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Xenosaga Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Xenosaga Original Soundtrack Album Title: Xenosaga Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube
Catalog No.: SSCX-10062
Release Date: March 6, 2002
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Note: This is a review of the initial release of the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack, now out-of-print. It has been re-released in the album Xenosaga Episode I, complete with five new recordings, a revised track order, and two exclusive bonus tracks, which has been reviewed here.

When the words Xenosaga Original Soundtrack spring to mind, the word 'epic' is not far away. 'Epic' as a word is source to great ambiguity, but I consider it to reflect a vast inspiration that brings about a large-scale production yielding impressive results. The Xenosaga Original Soundtrack fulfils all three such criteria beyond doubt. How so? I will explain.

The Inspiration

The production of the game Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht from Monolith Soft was one of epic proportions: the game was to be heavily cinematic; it was to rely greatly upon a sci-fi based storyline; and it was intended to have extensive gameplay. Most importantly, it was to be the first of four prequels to the immensely popular Xenogears, which was released in 1998 more than four years before it to form a unit known as 'Xenosaga'. The pressure upon the Original Soundtrack was immense; the sheer scale of the game, the high quality of the production values, and the enormity of expectation from the fans of Xenogears all meant that its Original Soundtrack had to achieve mammoth results. The pressure was on...

If you read the liner notes for this album, you will see that it was the desire of Tetsuya Takahashi (the game director) that the music would overpower the graphics. In the previous games he had worked on (from Final Fantasy IV to Xenogears), the music did exactly that and he wanted this to happen again; however, with visuals being so strong and prominent in the game, this seemed somewhat like a pipe dream. Even Takahashi himself was sceptical. What was the solution? Yasunori Mitsuda. As a freelance composer, Yasunori Mitsuda was neither tied to Namco (who produced Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht) nor Square Enix (whom he split with in 1998 after the Xenogears Original Soundtrack). However, the fact his army of fans loved his work for Xenogears and wanted him to return contributed to giving him the will to agree to work on the first instalment of the Xenosaga series (along with a big pay check, no doubt).

Mitsuda's approach is significantly different to all his previous works, despite holding some comparable similarities. There are numerous attempts at experimentation throughout the score and, while a lot of the tracks are similar in style (particularly the action tracks), Mitsuda experiments nonetheless wherever he can. A wide array of styles are therefore interpreted, ranging from 'new age' to great operatic to impressionist. However, unlike certain scores, Mitsuda's experimentation is sufficiently subtle to avoid the risk of alienating his fans. These attempts therefore prove likeable to the casual listener and even better for the more thorough analyst. In addition, unlike most of his scores, which result primarily in background music being produced, Mitsuda appears to consider the programmatic music to accompany the game's cinematic sequences to be much more important. (This was probably as a result of advice from producers rather than his decision, however). This was to have mixed success in the game, however, with the non-cinematic gameplay being left heavily neglected.

Perhaps the greatest change is that the small ensemble compositions abundant throughout Xenogears and Chrono Cross are gone (all but a few exceptions) and replaced by solo instrumental tracks and full orchestral/choral ones instead. Before starting this Original Soundtrack, Mitsuda was an amateur with orchestration, making the task seem quite intimidating; however, by the end of it he was a developed professional almost resembling that of Koichi Sugiyama (whom he was influenced by while sound programming for Hanjuku Hero). It's a shame he didn't seem to enjoy the task more. The inspiration — from eager fans, a devoted director, and Mitsuda himself — was undeniably immense. The task had been set to create one of the most epic original scores in VGM history. Was Mitsuda to succeed?

The Production

As far as production is concerned, never before had a Japanese video game score been treated with an approach that reflected sheer enormity. The full-blown approach to the recording process concerned with this score played the biggest part in this. Unlike Mitsuda's earlier scores (and most other VGM scores for that matter) that used their respective game console's sound chips predominantly to generate synth sound, the bulk of this production used pre-recorded sound rather than the PlayStation 2's sound chip. The majority of synth tracks used were sequenced on Mitsuda's own equipment by Hidenori Suzuki and were recorded from there. This created synth of very high quality, and, while it obviously doesn't rival the album's live orchestral tracks, neither is it significantly undermined by them.

Live orchestral tracks, did I say? Yes, that's right. If pre-recorded synth sound and Hollywood sound effects weren't enough, nothing other than the illustrious London Philharmonic Orchestra greets us with their presence in a number of the album's tracks. In case you are somehow unfamiliar with the London Phil., this is one of the world's leading symphony orchestras and it has attained a high reputation for its versatility and artistic excellence since its establishment in 1932. Although they are more known for their involvement in film scores than video game scores, they have collaborated with Koichi Sugiyama in the Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites in the past. A full choir, the Metro Voices, is also featured throughout the score often in conjunction with the orchestral tracks. Can a production get any more epic? Actually, yes it can...

If you thought that weren't quite enough, there are three other treats waiting for you. The first is that a number of acoustic piano tracks are produced, including several solo tracks, as performed by Shelagh Sutherland and Yasuharu Nakanishi. It is true that the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack uses the solo piano as an instrument much more prominently than any of Mitsuda's other solo scores. The second treat is that the Ittetsu Gen String Quartet make an appearance in two tracks, "Nephilim" and "Pain," while respectively accompanying pianist Yasuharu Nakanishi and vocalist Joanne Hogg. Yes, Joanne Hogg (best known as the vocalist in the Christian Celtic band Iona as well as the diva for Xenogears) as the diva for the album's two love ballads, "Pain" and "Kokoro." That's the third treat for you! Are you impressed? You ought to be...

Perhaps the greatest thing about the production is not its magnitude, which is clearly on par with a standard film score, but how effortlessly a number of formats come together. By including the London Philharmonic in parts of any score, it runs the risk of making the other parts of the score sound comparatively feeble; however, by using superb pre-recorded synth instead of the PlayStation 2's standard sound chip, this was reduced to a minimum. The use of recorded solo instrumental performances and an odd few small ensemble performances throughout the album also helped to reinforce the quality of the music set by the London Philharmonic. By signing up Shelagh Sutherland and Yasuharu Nakanishi as solo pianists, Leslie Pearson as a pipe organist, the Ittetsu Gen String Quartet for certain ensemble tracks, and Joanne Hogg as the diva, Mitsuda's enormous inspiration was realised by a number of able and high-profiled musicians. Its level of production is left completely unrivalled by most other game original scores and this provided a potential stepping-stone for progression. It is clear that the big budget paid off here, but did it yield the desired results?

