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SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack Album Title: SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10031; SQEX-10061/3
Release Date: April 21, 1999; February 1, 2006
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


SaGa Frontier II featured a radical shift in musical direction, as series' mainstay Kenji Ito was replaced with relative newcomer Masashi Hamauzu for unknown reasons. Realizing his imitations of the series' past music were pale ones, Hamauzu decided to assert his unique identity with a range of impressionistic chamber orchestrations. In doing so, he confirmed his status as one of the industry's most creative and appealing composers. The soundtrack for the title was released across a three disc set, and later on the series' box set, to great critical acclaim. To emphasise his European influence and heritage, Hamauzu entitled all the tracks on the release in German.


Right from the "Prologue" ("Vorspiel"), Hamauzu demonstrates his unique musicality. In many ways an amalgamation of other styles, the track combines the elegant melodic phrasing of Classicism, the repetitive tonal nature of Minimalism, and the open atmospheric qualities of Impressionism. While an unlikely combination from a theoretical perspective, Hamauzu ensures it is a very successful one on a variety of levels. The focus is placed on a chamber ensemble of piano, flute, and strings throughout, which are treated in a mature and creative way. Though the instruments are synthesised, Ryo Yamazaki ensures they sound realistic and expressive with his expert programming. The music develops cinematically through several timbrally distinct sections, though retains a frivolous and mystical quality throughout, befitting the youthful fantasy RPG.

One feature that makes the SaGa Frontier II soundtrack so appealing, even to mainstream listeners, is its melodic emphasis. The main theme runs throughout the soundtrack that is both richly shaped and incredibly lyrical. It is first exposed in the "Prelude" ("Präludium"), a track whose short length is compensated with its ambitious stylings — indeed, its piano passages are so elegant and its orchestration so bombastic that this track is reminiscent of some romantic concerti. Later in the soundtrack, it is explored more thoroughly with the chamber orchestration "Thema" and piano solo "Variation". These tracks are considerably more humble in their treatment, but still manage to evoke a tremendous amount. This is largely due to the innate emotional qualities of the melody, which is simultaneously motivating yet sad, epic yet humble, personal yet encompassing...

Despite conserving this thematic and stylistic basis throughout, Hamauzu produces music that is effective in a range of contexts in the game. For example, the reuse of the main theme in the main battle theme has an inspirational effect, due to both its melodic and emotional qualities. Through his excellent arrangement, Hamauzu is able to give the theme a certain weight without disrupting its free-spirited aura. On "The Captain" ("Der Hauptmann") meanwhile, the theme remains a lingering influence on a robust, otherwise independent character portrayal. In other diverse uses, the fleeting appearances of the melody amidst dense strings enhances the dark feeling of "Secrecy" ("Verborgenheit"), while its presentation on flute against abstract chromatic chords in "Tobel" brings an abstract and dangerous quality to its respective dungeon.

With that said, this score is by no means a homogenous score and plenty of pieces on the soundtrack divert from the small ensemble focus. For example, most of the battle themes manage to integrate pop and electronic influences in a tasteful manner to increase pace and accessibility. More abstract pieces such as "Deviation" ("Abweichung"), "Discord" ("Disharmonie"), and "Instruction" ("Weisung") take gamers to abstract and horrifying places with their dense repetition of various electronic and orchestral passages. Since the subtleties of Hamauzu's musicality transcend style and ensemble, they nevertheless sound like they belong in the SaGa Frontier II score. What's more, the heavy reverb of Yamazaki's synthesis throughout the score ensures there is a contemporary influence throughout that enhances the dreamy and fluid quality of the music.

Away from the focus of the main theme, there are also plenty of excellent secondary themes during the soundtrack. For example, the "Interlude" ("Interludium"), "Reminiscence" ("Reminiszenz"), and "Arranger" ("Arrangeur") are all miniatures written for piano and flute, with subtly different moods. Each track provokes contemplation with their repeated ideas and transient shifts, reflecting an impressionistic influence that Hamauzu explored further on SaGa Frontier II's arranged album and his solo album Vielen Dnk. The soundtrack reaches its climax with "Field Battle IV" ("Feldschlact IV"), "Defined Form" ("Mißgestalt"), "Angel of Death" ("Todesangel"), a trio of battle themes that capture both the personal qualities and intense circumstances reflected at the end of the game. Finally, "Postlude" "Postlodium") provides a brief piano-based reminiscence written in Hamauzu's more personal style.


From prologue to postlude, Hamauzu asserts his identity on the soundtrack throughout the SaGa Frontier II soundtrack. This will be a delightful feature for those who enjoy his classical twist on impressionism here, though alienating for those expecting a soundtrack as outwardly diverse as its predecessor. Nevertheless, the soundtrack has satisfied quite a wide audience since its release, given it appeals on a number of levels: as entertainment with its memorable melodies, as art with its creative musicality, and as underscore with its fitting soundscapes. Along with Hitoshi Sakimoto's Final Fantasy Tactics and Yoko Shimomura's Parasite Eve, this soundtrack serves as one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiments of the PlayStation era.

Overall Score: 9/10