Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
SEGA's Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure (aka Rhythm Thief R: Emperor Napoleon's Legacy) currently stands out as the most innovative game released on the 3DS. Featuring a mysterious Tintin-esque scenario, a blend of adventure and rhythm gameplay, and a gorgeous stylish presentation, it fused many of the best features of SEGA's games into a rounded final product. Under the leads of revered sound directors Tomoya Ohtani (Sonic Colours, Sonic Unleashed) and Naofumi Hataya (Space Channel 5, NiGHTs: Journey into Dreams), a team of composers, arrangers, performers, and engineers united to create the music. As with the game itself, the soundtrack stands out as a polished, creative, genre-bending experience. Its soundtrack release spans some three discs.
"Theme of Thief R" instantly sets the scene for the soundtrack with its upbeat jazz flavour. Inspired by SEGA's main theme of old, Tomoya Ohtani makes an effort to inspire audiences of all ages with a hyper-catchy, dazzling brass-based melody. With the help of several jazz veterans, he brings out all the theme's charisma with rich stylings and dazzling performances. The final mix showcases the technological capacity of the 3DS and would sound top-notch coming from any console. In addition to making delightful stand-alone listening, the theme matches the game's bizarre scenario surprisingly well: the big band stylings are a perfect fit for the Parisian setting, the trumpet melodies emphasise the exuberance of the youthful protagonist, and the occasional harpsichord interludes hint at the ancient antagonist. The theme is extensively revisited throughout the soundtrack, sometimes to the point of repetition, but usually in a way that helps together the scenario.
Ohtani and Hataya elaborates on these jazzy styles in all sorts of interesting ways during the main gameplay. Paired together on the release, "Day in Paris" and "Escape from the Parisian City Police" contrast with their calm and chaotic natures. Nevertheless, both tracks achieve their goals while still placing an emphasis on delightful melodies, compelling rhythms, and a flashy piano solo or two. Jazzy phrasing is used a tool for creating suspense in a other tracks, for example the main theme reprise "Advancing Through the Underground Passage" or the altogether more experimental "Trespassing the Louvre Art Museum"; in the latter, Hataya juxtaposes a walking bass with all sorts of cartoony interruptions and surreal vocals in a particularly symbolic way. Much of the bonus third disc is also dedicated to jazz tracks, highlights including "The Bonds Between a Parent and Child", "It's Dog Showtime", and "Fondue's Wish", most of them of the sillier and lighter sort.
As with the team's soundtracks for Sonic, Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure features numerous short tracks that make the cinematics more dramatic and immersive. In general, the team veer away from the jazz influence in favour of classical and filmic stylings, most of them composed or arranged by Takahito Eguchi and Yutaka Minobe. For example, "Secret of the Crest" and "Secret of the Apartment" develop the sense of mystery of the game with their mystical Elfman-esque orchestration and harpsichord continuo. The storybook sound is further embellished with additions such as the fantasy cinematic opening of "The Appearance of Ralph", the delicate acoustic descriptions of Maria, and the suspensive orchestrations of "Napoleon's Theme". Most of these tracks make little impression and frequently interrupt the stand-alone experience. A few longer entries nevertheless bring welcome variety to the soundtrack, especially the beautiful pastiches "La musique dans les monuments" and "Fête de Paris".
Generally, the sound team intensify the soundtrack by hybridising other stylings into the mix. Several tracks incorporate anthemic melodies for electric guitar, most notably the themes dedicated to Detective Claude. The team also verge into ambient electronic soundscaping in tracks such as "Trick of Sound" and "Napoleon's Hideout", while still maintaining the direct feel of the soundtrack. The team go on to intensify the beats for the boss encounters dedicated to the Knights of the Devil and "Eiffel Tower Battle"; though a marked shift from the lighter themes, they still have plenty of rhythmical impetus and should be quite accessible. For the showdowns with Napoleon, Ohtani teams up with Phantasy Star Online's Hideaki Kobayashi to offer an intense blend of gothic chorals, epic orchestrations, and malicious beats. They're a little on the brief side, they make a big impact and bring the soundtrack towards its climax. But it's perhaps "Hope's Theme" that provides the soundtrack's most potent, thematic spectacle.
Scattered across the soundtrack are arrangements of a number of classical favourites, spanning Bach's Air on the G String to Tchaikovsky's The Blue Danube. While classical arrangements are hit-and-miss in video games, these tend to reflect understanding of the original material and are well-integrated into the experience. It's particularly impressive how Takahito Eguchi contemporarises the Little Fugue in G Minor while retaining its imposing canonic characteristics. On the third disc, there are also four remixes of fan favourites from Space Channel 5 Part2, Feel the Magic, and Samba de Amigo, all of which hold a nostalgic charm and stand quite well in their own right. Less appealing is the tendency for many tracks to be reprised several times on the soundtrack, particularly those for the boss encounters. While the originals are great, the arrangements mostly rehash the same ideas. When coupled with those unnecessary incarnations of the main theme, one can't help but wonder if the soundtrack could have been trimmed to a more balanced, less repetitive two discs.
The soundtack is rounded off with a number of vocal themes. Probably the most enjoyable of these is "Show Time", a disco-flavoured song featuring plenty of catchy hooks and even some tasteful rapping. It's quite reminiscent of SEGA's pop songs on Space Channel 5 and Sonic Adventure, and for many this won't be a bad thing. "Encourage Maria" and "Last Dance" are also decent themes used during uplifting sequences, though the vocalist Tahirih Walker is likely to be a select taste. "Je te dis au revoir" ("I say to you... goodbye") is the least cconventional of the featured songs. With its whispering female vocals, sentimental French lyrics, and folksy violin-focused accompaniment, it fits the scenario just as well as the main theme and ties together the experience effectively. The externally produced opening and ending themes for the Japanese version, "Claire de Lune" by Miwa and "Story" by Ai, are absent from this otherwise complete soundtrack release and available only through vocal singles.
The music for Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure is consistently excellent throughout the game. Whether capturing the distinct setting, adding drama to the events and encounters, or serving as the impetus for the rhythm-based gameplay, it succeeds on all levels. On a stand-alone basis, the soundtrack similarly impresses since it is so catchy and creative. Tomoya Ohtani and Naofumi Hataya competently fuse various aspects of the Sonic Team sound with jazz stylings unique to the game. It's also astonishingly well-produced, especially for a 3DS title, both compositionally and technologically. The three disc soundtrack release can nevertheless tire due to the numerous event tracks and repetitive reprises. However, the abundance of highlights ensure it is still a satisfying purchase.
Overall Score: 8/10