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Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box :: Review by Jormungand

Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box Album Title: Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box
Record Label: Suleputer
Catalog No.: CPCA-10146/56
Release Date: March 31, 2006
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


As if in psychic response to my increasingly vengeful tirades of cursing and oath-swearing, Capcom, one of the mighty giants of the video game industry, finally saw it fit to acknowledge one of its smaller (yet vigilant) fanbases. If you like RPGs, you've probably played Final Fantasy. And Zelda. And maybe you've even played a Breath of Fire game... much less of a name but no less of a game than its contemporaries. The fans who have stuck with the series have gotten a mixed message from Capcom since its inception — usually it's that they know we're here, fully admit that we in fact are here, and then happily move on to discuss that new Mega Man game for portable handheld X or that fiftieth Resident Evil remake for next-generation console Y. Needless to say, it would've surprised anyone to get more than at least a nod from the developer. Maybe Capcom just wanted to make sure the rapidly-cooling body that is the Breath of Fire fandom was still alive after it was clear that a sixth entry in the series wouldn't be coming for a long, long time. Maybe they just wanted to make sure we'd all buy whatever comes next. Or maybe someone up there high, high in the sky (or a Capcom executive's skyscraper office) just likes us.

So what peace offering has Capcom bestowed upon its loyal fans? It's big. It's expensive. It's elaborate. And it's got the full soundtracks to all five games in the series totalling over 300 tracks and a solid 10 hours of music. I rescind any previous curses and/or oaths made in offense, and humbly request they be stricken from the record.


As a game series, Breath of Fire is neither an artless imitator nor a path-burning innovator. Although it has its moments of both convention and invention, Breath of Fire's charm is in its consistent offerings: stories enriched with ancient and deceitful world histories, diverse and lovable casts of anthropomorphic heroes, and of course engaging and memorable musical scores. Immediate testament to the richness of the music is that each game had a different set of composers — across the series, a total of nine different minds, styles, and agendas. As one would imagine, each soundtrack is quite unique from one another and, with a few small exceptions concerning the first and second and the third and fourth scores, there are no carried-over main themes or motives. This adds to the value of the collection, as the listener can expect something completely different from each entry.

Breath of Fire, the first game in the series and the only one to never get a soundtrack publication, spans the first two discs without omitting a single important track. A strange but wondrous little soundtrack, the first game was scored by members of Capcom's former sound team Alph Lyla, principally Mari Yamaguchi (aka Mari), Yasuaki Fujita (aka BunBun) and Minae Fujii (aka Ojalin). While there's plenty of familiar RPG styling for your typical RPG scenarios, there's an air of intrigue to a number of tracks that help the first soundtrack stand out from its genre. The enchanting piano features "Profit" and "God's Footsteps" exhibit underlying jazz colors, an uncommon modal choice for the game's time of developement. The adventurous orchestral overworld tracks remain powerful standouts of typical RPG heritage as well: the riveting main theme "Starting the Journey" exposits the highly recognizable and jubliant melody of the first two titles; and the stirring and romantic march, "Distant View", captures a subtle Straussian flavor with graceful, expressive string lines stretched over a propulsive rhythmic motion. Other highlights include a pair of finely written battle tunes for the game's "normal" fights and of course the diverse and wonderfully charming town themes which range in style from the orchestral classicism of "Music City" and the waltz "A Road" to the Middle-Eastern flavored "Sand Palace" where exotic oboe and flute lines snake over a simple rhythm of sitar and bass. It's hard to believe it took this long for such a classic game soundtrack to be pressed to CD, and the one we now have will be that definitive print we've been waiting for.

Breath of Fire II's soundtrack can be considered the most conventional work of the series, largely catering to the typical modes and tendencies of 16-bit generation RPG music. Nonetheless, it's a solid score and remains as the accompaniment to what is perhaps the series' most beloved entry. It was also the first in the series to get an official soundtrack print, although the release wasn't a perfect one considering the omission of several important themes. This situation has been mercifully addressed, and the version found in this collection is complete. Composed solely by Yuko Takehara, Breath of Fire II manages to fill all those cliche RPG moments with either frustratingly short or otherwise underdeveloped musical sequences. Most of the battle themes will give a good idea of musical brevity, and critical pieces like the prologue themes and other one-time BGM will illustrate a noitceable lack of development. Yet given the generation and given the tools, this is hardly an uncommon feature of RPG soundtracks from the time. And in fact Takehara's ideas, while at times leaving the listener wanting for much more, are more often than not much more interesting than what you'd find in the typical RPG. Most of the battle themes incorporate an energetic rock feel, fast-paced and melodically oriented. Sheer simplicity of composition warms the listener to tracks like "Memories" and "Crooked Ladder", conservatively arranged but melodically appealing. Add to it the evocative "Century of the Patriach", the beautifully mesmerizing "Wanderer", and the timelessly ancient "Daybreak" and you've got a strong rival to the first game's soundtrack. Could a third possibly live up to its predecessors?

Oh, yes, it can. But talking about Yoshino Aoki's and Akari Kaida's music for Breath of Fire III and comparing it to other game soundtracks is kind of like looking at John Adams' approach to opera: you would have never expected it, but it sure is cool. This game's music was previously graced with an embarrassingly shallow and incomplete release which is quite literally tripled in this collection, spanning three discs filled right up to the edge with some of the genre's finest and most unique RPG music. Stylistically the score pulls a hard 180 away from convention, keeping the frame of a typical RPG but completely leaving behind the aural identity you'd usually associate with it. The material here teems with a sense of jazz permeating its various facets of melody, harmony, and rhythm, and the effect is absolutely stunning. Sure, it's probably a turnoff for the typical fan, but to not be moved by the cunning composition and depth of arrangement of this music is to be dead from the neck up. From lighthearted and bouncy to dark and serious, everything an RPG needs is here — it's just spiced up, energized, and shamelessly confident. I feel I could talk for hours about all the great tracks here, but my point works better in summary: three discs of masterfully written, innovative RPG music that you won't hear anywhere else, ever.

