Game Music, Reviews

Namiki Thrives in BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER THE GAME OST (Review)

August 8, 2012 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Namiki Thrives in BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER THE GAME OST (Review)on Twitter

Former Basiscape member Manabu Namiki is well-known and well-loved for his work on various shooters from CAVE, from those that he completed entirely, or almost entirely, on his own (Ketsui, ESPGALUDA II) to those where he was a part of the Basiscape team (such as Mushihimesama and Mushihimesama Futari).

But, for my money, one of his best works in years is a game that isn’t really a shooter at all, despite having the word in its title. Yes, I’m referring to BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER THE GAME, a franchise that started with a simple illustration, and then a vocaloid song, and eventually an OVA and a game and detailed figurines … you can get the whole franchise history via wikipedia.

The PSP game, developed by imageepoch as part of their “JRPG” label (part of an attempt to revive the apparently-dying genre), is coming to North America and Europe sometime in either late 2012 or early 2013. But I would recommend VGM collectors import the soundtrack now, while it’s still available (CDJapan | Play-Asia). My unabashedly positive review, after the jump.

Where to start? Let’s start at the beginning. The title track, “BRS the Game,” has everything I love about good electronica built into it. It’s all-at-once mechanical and ethereal. Instant goodness.

The first track after that of any substance is track 4, “Battle Field ‘Cisco Town'” — this is a good one. There’s a lot to pay attention to, but you can let most of it hit the subconscious part of your brain while you focus on any one section. Obvious places to focus: the slow, soaring melodic “whistle” pad-synth thing in the A section, and the whirring, bending bass synth in the B section.

Track 7, “Aliens Conference,” is glorious. Remember what I said about the title track? Remember those adjectives: ethereal, mechanical. This tune has those traits in spades. In trailers for the game, this is the track the publisher would often use (outside the absolutely killer opening theme from ONE OK ROCK, “NO SCARED”), and they’re right to. Those female choir samples are heavenly.

But Namiki-san isn’t afraid to rock out with this one. Even with the ethereal electronica, he can beef up the sound with some crunchy guitars and fantastic drum fills, as evidenced in track 9, “mission : Black Trike.” This is one track that the aforementioned band, ONE OK ROCK, would be totally in their element doing a live rendition of (many of the other tracks, in contrast, wouldn’t exactly work for a scream-o punk rock group). The rocking sound continues in track 10, a boss battle theme: “Alien class.A ‘MEFE / MZMA'” — it’s got that evil-circus diminished dissonance swirling around a core of power-rock and those lovely female choir samples. Hoo boy … perfection every time. How does Namiki do it? Decades of experience doesn’t hurt, I suppose.

Having walked through a few missions on the battlefield of a post-apocalyptic San Francisco and NYC and fighting a boss, the heavy-handed power-rock-techno is given a back seat for a short but memorable piano&synth emotional tune, “lost memory…” — it’s track 12 on the OST and another of my favorites.

Before we know it, the party travels halfway across the world in the blink of an eye, and we’re on a new battlefield. Track 13, “Battle Field ‘Moscow'” — this one is surprisingly upbeat. Something about its style reminds me of Falcom’s work in Ys VI, especially the “Kishgal” area theme. Other easy and obvious comparisons would be the work of Hideaki Kobayashi et al in P{hantasy Star Online and the games after it (Portable, Universe, etc). By the way, the mere existence of games and soundtracks like this one and Konami’s Senritsu no Stratus have me strangely hyped for Phantasy Star Online 2.

Tucking away that random aside, let’s get back to the soundtrack. After another boss battle, we’re treated with three event/scene tracks in a row: “in trouble,” “nobody anywhere,” and “human days.” The song titles give away their general mood. The first is a tense, frantic piece that features piano and string ensemble up-front, shortly followed by crazy synth. I think there’s a 12-tone pattern going on in the background. The second is also piano and strings, though more like a string quartet than a full ensemble, and it’s a slow, melancholic song akin to “Ivan Sings” from Aram Khachaturian‘s Adventures of Ivan collection. The final track in this trio brings some much-needed warmth. Guitar, background flutes, a lead … clarinet? Oboe? I’m not sure. But this is a totally wonderful intermission from all the action and insanity prior. We’re at track 17, “human days,” just past the half point. What more awaits?

In place of a Battle Field track, we have “Story Field ‘Fuji Forest'” — of course, we hit all the major cities, but the important, memorable stuff happens in Japan. This is a JRPG after all. It’s another beautiful piano-centric track. Namiki doesn’t just know how to rock and bring those intense synth-percussion-driven beats; he knows how to relax and reflect.

The ferocious sound does come back, hard, on track 22 “Alien class.A “XNFE / SAHA.” Anyone who knows (and loves) Namiki’s work with CAVE will dig this song as well — and yes, when I write that, I am totally thinking of Don Kotowski (see for example his review of the DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu OST. And while the tempo slows down, the passion and intensity remains in the following track, the final environment/field music. “Last Field ‘Her Moon'” is as pretty as it is shocking. Harp, piano, vibraphone, vocaloid, organ, choir, a standard trap set for percussion. This is a strange and wonderful piece of music, and one of the longer ones on the disc, just shy of 4 minutes.

After that, “lost memory…” is reprised with a longer version of itself in track 24. Then, and this might be a spoiler in a track title, “WRS the Game” — that of course being WHITE★ROCK SHOOTER. I must say it’s one of the best tracks on the album. Again, very “Kishgal”-ian, synthy and wonderful. It serves as the final boss music (there, now I’ve thoroughly spoiled you, though anyone who watched the OVA shouldn’t be too surprised).

The album ends on a downer, the two “mission failure” jingles being the way it goes out. This is probably the only fault I find with the whole album: I wish they had stuck the failure tracks earlier in so that they could’ve ended on “Sing Love” or even “after human race” (track 26).

For your Manabu Namiki fans, this is a must-have. For all you people who have any interest in BRS The Game, even if you share my worry that the game may be more style than substance in the end, worry not: this soundtrack is equal parts style AND substance. It’s a perfect and fitting blend for this unique title. I can’t wait to hear it in-game, but until then, I’m definitely happy that this soundtrack is in my personal collection.

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