamber orchestra piece, and then the piano appears with these faux-impromptu decorative runs and bouncy fourths and fifths to reinforce the tempo. It gives me chills.

Right in the middle of the soundtrack, we get a short tune that makes use of one of Sakimoto’s most cherished instruments: the harp. The one minute “Perplexity for a Devilish Heart” sounds just like the sort of thing you’d hear in FFT, Vagrant Story, and other Sakimoto/Iwata “Ivalice” titles. And yet, it is fully original, fully the work of this young and talented composer from the West.

Though the soundtrack is technically tracks 1 through 40, two bonus tracks are included (and they are free to download separately if you don’t want to purchase the OST). One comes from Jimmy “BigGiantCircles” Hinson, the other from HyperDuck SoundWorks (Chris Geehan, et al). The BGC arranged track is my favorite of the two, but they’re both good, and they both provide totally new and different takes on Whelchel’s melodies for this project.

I don’t presently own any iOS device, so sadly, I am not able to try out this Turn-Based Strategy game to see if the game itself is worthy of such a strong score. Fans of the great JRPG soundtracks of old will be pleased to discover you don’t have to live in the land of the rising sun to make great, epic synth orchestral music. Josh did it in two different US states, so there’s your proof. It can be done. Now, if you feel so inclined, support this starving artist by buying the soundtrack; and/or, leave a comment about the music and my likely inadequate attempt to explain why it’s worth your time.

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