The Outcome

When a work is of this magnitude, you might consider it inevitable that it will yield huge results, particularly when Yasunori Mitsuda is composing. You might be justified to some extent in saying this; however, the success of Mitsuda's work is much greater on the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack than in the game, surprisingly. It seems ironic that one of the best soundtracks of all time suffers from being the most poorly integrated soundtrack to emerge in recent history. Due to the fact the majority of the tracks (in which there are only 45 in the first place) are used to accompany the cinematic in-game sequences and are thus only used a few times (sometimes just once), there is a great shortage of other background tracks. The majority of the gameplay sequences are spent in silence. There is just music played in a select few rooms and the normal battle theme "Battle" to add contrast (and "Battle" doesn't really manage to do even that, considering the theme grows repetitive very quickly due to the little variation as it develops). This leaves major gaps — there isn't even a boss theme, for example! Industrial-style sound effects are the replacement and they are nowhere near as effective. A video game really suffers as far as memorability, enjoyment, and evocation is concerned without proper integration of a musical score. This was a major mistake as far as the game's producers are concerned.

While the music accompanying gameplay outside the cinematic sequences is not particularly abundant, when it does occur, it tends to be very welcome. This is primarily because of the diversity of styles Mitsuda has induced as a result of the daring experimentation I mentioned earlier. As a few examples, you get progressive synth chill out in the form of "U.M.D. Mode," tear-jerking string mastery radiating from "Sadness," haunting operatic malevolence with the villain's theme "Albedo," and even a classical piano arrangement of the traditional English tune "Green Sleeves." The only attempt at experimentation that didn't go so well was "Everyday." Mitsuda's poorly considered attempt at 1930's jazz felt far too blatant to be anything other than an interruptive misfit.

It doesn't take long to realize that battle and action tracks are what primarily dominates the soundtrack, however. This may strike fear into the eyes of all those who know too well that many of Mitsuda's past battle themes have suffered the classic BAD Syndrome (Boring, Annoying, Deafening Syndrome). Fortunately only "Battle" and "Followed Space Shuttle" come close to catching this frightful condition while all the other tracks remain immune thanks to their unique merits. "Life or Death," for example employs use of some outstanding metrical expansion by incorporating the "Gnosis" theme, which is discussed later, and transforming it from 3/4 to 4/4. "Panic" goes with the stridently dissonant approach by initiating with a forceful yet potentially oppressive percussion overdrive until it 'mellows' as a few melodic passages develop. While overpowering at first, it manages to be quite effective overall. Do you remember the "One Who Bares Fangs At God" in the Xenogears Original Soundtrack? Well, "Last Battle" is very reminiscent of this theme what with its peculiar, rather jocular format, although its results are very much more appreciable. It builds up rather magically from a bouncy violin and piano ostinato into a complex orchestral work featuring some great integration of male vocals. Still, while the action themes clearly boast their great individual value, their overall dominance to the soundtrack, particularly once the cinematic action themes have been added, is a mixed blessing. Although battle themes are an obvious fan's favourite and add to the epic and impressive nature of the score, there is no doubt that they can be potentially overpowering in bulk. This makes the score considerably less balanced than Mitsuda's scores for Xenogears and Chrono Cross and perhaps somewhat less subtle.

Despite the music for gameplay being very limited, Mitsuda's effort spent on the cinematic sequences certainly pulled off in both the game and its soundtrack, however. As game director Tetsuya Takahashi remarked seeing the finished product in all its glory, "The music overpowers the visuals" hence fulfilling his dream. The very first track in the soundtrack, "Prologue," for example, builds steadily from an ambient sci-fi passage featuring strings and clarinets into a typical aggressive passage only to conclude with a soothing chorale. However, while highly successful on a programmatic note, it has to be considered that Mitsuda clearly didn't inject it with as great a musical substance as other tracks and the London Philharmonic's performance was actually surprisingly weak. Fortunately "Opening" is better, however, with synth programming being carefully administered to create a delectable blend of 'electro-acoustic' (in inverted commas, considering it actually entirely synth) music. This theme is crucial for engaging the gamer and listener initially to the sci-fi theme presented in the game and its soundtrack.

If you're looking for magical synchronisation with the game's visuals, the fully orchestral action track "Gnosis" is the greatest highlight of the score. It sounds utterly tremendous thanks to the brute force of the brass dominating the track. Mitsuda avoids making this action track unmusical however, by carefully balancing the overpowering, characteristically fff passages with quieter interludes. Such a technique is carried over for the powerful "Durandal" and the extraordinary non-cinematic "Fighting KOS-MOS" as well. His approach with "U-TIC Engine," possibly the best track on the Original Soundtrack, is distinctly different. This ghostly martial march is blaringly dissonant throughout (not a good thing for some people), but is made pleasing and imaginative by the use of timbres throughout. A variety of textures are experimented with from tremolo strings to flutter-tonguing flutes to even deathly chanting from tenor vocals. Mitsuda is sure to use the London Phil and the choir to their fullest here and this achieves repulsive yet somehow striking results within the game. "Omega" is again very different in approach against "Gnosis" and "U-TIC Engine." Its wide range of instruments — a solo trumpet, full orchestra, full choir, Hollywood sound effects, an acoustic guitar, and even an overdubbed electric guitar — make it perhaps the most ambitious track. Still, despite its unusual instrumental combinations, it manages to be one of the greatest pieces of electro-acoustic music I have so far heard. It just works. The last action track of the game, "Escape," doesn't manage to be quite as unique on a musical note as the other tracks, but it still manages to build up a climactic feel thanks to its intense orchestration and its numerous rasping leitmotifs.

