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Genso Suikoden IV Original Soundtrack :: Review by Resk

Genso Suikoden IV Original Soundtrack Album Title: Genso Suikoden IV Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Konami Media Entertainment
Catalog No.: KOLA-102/3
Release Date: June 1, 2005
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


When Suikoden IV hit store shelves, fans of the series were anxiously looking forward to experiencing the birth of the Island Nations Federation. A prequel to the previous three installments in the series, this title was supposed to draw the player back in time to set the foundation for the Rune Gate Wars, and to show the formation of another 'continent' in the Suikoden universe. Unfortunately, the game was less than successful. My views pretty much mirrored the general public's opinion, in that fans were overly disappointed with the short plot, the repetitive sailing, and the stripped battle system. Because of this, you may be asking yourself 'how does the soundtrack fare?' Well, it matches the game perfectly, but in this case, that is a bad thing. There are few strong points on the album, with many of the tracks sounding too much alike. However, I'm going to try and give you an overview of the album, mentioning both the good and the bad tracks. Just remember that I'm being critical, not descending into a rant, okay?


Let's begin Disc One on a strong note. coba's "La Mer" is the album's opening piece, and is potentially one of the best tracks on the album. The piece features an interesting instrument mix, with electric bass, flamenco guitar, a few light voices, castanets, and a bandoneon. This combination, however, sets the tone for the album as well as the world quite well. The melody is fast and upbeat, while the accompaniment is quick and short giving an added spark to the piece. What strikes me so strongly about this piece is that it instantly presents an image of the ocean and sailing. Even without the title, you can't help but imagine sailing across the waves, passing islands and harbors as you go. Considering the game takes place in what will become the Island Nations, this is extremely appropriate. The piece also manages to keep the original 'Suikoden' sound that you will hear me mention many times. I always find it fascinating when games in a series always are able to keep a stylized sound that immediately identifies a piece as belong to a specific franchise. Something from Silent Hill will never be confused with Shadow Hearts, or Final Fantasy, or Xenosaga. The thing that makes it so interesting is that a particular style is kept not only across games, but across composers as well. That isn't to say that tracks aren't unique to their individual games, or that they all sound the same. Instead, they all approach the style from a different vantage point, and this track masterfully keeps the tradition.

I mentioned that "La Mer" does a wonderful job at projecting the sound of the sea. This is a trait which is imbedded into the album as a whole, but which becomes oversaturated as you move further into the album. The same instrument set of electric bass, flutes, congas, bongos, flamenco guitars, and marimbas in tracks like "On a Quiet Island," "Orange-Colored Scenery," "Seaside Spring," and 'Scenery of an Unknown Island" becomes repetitive, and lacks the variation that the rest of the Suikoden series has been able to provide.

Back on the first disc, "Crossing the Waves" is a piece that will become every gamer's worst nightmare. One of the greatest flaws in the game was the sailing portion. You would travel from island to island on a ship, and would try to enter the port of each island. There were, however, invisible barriers around the islands themselves, so if you missed the entry by the smallest fraction, your ship would be turned aside, and you would have to use the clumsy and slow controls to turn around and try again. Throw in the extremely slow movement of the ship itself, and a far too frequent enemy encounter rate, and you found yourself pulling out your hair and wising for cruise control, all while having to listen to this piece over and over and over again. Normally, I could tolerate all of the clumsy game work if the music wasn't bad, but this piece gets very boring far too quickly. A repetitive snare drum line, alternating thirds in the bass line, and an immensely simple melodic line (played by strings and guitars) all contribute to the overall dull nature of the piece. It is also very short, reaching just over a minute long before repeating itself. Considering how much time a person spends on the world map in ANY role playing game, I would have thought a little more care would have been given to this particular piece.

