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All Sounds of SaGa :: Review by Kero Hazel

All Sounds of SaGa Album Title: All Sounds of SaGa
Record Label: NTT Publishing
Catalog No.: N32D-007/8 (1st Print); NTCP-1004/5 (Reprint)
Release Date: December 21, 1991; December 12, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Greetings, video game music lovers. I'll be co-reviewing this rare (but highly tasty) soundtrack with Z-Freak. Since he's already given you a brief history of the SaGa games and a list of the composers, I'll just jump straight into the individual track reviews.

Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc One

1) Prologue

This is the piece that launched the gaming legacy known as SaGa. Like any good 'old skool' game track, its beauty is in its simplicity. The track begins with several echoes of a certain seven-note sequence that I will refer to in the next track. The body of the piece consists of a single 'flute', carrying on the slow, measured melody; a 'harp' which weaves around a bit; and a bass line which is nothing more than a series of slowly descending notes. The overall effect is wonderful. It's very hard to get tired of this piece, simple as it is.

2) Main Theme

Listen closely to the very first few notes of this melody, and you'll see that they sound a lot like the opening seven-note sequence in the previous track. Don't expect the rest of the piece to sound anything like the "Prologue," though. This piece is a very cheerful, adventurous piece. If you listen to the overall harmony of the piece (rather than just the melody), you'll find that the progressions are quite unusual, and I mean that in a good way.

3) Town Theme

Another slow flute-based piece, not unlike the "Prologue." This one has a slight sad touch to it. Since there are two instruments devoted to the melody, it sounds a lot like a flute duet.

4) Fight

Although this track isn't menacing enough in my opinion for an ideal battle theme, it's still quite enjoyable to listen to. This piece has some very nice composition. The various instruments intertwine with each other, rather than staying clearly separated as they are with most of the other tracks from Makaitoushi SaGa.

5) Eat the Meat

"Eat the Meat" is the victory theme used in all three of the early SaGas. It's probably the simplest piece in the whole soundtrack. Nice and bouncy, but not much else.

6) Demon Cave

This one is a creepy, foreboding piece. While the clear melody does cut down on the ambience, it's still quite effective as a mood piece. It's not going to make the adventurers flee in terror, but it's going to make them cautious and a bit despondent.

7) Hurry Up!

One of my favorites. This piece really takes off from the beginning, with a really cool melody and excellent backup from the other instruments. The melody itself has a distinct Eastern sound to it, and the overall harmony of the piece goes through some unexpected, yet highly enjoyable, changes. A real sweet piece of ear candy.

8) Fierce Battle

Okay, this battle theme has more bite to it than track "Fight," but to me it's just too slow! The sharp chords at the beginning prepare you for some wild, turbulent piece, but once the main melody kicks in, it becomes sort of a let-down. The dissonance in the harmony is a nice change, but the piece just seems to dance circles around itself.

9) Requiem

Yet another piece with a slow calculated melody. This one is rather sad (appropriately). I consider this to be the negative counterpart to the Prologue, as the two are very similar in composition. This one lacks the beauty of the "Prologue," but it gets the job done.

10) Forbidden Tower

The unusual harmonies used in this track make it an interesting mood piece, despite the rather repetitive bass instrumentation. The mood is hard to define, but to me it seems to represent a challenge that must be faced; not evil, but definitely mysterious.

11) Wipe Your Tears Away

Another SaGa classic. Again, the simple melody makes this piece. This track, however, develops more on its melody than the "Prologue" (for example). The melody is also not quite so slow and calculated. For some reason I never get any emotional feeling from this piece, but otherwise it's a gem.

12) Knights of the Demon World Tower

This track has some well-used dissonance and a very interesting rhythm; the melody is carried slowly by the first two instruments, while the third instrument plays at a different, faster tempo. I also like the blend of the instruments chosen, and how their sounds complement each other.

13) The Highest Floor

Getting the mood across seems to be the only point of this piece, and it certainly gets an uneasy mood going. The composition of the piece is sorely lacking in any substance, however.

14) Furious Battle

A piece that certainly fits the final boss of the game. It has a very strong and fast melody, complemented wonderfully by the harmony and the structure of the other two instruments. At one point, I think the composer somehow managed to change instruments in the middle of the piece. Before hearing this piece, I didn't think it was possible in Game Boy music! If you're the type of person who hates repetition in music, the composition of this track will give all the variation you could ever ask for.

15) Epilogue

The majority of this track consists of a remix or two of good old track "Main Theme." I like how the bass instruments do more work in this piece, giving a lot more support to the melody. It's also a treat to hear a piece which actually varies its tempo and instrumentation from time to time. While not excellent, it's certainly an above-average ending theme.

