For Brighter Day: Phantasy Star Universe Original Soundtrack :: Review by Bryan
Let's begin all this by saying that, while I have very little experience with the Phantasy Star series' mechanics, I have loved the music of all the entries of this series since its induction to the online world. Phantasy Star Universe was a first in the series to offer live orchestral tracks mixed with very good quality synth, making it the first Phantasy star that had truly "real" sounding music. It also boasts one of the largest soundtracks with around 70 tracks. I went into this album with zero expectations, and came out the other end with my jaw on the floor. This is my story.
As I mentioned earlier, the live orchestra is a new asset to the series, and Hideaki Kobayashi proves he is a master at writing for the large ensemble. One particular think to look at is this game uses two different orchestras, making the budget for this album seem very high. The beginning of the album introduces us to both, starting with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Playing a beautiful and heart wrenching arrangement of "Save this World", the main theme of Phantasy Star Universe, Warsaw immediately fights for top spot with the other contender. The beautiful violin passages flow very nicely with the epic brass that takes the forefront of the track. What a great way to begin the album!
Warsaw has shown us their idea of how to get to our hearts, so it stands to be told that The Hollywood Session Orchestra should prove itself in the same manner. It does, and probably does it better in my opinion. Giving us an arrangement of the games main city's theme, "Parum" should be written as the definition of musical perfection. Focusing on the high strings and blaring brass, Kobayashi shows us exactly what being in the highest power in the world "should" feel like. I have goose bumps on my goose bumps, and we are only two tracks in!
Kobayashi has proved himself on the orchestrations, but how do his in game tracks fare? Well, starting with another city theme, "Clyez City -Guardians Colony-" has all the makings of a track whose sole purpose is to allow the listener to envision the area down to the exact detail. His area themes also seem to be getting the same attention, only here we get to see him really show off his electronic side. Meanwhile "Rozenom Line Milate 04" is heavily techno based, with electronic vocals carrying the background on top of a drum n' bass beat.
Looking past Sega's lead composer, we'll look to someone who has been in Sega's walls for quite some time. Fumie Kumatani has shown such a versatility that I don't think anyone else on this album could rival her in the slightest. We'll start with "Otoku City -Neudaiz-", which has a surreal oriental vibe going on, carried by the piano and flute. "Z.C. Enemy 1" meanwhile is an easy choice to show how she can handle suspenseful orchestral pieces without losing any quality that she has proven she can deliver. The pinnacle track for her, showing just about every style used on this album, would be "Z.C. Enemy 2". It begins with an electronic beat, which quickly moves into a rock main theme. Once that has time to burn into your head, she changes it up again with an orchestral passage, which then cycles through all styles in random order focusing on brass in the orchestral sections until the end of the track.
The last major composer on the album I'm going to discuss in detail would be Kenichi Tokoi. His style seems to be an enhanced version of Kumatani's, although focusing more on orchestral variances than hers. "Valentine" is an amazing jazz piano piece, with airy strings taking the harmony and lifting the song right into the sky. He takes a more tribal approach with his addition to the town themes in "Dagora City -Moatoob-". Focusing more on percussion and less on the flute, he takes the two mentioned instruments on a ride though the savanna, adding string work in later on that reinforces an intense atmosphere not heard so far in the town themes. My favorite of his though would have to be the final boss theme, "The Vibe -The End of Planets-". While not having the electronic strength of the previous IDOLA tracks from other games in the series, it still holds up a great amount of suspense and anguish with the leading choir and supporting techno-esque percussion. Surely one of my favorites on the album.
Fumie Kumatani and Kenichi Tokoi write the vocal theme and corresponding arranges of "For Brighter Day". I am not the biggest fan of either iteration of the vocal theme, but I will say that both have some pretty amazing jazz instrumentation. The remix version has a church choir sound to it, which is even more of a turn off. The strings sound slightly better here though, if not as listenable. There are also a few composers I didn't mention that you should definitely check out, such as Taihei Sato or Seiro Okamoto. Their work just didn't stand apart from the others enough to mention. While there are some fresh ideas and some newcomer composers to the series, it is still highly influenced by Kobayashi's style and those who do not like him might not take to this album either.
Without ruining too much, I think you can see that I have some pretty high marks to award this album. It is fresh, appealing to a wide variety of audiences, and has a really high repeat listen value. If you enjoy other works from Kobayashi, then you should enjoy those two. Same can be said about this album.I happen to be a pretty big fan of his, and can walk away giving this a great score. If you do enjoy this team, then seek this one out, as it is the pinnacle of their Phantasy Star work.
Overall Score: 9/10