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Master of Monsters :: Review by Chris

Master of Monsters Album Title: Master of Monsters
Record Label: Toshiba EMI
Catalog No.: TOCT-6268
Release Date: September 13, 1991
Purchase: Buy at eBay


The Genesis' critically acclaimed strategy game Master of Monsters is historically significant. It was the first published composing work of Hayato Matsuo, now well-known for his contributions to many popular animes and tactical RPGs. It also involved Hitoshi Sakimoto, who programmed and arranged orchestral music for the first time; Matsuo and Sakimoto were to become close friends and colleagues, working together in works such as the Ogre series, Final Fantasy XII, Sword Maniac, and the Classic Road series. In addition, it reflected a turning point in Matsuo's relationship with his mentor Koichi Sugiyama, the famous Dragon Quest composer who directed this work. Matsuo, Sakimoto, and Sugiyama all make admirable contributions here, resulting in a diverse original score and arranged album that sounds excellent musically and technologically. As the solo composer, Matsuo is nevertheless the star of the show.


The quasi-orchestral overture "Black Dignity" accompanies the game's title screen. The memorable lead melody appropriately reflects the grandeur of the gamer's quest to conquer nations using summoned creatures. However, the main melody has melancholic undertones and remains restrained from attaining bombast, in part due to Sakimoto's synth programming. Counterpoint from a secondary synth instrument reflects the nuances of the melody. Fluid development through an introspective section into a full-scale march is also masterfully executed. Moving onwards, the select mission screen's "Purple Time" playfully meanders in triple metre with stunning lyricism and exhibits a dance-like quality. It romantically heightens during several ascending chord progressions and glides into a sensitive secondary section. This work combines the classical rigorousness of Koichi Sugiyama with an emotional soul that is entirely Matsuo's. How one piece can simultaneously be frivolous yet exquisite, playful yet agonising baffles me. "Standing in the White Fortress" features the interplay of two synth instruments against a thin bass line and some arpeggios. While the format of the track is very simple, the leading forces correspond in an endearing way, one undergoing motion while the other is playing a suspended note. Effectively a duet, romantic imagery is detectable here. The last mood-setter of the soundtrack, "Into the Deep Blue Sky", has the most conventional and appreciable melody on the soundtrack and is gorgeously presented by Hitoshi Sakimoto's crystalline synth.

While brief, Master of Monsters is a diverse work. The canonic "Yellow Robe" is dominated by crisp Baroque harpsichord passagework; Matsuo's classical training shines here as his counterpoint, while straightforward, is sufficiently competent to stand out in an area that inspires so many pale imitators. Originality is enhanced by a secondary section of avant-garde inclination. Also experimental is "We Will Conquer the Crimson Valley", which builds from a Jaws-inspired percussive riff and piles on aggressive dissonance. Parts of the theme are inaccessible, particularly the oppressive bass line, but the track is excellently shaped and surprisingly emotional and catchy in places. Very fitting for a track inspired by the imagery of overcoming oppressive forces. "Golden Warrior" is the most explicit manifestation of the funk undertones of the soundtrack also hinted in "We Will Conquer..."; the slap bass guitar use and interlocking rhythms of the drums are particularly indicative of the style. However, this is otherwise another odd fusion, the foreground of the track and soft development section being otherwise composed in a traditional classical manner. The darkest theme on the soundtrack, "Large Green Meadow", builds with cinematic inclination upon a foreboding repeated motif; though again simple, the effect is delicious due to Sakimoto's meticulous programming. This theme is like a more original and effectual version of A Beautiful Mind's "The Car Chase". The ending theme "Black Demise" powerfully recapitulates the main theme and is full colour despite its brevity.

The arranged version isn't as rounded or subtle as the original version. Some tracks are given original interpretations that make them stand out well; for example, "Into the Deep Blue Sky" works well as a simple soothing solo piano track while the funk remix of "Golden Warrior" is enjoyable thanks to its rhythmical qualities and excellent passagework. Also tolerable are the homogenous synth orchestral renditions of "Black Dignity", "Large Green Meadow", and "Black Demise"; they sound more powerful, sometimes bombastic, thanks the clearly pronounced samples designated to them and thus compensate for uninspiring and derivative musicality with sheer power. "Standing in the White Fortress" insists on uses 'new age' vocal synth samples to abrasively open the track and its body is no better; the instrumentation throughout seems too individually pronounced and the middle section is devoid of harmonic substance altogether. Brash treatment of instruments is also to the bane of "Yellow Robe"; the arrangement often reflects the character and crispness of the original, but feels bare and abrupt in places due to the way the track mostly features four different ensembles interpreting the track one-by-one — harpsichord, string ensemble, synth chorus, and, finally, organ. "Purple Time" replaces the fluid instrumentation of the original with a static tuned percussion ensemble and some hackneyed synth vocal and string support. However, it isn't all bad; despite the loss of musical subtlety and emotional power, the body of the track gives an ghostly, almost neo-romantic, perspective on the theme and the gushing section at 1:55 provides the climax of the dramatic arch before the subdued conclusion.


Master of Monsters' original score is a fine accompaniment to a strategy and reflects grandeur, pride, action, and whim throughout. Matsuo's deep chord progressions and subtly shaped melodic lines also provide the soundtrack with melancholic undertones. Until this game, no such multifaceted beauty had been heard in an video game original score. Though the score is far deeper on an emotional level than the game, it nevertheless works excellently in context and helped initiate Matsuo's career by being so exuberant and unique. The often superficial and inappropriate arranged section — seemingly the work of an inexperienced Sakimoto — is secondary to the original score and should not have headlined the album. Its presence sometimes adds a dramatic arch, a refreshing perspective, and, even new depth to certain compositions, though the overall result contradicts the subtlety and intricacy of the original section. Nevertheless, Master of Monsters' original score is special enough to warrant a purchase from a serious video game music collector. Project2601's VGZ rip of the game provides a decent alternative for those who don't wish to shell out a fair few dollars on a long out-of-print soundtrack with an expendable arranged section.

Overall Score: 7/10