Game Music, Reviews

Uematsu’s New Beginning: The Last Story Original Soundtrack (Review)

June 6, 2011 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Uematsu’s New Beginning: The Last Story Original Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

A lot of people have been watching this game very closely. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi at Mistwalker, people immediately drew comparisons to Final Fantasy, at least in game title. What we were most interested in, however, was Nobuo Uematsu’s involvement, which is almost always a sure thing when Sakaguchi is making a new game.

The game was released in Japan in January, and from what I saw on my trip there, it was being heavily promoted. The 3-disc soundtrack was released in February, and while there isn’t even a release date for regions outside of Japan, many picked up the soundtrack and were surprised by what they heard.

What was so surprising about The Last Story’s soundtrack? Read our review after the jump to find out.

Without evening listening to the score, I was surprised by the small number of tracks featured on the album. While there are three discs, they total only 42 tracks. Small by Final Fantasy standards, which of course everyone is going to compare it to, but you kind of get the idea that these are the heartiest of tracks that made the cut into the game.

Once you get the first CD in, however, you’re going to again be surprised. Right from the opening “Theme of THE LAST STORY,” there’s a rich cinematic orchestral sound that will have you thinking of modern Hollywood film scores. Even more surprising is the fact that GEM Impact’s Yoshitaka Suzuki is credited as the primary arranger, synthesizer operator, and guitar player on the album, and you’re definitely going to notice the resemblance, at least in soundscape, to the Metal Gear Solid titles that Suzuki has worked on in the past. As far as the theme itself is concerned, it covers a wide variety of emotions, which I can appreciate as on overarching theme for the game, and the main motif that’s repeated elsewhere throughout the score is appropriately memorable.

With only 42 tracks on the album, you’d think you’d have to love every one of them, right? Well, true to this newfound cinematic style, not every track is going to speak to you with its melody. Most of the tracks are effective at conveying a particular emotion, whether it’s anger, fear, distrust, love, or sadness, but they don’t always make for the most interesting outside listening. A few do stand out simply for their melody, however, which is great given Uematsu’s history of crafting great melodies.

The contemplative “Timbre of the City” is one such track, coming as very dark and somber, but also working in the main theme. Another similarly tinged track, “Bonds,” not only sports an amazing melody, but the acoustic guitar and violin duet is simply beautiful despite being melancholy. Violin and guitar return in “Just Being Near You,” sounding like something off the Live Music by Piano and Strings arrange albums. “When Hearts Connect” is another beauty, working in spacey pads and sound effects to give the track an otherworldly quality, while the waltzy “Hearts Bounce Loudly” is as playful as it is beautiful.

Uematsu also explores a variety of styles on the album as well. “Being Congenial” is a fun and swinging big band jazz piece, complete with a saxophone solo, while “Bout of Arena ~ Battle Banquet” opts for a flamenco sound. If you want a Celtic tavern track, “Pub for Gathering” has you covered, immediately bringing to mind David Arkenstone’s Taverns of Azeroth album. There’s some Black Mages-style goodness with “Death Dance,” complete with Uematsu’s signature rock organ and some fancy synth work alongside chugging electric guitars, and the regal and rustic “Fallen Nobles,” complete with harpsichord. The heartbreaking “Lost Time” and the follow-up, “The Other Side of Oblivion” also stand out, with the latter adding intrigue with jazzy xylophone lines, sounding almost like something out of Silent Hill.

There are only a few times where the old, ‘gamier’ version of Uematsu shows through, and they admittedly sound out of place among all the other more mature pieces. We get a classic Uematsu battle theme of sorts with “Evil Beast,” complete with epic brass and electronic percussion, but the constantly moving bassline voiced by piano doesn’t really fit in with the other elements. “Castle Ruri,” on the other hand, is your classic mysterious dungeon theme, which is good although short. “Invitation to Madness” has a surfer-like rock vibe going on, but sounds like an Uematsu battle theme with added orchestral flourishes (including a harpsichord).

The final boss theme, “The One Ruling Everything,” is seriously epic. Just around the 8-minute mark, the track opens with some horrific throaty chanting before a cool ascending rock riff comes in, complete with more rock organ and razor-like synth lines. The throaty chanting comes back in over the crazy rock session before the true madness begins. These terrible distorted screaming sounds come in, making for a difficult listening experience, but likely freaking you out in-game. This is Uematsu’s best final boss theme in a long time.

The end of the album is home to a sweeping and triumphant version of the main theme, titled “New Days,” which is my favorite variation of the theme. There’s also a grungy, No More Heroes-esque version called “Feelings Conflict” that I found interesting. “Joyful Voices Can Be Heard” follows, which actually caused me to laugh out loud because it sounds nearly identical to the “Iron Chef Theme,” which is actually from Hans Zimmer’s Backdraft score. Everything from the marching snares to the string stabs to even the melody directly mirror Zimmer’s joyous theme. It’s hard to know if this is just coincidence, but the resemblance is quite striking (click on the two videos for comparisons).

The last piece I’ll mention is the album’s vocal theme, “Toberu Mono,” featuring vocalist Kanon. The piece is slow and reflective, similar to “Distant Worlds,” as opposed to some of the pop-oriented themes that have appeared in the Final Fantasy series. Kanon sings in both English and Japanese and is incredibly refreshing. I can’t say this is one you’ll memorize and want to sing along with, but it certainly is soothing and relaxing, and likely fits in quite nicely in-game after a lengthy adventure.

In terms of packaging, the first pressing edition comes with a beautiful cardboard sleeve. I love the monochrome white-washed look. The case itself is a bit more colorful, and is covered from cover to discs to trays to booklet with artwork from the game. The booklet is rather brief, containing lyrics and credits and not much else.

Overall, The Last Story is a bittersweet for me. On one hand, I’m incredibly proud of Uematsu for his achievements with this album. Teaming up with Yoshitaka Suzuki, he has achieved a truly Western cinematic style. I’ve been going on and on about how Hitoshi Sakimoto has done the same with Valkyria Chronicles, but it’s great to see Uematsu poised to work on a more international stage. On the other hand, Uematsu has always been known for his playful and gamey sound, and I feel that this is a move away from that. Is it so bad of me to want some classic JRPG battle, town, overworld, and dungeon themes?

In any case, I’m impressed. I think most of Uematsu’s fans will be interested in hearing this new sound, and I know the soundtrack must sound great in the game itself. The album is available from both CD Japan and Play-Asia if you want to check it out.

What do you think of Uematsu’s new direction and Yoshitaka Suzuki’s involvement? Are you still waiting for a US release date for this game?

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