The cinematic sequences aren't just about action, however. The game boasts three chorales sung in Latin by the Metro Voices that really stand out for their celestial charms. The a capella "Ormus" is the most complex of the three. It is stunning how a number of tonal colours and contrasting passages flawlessly combine together here to create a work unparalleled for its richness and musicality in the score. "The Resurrection" is certainly less complex and is little more than a capella Gregorian chant; however, it remains mesmerising nonetheless thanks to the warmth of its intricate polyphonies. It is unfortunate they found no place to include it within the game. "The Miracle" is definitely the most outwardly impressive of the three. It uses similar structures to that of "The Resurrection," however the driving rhythms of the accompanying strings and the heavily punctuated articulation of the vocals make it much more agitated. In the latter part of the track, the entrance of some fierce timpanis marks the start of an alarming climax that you cannot help but enjoy (and tremble at). Two other tracks worthy of mentions would be the ambient gems "Anxiety" and "Awakening." The former is particularly well done and, while dominated almost entirely by piano and strings, their original use and synchronisation gives way for some haunting textural contrasts as the track develops.

The firmest fans' favourites would definitely be the sensitive music that accompanies the game's soppy cinematic sequences. "Beach of the Void," for instance, is a synthetic string ensemble track that manages to do so much out of so little. Its disjointed melodies, unvaried harmonies, and fragile textures all play a part towards establishing a great sense of loneliness and emptiness throughout the track. The numerous instrumental renditions of the "Kokoro" main theme are often touching too despite my indifference to the vocal version itself. "KOS-MOS" and "The Girl Who Closed Her Heart" have very similar and rather simple arrangements of this theme yet differ in their timbres, considering the former is a pipe organ solo as performed by Leslie Pearson, while the latter is a piano solo performed Shelagh Sutherland. Both interpretations are truly agonising to listen to, however, and this is thanks to the magnificent performances from these two soloists. Both shape the phrases of the original melodies with so much subtle and musical sophistication. The versatile timbres of the pipe organ return for the highly decorative introduction into "Zarathustra" from where it develops into a striking classical piece that is host to some of the most poignant and dramatic passages featured in a video game. It features the strongest string use in the Original Soundtrack and boasts extraordinary use of a full choir and Eimaar Quinn's solo chorus. You don't get much better than this!

The extent to which you appreciate the two ballads, "Pain" and "Kokoro," that conclude this Original Soundtrack depends strictly upon whether you were a fan of Mitsuda's previous vocal themes; the format, style and instrumentation used in these themes are practically identical to those of the vocal themes from Xenogears and Chrono Cross. They prove perfectly amicable and enjoyable from the point of view of their strong melodies and benefit from the fact that Joanne Hogg's vocal use is so commendable. However, if you are looking at this score in the light of a progressive achievement for VGM then these carbon copies don't really have a place in the score. If this doesn't bother you and its other features are sufficient to win your approval then so be it.

The outcome of this Original Soundtrack is in some ways quite variable: On one hand Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht boasted some of the best programmatic music written for VGM as far as the cinematic sequences are concerned; however, the music to accompany the non-cinematic gameplay was insufficient in quantity to provide a full musical backing to the game, and it was therefore foolishly ignored. Nonetheless, Mitsuda's music is a source of endless delight here: the action tracks are breathtaking (though a little too dominant); the emotional tracks are strongly heartfelt; and the other tracks present expand upon the great diversity of styles integral to this score. The fully orchestral tracks and the three chorales certainly prove the most established tracks in the soundtrack. Whether this is because Mitsuda's composition is genuinely better here or whether the London Phil. and the Metro Voices simply add an extra intensity to Mitsuda's composition that a synth track cannot commit is a matter of personal contemplation. Still, no track is undermined by the quality of the next, with tracks for solo instrumentals, small ensembles, large ensembles, and pre-recorded synth all coming together to create impressive and highly distinguished results.


Hopefully my review brought you round full circle into assessing the heroic voyage none other than the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack. The soundtrack's elements — Yasunori Mitsuda's ever-inspired composition, the grand scale of the production processes, and its impressive impact on both on the game and in its own right — make it definitely worthy of the title 'epic soundtrack'. Do not let DigiCube's recent bankruptcy be a reason not to purchase this distinct gem, as with the recent release of the Xenosaga Episode I soundtrack from Sleigh Bells, which carries all the themes from this album plus a few extras, this is no longer a problem. It would be inexcusable not to pick the album up if you have the opportunity to buy it.

Overall Score: 8/10

Appendix ~ Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc One

1) Prologue

Yasunori Mitsuda has always been known for creating epic musical introductions for the games he composes for. Is this track an exception? At 4 minutes 34 seconds in length, complete with both Hollywood sound effects and a full orchestral performance from the London Philharmonic, and boasting Yasunori Mitsuda as the composer, how could it possibly not be? Actually, quite easily. Like "Light From The Netherworld" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack before it, the music is structured into several sections that synchronise with the FMV it represents within the game. This works programmatically, but ultimately fails on a musical note. The first two minutes of the track are important for one thing: atmosphere. Musically this part of the track is fairly unremarkable (although the lightly gradated textures and the melancholic string and clarinet use do stand out); however, it is incredible to see the way the music manages to come together to create such a boundless, mysterious, almost paranormal atmosphere as it slowly develops. It abruptly transitions from there into an aggressive and overpowering action passage in typical orchestral fashion. Despite the mediocrity of this passage, the way it concludes into a soothing chorale afterwards restores some musical order back to this track. Although the vocal use from Eri Kawai here isn't as effective as the tracks featuring the Metro Voices, such a presence is welcomed and adds to the impact of the track as a whole. Indeed, when you strip the track down it feels quite incoherent musically and certainly fails to utilise the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as it could have done. (Their performance is below average anyway for some strange reason). Thankfully, it still manages to create a lot of atmosphere and offers quite a distinct epic feel, and it is not therefore a total loss. Still, I am definitely thankful that the other orchestral performances are much better than this one. (7/10)

