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Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box :: Review by Ashley Winchester

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


Born out of the atonement that Capcom Music Generation: Rockman 1 ~ 6 and Capcom Music Generation: Rockman X1 ~ X6 provided to fans of the blue bomber in 2002 and 2003, the 2006 release of the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box would seek to correct the injustices that defined the discography of another beloved series. It's true that the series' first installment was the only game that didn't receive some kind of a soundtrack treatment around the time of its debut, but these releases wouldn't become truly comprehensive until 2000's Breath of Fire IV, turning the half-baked albums for Breath of Fire II and Breath of Fire III into even greater sore spots than they where initially.

As simple of a prospect as it may seem to offer full-fledged releases for previously unreleased and abridged soundtracks, the concept is complicated by a factor that didn't exist with the Rockman compilations, namely that the music of Breath of Fire doesn't follow a precise formula. It does at first — Breath of Fire II being an extension of the musical style that was forged in the original adventure — but these kinds of connections are virtually nonexistent once stylistic individuality takes center stage in Breath of Fire III. Variety may very well be the spice of life, but is it the spark that fuels the series' flame or is it a hurdle that's made ever more noticeable in package form? Such a question can only be solved by looking at the box's highest highs, lowest lows and the objectives of its various composers.


Unlike the games that follow, my experience with the original Breath of Fire is more hands-off than hands-on. Because of this, only some of the oddest things surrounding its conception form the basis of my memories. For example, when one boots up the game and comes face to face with the Squaresoft logo — rather than Capcom's — one just has to wonder why Capcom wouldn't publish their own game abroad when one of their competitors did. Another thing that tends to grab people's attention is who is credited with composing the game's music, or more specifically, the misleading credit of one of them: Yoko Shimomura. While Yoko may indeed be credited with having a hand in the music, her role was extremely limited (crafting only one track) meaning the majority of the score is a reflection of co-composers Yasuaki Fujita (Mega Man 3, Mega Man 4), Minae Fujii (Mega Man 4) and Mari Yamaguchi (Mega Man 5). Minus Shimomura, that's still a pretty impressive pedigree but does the game's music live up to it? Yes and no.

The majority of the score's strengths and weaknesses revolve around the qualities of the synth more than the compositions themselves. Breath of Fire has a very penetrating sound to it when it comes across one's speakers, the deep and dark percussion defining the very essence of even light-hearted pieces. Idealistically, this is prefect for picture the composers are tying to paint — and is just as important in the music of the first sequel — but along with it comes a rigid texture that not only enhances the experience but deconstructs it. In a way, it's a lot like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in that it's almost stuck between the extremes of NES and SNES generations of music, the major difference being that it's thick instead of thin. Regrettably, while Mystic Quest turns what can be seen as shortcoming into a literal goldmine, Breath of Fire can't, it's boisterous sound hindering its fair share of moments. In other words, the heart and direction of the series is here but it's clouded by the tools of its conveyance.

With the second installment of Breath of Fire we have another composer from the Mega Man School of music, Yuko Takehara (Mega Man 6, Mega Man X). Downsizing from four composers to one may appear to be drastic, but this is merely a facade as Takehara maintains the sound heard in the original game and streamlines it, redrawing the same picture with a handful of tweaks and perks. The most obvious of these is the medium being used (the general synth quality) is much improved over the first game, allowing ideas to come across with much less resistance.

All the drama and boldness is intact — "God of Decadence" being a major highlight — but the most radical change is what Yuko's done with the battle themes. Forming another parallel with Square's Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, the hard rock edge of "I'll Do It!" and "Dying Corpse" are simply delectable and inject an absurd amount of life into battles they preside over. Their ability to co-exist with the score's epic side originally lead me to believe this is one score that fires on all cylinders and it still does today. Indeed, Breath of Fire II goes far in defining the series' musical identity; something that is quickly turned on its head in the PlayStation years.

Perhaps more than any other game in the series, the music of Breath of Fire III is a fertile playground for debate. Dissecting this jazz-influenced score is no easy task, but one of the most important pieces of the puzzle has only recently been revealed. In a 2009 interview, composer Yoshino Aoki (Mega Man Star Force) tells us how lead composer Akari Kaida (Mega Man Battle Network) wanted to change the preconception that the music in role playing games always had to be of an orchestral nature. In defining such a mission, there is an obvious amount of weight was placed on the score's shoulders from the outset in proving itself, yet the story of the game really begins with a divide between listeners and how they experienced the score. Reviews for the game around the time of its release generally gave it low scores in sound, arguing that the game's music was its main weakness, and the this comes into play is that while general gamers mostly reiterated what the score implied, those who listen video game music intently and with a broader sense of appreciation seemed more apt to embrace them. Looking at what's here, I can't help but side with those that have certain grievances while simultaneously feeling that those that praise the score turn a blind eye to some obvious negatives.

