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Game Music

Koshiro Stretched Thin: 7th Dragon Original Soundtrack (Review)

Koshiro Stretched Thin: 7th Dragon Original Soundtrack (Review)

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How did we miss this one? We couldn’t get enough of the Live by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version album, but we somehow never got around to covering 7th Dragon’s soundtrack itself. Given how much I loved the piano and strings album along with the fact that this game was developed (and composed) by the team responsible for the Etrian Odyssey series, it would only make sense that I’d also love the game’s soundtrack, right?

As it turns out, this wasn’t a safe assumption. Does that mean I hated the 7th Dragon soundtrack? Well, not quite, but I’m not going to give away all my thoughts before getting to the review. This is certainly a mixed bag from Yuzo Koshiro.

Read our review of the 7th Dragon Original Soundtrack after the jump!

So, with loose ties to Etrian Odyssey at least in terms of the staff involved, it comes as no surprise that Koshiro got this 4-disc soundtrack release with two discs dedicated to the Nintendo DS version and two dedicated to a “retro” version. He’s done this with the Etrian Odyssey soundtrack releases, and while this tradition continues here, rather than the “retro” PC-88 versions that we’ve seen with the Etrian Odyssey releases, we instead get a “retro sound source” version, that actually sounds a whole lot like the NES.

Now, I adore the classic NES sound, but I prefer it to this album’s Nintendo DS version not only for nostalgic reasons, but more so because the Nintendo DS version is, well… terrible. It sounds plain, uninspired, and given the two-loop format for all of Koshiro’s lengthy compositions, it’s downright boring (some of the tracks are so long with two loops that I had to skip to the next track even with the retro sound source version). What makes this even worse is the fact that the first two discs are dedicated to the Nintendo DS version, which immediately turned me off to the score. I had no idea how the piano and strings album had sounded so great, but this soundtrack could be so underwhelming. Fortunately I stuck it out and found pleasure in the retro sound source version, but I can’t help but feel bad for gamers in Japan (the game wasn’t released in the West) who perhaps wrote off the in-game score as some of Koshiro’s worst work.

So, regarding the music, even the layout is very similar to Etrian Odyssey soundtracks, right down to the numerous “labyrinth” and “battlefield” themes. We start, however, with the bouncy “The Adventure’s Beginning” which sports some amazing NES harmonies that really swell with emotion despite the technical limitations of the sound source. There’s the pleasant (although not particularly memorable) theme that follows titled “Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic,” and an upbeat jazzy tune with a swagger, “Choice,” that caught my attention right from the start. Later, “Songstress of the South Seas / Marlleaire Islands” moves into this same territory with a bossa nova-esque approach, providing a soothing break from the epic fantasy themes found elsewhere on the album.

Two of my favorite tracks on the album are actually two of the most mellow. “Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation” is a lovely piece implementing NES-style strings to voice what sounds like a heavenly church piece. I almost thought I was listening to a Koichi Sugiyama composition, it’s that good! “Peaceful Inn” is an equally soothing piece of music that I remember as one of my favorites from the piano and strings album. It’s simple, but it will definitely put a smile on your face.

Koshiro and his labyrinth themes do most of the heavy lifting here. “Labyrinth – Domain of the Bewitching Flowers” is one of my favorite tracks on the album with its dark and mysterious descending melody. The many layers of sounds create a touch of chaos, although it moves along at a measured pace. It’s really a great track. Next, “Labyrinth – Underground Grotto” seemingly borrows some inspiration from “Fog Valley” from Faxanadu not only in terms of gloomy atmosphere, for also in terms of the distinctive flange and reverb effects on the synth arpeggios in the beginning. “Journey – Land of Conflict,” on the other hand, is direct and to the point with marching percussion and a regal melody that is one of the album’s most epic. Towards the end, “Labyrinth – A Land Throbbing” is notable not only for its odd title, but also for its tense atmosphere, with chords that sneak up on you unexpectedly.

The first battlefield theme, “Battlefield – Swords Bursting” actually sounds a bit like “Poke Floats” from Super Smash Bros. (and probably some Pokemon game I never played) before launching into a powerful percussion-driven battle tune. “Battlefield – Seven Threats” is also strong on percussion, working in a buzzing-like effect with rapid note changes and arpeggiator effects. “Battlefield – Enraged Ones” is fast-paced and hectic with a bass that does some serious damage, and will certainly put your subwoofer to work. While not as heavy, the driving bassline in “Battlefield – Howl, Veteran Soldiers!” really gets the blood pumping, and the overactive synth lines are not only cool, but also build a lot of tension. The final battlefield theme, “Battlefield – Tower of Crimson Pickets,” is cool and collected, yet pushes forward with repetitive synth lines and an uncertain bassline, moving on towards the final encounter. That final encounter, titled “Three Dragons / The Mad True Dragon Niara,” is an 8-minute long journey that is rather unconventional with its jarring pauses and cinematic qualities, even with the retro sound source. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s an impressive and ambitious piece of music. But wait! After “The Tale Ended!,” listeners are treated to a mysterious “Hidden Truth” before ” Two Dragons / The Cruel Mother God N.D” explodes with a flurry of percussion and bass with interspersed melodic interludes, making for a much more powerful final battle theme. “The Adventurer’s End” brings us down from this epic battle, but again, it won’t be a track that you’ll find yourself humming afterward.

While the album packaging is quite nice with silver metallic ink on the slipcase and tons of artwork found on the discs and disc trays, the booklet is sparse with a small artist profile and brief one-liners for each of the tracks on the album. I have to say that while I had high expectations for this soundtrack given how much I love the music of Etrian Odyssey and the piano and strings arrange album, I can’t help but be disappointed. You likely won’t have any desire to listen to the Nintendo DS version after skipping through most of the tracks your first time through, and even with the retro sound source version, you’re probably going to skip to your favorite tracks each and every time. There are certainly some gems on this album, but if anything, this album makes me realize what an amazing job 5pb Records, Koshiro, and Hibino did with the piano and strings album’s song selection, as all of my favorite tracks are represented there. If you’re a huge Koshiro fan, you can pick up the 7th Dragon Original Soundtrack at Play-Asia or CD Japan, but I’d recommend skipping it in favor of the Live Music by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version album.

What were your thoughts on Koshiro’s work on 7th Dragon? Do you prefer the “retro sound source” to Koshiro’s standard PC-88 format?

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