16) The Legend Begins

The good old SaGa prologue makes its second appearance. It's a bit faster than the Prologue used in Makaitoushi SaGa, and it's written in a slightly different key (you wouldn't notice unless you listened to the two versions back-to-back). The instruments also sound more natural in this version, and the fading effects give it more feeling. It's my personal favorite of the three "Prologue" themes.

17) Searching for the Secret Treasure

Ah yes, another band of heroes sets out on their heroic quest. And they could not have asked for better music to start their journey! I love how they play with the harmony in this piece, and how the instruments interact with each other. This piece really raises the bar for all the pieces in SaGa 2 Hihou Densetsu, but don't you worry, as the rest of the tracks from this game have no trouble meeting this test.

18) Lethal Strike

Honestly, this battle theme will take you on a roller coaster ride. It starts off slow, but by the end, the notes really become a blur! Oh, and did I mention the melody? This is as close to narrative music as Game Boy music gets, folks. I dare you to find anything here that repeats more than once.

19) Eat the Meat

The traditional SaGa victory music also gets an overhaul in this sequel. The nice instrumentation almost makes me forget how repetitive this piece is. Oh well... At least it's catchy.

20) Peaceful World

Perhaps it's just me, but I think "peaceful" is a misnomer. Yes, this piece is relaxing, but it seems somewhat sad to me, and I always think of "peaceful" as more of a happy, contented sound. This piece is similar in style to "Town Theme," only this one has some counterpoint going on, not just a one-note-at-a-time bass.

21) Adventurer's Theme

This is an odd piece. First of all, it doesn't follow a conventional key signature (such as major or minor), but rather a modal one, which is about as heroic-sounding as a harmonica solo. I guess it works; my only complaint is that they used this particular piece for the adventurer's theme, rather than finding a more appropriate one.

22) Pillar of Heaven

Very ambient and cosmic-sounding. The melody seems to hover just out of arm's reach, like a twinkling star. The bass is a twirling galaxy, spinning lazily in the background. If you can, try listening to this piece for a longer period of time, so you can appreciate the ambience more. The two loops it plays on the recording just don't do it justice.

23) Through the Cramped Darkness

So similar to "Adventurer's Theme," it's almost scary. It also uses a modal scale, and has a chromatic thing going on with the bass. This piece is put to better use, however, as it's a very effective dungeon theme. The composition isn't so great, though.

24) Wandering Spirit

A little note on the game; when you fall in battle in SaGa 2 Hihou Densetsu, you appear in front of the god Odin, who offers to revive you and give you another chance at winning the battle. I think this piece is a perfect parallel to that scenario. It sounds sad right up until the very end (before the loop begins again), but just when you think it's all over, out comes a beautiful series of chords which wraps up the piece like a musical ray of light.

25) Theme of the New God

This piece opens with a interesting interweaving of instruments, which then evens out into a creepy, mysterious melody. When I hear this piece, I always picture Apollo (one of the Gods who appears in the game) standing in his temple, his hair waving in the wind, gazing at the adventurers with an unreadable expression on his face. This is an example of repetitive music done correctly, though I wouldn't quite call this an "ambient" piece.

26) Ah!!

Wow, this is a short one. It features rapidly cascading notes which fall in a rather strange harmony. There's only so much you can do with a six-second composition.

27) Decisive Battle

Simply one of the best boss battle themes I've heard in a long time. It starts with a barrage of oscillating chords, backed up by a slowly ascending bass. Then the melody kicks in, dancing and twirling over the keyboard, while the other instruments intertwine and support it. With each rise and fall in the tension, you can almost imagine weapons clashing in the background.

28) Mystery of the Secret Treasure

A pretty, tranquil, underwater piece. The slow melody and bass make for some good harmony, while the third instrument wavers in and out of the background. Not as ambient as tracks like "Pillar of Heaven," but it makes up for it with a greater deal of variation.

29) Never Give Up

Composition is the name of the game in this narrative piece. The melody and harmony both go through some wonderful transformations, keeping the piece moving at a quick pace. I especially love how the very end of the piece goes back to its starting key through some rather skilful twists of harmony.

30) Wipe Your Tears Away

Another track which was borrowed from the Makaitoushi SaGa. Personally, I think that the original version is better, since this version loses the "flutey" feeling that makes the original sound so good. This version does, however, feature some nice counterpoint (something that the Makaitoushi SaGa version lacked) in the harmony; it kicks in about 45 seconds into the piece.

31) Burning Blood

This piece's quite a bit different than the others used in the game. The melody stands quite well on its own, but the harmony gives it excellent backup. One small complaint I have is about the choice of instruments, since the melody line tends to grate on your ears if you listen to this track too much.

