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Soundtrack of the Month 11/2010: Xenogears

Soundtrack of the Month 11/2010: Xenogears

November 1, 2010 | | 10 Comments Share thison Facebook Soundtrack of the Month 11/2010: Xenogearson Twitter

I got a fever, and the only thing that can put it out is MORE XENO!

A few months ago, we named Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack for Xenosaga Ep. I: Der Wille Zur Macht as a soundtrack of the month. More recently, we learned via Mitsuda’s Twitter (and later Square Enix’s official site) that a Xenogears orchestral arranged album is in the works. Fans have every reason to get excited about this cult classic PS1 RPG again.

That’s why we thought it’d be appropriate to officially get the two disc Xenogears Original Soundtrack inducted into our very own hall of fame, which is of course our SotM column.

Yasunori Mitsuda first made waves with Chrono Trigger (alongside Uematsu and Matsueda), and he took on a number of joint projects after that. But this was Mitsuda’s first solo project. His signature style is found throughout, and it’s certainly something worth remembering.

Care to remember with us? Then join us after the jump for a more detailed look at the Xenogears OST, which is our November 2010 Soundtrack of the Month!

I was at a pool party with my church’s youth group in the summer of 1999. Just weeks earlier, I had completed one of the most challenging and in-depth RPGs my feeble teenage mind could fathom: Xenogears. While the pool party had the usual chart-topping CCM blaring in the background most of the time (Newsboys, DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, etc), at one point a college kid got up and decided to put a CD of his choice in the boom box. And that’s when I experienced an absolutely weird paradigm shift. It was so weird, one might call it “Xeno.”

This college kid, who was studying jazz at the University of North Texas (and only in Pennsylvania so he could hang out with some newly-made friends), had popped in the album “Woven Cord,” which is a live band/orchestral performance featuring Iona and the All Souls Orchestra. The lead vocalist to the band, Joanne Hogg, was singing her heart out on that CD. And her voice sounded strangely familiar to me. Knowing nothing about this “Iona” band, I asked my friend if perhaps the lead singer had ever done any work on video games. “Not that I know of,” he said. But I opened the liner notes for that CD, took a mental note of the name Joanne Hogg, and came home.

The Internet was still a terrible resource for niche topics like these in 1999, as typing in the name “Joanne Hogg” got me nothing more than references to Iona. I think I even tried “Joanne Hogg” + “RPG” and got nothing.

Before that summer was over, a friend of mine wanted to watch the end of Xenogears. Anime FMVs were a big deal back then, you know? And after struggling with the final boss for a second time, I got it. The paradigm shift completed as the end credits begun. “That’s her!” I shouted. And as the end credits rolled, I watched and indeed saw her name listed as the vocalist for “Small of Two Pieces.” What was this Contemporary Christian Music star doing in a game whose plot involved killing God?

It wasn’t too long beyond that when I started collecting VGM. Xenogears was one of the first soundtracks I picked up, and it was a good choice. Joanne Hogg is featured not once, but twice, on the OST, and at least at first, she was the reason I really loved this OST. “Small of Two Pieces,” while enormously cheesy according to some, is still one of my favorite game vocals of all time. The lyrics, written by Squaresoft’s own Masato Kato, were indeed pretty glib. And the verses made no sense. But the vocal performance, the celtic pipe parts, the guitar parts: all that stuff was awesome. Hogg also recorded a song with Mitsuda called “Star of Tears,” an unused track that was essentially a vocal version of the world map music.

I actually remember days where I’d put disc 1 of this OST into my CD player, listen to Star of Tears, then take the CD out and put in disc two just to listen to Small of Two Pieces. If you had asked 15-year-old me to write this Soundtrack of the Month article, I would’ve focused entirely on Joanne Hogg. I was in love. I even went and bought a bunch of Iona CDs (they have quite the discography). I’m sure I’ll bring up this topic plenty more on OSV in the coming months and years.

But I’m not going to mention Hogg’s work anymore. The fact is that Mitsuda’s work on Xenogears is a rare treat. Yes, many fans prefer Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross to this particular OST. And, as my tastes change from day to day, I may agree with those people. But Xenogears has a unique touch to it. Mitsuda has not made an OST quite like this one since.

Pick any one melody from this game, and you’ll probably be able to note a couple of things about it. First of all, that melody is likely thematic. Which means, of course, you’ll find it elsewhere on the soundtrack. “Bonds of Sea and Flame” and “Aveh” share the same basic melody. There are instrumental versions of the vocal themes. The opening “Dark Daybreak” has its theme found again in the final dungeon music, “Omen.” Yes, there are some songs whose themes are wholly original, but there are a lot of shared themes as well. Mitsuda would do this again in Chrono Cross. He didn’t do it as much in Chrono Trigger or Xenosaga.

Another thing you’ll notice about any melody you randomly pull out of the hat is that it is sing-along-able. This isn’t a necessary criteria for making a good soundtrack, but in many cases it sure does help. These melodies are absolutely memorable. They are catchy. And, yes, in many cases, they are Celtic/world style. Gotta love Mitsuda.

This soundtrack is fully packed with emotion. There are pieces that will easily lead you to shedding a tear. Others will get you feeling optimistic about the day ahead, and some can put you in a state of fear. The full range of human emotion is expressed well in this soundtrack. And with such a game as Xenogears, where humanity (individual and collective) is central to the story, you can’t help but think Square picked the right man for the job.

I also have to mention the synth vocals. I thought these were very impressive. The final two battle themes (“Awakening” and “One Who Bares Fangs At God”) use these strange, central Asian female vocal choirs. I absolutely love what I hear. There are other times that vocals are used differently, like that “talking over a loudspeaker” voice found in the battle theme “Crimson Knight.”

One final thought: the arranged album for this game CREID is also excellent. I very nearly picked it as the SotM, and someday in the future it may well end up being that (though we like to use OSTs for this feature, sometimes arranged albums deserve their place in the spotlight). If you want either album, the OST or the arranged, Square Enix did their own reprints of the DigiCube originals a few years ago. They should still be available.

If you want to leave a comment, we’d love to hear about your favorite songs and memories from Xenogears. Also, what do you want from the planned orchestra recordings?

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