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VM Japan Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

VM Japan Original Soundtrack Album Title: VM Japan Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Nihon Falcom
Catalog No.: NW10102500
Release Date: June 27, 2002
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


2002's VM Japan is a sequel to the simulation RPG Vantage Master set in Japan. Its score was Atsushi Shirakawa's final effort as the head of Falcom Sound Team J.D.K. before he left to become a famous anime composer. Following their acclaimed efforts on Zwei!!, the sound team keep their production values high and indulge in more stylistic explorations. They blended traditional Japanese instrumentation with orchestral and electronic elements to portray a range of game contexts. The result is one of the most beautiful and mature soundtracks in Falcom's history. Nihon Falcom released a two disc soundtrack for the game that continues to be commercially available at VGM World. Let's take a closer look...


The opener "Alone in the Moonlight" sets the scene for the game and the soundtrack nicely. It primarily features the passionate wails of a shakuhachi in conjunction with rich string countermelodies. A surprisingly strong electronic beat and drum kit are used during most of the piece to provide a modern sound, although they are interrupted during the dramatic orchestral development. The theme is arranged several times in the soundtrack, including in two battle themes and in the laidback overworld theme "Wandering Together Down the Road of Demons". Many of the core themes on the soundtrack also feature a traditional Asian instrument against atmospheric electronic beats. For example, "Narrative of an Illusion" will move listeners with its beautifully implemented koto melody and new age synth, while "The Glory of Love" inspires meditation with its simple use of flute, piano, backing vocals, and electronic beats. "Warriors" is especially unusual since it features the expansive melodies and improvisation of a modern day keyboard adapted to give an Eastern resonance.

Given the gameplay of VM Japan is based on simulating battlefields, there are nevertheless action-packed tracks on the soundtrack. "The Eastern Cherries", for instance, blends the traditional Japanese instrumentation of VM Japan with driving snares and demanding progressions similar to those of Vantage Master. Others such as "Trouble Ahead" almost totally rely on epic orchestral instrumentation but still have a dash of originality while "The Cave of Styx" is dominated by slow moody progressions. Away from the action, the soundtrack offers plenty of more intimate moments too. In particular, "Rainy Scene" inspires deep emotions with its blend of piano, strings, and bamboo flute while the subsequent "Into the Crimson Sky" once more demonstrates that Falcom's sound team knows how to create a heartrending traditional melody and use it to emotionally carry an otherwise simple piece. Other poignant highlights include "An Elegant Banquet" and "Yearning". There are also a few frivolous themes such as "VM March", "Through the Day", and "Fasten Your Sandals After the Victory", but they are among the most uninspiring compositions on the soundtrack.

Right from its extended opener, Disc Two declares itself a much darker one. "Gathering of the Fates" is one of Falcom's most atmospheric offerings to date, dynamically mixing electronic, rock, ambient, and tribal features over six minutes. "An Ill Omen" amalgamates the various styles and moods into an incredible six minute mixture. Although its mood is especially haunting, it compels one to keep listening with its rich ethnic soundscapes and stimulating electronic beats. On this disc, the main theme is also reprised in two battle theme arrangements; "Alone in the Moonlight -Battlefield Version-" is transposed into a different key and supported by chanting whereas "Battle Cry" is radically different with its saxophone and electric guitar focus. Seemingly the final battle theme, "Master of Chaos" contrasts the emotions of the parties while maintaining the uplifting beats and gorgeous flutes found elsewhere in the soundtrack. "Farewell to the Seasons" is a surprisingly disappointing ending theme despite its rock focus, featuring a dull hook and lots of repetition over the seven minutes. After a few bonus tracks, the soundtrack nevertheless ends on a high with the superior Indian version of "An Ill Omen".


The VM Japan Original Soundtrack ranks as one of Falcom's most mature and distinctive soundtracks to date. Shirakawa's team demonstrate flair for blending traditional Asian instrumentation with modern elements throughout, right from the uplifting main theme at the start of the soundtrack to the all-encompassing haunting tracks at the finale. Its production values are stunning — the sound quality is comparable to Zwei!! and the Japanese samples were exquisitely chosen. Even more importantly, the soundtrack is consistently a personal and stimulating one, aside the occasional stupid moments. Those looking for something a little different should seriously consider purchasing this one.

Overall Score: 7/10