Speaking of pieces that you hear a lot, battle themes come to mind. Here, we're given a bit of a mixed bag. The main battle theme, shockingly titled "Battle", is a little bland. A very light snare and cymbal drum line (complete with timpani rolls) propels a repetitive staccato string line before introducing brass elements and an attempt at a melodic phrase. The transition to the second part of this piece is a little jumbled, and the melody in the second half seems a little out of place. It is a nice melody, but I would have preferred to see it developed a little more. It's a great segment though, in that it represents that 'Suikoden' sound that takes advantage of a large range of symphonic instruments. This piece, however, also comes in on the short side, which it has no reason to do. There is enough material that it could have been expanded by another two minutes easily, and it is a large let down for the player. "A Formidable Enemy Appears" fares a little better. The boss battle theme for the game, many elements from "Battle" return, but this time are mixed up into a different order. While the piece on the whole sounds quite jumbled, each part is developed and intricate, if not a bit short. A larger instrumental mix is an asset for the track, as it fills in many of the suggestive holes from the normal battle theme.

Suikoden III introduced a strategy element to the series, where the player would take control of different units, and would use them in combination between over-head map placement, and normal battles against an enemy. In Suikoden IV, this idea is adapted for the sea, presenting strategic naval battles utilizing special rune cannons for ammunition. "Naval Warfare 1" is a battle theme chosen to play during these attacks. The piece, however, doesn't necessarily impose the ideas of strategic naval command as well as you think it would. A strange combination of low brass and percussion attempts to create an idea of military might, but the piece is just simply too devoid of melody or variation to warrant any praise. All it is is repetitive and plodding accented chords with a few small transitions thrown in. On the second disc, we're given a second track "Naval Battle 2," which I highly prefer. While the low brass accents are still there, the piece is given a high brass melody, relying on trombones and French horns. More attention is given to the volume of each part so they sound more cohesive, which allows the melody to become even more prominent. Again, this is an instance where more instrumentation allows the piece to grow and become something much better and more suited to its purpose.

The Suikoden series always has a purpose for its tracks, and each game always gets its share of random, strangely-out-of-place-but-light-tunes. In Suikoden IV, some of these are successful. Most are not. "Agitpunkt Theme" is a strange attempt at a bit of a tango, focusing on accordion, guitar, percussion, bass, and the occasional trombone. It is quite quirky, and the middle melody with the oboe is a nice addition, but the piece could have been developed far more than it currently sounds. "Depth in Simplicity" is a bizarre piece, which sounds like a synthesizer in serious need of either being killed or healed. Any and all manner of strange sound, instrument, and reverb is thrown in to make a track that sounds anything but simple. There is a saying about bringing chaos to order, but I think order was severely misplaced. "Reinbach Theme", however, does a decent job at being cohesive, yet fun and upbeat, reprising "Narcy's Theme". Violins provide a melody above short strings, tambourine, and guitar, and altogether the piece works well with the mix of instrumentation. It also provides an excellent match for the characters it is applied to.

The second disc also has a fair share of these random pieces. Probably my favorite on the album, and one that would be welcome to any Final Fantasy fan, is "Lets Go and Try!" It isn't very often that you find a ragtime piece on a video game album, but this style has proven to be one that a composer can't possibly mess up. This piece is very light, very quick, and altogether quite fun. The light percussion of bells, snare drum hits, and woodblock provides a nice accompaniment for the piano work. The nice thing is that, although this is a ragtime piece, a melody is clearly present to drive the piece. My only regret is that it is over far too quickly. "Ritapon" is an excessively happy tune that can become horribly annoying over time. The electric piano and snare can really gnaw at the nerves, and some of the chord choices are a little strange. The thing that saves this track though is the mini-game that it is attached to. That thing is horribly addictive, and although the piece is extremely repetitive, I found myself tolerating it just to play the mini-game. "Play the Rune Cards" is another mini-game theme which disappoints me. The game, although fun, was only slightly boring. However, the piece almost tries too hard to be light. I think the instrument choice, trying to give it an Arabian sound, is the track's largest flaw. Parts of the piece, in the strings and percussion particularly, are fun and upbeat, but the overlying melody is more than an acquired taste.