2) Opening

This track was the very last Mitsuda composed for the Original Soundtrack despite the fact it is one of the first on the Original Soundtrack. Mitsuda's resources here were more limited than in the "Prologue" with just synth being available. He uses his resources much more effectively in this instance, however, blending electronic and sci-fi sound effects together with more traditional instrumental lines. Although the atmosphere of the track stays pretty consistent throughout, there are subtle textural changes that appear as the track develops. The development is fascinating: Mitsuda develops the track upon a bass riff that repeats for the majority of the track and gradually thickens the instrumentation on top of it; such a method of composition is most commonly associated with Akira Yamaoka's established styles in the Silent Hill series. While the melodic consideration is deliberately limited here, the way fragments of the "Light from the Netherworld" theme from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack are introduced makes this track a treat for Xenogears fans. Although hardly extraordinary, this track has many superior qualities. (8/10)

3) Battle

Mitsuda's standard battle themes have never been renowned for their great strength. Their tendencies to be repetitive, cluttered, and powerless means they grow increasingly more annoying and tedious the more times you play both the game and its soundtrack. Mitsuda's approach for this battle theme was one that combined the traditional and ordered elements of his earlier battle themes together with the epic feel predominant throughout the rest of the score. This approach was probably the correct one to use, but it was not implemented as effectively as it could have been. The theme is therefore suspect to many of the negative aspects of Mitsuda's typical battle themes; it just lacks the originality and development needed to do much other than ultimately fail. It's lucky it managed to just about resist suffering from BAD Syndrome (see above). Even so, this was still a significant but anticipated disappointment. (5/10)

4) Battle's End

Despite the progressive elements of this Original Soundtrack in comparison to other RPGs, the apparent compulsory addition of a 'victory fanfare' is witnessed yet again. Its principles have quickly become timeworn, as there isn't much scope for great variety in such themes no matter how hard composers try. Reading the liner notes, you will see that even Mitsuda regrets its presence. It deserves much more credit than most other 'victory fanfares', however. Its opening phrase on the synth brass is appropriately grand and manages to fit with the Original Soundtrack's epic styles. It gradually diminishes from such grandeur into a much calmer flute passage with surprising intricacy. (Hitoshi Sakimoto's influence maybe?). It is a shame the flute passage loops too quickly for any more credit to be given. (7/10)

5) Starting Examination

As intended, "Starting Examination" creates a lot of initial anxiety within the game as regards the issue of KOS-MOS. I found the initial passage to be rather dull, but it soon manages to develop effectively after the 30-second mark from where it really increases in intensity. The way the wind instruments effectively protrude over suspended string notes is a good example of effective synth implementation. The strong rhythmical qualities of the track as well as its charming chord progressions also add to its level of impact. Its conclusion is particularly effective with the dynamics increasing strongly to achieve an imposing and somewhat uncertain end. I regret this theme was not orchestrated to reach its fullest potential. Thankfully, though, the synth was administered really well to partly compensate. (8/10)

6) Rising Emotions

This theme introduces parts of the "Kokoro" main theme for the first time and therefore serves host to one really memorable melody. Mitsuda's creativity seems somewhat limited here, considering its format is practically identical to that of "Faraway Promise" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack. This format is namely that of a solo electric piano playing a basic rendition of the main theme. The choice of this instrumentation was well considered for this piece, however the electric piano really doesn't offer the same variety of tone as the pipe organ does in "KOS-MOS." It really seems to need more variety of timbres as it develops to avoid it becoming so dreary. It's not bad, but more creativity is needed. (6/10)

7) Gnosis

Game director Tetsuya Takahashi pinpoints "Gnosis" as the musical highlight of the entire score. I can entirely see his justification behind this: it is a prime example of orchestral mastery from the London Philharmonic; it synchronises perfectly with its accompanying visuals; and it is host to so much variety, creativity, radicalism, and experimentation. The vulgar dissonant roars of the brass that open the track immediately grab your attention with their zeal. While much of the track remains loud and intense like this, the fact these passages are so carefully precipitated by numerous mellower interludes makes the track seem so much more balanced and musical in nature. On a slightly related note, I swear that Mitsuda was influenced heavily by the late Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Mummy for this track. There is such a great Arabian feel going on! (10/10)

8) Awakening

This theme is distinctly an ambient one. Although ambient music is not Mitsuda's speciality, he actually pulls this track off perfectly adequately. This is particularly thanks to the instrumentation chosen, which combines traditional orchestral string elements together with sci-fi elements such as those heard back in "Opening." The 'cello is particularly well utilised here with its low suspended notes creating quite an ominous and distant mood. The sci-fi elements blend agreeably and have an unusual, perhaps enigmatic quality, about them that contributes their part to establishing the uneasy tone created. It couldn't quite be defined as electro-acoustic music, considering the acoustic elements are actually synth, but it is getting there. (8/10)

9) Shion's Crisis

The ambience from the previous track is carried over for the first 25 seconds of this one creating yet more uneasiness. It promptly crescendoes out of this into a most fantastic spectacle of full orchestral power and abhorrent Stravinsky-esque dissonance in an extremely haunting and vigorous passage. The use of the "Kokoro" theme following this 'ordered' chaos offers the melodic impact needed to restore stability and calm to the track, and was carefully timed to successfully correspond with one of Shion's in-game flashbacks. It drifts back effortlessly from this into similar ambient tones to that heard at the start of the track making it go round musically in full circle. It works effectively programmatically and, unlike some of the other orchestral tracks, offers something much more original musically beyond just standard flair. (8/10)

10) Fighting KOS-MOS

This track presents KOS-MOS' astonishing power based upon Shion's perspective within the game. It opens in imposing fashion in a passage that is underpinned by an odd triplet-based motif whereby glaring dissonant wind clashes are marvellously anticipated by a sequence of drum crashes. This sounds magnificent when it all comes together creating both a sense of both might and tension. The synth orchestral passage that follows it is less remarkable, but the initial passion within the track is maintained well here by some solid chord progressions that add a certain amount of unpredictability to the music. Perhaps the biggest asset to this track is the warm melodic interlude that occurs initially around the 1 minute 15 seconds mark before it loops. This adds a new depth to the piece and avoids it becoming chaotic and unmusical. Many similar tracks fail for being too consistent and harsh, but this is not one of them. (9/10)

