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Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack :: Review by Kero Hazel

Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack Album Title: Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10042; SQEX-10068/9
Release Date: March 8, 2000; March 24, 2006
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


Without a doubt, reviewing the Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack has been the toughest job I have faced while writing reviews on a regular basis. The pieces are so similar, and they're all pretty ambient, making a track-by-track review difficult. At the same time, all the good things about the soundtrack are so subtle that I find that I don't have much to say except the soundtrack is one of the best collections of game music ever to grace my ears.


But of course, dear reader, you require more than just a thumbs-up in order to justify investing your money in this album. I'll do my best to describe Hitoshi Sakimoto's unique style to you. While describing it as "ambient" would be mostly correct, it doesn't tell the whole story. My favorite tracks on the album, "Climax of the Graylands Incident" and "Staff Roll" are far from your traditional ambient music. These tracks, and others, would be best described as symphonic, nearly Classical in nature. At the same time, there is a strong Industrial and Tribal influences; you've got to love those percussion instruments and synthesized chants.

You'll notice as you listen to the soundtrack that there are quite a few recurring themes. Some are more dominant than others, and I consider there to be three major ones that are the "driving force" behind the symphonic elements of the music. The first track on Disc One opens with one of these themes, and the second track with another. The third theme is found at the beginning of "Climax of the Graylands Incident" (which is, appropriately, track 3). This piece is, actually, a great cross-section of the entire soundtrack. You can find examples of each musical style Sakimoto uses, which is the reason this twelve-minute monster is one of my favorite tracks. Funny how a work like the Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack can be so ambient and so thematic at the same time. It reminds me in some ways of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," a piece so dissonant and bizarre that even modern listeners today often have a hard time seeing its inner beauty.

Anyway, let's take a closer look at "Climax," shall we? As I mentioned before, it opens with major theme number 3, the most heroic-sounding of the themes, in my opinion, and also my favorite. After some brief interluding, one of the other major themes breaks through in a grand symphonic style, and the percussion starts to take off. The orchestra then fades away, and the clicking percussion instruments lull you into a sort of tranquil mood. At about 3 minutes into the piece, though, the drums get much fiercer, and the rhythms more elaborate. Then things start to slow down, and the strings sort of play around with the percussion for awhile. At just under 5 minutes, these creepy sounds (I can only describe them as "jittery voices") start punctuating the slow stretched string passages. Eventually, the percussion starts to form a more regular rhythm, and turns into a battle-like symphonic segment. At this point, we're about 8 minutes into the track. As this part begins to flesh out, we realize it's none other than the second major theme. The last minute of the piece slows down considerably, and plays a wonderful harmonious version of the first theme. Seriously, what more could you ask for in a piece? This one has it all: great composition, gorgeous instrumentation, and many different levels to appreciate it on. I'd say it's a pretty fair representative of the soundtrack as a whole.

I guess I should take a bit of time and explain the two bonus tracks at the end of the soundtrack. The first is a self-proclaimed "Fight Mix" of the opening movie, which is sort of a repetitive funk track with lots of weird effects thrown in. It's fairly cool while the first major theme is playing, but all the mixing in between the melodic passages sounds static to me. It closes with a little jazz ditty that sounds like it's being played on an old turntable. Bonus track 2 is called "Dungeon Robot Mix", and it's an odd little piece of Electronica. I can't figure out what original track it's supposed to be a remix of, however. Much like the other bonus track, it's rather repetitive, though this one has more compositional quality thrown into it. I really hate to spend time talking about these mediocre tracks while neglecting the vast majority of all the good pieces on the soundtrack, but these were easy to single out. Trust me when I say that the other tracks on the soundtrack are much better.


What you end up with is a fusion — no, more than that, a unification — of several existing musical styles into something brand new. Parasite Eve is the only other soundtrack I've heard that comes close to the level of perfect integration that Sakimoto achieves with Vagrant Story. It's great for just about any type of listening, serious or casual, whether you listen to the whole thing from start to finish in one sitting, or just take little samples here and there. If you usually tend to listen to happy music like what you'd find in the Super Mario RPG soundtrack, Vagrant Story might not be for you. If you're a fan of the darker side of game music, though, such as the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack, I can pretty much guarantee many hours of listening pleasure. If you don't really side with either camp, I still think many of you will love this one.