32) Save the World

This track opens with a tense sequence reminiscent of the opening for Decisive Battle. The choice of instruments is this piece is just perfect. Individually, the instruments don't do much, but combined together, the effect is pretty good. Not great... Until a short variation of "Burning Blood" gets thrown into the mix at the end; and that alone makes up for all the other shortcomings of this piece.

33) Ending Theme 1

Now this piece could have been better, in my opinion. It begins with a slow introduction, then proceeds into a victory march, which has a decent melody. Halfway through the piece, there is a short passage which bears a lot of similarity to another passage in track "Never Give Up," followed by a guest appearance by a part of track "Peaceful World." Then it's back to the march again. The original stuff in here is pretty mediocre, but the blending of the arranged tunes makes up for it.

34) Ending Theme 2

I'm not sure why Square chose to make this its own track, since it's merely a continuation of "Ending Theme 1." It starts with (guess what?) another arrangement. This it is of the opening track "The Legend Begins." Nothing in the ending is going to wow you, as it's fairly straightforward. But hey, there's still no such thing as a bad track from SaGa 2 Hihou Densetsu.

Disc Two

1) Opening

This version of the "Prologue" really takes off in a new direction. Not only is the instrument quality much improved over the two prequels, but its new upbeat makes you feel like you're listening to an entirely different piece. Very original work, I like it.

2) Setting Off into the Future

Another very strong game-opener. Again, we see a significant step up in the level of compositional quality in this game. The unusual harmony keeps things from sounding too clichéd, and the catchy pace of the piece has you bouncing along with the melody.

3) Deep

What happened here? They were off to such a good start... This track isn't subtle enough to be called 'ambient', but the melody sure isn't much to talk about. Nothing is really bad with this piece, but then again, nothing is really good about it either.

4) Oasis

Again, a rather bland melody. This track is better than "Deep" though. It does have some good instrument coordination and harmony, and the composition is unique.

5) Fight!

Okay, now we're back on the right track (pun intended). It could have been a bit faster, in my opinion, but it still sounds very battle-like. The instrumentation is just wonderful, even if the melody's not great, and I found the percussion a welcome contribution.

6) Holy Ruins

Oh, so close, but no cigar. The melody's good, the composition's great... What's missing? From the sound of it, an entire instrument. Throughout the piece, the bass has this annoying, hollow "bumm-bumm-buh-bum" sound. The composer should have used that instrument to tackle the harmony ; it would have really fleshed out the music as a whole. I can only dream of the aural ecstasy that would have resulted if they had done so...

7) Stronghold

Now this piece has the harmony that I so desperately need. I love how the melody seems to almost "rise" in certain places, backed up by the excellent bass work. Oh yeah, there's lots of pretty intertwining of instruments as well.

8) Gods of Another Dimension

Ugh. Again, we have this hollow bass that is trying to be a percussion instrument, it seems. This track gets docked major points for not sounding even remotely like a battle piece. One or two of the other instruments seem to be doing nothing but taking up musical space, padding a melody which isn't all that good to begin with. Next!

9) Eat the Meat

It's "Eat the Meat." Nothing much to say about this one, except that it doesn't sound quite as deep as the previous two versions.

10) Warrior's Rest

While I am tempted to bash this track for the annoying sound of the main melody instrument, I have to admit that it's one of the most real-sounding instruments I've ever heard in Game Boy music. It's reminiscent of an oboe or English horn, and it is complemented very nicely by a more conventional-sounding harmonic instrument.

11) Theme of Another Dimension

This piece is pure goodness. It's got your composition, it's got your catchy beat, it's got your head-bangin' melody, and it's got harmony up the wazoo. At one point, one of the bass instruments goes off on a crazy cascade up and down the keyboard, and it sounds great. The only flaw? It's too short. I want more, dang nab it! More!!!

12) Village in a Strange Land

The bass in this piece is wonderfully rich and full, giving it a great harmonic sound. This is the first piece here that I can truly consider a mood piece. It sounds very 'legendary', like you just stepped back in time and are experiencing a piece of history first-hand. (This actually happens in the game, so I guess it makes sense.)

13) Dungeon

This track features the "dull bass" sound again. But as if that wasn't bad enough, the melody is way too repetitive, and there is neither narrative nor ambient quality in this piece. Bummer.

14) Stealth

Here we have the theme of the time-and-dimension-traveling ship, which is called the "Talon" in the English version of the game. I really love the instrumentation in this piece. The melody and composition could have been better, though.

15) Insanity

Despite its short length, this track actually manages to cram in some good composition. The instruments work together quite well, and it definitely conveys a mood of panic and disorder.

