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SaGa Series Original Soundtrack Premium Box :: Review by Chris

SaGa Series Original Soundtrack Premium Box Album Title: SaGa Series Original Soundtrack Premium Box
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: SQEX-10145/65
Release Date: August 26, 2009
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


The SaGa series' games and music have never acquired popularity in the West equivalent to Square Enix's other heavyweight franchises, in large part due to a lack of localised releases. Hand-in-hand with the Final Fantasy series, the series' soundtracks have nevertheless been some of the most influential in the development of Square Enix's music and have yielded some of the company's most fantastic tracks. The SaGa Series Original Soundtrack Premium Box is a colossal 21 disc box set that commemorates this musical legacy. It features the complete soundtracks for ten games — namely the Game Boy's SaGa trilogy, the Super Nintendo's Romancing SaGa trilogy, the PlayStation's SaGa Frontier dilogy, the PlayStation 2's Unlimited SaGa, and Romancing SaGa's remake — together with a bonus DVD and exuberant packaging.


The first disc of the box features Nobuo Uematsu's SaGa Original Soundtrack. Uematsu was able to carry over most of the charm of the original Final Fantasy titles when creating this score with a range of staples, ranging from the motivating battle anthems, to the adventurous world map theme, to the moody dungeon soundscapes, to the quasi-cinematic ending cues. In each case, he focuses a lot of attention into offering captivating melodies while accommodating technological restrictions. It's particularly impressive how he was able to make series' staples such as the "Prologue" and "Wipe Your Tears Away" so expressive despite the Game Boy's humble sound chip. It may take some time to accustom to the piercing, occasionally crackling, synth used here, though such pieces expressive plenty of humanity. The disc is supplemented with a pleasant arranged medley of some of the major tracks from the soundtrack.

Kenji Ito's debut score, the SaGa 2 Original Soundtrack featured on the second disc, is also impressive. It maintains the magical and personal feeling of the series while exploring the range and depth of the Game Boy further. Ito instantly makes an impact with the highly lyrical normal battle theme "Lethal Strike", while "Never Give Up" is a motivating march-like track used during the last areas. Nobuo Uematsu's main theme "Searching for the Secret Treasure" is also impressive here, offering the boundless adventurous feel desired for the world map. However, a couple of Uematsu's tracks are surprisingly uninspired due to their somewhat generic stylings and bland melodies. In addition, the prologue, victory, and recollection themes are given somewhat more elaborate arrangements here, though they are perhaps more welcome in the game than on the album release given their partially recycled nature.

Developed by Square's Osaka team, the SaGa 3 Original Soundtrack on the third disc is not as impressive as its predecessors. The soundtrack is let down by its 25 minute length, more choppy synthesis, and often uninspired tracks. For example, "Village in a Strange Land" lacks the charm of Nobuo Uematsu's town themes, while "Dungeon" is a mind-numbing attempt at ambience and Chihiro Fujioka's four compositions are entirely unremarkable. Despite its weaknesses, Ryuji Sasai pioneers a welcome shift towards more rock-based tracks, with themes such as the jubilant "Journey to the Future" or driving "Fight!" for the map and battle screens. In addition, "Steslos" and "Theme of Another Dimension" are also motivating anthems filled with character and melodic potency, while there are serviceable renditions of a couple of fan favourites to round off the score.

The Romancing SaGa Original Sound Version, featured on the fourth disc, established Kenji Ito as the series' main composer. Liberated by the technological possibilities of the Super Nintendo, he produced a fully-fleshed synth orchestral score to serenade gamers and stand-alone listeners alike. Whether creating rich character anthems, haunting dungeon ambience, adrenaline-pumping battle tracks, or Latin jazz experiments, Ito impresses. Particular highlights include the two-tiered introductory orchestration, "Overture ~ Opening", which introduces two central themes, and "Decisive Battle! Saruin", a well-developed action-packed theme, mixing sinister chord progressions akin to the villain themes with motivating brass melodies to represent the heroes. The soundtrack is one of the biggest highlights of the series' box set.

The Romancing SaGa 2 Original Sound Version on the fifth disc offers a darker tone to represent the turbulent storyline and struggle of the heroes. Kenji Ito's is often successful achieving this. For example, tracks such as "Dungeon 1" — a macabre twist on a romantic dance format — provides a much more emotional support to the gameplay than its predecessors. However, a lot of tracks such as "The Emperor Goes to War" are less impressive with their generic stylings and drab melodies. Even the battle themes are somewhat less exuberant and memorable than their predecessors. The final score is spell-binding in context, though the stand-alone experience is generally not as good. It's still worth listening to on the box set, given it offers numerous highlights and represents a significant shift in the series towards more mature and dark sounds.