However, this brings me to one of the more interesting aspects of the Suikoden universe. Meet Jeane, the excessively beautiful, never aging, witty, clever, and powerful sorceress. She also sells runes. "Enchanting Runemistress" is her theme, and it matches both her looks and personality perfectly. However, I'm not going to review this track here. This piece appears in a longer version on the Suikoden V album, and you can find my review of the track there. "Magnificent Handling of a Broadsword" is a very short piece, but it manages to convey a very large impact in that short amount of time. This is a perfect example of a piece that takes advantage of a large symphonic sound. Fast percussion and string wok provides a fantastic pace for the track, which is highlighted by brass decoration, with a sharp tubular bell piercing through on the strong notes. The piece then takes on what I have come to call a 'pirate rhythm,' which features a heavy 6/8 time and a prominent beat. The instrumentation in this part is quite outstanding, imitating the modern movie scores from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. "Ah, the Sparkling Sea! Ah, the Sky!" is another track which takes advantage of a full symphonic sound. If there was an overall theme to represent the Island Nations, this is it. The piece isn't particularly advanced in the way the melodies and counter melodies work with one another, but the full sound is there to back them up. The snare provides an excellent march-like pace to the piece, while the strings and brass bounce effortlessly off one another.

We now enter the final part of the album, and the final part of this review. As with all Suikoden games, the final sequence is quite long, from final battle to the end of the credits and the epilogue, usually close to thirty minutes long. These next few tracks, when combined, fill half the length of the second disc! I won't make you sit that long, but this part in the review will be a feat. I should also point out that all of these final pieces use the 'Suikoden' sound that I mentioned, and they take full advantage of a full symphony of instruments. I'm stating it now, so I don't have to mention it for each track individually. "Decisive Battle Against a Corrupted Soul" is the final battle theme for this game. It is quite dark and epic, and really brings a fantastic close to what the whole story has been about. The first part of the piece focuses on strong instrumental statements, given through brass, percussion, and tubular bells. The next segment allows the strings to provide a wonderful mix of atmosphere and tension, creating a murky mood leading into a strange wailing horn. This horn transitions into the next section, where the piece picks up in speed and energy. Percussion propels the track forward before moving into the main melodic section of the piece. The melody passes back and forth between French horns, cellos, and flutes before all coming together in strong note accents. The pirate rhythm returns, reminding us of the sea theme of the album, where the melody passes once again between strings and flutes. Exclamations are made in the final part of the piece, before a repeat is made. Altogether, while it isn't the best final battle theme, it serves its purpose. I would have liked to see a little more melody, and a little more development of each of the individual parts of the track, but the composition is relatively well done.

We are then presented with what every Suikoden fan has come to expect: the 108 Stars of Destiny roll call. During each Suikoden game, the player attempts to recruit 108 characters who each represent a specific star, and who have an important role to play in the fate of the world. The concept of the 108 stars is taken from the classic Chinese novel 'Shui Hu Zhuan' by Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong. At the end of the game, each character that has been recruited is given a short epilogue; a 'where are they now' type explanation of their characters. "Epilogue ~For the 108 Stars~" is the track which plays during this event, and at eight minutes, it's a whopper of a piece. The piece has distinct movements; the first begins with a very welcoming and happy melody. Sweeping strings provide an excellent resource for this melody, and bring a sense of fullness that the track demands. The second section focuses on bells and light strings to provide a counter melody, while the rest of the symphony creates an accompanying layer. We then return to the theme of the first section before repeating the second again. The second movement utilizes cellos and oboes to convey the main theme of the game, which is associated with the Rune of Punishment (more on that later). It is then joined by flutes and harp, which creates a majestically and overwhelmingly beautiful combination of sounds. Violins then take over the melody, and propel it into a string-oriented chord melody. The piece then repeats the first movement, which is expanded with further string and bell work. The piece then transitions into a wonderful ending, full of decorative elements from each instrument, before slowly and quietly dying out. Altogether, the piece is quite moving and exceptionally composed, but part of me still feels like something is lacking. Perhaps I am expecting too much from it, but I would have liked to see a little more variation in the piece. All of the familiar themes though are there, and Masahiko Kimura interpretation of them is quite enjoyable. For another 108 Stars variation, check out my Suikoden V review.

