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Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack Album Title Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Suleputer
Catalog No.: CPCA-1043/4
Release Date: May 24, 2000
Purchase: Buy at eBay


The fourth entry of the Breath of Fire series featured an unusual premise. It allowed gamers to play as both the protagonist Ryu and antagonist Fou-Lu across two huge continents that would eventually collide for the final battle. The music for the game, scored almost entirely by Yoshino Aoki, focused on portraying the contrasting, converging scenarios. Following the stylistic anomaly of the jazz-oriented Breath of Fire III, Yoshino Aoki decided to restore the quasi-orchestral routes of the series. However, plenty of world music elements are integrated throughout to portray the contrasting worlds and characters. The resultant score is deceptive but brilliant...


The breathtaking opening animation of Breath of Fire IV is underscored by a heavyweight film composer, Taro Iwashiro. The composition is tragically brief, but each of its 97 seconds is fulfilling, largely due to the heavily hybridised nature of the theme; it is impressive how Iwashiro combines orchestral, choral, and traditional Asian elements to depict a world that is vast, organic, and beautiful. A modest exposition of the game's main theme in "The End and the Beginning" introduces the composer of the rest of the soundtrack, Yoshino Aoki. Through interpreting the melancholic melody on an ethnic flute and rich strings, she reflects the emotional intensity and Eastern stylistic influences. While the melody isn't exposed long enough for it to be a tease on the first listen, the theme receives far longer and more fulfilling subsequent renditions on the score. Most notably, the ending version bonds bonds together the score with its similarly styled but more elaborate arrangement. Evidently, the thematic definition and beautiful orchestration of the score are among the reasons it is so satisfying.

It is perhaps the battle themes that best reflect the remarkable quality of Aoki's orchestral compositions. "It's an Easy Win!" uses conventional orchestration to create a less than ordinary battle theme. The deceptively dark string-led opening bars of the piece briskly lead to its more motivating body. The bold string melody indicates impending triumph, but their sparse stabbing 'cello accompaniment and sombre cadences add anxiety and depth to the theme. The best part of the piece is the development section that starts from 0:30; from a straightforward but evocative melody, the development builds into a clamour of discords and other frills as the percussion part finally gains momentum. The boss theme uses the initial melody of "It's an Easy Win" but puts new twists on it with thunderous percussion and brass accompaniment, before heading through more erratic dissonant sections and even a calming interlude. The result is slightly less coherent, but still highly effective due to the power it creates. Indeed, Aoki's approach to both themes is relatively straightforward, typical, and unpretentious, yet the results are entirely striking and elegant.

Moving into the setting themes of the soundtrack, Aoki is able to offer plenty of diverse and charming themes. "The World Beneath Your Feet", for instance, provides an interesting intermediate piece in the series. Aoki sues mostly jazzy harmonies and melodies, like she did on the Breath of Fire III score, but makes the stylistic references subtle with more conventional rhythms and the use of an orchestral ensemble. "Tiny Village in the Desert" features a more diverse palette of orchestral and Eastern instruments here, but rather than throw everything together, chooses to briefly utter each leading instrument in a way against a simple but charming accompaniment. "The Landscape" and "Like the Sun, Like the Moon" are also major highlights, for the way Aoki artistically integrates traditional Japanese elements such as shakuhachi within the established orchestral setting. "How Long Will the Rain Last?" meanwhile is written in the style of a Baroque dance in quadruple metre and, though the synth is somewhat detractive, the underlying beauty of the composition is highly evident.

The theme for the game's megalomaniac antagonist Fou-Lu is completely unconventional. Using a mixture of percussion, prepared piano, and minimalistic ethnic instruments, the soundscape created is exotic, dynamic, and unpleasant. The art in this theme is the way the instruments emulate the rhythms and, to an extent, the timbre of footsteps. Despite a tendency to split opinions, it's impressively implemented and very effective. The boss theme when played as the antagonist, "A Warring God", is a fascinating multicultural hybrid. It combines female chants, shakuhachi passages, sitar solos, electronic polyrhythms, and Asian percussion into a single track. Each force adds something new to the composition when a phrase is dedicated to them, due to both their timbre and Aoki's witty execution. The final battle theme "A Raging Emperor's Banquet" provides the culmination of the soundtrack, combining the stylistic elements featured in the defining themes for the protagonist and antagonist into an intensely rhythmic work. The soundtrack concludes with a bizarre remix of the final battle theme and a soothing vocal theme sung by Aoki herself.


There is something very special about the Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack. On face value, the soundtrack comes across as a mediocre RPG score mostly written for small orchestra in an ordinary and derivative way. On closer listening, however, it's clear that Yoshino Aoki knows how to use orchestral in a very effectual way, providing the soundtrack with booming action tracks, delightful lyrical themes, and a moody main theme. Though not all the ambient experiments pay off, Aoki succeeds in integrating multicultural references throughout the score, especially in the spectacular themes for the Emperor. Overall, a well-rounded, emotional, and inspired score with a multitude of highlights. Hardcore Breath of Fire fans should take note that it is now also available as part of a limited edition 12 CD boxset, which includes the music for the four other instalments to the Breath of Fire series as well.

Overall Score: 9/10