Game Music, Reviews

Uematsu+: UnchainBlades ReXX (Review)

November 2, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Uematsu+: UnchainBlades ReXX (Review)on Twitter

Alright, so maybe it’s a bit unfair to composer Tsutomu Narita to put Uematsu’s name on this post title, but in actuality, Uematsu does provide the main theme, and Narita’s work does admittedly sound similar in style to Uematsu at times.

Just who is Narita, though, and what is this UnchainBlades ReXX soundtrack from Dog Ear Records? The answer to the first question is a young and upcoming arranger, composer, and performer who has worked with Uematsu and Dog Ear Records a lot (he’s a member of the Earthbound Papas) and is making his composition debut with UnchainBlades ReXX. As far as the game, I knew nothing about it before listening to this soundtrack, but it turns out it has a pretty interesting story, following a powerful protagonist who has lost favor with the Gods for his arrogance and must quest to regain his former glory.

Does Narita’s score capture the essence of the game’s interesting plot? Find out after the jump.

This is a classic JRPG soundtrack. It seems that these are a dying breed, but you’re going to find everything here from your battle themes to your town themes to some amazing dungeon themes. Perhaps that’s why I liken Narita’s work to Uematsu’s, although Uematsu has taken a more cinematic direction with The Last Story and other recent titles. This soundtrack pays homage to the classic JRPG soundtrack with lots of rock themes and great melodies.

Let’s start with Uematsu’s contributions, however. He both starts us off and closes out the album with “Regain Power” and “Main theme of UnchainBlades ReXX,” respectively. The former is the opener, and may be one of his best compositions in years. It moves along as a slow and steady march, complete with sweeping strings, triumphant brass, and a steady bass drum and rolling snare, reminding me of something Hans Zimmer would write. It’s instantly memorable and uplifting, setting the tone for Narita’s compositions that follow. His ending theme sports a similar style, delving even more into that Hans Zimmer sound that could have been right at home in Backdraft. Yes, in other words, they need to put this song into the original Iron Chef television program and ditch the crappy music they replaced Zimmer’s Backdraft score with. But that’s an argument for another time.

With that out of the way, we can focus on Narita’s works which are great and stand on their own without Uematsu’s themes to sandwich them. I have to say that I love how Narita creates some really cool themes while keeping up a very playful and fun vibe both in the music and song titles.

All the staples are here, including a heavily Celtic influenced town theme titled “Tones of Towns” and an upbeat fanfare called “My Triumph.” The mandatory ‘emotional theme’ comes in the form of “Where the Wish is,” which is beautifully composed and arranged. “Temple in the Sky” is similarly desperate, sporting sweeping strings and deep piano notes with a melancholy harpsichord backing. “A Bit of Encounters,” on the other hand, must refer to positive encounters with friends as the bubbly synth pop track in incredibly bright and catchy, sounding like it could be a flight theme.

People also love their energetic rock-tinged battle themes in games like this, and “UNCHAINED” is a bouncy synth track complete with slap bass and razor-like synth lines, sounding like a battle theme of sorts. The awesome “Follow the Master!” offers more powerful synth rock, complete with blaring synthesizer sections and orchestral hits while “The Trial of God” sports rock organ, chugging guitars, and synth work not too unlike a track by The Black Mages. It has a very distinct Uematsu flavor in terms of instrumentation and even has his signature repetitive bassline. “The Very Strong” acts as the final battle theme, and is actually one of the few tracks that doesn’t stand out. It’s completely epic enough with the use of choir, organ, and lots of rock influences, but there’s not really a melody that will grab you.

Let’s talk about the titan themes, who the protagonist must topple to regain his powers. The first such theme, “Titan of Daris,” features cool synth arpeggios behind rockin’ electric guitar and rock percussion, whereas “Titan of Tortuga” is more contemplative with a wandering woodwind melody with a sort of mysterious layered piano backing that is beautiful but somewhat ominous all at once. “Titan of Sloan” is fantastic with its exotic tribal percussion, female vocal segments, and the use of a xylophone. In the same vein, “Titan of Agira” is easily my favorite track on the album, coming as a desert-flavored theme with more bongos, mischievous woodwind work, and some great rhythmic work done on bongos and a monotone acoustic guitar (hear below). Finally, “Titan of Reves” is foreboding with an epic brass-heavy orchestral approach.

In all, while I love Uematus’s main theme, he’s got nothing on Narita here. And the guy’s only 27 years old! This soundtrack comes as a huge surprise as I knew nothing about it going in, and it has quickly turned me on not only to the game, but also to Narita’s future as a composer. He’s arranged a lot of material for DER, and as I mentioned, he performs as a member of the Earthbound Papas, but if he has more soundtracks like this one under his sleeves, I want more!

The album packaging is simple with some character art and credits, but the price is certainly right. The album is available for 2,300 Yen, and can be imported from CD Japan and Play-Asia. You should check it out if you’re a fan of or JRPG soundtracks, Uematsu, or Dog Ear Records. Support the label putting out more amazing music like this!

Have you been following UnchainBlades ReXX? Are you as surprised as I am that Narita has possibly upstaged Uematsu with this one?

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