"Finale: Remembering the Blue of the Sea" serves as credit music. Remember that you've already sat through about 15-20 minutes of ending stuff in the game before even hitting this. This piece is put together in a very interesting way. Although it is ten minutes long, and although it sounds slightly repetitive, you don't notice it while listening. The atmosphere of the piece changes just enough every so often to present something new, yet not dramatically different than what you were just listening to. The piece utilizes strings and an oboe for the most part, relying on the low register to provide an atmospheric bed of sound. Very light percussion propels the track onward, where flutes come in to assist the melody. Joined by high French horns, the rest of the orchestra steadily makes an appearance. A very cool piano section follows, where percussion and oboe provide a fantastic alternative to the whole feel of the piece. A flute then joins the fray, providing an even higher melody which soars above everything. It is then all stripped away for strings and a harp to provide their own small touch to the piece. Throughout the rest of the piece, these different sections make an appearance, moving back and forth between strings, flutes, harps, and oboes to provide the melody while the other instruments switch into the role of accompaniment. Near the end of the piece, we get a very pretty piano solo, before returning to the themes heard earlier in the piece. The only part which seems out of place is the ending, which reverts to a high pitched and majestic sounding fanfare to bring the track to a close.

Of course, the staff roll is always longer than ten minutes, so we're given yet another piece to listen to while small ships gradually move across the screen. Provided by Coba (the composer of "La Mer"), we return to the familiar bandoneon and harp, which create a very relaxing and moving piece. A cello makes itself known halfway through, and provides a very emotional counter melody. A guitar then comes in with light plucking, while the other three instruments begin to move in and out with their own decorative touches. They all come together at the end, and create a very unique sounding quartet that finishes off this ending sequence to the game quite nicely. When you hear these final four tracks on their own it is hard to imagine that the rest of the album is such a disappointment. If as much attention had been paid to it as these tracks received, then this would have been a completely different review.

However, something seems to be missing. What have I not mentioned so far that you would have expected to see? Oh, that's right, a main theme. Well, we saved the best for last (in more ways than one). "Rune of Punishment" is the final track of the album, and is my absolute favorite. Here's a little bit of background information. The True Rune of Punishment is one of the deadliest of the 27 True Runes. It has two cycles to its lifespan. During the Punishment cycle, the rune will gradually absorb the life force of its host every time the rune is used. It will continue to do so until the host dies, either through unnatural means (being killed by someone), or by the rune itself (simply absorbing all of their life force). The rune will then attach itself to the nearest closest person, who will then become the new host (which repeats the cycle). This makes the rune extremely hard to live with, as a given circumstance may require the user to use the rune. In Suikoden IV, this becomes extremely tough for the main character Lazlo, as he must use the rune to protect the people of the Island Nations. However, if great sacrifice is given by the host, the rune will recognize this and may naturally shift into it's second cycle, the cycle of Atonement. Should the host die during this cycle, the rune will revert back to the Punishment cycle, and once again continue to absorb the life force of it's hosts. At the end of Suikoden IV, we are shown that Lazlo has been able to survive the rune, and that it has shifted to the Atonement cycle. In my opinion, this track does a masterful job of musically imitating this duality of Punishment and Atonement. A duet between piano and violin, we're given an extremely moving piece where each instrument brings a truly unique and integral presence to the piece, rather than simply being a solo instrument with an accompaniment. The melody itself is emotional and suggestive, and the shift between Punishment and Atonement is well structured and executed. The only thing that I find disappointing is the lack of a proper ending to the track. It sounds as if one is there, however the track fades out before you can hear it fully.


Altogether, this review has not been favorable. The album simply has too many flaws, and too many wasted opportunities for excellent, meaningful pieces that the Suikoden franchise is known for. Now, that isn't to say the entire album is bad, as there are certainly a handful of pieces which really deliver both musically and conceptually. These are most evident on the second disc of the album, particularly the ending sequence. However, it is a shame that the same amount of care was not applied to the album as a whole. One could make the argument that an album is only as good as the game it accompanies, and I would agree completely. The failure with this album is not entirely to blame on its own, but is influenced by the lack of inspiration created by the game itself. Because of this, I wouldn't recommend getting this album unless you were a true die-hard fan of the series.

Overall Score: 6/10