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Dragon Fantasy: Book II OST (Review)

Dragon Fantasy: Book II OST (Review)

July 3, 2014 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Dragon Fantasy: Book II OST (Review)on Twitter

If you frequent videogame news sites like Destructoid, the name Dale North is probably familiar to you. He’s been a contributor and editor for many news sites across the web, including this one. Currently he is the Editor-In-Chief at Destructoid.com, providing readers with insight on games and gaming events. But did you know that Dale North is also a talented musician and composer? Recently he was tasked with writing the music to the game Dragon Fantasy: Book II. North has done some work with music remixes, including work on Overclocked Remix, but this is his first time writing and releasing an official videogame soundtrack.

The game Dragon Fantasy: Book II is an indie title that pays homage to old-school RPGs. Everything from the combat system down to the SNES era pixel art is meant to evoke the games of the earlier console generations. For this project, North is tasked with producing original music that can engage the players and at the same time contribute to the sense of nostalgia that the game is aiming for. A complicated composition task to undertake. So does Mr. North rise to the challenge? Read on to find out.

Right off the bat, the Dragon Fantasy: Book II soundtrack sets us up for a return to the familiar world of old-school JRPGs. The music is primarily orchestral, with a few electric guitars and basses added here and there, and keeps to a music style similar to that of the older Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger. The first few tracks, “Opening Theme” and “Onward to Adventure,” feature some very upbeat and memorable melodies. While the first track presents a heroic and adventurous theme, the preceding track reworks the same thematic material into a lighter and more cheerful variation. The music has its own original flavor, but still has the familiar pacing of the music from earlier RPGs.

While the music’s writing style falls in line with what you’d expect from traditional RPG soundtracks, the quality of the actual instruments is more up-scaled. The instruments being used are still virtual imitations of orchestral instruments, but they are of much higher caliber than the SNES sound fonts of the 90’s. With this soundtrack, Dale North emulates a composition style similar to that of the early work of Nobuo Uematsu or Yasunori Mitsuda, but modernizes the sound of his music with the newer and improved tools of today. It’s a great way to give this genre of music a modernized audio aesthetic and it helps distinguish North’s unique music writing from that of previous composers.

Of course, Dragon Fantasy: Book II wouldn’t be much of an old-school RPG if it didn’t have frequent turn based battles against monsters and foes. This brings us to the soundtrack’s battle music. The track “Gutsy Tactics” is the game’s battle theme, which plays every time your adventuring party get caught up in a fight. Much like the opening tracks, the music has an upbeat and heroic flare to it. The piece opens with an exciting theme in the brass and strings, which is further enhanced by a lively drum kit accompaniment. The strings and piano get a fair amount of time with their own material later in the piece. The track keeps a decent amount of momentum throughout its run, providing the perfect accompaniment for the game’s turn based battles. The catchy melodies and great arrangement is always enjoyable and never becomes stale or unwelcome during multiple listening sessions. A good thing too, considering you will hear this piece played numerous times during your playthrough of the game.

The one set of tracks that I always look forward to in any videogame is the boss battle music. On this album, this comes in the form of the track “Valorous Struggle.” Much like the previous battle track, the music is energetic and upbeat. Complete with organ, rock drums, strings, and brass, the music builds an intense atmosphere for the more challenging fights in the game. I especially like the little touches of the glockenspiel and piano highlighting some of the chord hits. It’s a great battle track, that I’ve enjoyed listening to during and away from the game.

While battle music is always sure to bring dramatic tension to a game’s conflicts, an RPG soundtrack also needs to set the right atmosphere for the various locations that you explore throughout the game world. I’m happy to report that Dale North pulls this off remarkably well. Town or village themes like “Port Awesomegrogg” and “Down and Out In Frostsword” have their own unique sound, which helps establish their identity. “Port Awesomegrogg” features steel drums light woodwind instruments, evoking a pleasant island setting; while “Down and Out In Frostsword” has a more laid back and mysterious sound, featuring a bassoon melody and funk guitar riffs.

Areas outside of villages and towns are your standard exploration/dungeon areas found in most JRPGs. During your time playing Dragon Fantasy: Book II, your party will travel through caves, forests, and across oceans. Like the town themes, each area has music that gives each section its own identity. One of my favorite exploration tracks on this album is “Ballad Of Frigid Winds.” The piece is heard while you travel through a snow covered forest area, outside of Fostsword. The piano, bassoon, and oboe are the central focus on this track. The two woodwinds get most of the melodic material in the beginning, while the piano takes over for the back half of the track loop. It’s an incredibly mellow and relaxing piece that I kept coming back to for repeated listens.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Dragon Fantasy: Book II OST. Dale North manages to capture the spirit of classic fantasy RPG music, while still keeping it fresh and interesting in this well explored genre. The melodies and themes are memorable, the quality of the audio and instruments is superb, and many of the pieces stand well on their own outside the game. North has found a way to evoke a sense of nostalgia with his music, while still maintaining a composition style of his very own. If you’re a fan of old school RPGs and their music, I would highly recommend checking this album out. This soundtrack is an excellent start for Dale North as a videogame composer and I can’t wait to see what he ends up doing next. The Dragon Fantasy: Book II OST can be purchased on Amazon, Loudr, and Bandcamp.

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