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Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don

Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack Album Title: Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: SQEX-10108/10
Release Date: January 30, 2008
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Star Ocean, a series developed by tri-Ace and originally published by Enix (now Square Enix), features veteran composer Motoi Sakuraba as the main composer. The overall themes of the games have a sci-fi story to them with some beautiful setting within its vast galaxy. Motoi Sakuraba, known for his progressive rock style, contributes his musical styling to the soundtrack to the series. While the original game in the series was released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, it took a whole nine years for it to receive a true soundtrack release in the form of the remastered Star Ocean Soundtrack by Team Entertainment. When the game was remade for the PSP in 2008, Square Enix used this album as the source of the game's sound. However, they also re-released the soundtrack as the Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack with some minor changes from the original. How do the two compare and which is worth your purchase?

Body

Between the Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack and the Star Ocean Soundtrack, there are very few differences. There is the inclusion of a few Star Ocean The Second Story tracks, a couple missing pieces absent from the original soundtrack, and a vocal theme, but for the most part, everything else is the same. I'll cover those pieces taken from other games at the end of the review. First, I'll focus on the vocal theme for the soundtrack, "Heart." I must say, I really enjoy this melody; however, I'm not really a fan of the vocalist. I love the J-rock feel of the entire piece. The instrumentation is superb and really seems to bring out the melody. The vocalist isn't bad, but there is just nothing that sticks out about him. It is a fun listen, though. I wonder how well it accompanies the opening animation to the game.

Within the instrumental tracks, you'll hear progressive rock, soft elegant pieces, orchestral pieces, and the occasional playful piece. It's a very diverse score, although the focus is mainly on the progressive rock and the softer themes. Sadly, there are only a few playful themes that really stick out in this soundtrack. "Innocence," I believe, is a town theme. It has an airy disposition to it, created by the rhythmic percussion and the flowing woodwind passages. It's very pleasant. The other track that sticks out is "Sunny Place." It has a more prominent flute section that adds to the playfulness of the piece. In addition, the orchestral highlights and the catchy bass line all work quite well together in producing this beautiful sound.

While the orchestral pieces on this theme are also few in comparison, there are a few that offer a nice soundscape. "Labo of Tas" is a very dark theme. However, the epic nature of the brass combined with the haunting string work and chorus work makes for a track with tons of cinematic potential. The contrast between the sweeping, powerful sections and the softer slow sections makes for a very nice treat. "First Experience" is a very powerful piece of music. The brass synth is a bit obnoxious, but not as obnoxious as those found in Star Ocean The Second Story. The sense of urgency in this piece is prominent, especially when the strings come in to create a very crisis-driven piece of music.

"Past Days" is another powerful orchestral composition. The overall melody of this piece is quite epic and, while the focus is mainly on the brass, there are softer woodwind passages that contrast nicely with the main theme, creating an air of mystery as well. This is probably my favorite of the orchestral pieces. "New Age" combines many different atmospheres. Starting off suspenseful, the string work really makes the beginning of this track. As it progresses though, the percussion takes on a militaristic sound and adds to the depth of the piece, creating moments of triumph. It's an excellent theme, and I believe it's the ending theme to the game.

One of the major strengths of this soundtrack is definitely the soft compositions. "Ambition" and "Calm Time" are definitely influences for later Star Ocean soundtracks. There is a tender magical atmosphere present in these pieces and the instrumentation executes the melodies quite nicely. They are easily a few of my favorites from the Star Ocean series. "Full of Sorrow" is a very somber piece of music, played mainly on the violin. However, the inclusion of some choral work and harp accents makes the track all the more sorrowful. It may be a bit clich├ęd nowadays, but I still find it extremely touching. "Stream of Wind" has an Asian influence about it. The haunting combination of piano, acoustic guitar and woodwinds makes for a compelling theme. "Purge Thyself" is a nice, chilling piano work with some harp and choral accents. It builds very nicely, although the introduction gets a bit repetitive, into an excellent theme with hints of purity.

Lastly, I'll brush up on the progressive rock style found within the soundtrack. The major boss battle theme, "Tense Atmosphere," has a nice focus on woodwinds for the majority of the piece. The accompanying rhythm is highly addicting and the melody is just superb. As the piece progresses, the more prominent progressive rock elements are introduced with a shift in the bass line rhythm and the addition of that classic keyboard sound for which Sakuraba is famous. The normal battle theme, "For Achieve," is another excellent piece of work. It has the same elements as the boss battle theme in it, but it isn't as strong. It's a fun battle theme, but I prefer the boss battle theme.

"Dancing Sword" reminds me a lot of some of Sakuraba's more experimental battle themes, such as "Chaotic Dance" and "Bitter Dance" from Baten Kaitos and Star Ocean Till the End of Time respectively. It's got an infectious rhythm and the melody is fairly decent. The inclusion of choral work is an interesting development. It's not the strongest piece on the album, but it is enjoyable. "Ancient Ruin" is definitely reminiscent of some of his later dungeon themes. Although it has a very tribal focus, especially in the rhythm, I like the inclusion of the progressive rock elements and how they contrast with the organic feel of the piece. "True Figure" is an excellent theme. It has a very sinister aura and the introductory piano and choral work that leads into the progressive rock frenzy just adds to the overall depth of the piece. It's a simply stunning piece of work.

The Star Ocean The Second Story tracks are a mixed bag. "Come on Bunny" is a playful piece, but it's one of the weaker pieces from the original soundtrack. It has a hint of calypso influence, but aside from being playful, it doesn't offer much. However, "Mission to the Deep Space," my personal favorite Star Ocean theme of all time, makes its entrance on this soundtrack as well. The rhythm and melody are extremely addicting, and the combination of progressive rock with a more orchestral touch is an extremely nice addition. It's also nice to hear it within the sound of the updated Star Ocean synth. The ending theme "Mother Ocean" was strangely absent from the Star Ocean Soundtrack but returns here. It's another beautiful work. Opening up with a haunting piano melody, it immediately grips the listener. As the track progresses, suspended strings add a bit of atmosphere. Eventually, bombastic orchestration enters into the mix, creating a sense of success. It's a nice addition to the soundtrack.

There are also a few pieces from the original sound version of the soundtrack. They don't really offer much to the soundtrack, but they do give a sense of how it originally sounded in game. They also include the opening themes for the game, "Departures" and "New Age", surprisingly omitted from the remastered sound version such that the battle theme "Tense Atmosphere" opens the album instead. This release also includes a bonus DVD with the CG of the game's introduction CG sequence. No biggie.

Summary

The Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack has a nice mixture of elements that the Star Ocean series is known for. Sakuraba crafts themes using his signature progressive rock style, but at the same time he is also able to craft some much softer and elegant themes. The soundtrack also has some playful pieces as well as more orchestral focused ones. Overall, it's a fairly solid bunch, although I find it to be the weakest of the series. Considering this is essentially a re-release of the Star Ocean Soundtrack with a few minor cosmetic changes, if you already have the original, I wouldn't squander any money on this. However, if you are unfamiliar with the original work and are looking to buy a remastered soundtrack for the original Star Ocean, this is probably the one I would get.

Overall Score: 8/10