Planetary Pieces: Sonic World Adventure Original Soundtrack :: Review by Setnaro
Planetary Pieces is the three disc album behind the game Sonic World Adventure, or as it is known in the USA, Sonic Unleashed. In the game, Sonic not only undergoes a transformation, becoming a werewolf alter ego, but also gets the chance to travel around the world. Traveling to cities, countries, and continents that are vastly inspired by our own world, the choice for the musical approach was to give it that authentic cultural feeling, helping in bringing out the life in the area Sonic visits. Tomoya Otani, who previously directed the Sonic '06 soundtrack, returns once again to direct Planetary Pieces. Fumie Kumatani, Hideki Kobayashi, and Takahito Eguchi not only make a return from Sonic '06 as well, but accompanying them is a wonderful and talented group of performers. They include the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Koji Haijima, well known for various Final Fantasy scores such as Dirge of Cerberus, Advent Children, and Final Fantasy IX.
The most important thing I have to point out about this soundtrack is that it is far different from any other music that fans have come to enjoy out of Sonic. In a way, it's a spiritual successor to the Sonic the Hedgehog Original Soundtrack. Unlike Sonic '06 though, worldly music was the main approach for Planetary Pieces. It doesn't follow a specific genre; it follows the same musical style that many imaginative cultures have created ages ago. Specific instruments were handpicked to best represent any current city and country that Sonic can visit. For example, Apotos, a regular Sonic stage, is heavily based off of Mykonos, which is a Greek Island. The main instrument that represents Apotos is the Maccaferri Guitar combined with an Alto Flute. The Chinese bamboo flute with a small hint of Shamisen was used for Chun-Nan, which is based off of China. Mazuri, which is an alternative of Africa, offers Bamboo flute, percussions, like bongo drums, and the native chanting. Certainly, this soundtrack was given a lot of attention to detail.
Outside the style of worldly music used in the majority of the album, there are also various interesting choices of genre explored as well. A lot of it can be described as Jazz interlude, Lounge Music, Big Band Broadway, and even street performance-inspired Soul, Blues, and Funk. Some tracks make unique combinations of instrument and genre you normally wouldn't picture together. "Rooftop Run - Night" is a very 1970's inspired funk piece that combines the sound of the electric bass and accordion. "Arid Sands - Night" makes a nice use of Trumpet fanfare, combined with violins, and a lead saxophone to give it that Arabian feeling while still giving the impression of a lounge band performance. Around the album, you will also get to hear the main theme and its variations, entitled "The World Adventure", a heroic orchestral masterpiece. "The World Adventure" is a charming, whimsical, and enchanting piece that greatly describes an epic tale and journey to travel around the world, to sightsee, to imagine, and to dream. Unlike the orchestra for Sonic '06, you can really feel the heart and the emotion that the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra poured out.
The entire soundtrack is indeed a masterpiece and well worth a complete listening, but here's the ultimate limitation. The music behind Planetary Pieces dwells so deep into its culture, that the music does not in any way sound like it came from a video game, let alone a Sonic game. If a person were to listen to the music without any prior knowledge as to where its source material is, that person wouldn't be the wiser. He'd swear it was an album that was purchased at a Rain Forest Café or a Natural Wonders store. The music isn't bad, but for Sonic fans who are willing to listen to Planetary Pieces outside the game, they must have a STRONG understanding and appreciation for worldly music. It would've been great if several selected pieces were remixes, rearrangements, or even cover performances for an already existing Sonic theme; that way, Sonic fans would have had a closer connection. The way I see it, the people who would closely enjoy the music more than the average Sonic fan would the older adults, because the music is strongly sophisticated and full of ambience that can help a person sit down, think, and relax.
Planetary Pieces also has two vocal themes. The first one is called "Endless Possibility", performed by Jaret Reddick, the lead vocalist and guitarist behind the band Bowling for Soup. "Endless Possibility" is perhaps the only theme in the album that mainstream Sonic fans will enjoy a lot, because it follows the same hard rock formula left behind by Crush 40. "Endless Possibility" is fast paced light hearted rock with a little bit of punk. It has a nice rhythm guitar intro, with a very smashing drum performance. Jaret himself provides a great singing voice. It's smooth and light, and perfectly fits the theme of hopefulness and travel, never looking back. The second vocal song is the ending theme "Dear My Friend", composed by Mariko Nanba, arranged by Takahito Eguchi, and performed by Brent Cash. "Dear My Friend" is a piano, violin, and vocal tune, which perfectly sums up the feeling of happiness with a mix of sadness. It's a very nice and positive way to end the album.
If you haven't played Sonic World Adventure / Sonic Unleashed at all, and if you are curious enough to give the album a listen to, I would strongly suggest playing the game first, so that you can understand why the worldly music was the template behind Planetary Pieces. For a Sonic fan, the music may be very difficult to feel a connection, especially if they had to hear the music outside its original source. Ultimately, the decision to purchase the album is best suited for someone who can appreciate this kind of natural music. With that said, the musical performance in any and every piece is unique, elaborate, and mesmerizing. There's a lot of ambience and imagination to be explored, with themes that are peaceful, tranquil, and relaxing, or themes that are fast, frantic, and energetic. The orchestra arrangement is an amazing addition as well, and anyone who has heard Haijima's conducting will definitely enjoy his latest work with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Overall, it's an amazing soundtrack, and it deserves a listening.
Overall Score: 9/10