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Megami Ibunroku Persona Original Soundtrack & Arrange Album :: Review by Chris

Megami Ibunroku Persona Original Soundtrack & Arrange Album Album Title: Megami Ibunroku Persona Original Soundtrack & Arrange Album
Record Label: First Smile Entertainment
Catalog No.: FSCA-10003
Release Date: April 18, 1999
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Though the Persona series is now well-known for its sassy soundtracks by Shoji Meguro, the series' music sounded quite different when the series' first title Revelations: Persona debuted on the PlayStation in 1999. And not in a bad way, at least according to series' aficionados. The score was way ahead of its time, hybridising orchestral, rock, electronic, funk, industrial, and even the occasional operatic influence to portray a dark cyberpunk journey. Majin Tensei mastermind Hidehito Aoki headed up the hundred track score and was assisted by Kenichi Tsuchiya, Misaki Okibe, and Meguro himself. The Megami Ibunroku Persona Original Soundtrack & Arrange Album is a two disc soundtrack featuring the major tracks from the game and six exclusive arrangements. There is also a bonus disc featuring a 13 minute voice collection. Let's have a closer look on what is offered...


The dungeon themes are probably the biggest highlight of the soundtrack. Used in the underground research lab during the Sebec Chapter, "Touching Unhappiness" demonstrates the intricate approach to electronic atmospheric themes on the soundtrack. It instantly gets gamers moving with its warped bass line and ethnic percussion before introducing a perplexing melody and haunting backing strings. It subsequently enters an introspective section from the 1:07 mark blending trance features with light orchestration. Hidehito Aoki elegantly blends so much together when so many other composers would have struggled. The theme for Kama Palace, "Thousands of Miles of Moles", is another early highlight blending infectious orch hit melodies with mesmerising electronic soundscapes. Others such as "Electrical Energy Travel" and "Sebec City" manage to build so much on a few electronic bass lines, complementing the dynamic and colourful city scenes. Rounding off the Sebec Chapter, "Deva-Yuga" deserves a nod for the way it complements the cyberpunk feeling with a blend of surreal voice-overs and electronic beats. It sounds even better in its Blade Runner style arrangement.

The themes for the Snow Queen Chapter have a distinct tone to them. "Snow Queen" adopts an orchestral rather than electronic focus and mesmerises listeners with its elegant woodwind melodies, gentle harp arpeggiations, and atmospheric percussion. It's clear that not all is right with the character, yet she is intoxicating nonetheless. The theme's arranged version elaborates on the distressing beauty with a neo-Baroque small ensemble performance supported by harpsichord continuo. "Night Cry of the Forest" is initially filled with beautiful impressionistic sounds reminiscent of Final Fantasy X's "Wandering Flame". Given it is a dungeon theme, it soon enhances the tension with an espionage-style bass riff and more moody synth sounds similar to Final Fantasy X's "Twilight". "Black Snow" is another fine contribution from this chapter featured towards the end of the disc. It's interesting how it hybridises the impressionistic and orchestral features of earlier pieces of the Snow Queen Chapter with the electronic and jazz influences of the Sebec Chapter. Pieces like these really help the score form a cohesive whole.

The character themes are among the more accessible additions to the soundtrack. "Reiji" sets the bar high with its catchy blend of funky synth melodies and slapped bass riffs. Other themes such as "Maki", "Elly", and "Mark" take the same approach and are melodic highlights, though lack the intricacy or development of most other themes on the soundtrack. Nevertheless, there are deeper portrayals of some of the characters provided in the slow contemplative themes such as a sad variation of Maki's theme in "Remembrance", the love theme "Saeko", or even "A Girl at the Window", which is used in a rather unexpected context. They adhere quite closely to RPG norms, but are beautiful in and out of context nonetheless. Rounding off the tour, these are other enjoyable and contrasting depictions of Persona's world in the incredibly outgoing funk piece "Cheerful Shopping District", the decent hip-hop emulation "AIAI Shopping", or the murky jazz improvisation "Dark Shopping District". Oh, and where would a portrayal of Japan be without the occasional silly vocal theme, such as "Satomi Tadashi Drugstore Song", which is present in arranged and original versions.

Being a Megaten game, there are of course plenty of battle themes in the Persona soundtrack. The normal battle theme present on the second disc is a surprisingly weak effort — more of a mess of dissonant orch hits and the sporadic keyboard improvisations than anything as profound as earlier entries. Fortunately, its hard techno arranged version is far more interesting. The main boss theme "Between Life and Death" opens with icy percussion and vocals inspired by the Snow Queen Chapter, but soon transitions into a fast-paced motivating theme filled with influences from 80s progressive rock. "Transitory Battle" provides a memorable accompaniment to the battle against Pandora, blending formidable orch hit figures, uplifting trance, and the occasional sinister interlude. While the individual elements are not that remarkable, the mood created when they all come together is fascinating. Going a little deeper into the soundtrack, "Awakening Legend" is an amazing fusion of bombastic orchestration, industrial beats, and progressive rock solos, while "Queen of the Night" demonstrates its cinematic inclinations with an epic blend of chorus and orchestra work.

The "Aria of the Soul" theme makes its first appearance on this title as the expansive ending theme to the Sebec Chapter. Actually Shoji Meguro's first work to date, it channels his early classical influences with gorgeous soprano vocals and intricate piano harmonies. It is very similar to the versions heard in the Persona 3 and Persona 4, except there is rich supporting orchestration and less clear sound quality. This masterwork sounds even better in its arranged version at the start of the disc, written in ornate style of Henry Purcell for vocals, string quartet, and harpsichord. Distinct from "Aria..." in this release, "Persona" is a melancholic piano solo tinged with jazz influences. It suddenly builds up from the 1:38 mark into an angsty passage driven by heavy bass chords. Its arranged version at the start of the album is even more of a spectacle. This is large part because of the more human performance, though the harmonies are also more intricate and sometimes reminiscent of Phillip Glass' work. The ending theme for the Snow Queen chapter is quite a hit too, building from an explorative orchestral section into an upbeat rock anthem. It really gets the emotions rushing at the end of the game.


What an achievement! The Revelations: Persona score really transformed the Megami Tensei series from its often miserable Super Nintendo years into a musically pioneering franchise. The atmospheric depictions and stylistic fusions featured here weren't really paralleled by any scores at the time, particularly RPG scores, and are ahead of even the Parasite Eve and Silent Hill series in my opinion. It's no wonder that Japanese fans were so critical of the more superficial approach in Shoji Meguro's PSP remake score. The Megami Ibunroku Persona Original Soundtrack & Arrange Album is far from a complete score, so completists should look into the Persona Be Your Own Mind Original Soundtrack instead. However, this album arguably gives a better reflection of the score's pioneering achievements both as a musical experiment in its own right and a flawless depiction of the game. That's since it really focuses on the major tracks, yet not at the sacrifice of diversity, and also includes some fascinating arrangements. Either way, one of these scores is a must-have.

Overall Score: 9/10