Closing the Super Nintendo era, the Romancing SaGa 3 Original Sound Version was the series' first multi-disc soundtrack. Offering the best of both worlds, the soundtrack's offerings range from dark cinematic cues and haunting dungeon themes, to bright character insights and rock-orchestral action. The greater number of tracks ensures that the settings, in particular, are portrayed in a diverse and suitable manner. For example, the field theme motivates and intimidates gamers in equal measure with its dramatic march-like rhythms, while "Rashkuta" portrays the distinctive colours of its location with Indian tonalities and "Ice Lake" sounds abstract yet beautiful with its minimalistic synthy arrangements. The soundtrack is generally memorable and elaborate throughout, though is occasionally let down by Ito's functional orchestration and bombastic synthesis.

On his last entry to the main series, the SaGa Frontier Original Soundtrack, Kenji Ito stayed faithful to the series while offering various stylistic experiments and exploring the technology of the PlayStation. The most interesting aspect of the soundtrack is how it portrays the unique quests of the seven protagonists with specific pieces, including different final dungeon, final battle, and ending themes. Perhaps the greatest highlights are "ALONE", which conveys a sense of being isolated in the forest with its minimalistic textures and vast developments, and "Battle #5", an unforgettable homage to the old-school rock compositions of the Super Nintendo. The box set version of the soundtrack features five bonus tracks from the score, most of which are too short to be of note; however, "Tears of Joy" is a beautiful ballad to represent Asellus' storyline and "Robot 2" is a techno track of debatable worth.

The SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack featured a radical shift in musical direction, as series' mainstay Kenji Ito was replaced with relative newcomer Masashi Hamauzu for unknown reasons. Rather than imitate, Hamauzu decided to assert his unique identity with a range of impressionistic chamber orchestrations. His treatment of the instrumentation is mature and creative throughout the soundtrack, while Ryo Yamazaki's synthesis is realistic and expressive despite heavy reverb. To enhance accessibility, a main theme runs throughout the soundtrack that is richly shaped, incredibly lyrical, and emotionally conflicted; it is arranged in a range of fitting ways, spanning the piano concertino opening, to the free-spirited yet agitated battle themes, to the dreamy and abstract setting themes. While very different from the rest of the box, the final soundtrack is a fascinating and rewarding experiment.

Masashi Hamauzu's Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack is full of contrast. Featuring a blend of instrumental performances and high-end samplers, the production values are very impressive here and exploit the technology of the PlayStation 2's streamed audio throughout. The first disc of the soundtrack is dominated by a range of acoustic music, including several gigantic orchestral performances, personal character insights, and eccentric experiments. The second disc of the soundtrack features numerous electronic experiments by Hamauzu and his partner Ryo Yamazaki, ranging from the abstract to the ultimate. The score is perhaps the series' least fitting and cohesive, but it is an enjoyable stand-alone listen with its mixture of accessible and deeper tracks. A particular highlight is the regularly arranged main theme, which even appears in the primary battle theme.

The box set closes with the Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song Original Soundtrack, a four disc epic featuring PlayStation 2 arrangements of the original Romancing SaGa score. Returnee Kenji Ito does an excellent job of modernising his original music, with orchestral performances of the headlining cues, melodic elaborations of the character themes, and diverse portrayals of the numerous settings. Perhaps most enjoyable, however, are Tsuyoshi Sekito's incredibly elaborate battle theme arrangements, including "A Challenge to God" with its rocking trumpet leads, "Passionate Rhythm" with its tantalising flamenco vocals, and "Decisive Battle! Saruin" with its extensive guitar solos. The bonus fourth disc is a relative stinker, dominated by superficial jingles and redundant arrangements, though doesn't affect the value of the overall box.

In addition to the various CDs, there is a range of bonus content on the box set. There are no real musical exclusives, aside the aforementioned additional tracks on SaGa Frontier, which may disappoint those expecting bonus arrangements and whatnot. However, a DVD is included featuring interviews with the series' six composers and several developers, including the elusive Ryuji Sasai and Chihiro Fujioka. While this reunion is a great way to commemorate the series' musical history, there are no English subtitles for overseas fans to experience. The album's packaging is relatively impressive. There is a case available to assemble the 21 discs, some pleasant artwork befitting the series' style, and an accompanying booklet featuring some interesting information. At the time of its release, it was the biggest box set to grace the gaming community and its almighty presentation reflects this.


Spanning 21 discs and multiple soundtracks, this box set is not cheap and retails at some 21,000 JPY. Thus, prospective consumers should carefully decide whether they are interesting in all soundtracks in the series — including Ito's creations that dominate this box — or just certain soundtracks that have also been released separately. The series' music has featured multiple shifts in composers, each of whom has put the emphasis on different features: Nobuo Uematsu on memorable melodies, Kenji Ito on functional depictions, and Masashi Hamauzu on artistic experiments. While every soundtrack on this disc has its merits, the final product doesn't come together to form a cohesive whole. Nevertheless, this box set reflects that the series has consistently been an impressive and pioneering one in terms of its music production, and should satisfy hardcore collectors with its rich and diverse contents.

Overall Score: 8/10