11) Sadness

Mitsuda has always stood out for his 'sad' themes, which in his previous Original Soundtracks have typically boasted a huge level of sensitivity and musicality. This is the first one of such themes from the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack and perhaps his very best hitherto. It stands out primarily for its delicate blends in instrumentation; the enchanting tones of the distant string passages flawlessly combine with those lonely tones of a solo piano. Although this track is regretfully synth-based, the impeccable synth programming means that the instrumentation still presents a huge amount of warmth and mood. Indeed, however, the track wouldn't be anything if it weren't for the unforgettable thematic progressions Mitsuda inspires into this music. These are just beautiful. (9/10)

12) Life or Death

Mitsuda proves his ability well in this action-packed gem. The first 40 seconds open in typical rousing fashion with a number of fanfare-like trumpet motifs and a fair few powerful (although predictable) chord progressions. These build up the power of the track and ensure initial impact. Its real merits lie in the reintroduction of the "Gnosis" theme after this, however. Mitsuda has augmented the theme by changing it from triple time to quadruple time. While this method of metrical expansion may seem odd in theory, it is put into practice extremely well and contributes its part in completely changing the motif's feel from that of pure evil to that of a setting for a buoyant battle. It is clearly a technique Mitsuda enjoys employing and is proficient in. (8/10)

13) Game Over

Game Over themes always tend to be a bit of a 'something about nothing'. They suit their purpose well, but are not a source of particular intrigue within the Original Soundtrack. Although "Game Over" is not much different, it still manages to inspire a considerably large amount of emotion within it. Through arranging the "Kokoro" main theme in the form of a violin and harp duet Mitsuda manages to create a lot of sensitivity through something very simple. As a result, despite being naturally short and nothing particularly special, it still has a fair amount of emotional value. (8/10)

14) Margulis

This character theme is a paradox. It manages to remain remarkably light-hearted despite being the subject to introduction of a number of dark motifs. I think this manages to work, however, combining Margulis' devious and malicious qualities together as the game's scoundrel. Musically it feels a little incoherent in places, however, and suffers being from being quite disjointed as a result of a number of abrupt transition sections. Further, it is definitely not one of the more well manifested tracks on the original score and would benefit from being more distinctive. (6/10)

15) Followed Space Shuttle

Within the game, "Followed Space Shuttle" accompanies a fast-paced action scene. This track pumps more sense of action into this scene with its fast tempo, agitated leitmotifs, and abrupt chord progressions. Mitsuda evidently intended this theme to purely serve this purpose, and by keeping it very simple throughout, it avoided overcomplicating things. It definitely has less substance than most of other action tracks, however, and would benefit from more original features and less predictability. It's not bad, but not as compelling as most additions to the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack. (7/10)

16) Relief

According to Mitsuda, this track was initially intended to be nothing more than a 'simple jingle'. It actually became considerably more than that. Although I wouldn't describe it as a musical masterpiece any day of the week, it is actually host to quite a delightful and well-developed melody. It flows from one section to another with ease and feels musically settled at all times. There's also a great amount of warmth and freedom presented from the solid melodies and appropriate synth instrumentation used in this track. It isn't exceptional, but still manages to be an old favourite. (8/10)

17) Everyday

This track is by far the lightest theme in the Original Soundtrack and contrasts greatly with the soundtrack's darker and more epic themes. It is distinctly reminiscent of 1930's jazz. The lead synth piano melodies are colourfully upbeat and are subtly accompanied by a rhythm section and percussion. It develops satisfactorily although I felt more variation could have been attained by a bit of improvisation. I'm not sure how to interpret its success within the Original Soundtrack, however. On the one hand it makes a contribution to offering the soundtrack a wider diversity of styles. On the other hand, I cannot help but think this track is a total misfit in a very serious album. It doesn't sound like it belongs here, and this makes it appearance in the soundtrack a little startling every time I come to this track. (5/10)

18) U.M.N. Mode

If you are familiar with Masashi Hamauzu's Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack then this track will most likely remind you of the synthesised chillout mixes abundant on Disc Two. While Mitsuda is clearly an amateur at this style in comparison to Hamauzu, he still manages to pull it off nicely. The lush contrasts in the combinations of synth pads employed come together convincingly to provide a warm moment of relief. Mitsuda also adds a few unique features along the way to ensure that it is progressive and rich in inspiration. While very different to the styles otherwise present in the rest of the soundtrack, it did not sound like a misfit, considering it was dealt with in a much more subtle manner than "Everyday," and also managed to maintain the sci-fi space-like theme going on throughout the soundtrack. Although Mitsuda hasn't quite refined this style to the maximum, it is still a very worthwhile and compelling attempt at experimentation. (8/10)

19) Durandal

By looking back to the liner notes for this album, you will see that Mitsuda stated "I actually think I managed to pull this one off pretty well" when referring to this track. This was a very modest statement to say the least. The track is mostly dominated by action passages like those of "Life or Death." These are fast-paced and potent as well as ideal for representing the sheer power of the ship, the Durandal. My passions succumb the most to the calm interludes again, however. The interlude that starts around the 1-minute mark is dominated by the thin textures of wind chimes and a chorus. It manages to be a fitting break until tension slowly builds up prior to the re-emergence of the main tune. Although the action passages aren't significantly different to what we have heard before, the carefully placed interlude as well as the proficient timpani and wind chime use manage to maintain a lot of interest. This was pulled off very well in my opinion. (9/10)

20) Invasion Inside an Enemy Ship

This is used to accompany an important action sequence within the game. At just 39 seconds in length, Mitsuda had no time to waste and cuts right to the chase here by getting straight into the heart of the action. In this case it seems as though it is the shortest tracks that cause the most difficulty as far as composing is concerned. It is done well, however, and although it is obviously limited by time implications, this track still creates a lot of impact and works glowingly within the game. (8/10)