Thankfully, Yoshino Aoki was hired back to be the composer for Breath of Fire IV. Her work here takes several steps back from the jazz feel of the previous score, and takes several more toward a totally new sonic identity for the series. Branching out into increasingly exotic degrees of composition and arrangement, Aoki assimilates both familiar orchestral and previously unmatchable and disparate sounds for her unique masterpiece of RPG music. The battle themes present a particularly immersive listening experience, with two completely different instrumental configurations depending on the continent the player is on. Lively town themes capitalize on the exoticism such as with the Celtic "...Yet the Merchants Will Go" and the rhythmically asymmetrical "Song of the Plains", a clever conception of what the nomadic Woren tribe's music might sound like. More colorful surprises are found within, held between variations of the timeless main theme which has its climactic rendition during the expressive trio of epilogue tracks. Conclusively, part four makes a great candidate for the strongest score of the series. Needless to say, if there's ever a sixth game, I want the composer to be Yoshino Aoki.

For the first time in the series, the overall concept for Breath of Fire took a dramatic turn with the fifth installment. Matching the drastic gameplay change, Yasunori Mitsuda was invited to write the game's score. Allegedly being booked with too many other soundtracks to accept the proposal in full, Mitsuda nonetheless wanted to have his studio produce the music. He recommended a good friend and well-known composer to write the score in his place: Hitoshi Sakimoto. The finished product ended up as a fusion of Sakimoto's familiar orchestral music and a modest electronica style. The main difference between the fifth score and its predecessors is perhaps the overwhelmingly serious and dark tone — not so dark as Vagrant Story, but clearly sparse in lightness. There are some brighter moments, but they are surrounded by shadow; given the game's overall tone and story, this is hardly a surprise. From the dramatic opening movie to the beautiful ending sequence, the journey from start to finish is one of much greater intensity than previous entries in the series, and certainly feels like the most epic Breath of Fire to date. As a huge Sakimoto fan I can confidently call this one of his best works, strong in orchestration, thematic consistency, and affect. It works as the perfect closer for this monumental collection.

Unfortunately, the war between myself and Capcom still rages on. I should be really humbled to have this collection. And I am... mostly. There are however a few problems I have with it — flaws in the production that seem like gross oversights. I'll start small. While the first three soundtracks were revamped for content, the soundtracks for IV and V are exact reprints of their previous releases. Hardly a big deal considering IV was complete, V missing only one track. But in its defense, that one track could only be accessed from the game's music menu... still, I'd have loved to have my own personal copy of it. I know, cry me a river. Moving on, this next one's a little more serious. Anyone who might have heard the original Breath of Fire III soundtrack print (or at least had read my initial review) will know that one of the best tracks, the boss theme, was vandalized with a string of voice and battle FX. For some reason, even though tracks previously unreleased were obviously recorded for the collection's version, that very same grafitti boss theme hack somehow made it to the tracklist. I'm actually pretty offended by this. Feigned shouts in Japanese and imaginary magic spell sounds do not qualify as music for me. And when they exist on top of what I DO consider music, well, it pretty much ruins the whole experience for me. Thanks for that Capcom, I know you really do love me.

OK, so now that my whining is done, I'd like to comment on what really offends me about this release — and this one I truly hold Capcom responsible for. Ready for this? Composer credits. Oh, the names are all there in the booklet. Unfortunately, if you happen to be a fan of the first and third soundtracks, you won't have a clue who composed what. Not unless you're a sincere music nerd like me who tries to do everything in his power to hunt down evidence or at the very least rumors of where the credits belong. Now, some people might think "Who cares? If you like it, does it matter who wrote it?" Well, yeah, it does. Maybe that's because I'm a composer; maybe it's because I've got a strong sense of the importance of individuality of the human race. However selfish and/or humanitarian this belief is, its still there, and prevents me from giving Capcom a break. Especially since they (along with Konami) are repeat offenders, and rarely give proper breakdowns. Granted I've figured out a few credits for Breath of Fire III out of sheer determination, but as good as I like to think myself at identifying composers' tendencies, I can hardly cite it as scientifically sound methodology. And frankly, I just can't see how hard this information could possibly be to find out. Your composers have done you a great service, Capcom. A paycheck is nice, but acknowledge them as artists deserve to be.


Well, if you've stuck around for this far you might actually be interested in this thing. The package is dreary on the exterior aside from an emblematic logo design. It's the booklet that has the most visual interest, with rare and wonderfully hand-drawn scenes from the five games. Aside from that, you're paying for 11 discs of music. The first four are a bit shorted in terms of length, but almost all of the rest exceed an hour of run-time. If you are a fan of the series and its music, I readily concede that this is a solid buy. Add to that how rare the soundtracks of II and III are (and how crappy those releases are anyway), and that part one never had a release in the first place, a very fine item for fans does this collection make. But if you're not already a fan, I don't know how to properly review and prepare you for five completely different installments of music coming from three different console generations. There's no doubt in my mind that this music is good — and in fact, the latter three are, in my opinion, some of the finest game scores out there. I'm glad this collection was produced and, although I take some of the flaws personally, I would recommend it to those interested. Here's to one of the truly great soundtrack compilations of video game music.

Overall Score: 8/10