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A Very Special Gift: The Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box (Review)

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Every once in awhile, game companies surprise us by giving us exactly what we want in terms of game music. While I admit that doesn’t occur often, Capcom is generally one of the companies that show game music fans some love, and I’m sure their in-house record label Suleputer has something to do with it. You guys know I am a huge fan of the Breath of Fire series, as Breath of Fire III served as our soundtrack of the month back in September, so you can imagine that I was pretty excited when Capcom released the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box back in 2006.

What’s in it? Well, everything. Not only will you find the Breath of Fire IV and V soundtracks intact, but the original Breath of Fire, which never received an official soundtrack release, as well as additional music from Breath of Fire II and III, are also included, making this the end-all collection for Breath of Fire music fans. Even more, we recently learned that Capcom’s former Sound Director Tetsuya Shibata was responsible for putting the set together, often without the source files, so we should all be thankful for his diligence and Capcom in general for making this possible.

Our review of the massive, 11-disc box set is waiting for you after the jump.

Wow, I had forgotten just how much I loved the original Breath of Fire soundtrack. Composed by Yasuaki Fujita, Yoko Shimomura, Minae Fujii, and Mari Yamaguchi, it still remains one of my favorite soundtracks in the series. It takes an orchestral approach, starting with the epic opening, “The Dragon Warrior,” and working in several memorable pieces like the Castlevania-esque “White Dragon,” the touching “Fate,” “Sorrow,” and “Dejection” (my personal favorite) and the powerful overworld themes, “Starting the Journey ~Breath of Fire~” and “Distant View.” When it comes to dungeon themes, two of my favorites are “Deep Forest” and “Ancient Ruins,” each with a heavy trip-hop influence. The town themes are also great, with the traditional orchestral “Music City” being my favorite of the bunch. And the battle tracks? “Beginning of the Battle” seriously rocks it with its persistent pads and a super-high speed piano and string melody, while “Battling” gets the blood boiling with its bassline and catchy progression. The last boss battle, “Black Dragon,” is also a really foreboding piece of music and memorable for its simplicity.

Yuko Takehara single-handedly scored Breath of Fire II, which I admit I’m not all too familiar with (I tended to enjoy the odd numbered titles in the series the most). Interesting, Takehara worked extensively on Mega Man X, which really comes off through this soundtrack both in terms of composition and sample selection. “The Destined Child” and “A Voice Calling From The Darkness” start things off on a foreboding note, and also immediately show an improved quality in sound over the original game’s score. “Critical Moment” and the battle theme, “Cross Counter” sound like Mega Man tracks with their synth rock approach. “Clean Hit” and “Dying Corpse” also take a similar approach, but the steady basslines and brass synth leads give them much more impact. “We’re Rangers,” on the other hand, is super upbeat, sounding like a cheesy superhero theme. “Left Unspoken” impresses with a harpsichord-like synth, and “God of Decadence” did the same with its solo organ work (if you don’t remember, harpsichord and organ are my two favorite instruments). I wish more of the score had been like this.

Moving on to Breath of Fire III, I won’t bore you by talking about the same stuff from my previous review, so just suffice it to say that there are a huge number of amazing tracks here, composed by Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki. In terms of new material, there is of course a lot of it. “Healing” is a soothing ambient track that makes use of pianos and pads with lots of reverb, while “Heavy Echo” and “House of Worry” (which is one of the tracks I missed most on the OST) are ghastly pieces of music with spooky atmosphere and foreboding melodies.

Getting into the jazz music that the score is known for, I love the twangy guitar arpeggios and jazzy percussion, bass, and piano in “Falling Green,” as well as the smooth and melancholy sound of the second overworld theme, “To a Distant Place.” “Waking Up In the Morning Leads to all the Encounters ~Nina’s Theme~” (these new tracks have the longest titles ever… thanks Shibata-san!) is an upbeat jazzy theme that’s consistent with Nina’s perky personality. Venturing into the pop realm, “Regret Comes From Relying On Others” is a powerful piece of music that is emotionally charged, sounding like it could have benefited from Aoki’s vocal magic. “The Town Loved By The Wind” is equally pop-like, but absolutely beautiful and cheerful in contrast. This was always one of my favorite tracks from the game.

Lastly, “Self-Determination ~ Last Battle ~” makes an appearance one of the series’ most epic battle themes. It’s less than 4 minutes in length, but the wailing synth guitars and gritty electronic bassline make for an awesome experience. I would say that while I’m ecstatic to finally have access to these “lost” songs, I’m perplexed by the fact that the remixes from the original BOF III soundtrack are not present here.

Since Breath of Fire IV and V appear in their entirety here, there’s not much to say other than they’re excellent scores and are great to have in this collection if you don’t already own them individually. Yoshino Aoki tackled Breath of Fire IV on her own, and while it lacked the jazzy flair that I loved from Breath of Fire III, I like the mood generated by this album with its thick reverb that gives the entire score a wide open feel. Breath of Fire V is all Hitoshi Sakimoto, combining an orchestral sound reminiscent of his work on Final Fantasy Tactics with some electronic elements to lend a unique sound to one of the most bizarre titles in the series. The funked out “Lift” has been on constant rotation on my iPod since I first got it, and the intense “Maddening Heart” and disparaging “No Regrets” are great examples of classic Sakimoto orchestral battle themes. “Electricity Supply Building” is another favorite of mine, coming in as a groovy electronic ambient track that was surprising from Sakimoto. The final track, “Escaping From Now” features an ascending string progression that slowly builds in intensity, bringing back the Breath of Fire sound of olde.

Well, there you have it. I’ve gone on for much longer than I had wanted to, but it’s hard to be brief when there’s 11-discs of amazing music to cover. This is certainly a much appreciated gift from Capcom to fans of the Breath of Fire series. The packaging is quite nice as well, as the 11-disc trays are all contained in a little binder along with a booklet that contains liner notes from all the composers and many Breath of Fire series producers. The binder fits inside of a thick, vinyl-covered slip case with a simple and elegant “Special Box: Breath of Fire Original Sound” written in metallic red font. It’s an impressive site to behold. While finding it may be challenging, as there were only 2000 units created, I highly recommend seeking it out as it’s loaded with great music and lots of memories.

What’s your favorite soundtrack from the Breath of Fire series? Were you one of the lucky few to get your hands on this massive love-fest of a box set?

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