21) U-TIC Engine

Wow! This is by far my favourite track of the entire score. Why? This is primarily because a) the use of timbres from the London Philharmonic is simply astonishing and b) the dissonance throughout is horrifyingly juicy, just how I like it. (Oxymoron alert!) It opens with an extraordinary 10-second introduction on the mysterious and anticipant tones of tremolo strings, and it then crescendoes with remarkable intensity into a lurid militaristic march. The eerie motifs of the flutter-tongued flutes used in two passages of the piece are surely the showpiece of this march. Mitsuda was desperate to experiment with the timbres of a flutter-tongued flute (this was why he composed this theme in the first place) and indeed integrates the technique superbly into the London Philharmonic's performance. Flutter-tonguing has the amazing effect of turning the stereotypically light and attractive tones of the flute into something dark, vulgar, and superb. After the first iteration of the flute passage we are greeted by a brief choral passage. Although the use of vocals here isn't as prominent as certain other tracks, the ghostly chants of the tenor vocals add something very paranormal to the track, particularly once coupled with the lonely tones of a solo oboe. The entrance of a tense and disconcerting string motif at the 2-minute mark marks the beginning of the end as the track crescendoes and builds in texture up to a spectacular and abrupt climax featuring a descending glissando on the vocal parts. Nothing but pure magic! (10/10)

22) The Girl Who Closed Her Heart

This particular track is a solo piano arrangement of "Kokoro." Mitsuda's arrangement of this track is nothing too fancy, but by keeping it simple, it is also maintains that certain subtlety and sensitivity that this track demands. The most incredible feature of the track is its performance from Shelagh Sutherland, which is filled with so much heart-rending anguish throughout. The melodic lines are interpreted to perfection with subtle dynamic and tempo contrasts really adding to the natural shape of the musical phrases. These passages are also carefully interspersed by a number of lulls, which ensure the track breathes freely and also has a certain amount of emptiness. I don't blame Mitsuda for having a break from writing this track due to the level of emotion getting too much here! (10/10)

23) Kookai Foundation

The introduction to this track, despite being a little drawn out, is quite pleasing and has a distinctive 'new age' freshness to it. The passages that follow prove moderately charming to the ears with their subtle melodies and soft synth instrumentation. As the track progresses, however, it becomes increasingly more directionless and indistinctive and lacks the progression needed to maintain its initial impact. Further, it suffers from having quite an abrupt ending that just doesn't fit musically with the rest of the piece. Although it is perfectly tolerable, it doesn't fulfil the potential it had for pleasing development. (7/10)

24) Shion ~Memories of the Past~

This solo piano track goes hand in hand with "Shion ~Emotion~" at the very end of the Original Soundtrack. Although both are short arrangements of "The Girl Who Closed Her Heart," they are quite strong and benefit greatly from impassioned performances from Nakanishi. This arrangement has a more melancholic feel to it in comparison to its partner, however, as Mitsuda decided to use the depressing tones of a minor key here. It certainly makes this piece quite a marvel and ends the first disc on quite an unresolved note. (8/10)

Disc Two

1) Ormus

This a capella vocal track is one of three chorales sung by the Metro Voices in Disc Two of the score. The rich quality of the choir's well-intonated voices makes this track representative of purity, sanctity, and holiness. The subtle harmonisation of the vocals is wholly mastered and offers pleasing melodic decoration and textural contrasts as the track develops. The way the track is seamlessly split into a number of sections as it develops makes the track highly multifaceted and offers a huge amount of profundity, expression, and colour. It is impossible not to be in awe of Mitsuda's skilful management of this track. (10/10)

2) Nephilim

This track begins as a solo piano track performed by Yasuharu Nakanishi but is overdubbed rather belatedly by the Ittetsu Gen Strings in the latter half of the track. The piano lines begin in a captivating and musical manner, and they are enriched with a sense of deep contemplation thanks to Nakanishi's perceptive performance. The track does begin to drag, however, and it is only until the strings enter that its original splendour is revived. The strings provide quite a moving counterpoint against the piano lines in certain places, which works convincingly despite the fact they were not pre-recorded together. (8/10)

3) Warmth

Unlike the other solo piano tracks on the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack (apart from "Green Sleeves"), this track is actually synth rather than a live performance. This means that it suffers somewhat on an emotional note and lacks the sensitivity and profundity of "Nephilim" and "The Girl Who Closed Her Heart." The composition itself is quite respectable, but its harmonies are way too simple and its development tends to be quite tiresome. It's just a standard Mitsuda piano track and nothing more than that. Note, however, that there is a new live recording of "Warmth" as one of the extras in the recently released Xenosaga Episode I soundtrack. (6/10)

4) Anxiety

This is the spooky ambient gem of the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack. It is well known that Mitsuda rarely succeeds with really ambient tracks (look at most of the ambient tracks in Chrono Cross for example), but he does so in the cases of "Anxiety" and "Awakening." The two primary forms of instrumentation that are dominant throughout the track are synth strings and a synth solo piano, and while these instrumentation choices alone are quite simple and hardly abstract, the way they amalgamate is highly enigmatic. This creates haunting dynamic contrasts and offers an unsettling mixture of minimalist and more elaborate textures. The use of sound effects throughout is first-rate too and offers an additional stratum of mood that the piano and strings cannot possibly offer (although this is chiefly in the main development sections). Its end is most unusual considering it unexpectedly stops on a faint solo piano passage with all sound present just vanishing into thin air. It is most baffling considering a more climactic end would be expected, but it is effective nonetheless and retains a minimalist feel to the track. This is definitely one that is worth lots of intense listening to. (10/10)

5) The Resurrection

This is the second chorale of the game and is a capella Gregorian chant. It is much more simplistic in nature than "Ormus" but offers the same heavenly feel thanks to the eminence of the vocals from the Metro Voices that are flawlessly intonated throughout. It uses a very similar structure to "The Miracle" heard later in the score but the fact it is now unaccompanied and the vocal passages are distinctly legato for their entirety creates a much softer and subtler feeling overall. It is a pity they found no place for this within the game taking into account that it works so naturally on the score. Still, I'm thankful it wasn't cut from the Original Soundtrack. (9/10)

6) Beach of the Void

While small ensemble tracks tend to take a backseat for the score, Mitsuda offers us with the presence of a pleasant string quartet nonetheless. While the track uses classical ideas, its bare textures, repetitive harmonies, and fragmented melodies seem almost minimalist. There is a definite blend of classicism and modernism here. Mitsuda avoids deliberate musical complexity throughout by using such features in order to create the intended bland, bleak and somewhat empty atmosphere required in the game. It's magnificent to see so much made out of so little. It is a shame this one wasn't performed by the Ittetsu Gen strings, considering string synth is rarely the most convincing, even when pre-recorded. (9/10)

