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Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box :: Review by Chris

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


In 2006, Capcom commemorated its modestly popular RPG series Breath of Fire with a then unprecedented 12 disc box set. The soundtrack compiles all five soundtracks for the series — the first three of which had not been released in complete form before — into a single beautifully presented package. Whereas most RPG series develop in quite a linear way musically, each of the five scores in the Breath of Fire series is very different and there is little thematic or stylistic conservation between the scores. This means there is probably something for everyone here, yet also potentially a lot of alienating material too. Thankfully, every soundtrack in the series has its highlights and its merits, ensuring the package will be a satisfying whole to many consumers...


The box set opens with the music for Breath of Fire, which amazingly had never been released before. Under Mari Yamaguchi's lead, a team of four composers created music that not only fitted the scenes in the game, but also pushed numerous musical and technical boundaries on the Super Nintendo too. Tracks such as "The Dragon Warrior", with its conflicting heroic melodies and urgent bassline, or "White Dragon" with its sweeping piano and harpsichord counterpoint, are certainly among the most sophisticated and emotional compositions created for the console. Away from these defining compositions, there are tracks such as "Trade City" with its mellow soundscapes, "Beginning of Battle" with its upbeat Rockman vibe, and Yoko Shimomura's postulated composition debut, the samba "Song and Dance"; while none are exceptionally impressive on their own, they collectively come together to create a diverse and mostly fulfilling soundtrack. It's certainly wonderful that it has been released at last and the exclusive tracks here are definitely the best ones.

Of all the scores in the series, Breath of Fire II's has the most noticeable continuity with its predecessor. Among the similarities include the focus on orchestral elements, the use of RPG staples, and the employment of similar synth samples. One theme, "Breath of Fire", even offers a delightful arrangement of the overworld theme from the first game, providing one of the only examples of thematic continuity in the series. That said, Yuko Takehara's offerings here are not always progressive. The top-heavy orchestration of pieces such as "The Destined Child", "Century of the Patriarch", and "Thank You, Everyone" is striking, but somewhat obnoxious and uninspiring, while the rock-tinged battle themes like "Cross Counter" and "Lethal Dose" are average in nature and awkwardly clash with the rest of the score. Nevertheless, the composer's talent does shine through in tracks such as the two-tiered "Kingdom", contemplative interlude "Left Solo", and awe-inspiring invention "God of Decadence", all of which are among the best in the series. The Breath of Fire II soundtrack was released before, but this is the first time in full form, though the additional tracks tend to be unimpressive.

On the PlayStation's Breath of Fire III, new composers Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki turned tradition on its head, daringly abandoning the orchestral sound in favour of frivolous jazz tracks. The fruits of their labours are reflected in delightful themes such as "Without a Care", "Half Done is Done", and "My Favorite Trick"; with their catchy xylophone-led melodies, funky bass lines, and frivolous development sections, these tracks are extraordinarily different from RPG norm and prove strangely compelling too. There is some diversity away from the headlining themes, whether the melancholy main theme "An Offering to the Dragon", the smooth jazz interlude "Eden", or the rocking final battle theme "Self-Determination", the results are usually satisfying in and out of context. While the Breath of Fire III soundtrack had been released before, its presentation was woefully incomplete (even lacking the final battle theme), and its three disc interpretation will be more satisfying for completists. That said, there is a lot of filler exclusive to the full release and sometimes the jazz pieces can sound superficial and uninspiring, so there is a downside to the expansive presentation.

Moving to the two discs dedicated to Breath of Fire IV, this selection is identical to the previously released — and thankfully complete — album release for the game. Yoshino Aoki took the sole composing duties of this title and focused on portraying the two contrasting scenarios. Much of the soundtrack restores the orchestral focus of the series, but with more elaborate and better synthesised compositions. This is perhaps best reflected by the normal battle theme, "It's An Easy Win!", an initially straightforward composition that develops through some incredible secondary sections to demonstrate Aoki's might as an orchestral composer. Further colour and emotion is reflected in the modest, yet increasingly elaborate, arrangements of the contemplative main theme, "The End and the Beginning", including its heartbreaking recapitulation at the ending. In addition to such orchestral tracks, Aoki portrays the scenario of the antagonist Fou-Lu with ethnic instruments, wild rhythms, and malicious dissonance. When the characters finally clash in "A Raging Emperor's Banquet", the hybridised resultant final battle theme is spectacular.

The final two discs of the soundtrack are a complete reprint of the PlayStation 2's Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter soundtrack. This title is the only game in the series to be scored externally and, in fact, also the first to be led by a man: Hitoshi Sakimoto. The composer once again turns the series' tradition on its head to offer the most dark entry in the series and probably his most stylistically diverse score to date. There are plenty of tracks that maintain the action-packed orchestral sound he developed on various RPGs — for instance, "Attack", "Imminent Crisis", and "Barbinger" — to delightful effect. However, there are others that are reminiscent of his experimental ambient creations on Vagrant Story, such as the multi-tiered "Waste Shift", and those that enter new territories, such as the gorgeously layered electronic-ambient theme "Power Supply Building". Thanks to the outsourcing of sound production to Procyon Studio, the various tracks are also impressively implemented and all the more immersive as a result. There are a few blips, most depressingly another weak vocal theme, but everything else in this release is surprising and wholesome.


To summarise, each score is highly interesting for different reasons: the unwarranted ambitious scores of Yamaguchi's Breath of Fire, the rich classical orchestrations of Takehara's Breath of Fire II, the carefree jazz innovations of Kaida's Breath of Fire III, the conflicted cultural influences of Aoki's Breath of Fire IV, and the diverse moody soundscapes of Sakimoto's Breath of Fire V... When packaged together, there is little to define the series musically, given the divergent themes, styles, and technology. Nevertheless, all five of the Breath of Fire scores reflect the ambitious and individuality of each of the nine featured composers. The box set therefore provides a fascinating example of differential artistry and is potentially worthwhile as a whole.

Overall Score: 8/10