16) Heartful Tears

Don't believe what the title of this track tells you. This is not "Wipe Your Tears Away." Far from it. While the melody is good, the instrument of choice is the same odd instrument that was used in track "Warrior's Rest," which in my opinion was a very bad choice.

17) Dark Zone

The ultra-high melody of this piece, complemented by the menacing arpeggios in the harmony, earns it the award for "Spookiest Mood Piece on the Soundtrack." A simple, yet effective, mix.

18) Laguna's Palace

Just when you thought that this could never effectively combine musical composition with emotion, here comes the final dungeon music to prove you wrong. This is the retaliation of the warriors, finally striking at the heart of the immortals' power. But until victory is yours, you can listen to this brilliant composition, which uses just the right mix of instruments.

19) Spiritual Battle

Just like the fabulous track "Theme of Another Dimension," this one is way too short. I would have liked to hear a more battle-like piece myself, but the fast pacing and brilliant counterpoint are quite sufficient to make this a great piece.

20) The Ruler of Time and Space

While not quite as narrative as the other two ending themes, this would still have to be my favorite out of the three. Maybe it's the bouncy tempo, or maybe it's the happy melody that does it for me, I'm not quite sure. But I think this simple piece brings closure to the first SaGa trilogy better than any grandiose symphonic piece ever could.

21) Journey's End

The sole arranged piece of All Sounds of SaGa begins with a soft remix of the "Prologue," performed by some very ethereal synthesized instruments. Then the piece picks up with an original symphonic "victory" sequence, joined by a very cool-sounding pipe organ. The organ executes a series of dissonant chords, and a cascade of strings and drums carry the piece into another soft remix, this time of the track "Town Theme." The melody is played not by a flute, but by a beautiful-sounding clarinet. Instead of stopping where the original stops, the clarinet keeps going, expanding upon the original so well that you have to remind yourself that this is new material. What follows is a faster, rock-style version of track "Main Theme." The clarinet trades off with a "fuzzy" synth instrument for the melody, backed up by a small number of string instruments and percussion. Then comes more new material, developing more upon the theme (though the rock influence drops out at this point). Back comes the clarinet for an arranged version of "Wipe Your Tears Away." I love this arrangement, with the exception of some drums that pop in at one point and somewhat ruin the mood. Finally, after a bit more development, we visit the "Prologue" again briefly, then flow right into the very last part of track "Epilogue," the ending track to Makaitoushi SaGa. This remix is very vibrant and features a fuller orchestra than any other of the arranged pieces in this track. It ends in grand finale style, with a climactic bass drum and chimes.

The verdict? They could not have done better with the tracks that they chose for this arranged piece. However, they could have picked better tracks to begin with. While they were all quality tracks, each one of them came from Makaitoushi SaGa, and they all had a very similar style to them. Where were the battle themes, or the pieces from the other games? Perhaps if those other pieces had been made into an arranged track of their own, I would be satisfied. But sadly, this is the only arranged track, and I don't think that it adequately represents the soundtrack as a whole. But if you're familiar with the original versions of the pieces, and you listen closely enough, you should still be able to get a lot of enjoyment from this piece.


Summary

So what's good about this soundtrack? Almost everything. I absolutely love all the pieces from the first two games, and most of the pieces from the third game. You can clearly hear the musical evolution that is going on here. The pieces from Makaitoushi SaGa are very minimalist, and yet I think the instruments from that game have such an emotional quality to them, synthesized though they may be. SaGa 2 Hihou Densetsu is all about composition, though instrument quality also improves a bit. It's clear that at this point, the composers realized that they were no longer just writing "background blips and bleeps," but an honest-to-goodness musical masterpiece. The game pushes the Game Boy sound hardware to its limit, fleshing out the pieces with percussion, and utilizing a greater note range than either of the prequels. Each game has its own distinctive style, yet there are still clear connections that tie the trilogy together as a whole soundtrack.

Now on with the (few) negative points. The recording equipment used is obviously not as high-quality as it could have been. You sometimes hear crackles in the sound (especially in the Makaitoushi SaGa tracks), and I can assure you that they are not due to disc scratches;I have an original set in near-perfect condition, and I get those crackles too. Believe me, Game Boy music can sound better than this (listen to the Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections and you'll know what I mean). Another complaint of mine is the arranged piece. Not that it was bad in any way... It's just I would have liked to have more of it.

Unless you have some severe medical condition that prevents you from enjoying Game Boy music, you need this soundtrack. Go out and get it, because your life just isn't worth living until you hear it. And if you do happen to have a condition that doesn't let you enjoy Game Boy music, here's a word of advice from Doctor Kero: "It's not about synth quality. It's about musical quality."