7) Green Sleeves

Most people are familiar with this traditional English tune (apparently originally composed by King Henry VIII) considering the half century's worth of arrangements made out of it. The fact that a game music arrangement was made out of this tune certainly surprised me, but its quality was also noteworthy. Like "Warmth" before it, it is a synth solo piano track. This is not a problem, however, considering that the synth was administered so well that the sheer melodic beauty of the theme is still emphasised. The introduction to this theme is original and particularly heartening. The passages that follow are soft, sensitive, and delicately emphasised by subtle harmonies and the occasional arpeggiation of the melodic line. There is nothing spectacular about the arrangement, but it is plainly good and that is what matters here. Like "Warmth," there is a new live recording of this arrangement as one of the extras in the recently released Xenosaga Episode I soundtrack. (9/10)

8) Zarathustra

Leslie Pearson introduces the track with a worthy pipe organ solo in a 'baroque' polyphony that is heavily ornamented and highly intricate in nature. The London Philharmonic's string section takes over at the 0:40 mark in a poignant passage well supported by the entrance of Eimaar Quinn's solo chorus a little after the one minute mark. The masterful string use continues and develops until the 1:55 mark when the orchestra is joined by the celestial tones of the Metro Voices in perhaps the most evocative passage of music in the entire Original Soundtrack. The great ardour here spills over at the 2:10 mark when the strings unexpectedly echo a powerful orchestral motif originally at a healthy forte in the much softer dynamic levels of piano. These contrasts have a sensational amount of dramatic impact and ensure you are really immersed into the music before it moves into its passionate climax at the end of the piece. The string performance here is unsurpassed by the rest of the Original Soundtrack, and Mitsuda's instrumental choices are abstract yet superlative. (10/10)


In terms of the structure and melodic features of this arrangement, "KOS-MOS" appears to be very similar to "The Girl Who Closed Her Heart" on Disc One. Its key difference is that it is pipe organ solo as opposed to that of an acoustic piano solo. The track really stands out for its performance from Leslie Pearson who emphasises the overlooked versatility of the pipe organ through bringing out so many different tonal colours for the duration of the arrangement. Pearson ensures a lot of emotional impact through adding considerable nuances to the musical phrases as they develop, creating a variety of overlapping shades of melancholy and the infinite sadness. (10/10)

10) Panic

If you are alright coping with the grating dissonance predominant within this track then there is no reason that you won't be mortally wounded by it (if the volume is not turned up above the minimum). If not then you might want to skip it considering it might just exterminate your life (yes, I'm being serious: this track is the archetype of musical viciousness). It initiates with a flabbergasting passage dominated by heavily percussion and a frantic piano basso ostinato that immediately crashes into you at huge velocity with a deafening 'thud.' (Beware, however, as it presents to you so much danger that you might just have a panic attack). It then moves into a passage dominated by the crude and ugly tones of synth brass, which precipitate the rather random occurrence of a descending electric guitar glissando. It briefly mellows after this in a passage that is still energetic yet not too excruciatingly loud (again, if the volume is at its lowest) giving you a bit of time to get your breath back before you return to panic override as the track gets ready to loop. (Yes, it's back to percussion madness). Most of the instrumental use throughout the track is jarringly loud, but this is strictly intentional and it works a treat within the game (again, if the volume is really low, or preferably muted). This is definitely a strong track (as long as you can cope with endless passages at fff, thunderous sound effects, a dissonance overkill, and having to be admitted to (or expire in) hospital after a panic (or heart) attack whenever you listen to it). I like it. (Did I use too many parentheses? Sorry. I do like it though.). (8/10)

11) Song of Nephilim

A synth women's choir sings a mystical chorale accompanied by some hazy instrumentals. The haunting opening vocal motif is one that is unforgettable and sends a chill running right down my spine whenever I listen to it. The track is fairly forgettable after this, however, and the other motifs introduced are barely as memorable. It doesn't really go anywhere and is mainly present for atmosphere's sake. Although the synth vocals are realised well, it would have been excellent to see the Metro Voices return here. Oddly, this is the only track from this score to be integrated into the Xenosaga Episode II soundtrack. (6/10)

12) The Miracle

"The Miracle" is the last of three chorales performed by the Metro Voices and is the only one to encompass accompaniment from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Unlike "The Resurrection," which is greatly based upon it, the vocal motifs are no longer legato, but are instead fragmented and heavily articulated. Together with the forceful accompanying motifs of the strings, this adds a lot of unease and tension to the track. The emotion that builds up all the way through the track from such features comes bursting out at the one minute mark during an imposing passage that sounds extremely impressive whenever you listen to it. Here the vocals are directly in parallel with tremolo strings with both sustaining sound at the loudest dynamic level. They are well supported by an aggressive and pulsating timpani ostinato underneath. (It's very reminiscent of "Liberi Fatali" and Orff's "Carmina Burana" here). This is definitely the most striking (and frightening) of the three chorales and will certainly offer the most immediate impact to the general listener. (9/10)

13) Inner Space

This is an abstract arrangement of "Beach of the Void," and is transformative to the extent of being almost unrecognisable. This was apparently intentional in order to represent the mysterious and illusionary world of the mind within the game. It now follows a much slower pace and has much less fragmented phrasing in favour of smooth melodic and harmonic lines. It also throws away the ensemble of a string quartet in favour of an unusual and ambient mix of synth vocals, tribal drums, and ghostly sound effects. It's definitely a filler track that is too short to be anything particularly remarkable, but when considered fully, however, it seems much more appealing. (7/10)

14) Albedo

The villain's theme for XXenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht proves to be one of the more captivating additions to the Original Soundtrack and makes the various scenes with Albedo even more disturbing. It opens with a series of dark sinister leitmotifs, a standard device used in practically every villain's theme. While these leitmotifs are highly clichéd in nature and occurrence, one cannot help but love them for exactly that reason. It isn't until the track builds in intensity into a most unsettling operatic female synth vocal solo that the full magnitude of this track's wickedness really hits you, however. These solos, synth or not, are really powerful and make you tremble whenever you hear it. While experimental, like "U-TIC Engine," there are plenty of features employed that prevent it from alienating the standard listener. (9/10)