The crazy thing is that the root cause behind these problems can be traced back to the aforementioned interview when Aoki talks about composing each piece of music for its given situation in the game. Such a concept may seem like a no-brainer, but the level it was practiced at quickly lead to a massive and unfortunate amount of filler (which likely spearheaded the limited, one-disc soundtrack back in 1997) and engrained a general sense of inflexibly in almost every piece. It's dumbfounding how many compositions (e.g. "Dragon Asymmetry") are backed into a corner because the ideas they represented were not foreshadowed or reciprocated elsewhere. It's the video game music equivalent of a potluck, a table full of dishes that don't compliment one another. But really, isn't ironic how the original soundtrack release didn't seem like enough, the track selection being stilted out of the desire to present the side of the score that was meant to change attitudes (originally leaving great tracks like "Do Your Best!" and "To a Distant Place" to the ages) and the three discs feels like too much? In the end, the real question isn't if the music of Breath of Fire III is successful in proving that a jazz-influenced score can define a role playing game, but rather how the game succeeds despite it and all the self-defeating problems that come with it.

In being promoted from co-composer to lead composer, Yoshino Aoki would once again return to the fold for Breath of Fire IV. This time not only would she give shape to the adventures of the iconic, blue-haired descendant of the dragon clan but to those of a raging, reawakened emperor with a chip on his shoulder. Like the majority of other elements in the game, the music of IV doesn't attempt to abandon or embrace the elements of its predecessor — at least not to the level III did with II — but the dual scenario system would have a dramatic effect on how the score was tackled and applied in-game. The employment of an epic, brave sound for Ryu's battles and a Asian influenced style for Fu-Lou's not only reinforced the general differences between these characters, it also highlighted the importance the world's geography had in the game's clash of cultures. The ethnic flavored pieces like "Men of War," "A Warring God" and the granddaddy "A Raging Emperor's Banquet" do have a upper hand on straightforward affairs like "It's An Easy Win" and "Bastard Sword" but the remainder of the score does a good job in balancing out these idiosyncrasies.

Balance, or rather consistency, seems to be one of the keys to the music of Breath of Fire IV. Most individual tracks don't pop out and say "I'm awesome, listen to me! Forget about them!" like they did on previous soundtracks. In this respect, IV is more homogenous in nature than III could ever hope to be, even when uncharted areas like ambient music are added to the mix. As impressive as it is in how many types of music come together in a smaller and more concise package, there are a few things that hold it back. The lack of consistent bite can be considered an accurate allusion to the game's somewhat dry and drawn-out narrative, a catch that's become clearer as the years have passed. III has become victim to the same syndrome as well, but its soundtrack manages to cover its tracks in this regard by keeping the listener on their toes with so many styles. More often than not, IV's yin often times turns out to be III's yang and vice versa. This being so, there's no clear-cut winner when pitting the two PlayStation games against one another, everything boiling down to personal preference. The downside to all of this is the negatives are never far behind.

Let me be honest here, I'm probably the last person who should be commenting on the music of Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter. Beyond 1997's Final Fantasy Tactics, Hitoshi Sakimoto is not my thing. Still, there are some general things about the game, its soundtrack and its place in this box set that are worth investigating. As most know, Yasunori Mitsuda was originally slated to compose for the game, but such a plan would never come to fruition due to his busy schedule thus the opportunity was passed on to Sakimoto. Unlike his other works, there's nothing here that sticks out and grinds my gears outside the occasional Ivalice sounding passage. OK, I know there is no rule that says a certain flavor of composition can't appear in game whose world is unrelated to Ivalice, but when a style is so instrumental in forging a world such as that it feels out of place elsewhere. Additionally, I would expect some to point out calling it the "Ivalice sound" is a gross misrepresentation considering it can be heard in earlier soundtracks like Tactics Ogre.

However, while these small musical asides are the only reservation I hold towards the music of Dragon Quarter, there is nothing that draws me to it. It's this that will make some view my next idea as more malicious than respectful, and that is if Capcom would have presented this box without including Dragon Quarter. A preposterous suggestion, but again, it is not born out of my take-it-or-leave-it relationship with Sakimoto as composer than it is a personal desire to see two very different worlds maintain a certain degree of separation from one another. The experience Capcom put fourth within V was vastly different than that of the first four games, those differences encompassing everything — the most significant being the environment. Unfortunately, while I can completely agree with the series needing an overhaul, Capcom went so far off in left field for this game it left many fans in the dust. Be that as it may, with the original album still available from some online retailers and being rather common in the secondhand soundtrack market compared to the previous three, the original release for Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter still maintains an importance purpose, especially for Sakimoto fans that are otherwise not interested in the in-house Capcom section of the box.


Unlike the Mega Man and Mega Man X boxes the proceeded it, the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box is a product I wish I could be more excited about. What initially seems like a great idea — packaging soundtracks with less to stand on together with those capable of doing so — isn't the war of numbers it originally appears to be. There is some good, nay great, music to be had here, but there is just so much to sift through its mind-boggling. The lack of internal focus and connectivity among the scores, something one may initially view as a positive under the guise of variety, is a mere illusion. I badly want to believe it all comes together but the reality is it just doesn't, even after playing the majority of the games. Anyway, as if it needs to be said, if you're going to take the plunge, do your homework. As for myself, I'll continue pondering how Capcom could create something so attractive yet unappealing.

Overall Score: 7/10