15) Omega

The ensemble for this track is the most farfetched and full-scale I have ever seen in a video game — there's a full orchestra in the form of London Philharmonic, a full choir in the form of the Metro Voices, numerous sound effects straight from Hollywood, and even overdubbed electric and acoustic guitars from Tomohiko Kira. Its opening is brooding with mystery. This is created by a ghostly blend of sci-fi sound effects and tuned percussion motifs carefully interspersed by brief orchestral decorations such as woodwind trills and string glissandi. The entrance of some ethereal vocal chants from the Metro Voices at the 0:35 mark reinforces the foreboding atmosphere created; and from here the track builds up into a full-blown action passage at the one minute mark. This passage is initially led by brass until the strings take over with an agitated leitmotif that recurs several times during the advance of the piece. At the 1:50 mark the entrance of Kira's prominent overdubbed electric guitar solo considerably adds force to the sense of presentiment dominant throughout the track. The electric guitar is heavily distorted and overdriven creating a highly fearsome image. Its use is awesome, however, particularly during the 'call and response' structure at the 2:40 formulated between electric guitar and full orchestra over the tense leitmotif introduced by the strings earlier in the track. The solo trumpet passage at the three minute mark is another outstanding passage that donates to building up the track's huge flair before it intensifies up to its rather abrupt climax. This is definitely one of the most unique gems of game music out there and will indefinitely have momentous impact upon you. Mitsuda's noticeably epic approach pulled off. (Maybe it could be considered the microcosm of the entire Original Soundtrack). (10/10)

16) Proto Merkabah

While unbelievably clichéd, this track is effective as a theme of evil and potency The loudest passages are especially good, considering the synth vocal and synth organ motifs work well in synchronisation and are effectively supported by a mysterious arpeggiated motif. This creates quite a climactic feel and offers magnificent emotional impact. Thankfully though, the track is hardly fortissimo throughout and is well balanced by softer passages, which have much subtler impact. Still, while hardly a bad track, its corniness makes me feel sick every time I hear it. (8/10)

17) Last Battle

The format and styles of "Last Battle" (the second and last battle theme of the score) are very similar to that of "One Who Bares Fangs At God" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack (although its success is much more notable). It is very bright for the most part with its bubbly string melodies and colourful accompanying violin and piano ostinatos synchronising well to articulate such an image. However, there is still some seriousness about the track that avoids it being a subject of ridicule; the menacing chants of the tenor vocals, for example, are well incorporated and show the final boss is no laughing matter. Mitsuda also develops the track so there are also some welcome darker interludes, although these are short. Its format is uncharacteristic to the rest of score when compared to the otherwise severe approach towards battle themes yet this manages to work in an unusual yet delightful way. I give my thumbs up here! (10/10)

18) Pain

When considering "Pain," I was tempted to commit heresy by dismissing it completely as being unmusical rubbish. In retrospect, however, I became conscious that this track does not warrant criticism where it is not due; while hardly revolutionary (considering its format is so similar to Mitsuda's other love ballads), its features allow it to be agreeable nonetheless. Joanne Hogg's vocals, for example, are a winning feature to the track; while the lyrics are infamously bad and these vocals are overemphasised for much of the track, the softness and tenderness of Hogg's voice adds a lot of emotional value throughout and brings the most out of Mitsuda's firmly etched melodies. The ensemble used is practically identical to similar tracks; however, the instrumentals remain strong throughout as a result of the original ways each instrument is used. Nakanashi provides a suitably soft piano introduction, for example, and synchronises well with Davy Spillane who briefly joins him with a colourful flourish on the low whistle. Tomohiko Kira's versatile guitar use also stands out and he successfully bridges the gap between the American pop styles and Celtic folk styles fused convincingly within the track. His solo in the latter part of the track effortlessly leads into Spillane's second low whistle solo, which ends the track is such a stunning manner. This track is a lot of things — soft, memorable, enjoyable, appropriate — yet original or progressive is not one of them. I'll let you interpret whether or not that bothers you upon hearing it. (8/10)

19) Escape

We wave goodbye to the London Philharmonic in the last action cue of the game. While "Escape" may not be as musically enriched as "U-TIC Engine" or even "Gnosis," it manages to create the fitting climactic feel necessary for the closing moments of the game. It also proves to be quite fun in a strident sort of way. The brass leitmotifs are the most dominant feature of the track and are able to intensify the foreboding atmosphere present. The coarse orchestral accompaniment also adds a very jumpy feel to the track in the face of danger. It strengthens to reach its culmination as the textures congeal and the London Phil crescendoes over a series of dissonant chords. The track therefore ends on a loud and somewhat overpowering note. (9/10)

20) Kokoro

"Kokoro" (aka "Small Two of Pieces #4," aka "Yet Another Clichéd Love Ballad," aka "Sentimental Drivel Here We Come!") is Hogg's second love ballad in the soundtrack and has isn't quite as successful as the other. It shares similar positive features to "Pain" — Hogg's tender vocal use, Mitsuda's strong melodies, Kira's resourceful electric and acoustic guitar use, as well as Spillane's well projected low whistle and Uillean pipe passages — and is therefore quite enjoyable. A lot of this enjoyment is skindeep, however, and the track suffers deeply from its thoughtless lyrics, which are even worse than "Eyes on Me," as well as an unoriginal ensemble, which has a much more prominent negative effect than in "Pain". If you can cope with these two negative features then you will certainly enjoy the track. If not, however, you might want to stay clear of it completely and listen to the piano renditions of the theme instead. (7/10)

21) Shion ~Emotion~

Like Mitsuda's other Original Soundtracks, the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack concludes passively with a soft solo piano arrangement of the main theme ("Kokoro"). This is very similar to "Shion ~Memories of the Past~" at the end of Disc One except in a major key. This gives it the light radiance required to round the Original Soundtrack off fully and tie up all loose ends. It may not end the Original Soundtrack with a bang, but its subtlety is paramount to its success. (8/10)