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Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Arrange Tracks :: Review by Harry

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Arrange Tracks Album Title: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Arrange Tracks
Record Label: First Smile Entertainment
Catalog No.: FSCA-10166
Release Date: February 21, 2001
Purchase: Buy at eBay


In 2000, the popular Adventure RPG series, Shin Megami Tensei, developed by Atlus, was brought to the Game Boy Color. The game was released in two versions, Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children - Black Book and Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children - Red Book, both which had different characters and story, but identical gameplay. These were considered by many as resembling Pokémon's cuteness. The composer was Tomoyuki Hamada, quite new to the VGM industry, only having composed for Enix's Dark Half in 1996, and fully contributed to both Black and Red Books. Soundtracks were released for both, but have now been hard to find and out of print. But one year later, Hamada teamed up with Motoi Sakuraba, who was best known for his acclaimed compositions for the Star Ocean series, and they both create an arrange album containing tracks from both Books. The album was unique for two reasons. For Sakuraba, this was the first time he had arranged another person's work in an arranged album, so an interesting result would be expected; and, for Hamada, he got use of a small two guitarist team which would surely boost the amazement of his arrangements. But the outcome of the album would surely surprise the listener in both good and bad ways.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Reality Theme (Black Book)

Motoi Sakuraba opens the album with a power synth rock arrangement of Hamada's original. "Reality Theme (Black Book)" holds nothing back to pull you into the Shin Megami Tensei world. Short introduction with the electronic drums aside, Sakuraba comes in with his synth and takes on Hamada's melody with pride and power. The electric guitar alongside the synth makes the theme sound a lot like an epic showdown of some sort, but still stands out as being appealing, especially to the people who love battle themes. There is a combination of a techno and normal drum beats, which noticeably add a lot more excitement to the life of the piece, and the composer effectively programs and uses both flawlessly together. Like most of the composer's arrangements, he makes every second of the track worth listening to, including a very well done middle section in which, when he defocuses on an important instrument, he puts a lot more focus on another one, thus achieving balance. The best example of this would be at 3:29 when Sakuraba centers his mind on the techno beat after the synth chorus. This track is also one of the more addictive themes on the album, mainly thanks to Hamada's engaging melody, but if it weren't for the arranger's compelling skills, it would just be a plain old good track. An impressive opener from the progressive rock master. (10/10)

2) Reality Theme (Red Book)

In comparison to Sakuraba's strong opener, Hamada doesn't stand as strong in his opening theme, "Reality Theme (Red Book)." It doesn't grab my attention as much as the former track in terms of remarkable qualities, but on its own, it's an exceptional arrangement with much to offer. Hamada, unlike Sakuraba, decides to take some advantage with using the two man band. Satoshi Miyashita, best known for his work when composing with T's Music, is featured on the bass guitar and performs in a very loose and easy style in unison with Toshiki Aida who sounds excellent on the electric guitar, playing in a surfy yet urban style. Both have their time to shine with their little solos, Miyashita's being the more interesting one and because of my unusual fondness for his instrument. Hamada definitely knows how to make a piece entertaining, as the style presented here is incredibly fun and, without doubt, catchy, baring striking similarities to Noriyuki Iwadare's trademark style. However, I feel this piece can be also be repetitive and sometimes dry on rare occasions; the way Hamada didn't use time to his benefit is a tad below par, and I could certainly see a more productive arrangement with more original sections if he had the time to do so. Moving forward, this isn't the best that the composer had created for the album, but one can't deny the many strengths and positive aspects this arrangement presents. (9/10)

3) Demon World Town 3

Hamada brings us the first real dark tune, "Demon World Town 3." I feel this track is one of the weakest arrangements on the entire album. Why? First off, Hamda tends to make the composition drone on and on tiredly, but also tries to get a bit of life into the piece by adding some unusual synth instruments, though it doesn't succeed as well as it should have. The weird synth noises occur at 0:56 and strangely enough, it almost sounds as if the noises were saying "why?" while greatly distorted. But, surprisingly, Hamada pulled it off just fine, though I can't stop picturing that it almost sounds like it was a last attempt to make the track a success. Secondly, no matter how much effort is put into the guitar work, it never seems to go that extra step and accomplish my needs. Not even the solo directly after the synth seems to quench them. Track length is, again, an issue here, as Hamada doesn't seem to use his limited time appropriately and that gravely affects the development of the theme, as, like the previous track by the artist, I feel there could have been more attractive qualities and additional striking features. "Demon World Town 3" suffers from obvious mistakes, sadly, but it is somewhat enjoyable at the very least, even if you may only feel half satisfied when listening to it. (7/10)

4) Battle Theme 1 (Black Book)

Regular battle themes are supposed to be energetic, fun, but generally not very serious. Hamada does manage to take on this guideline in his arrangement of his own battle theme from Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children - Black Book, but, in very similar circumstances to his previous arrangement, he doesn't seem to fully understand how to amaze the listener. Once more, the band is put into perfect practice and all players are doing their best, but I can't help but feel that there seems to be something missing. Maybe it's the style that the whole track is arranged in, as it seems too light and isn't too threatening, especially when it comes to that this is a battle theme. I thought Aida's guitar solo wasn't necessary or at least could have been expanded to blend in more suitably with the rest of the piece. I can't stress this enough but I will mention it one more time: track length. Hamada doesn't use time efficiently and it is clearly evident in this track more than the others. Because of this fault, the ending sounds like a complete waste, finishing all so suddenly without any form of breakdown. I can just imagine what he could have done with more time. "Battle Theme 1 (Black Book)" is an obvious improvement of his previous arrangement, however its strengths are too feeble to overcome the weaknesses, and I'm afraid that might be a turn off feature for most people. (8/10)

5) Angel's Theme

The first of two contrasting themes, composed by Hamada, is arranged by Sakuraba. "Angel's Theme" is, what the title hints, an angelic arrangement, with a mixture of standard Sakuraba excitement. The arranger uses a lot of his famous style from his many compositions in his token Star Ocean series to form this saintly track and also makes effectual use of the female opera vocals he loves to often utilise. The piano is the real triumphant instrument here and is the key to the holiness of the track. It works incredibly well directly after the orchestral introduction, when the theme suddenly stops to allow the entrance of the instrument; it is simply moving and inspiring. As with the piano, the choral and vocal samples are top-notch, neatly accompanying the other instruments, and, without such samples, I doubt that the emotional outcome would have extended outside being limited to the piano. Sakuraba has no limits when it comes to composing orchestral pieces, and the orchestration behind this theme is great, providing a strong backup for the piano and vocals. Though I like orchestral touch, perhaps an even more successful arrangement of the composition would have just a duet with the piano and the vocal samples, which would have exemplified emotion even more. "Angel's Theme" is just another brilliant example of how amazing Sakuraba's arrangements are. (9/10)

6) Devil's Theme

The second of the two contrasting themes is composed and arranged by Hamada. His light approach to the dark theme is interesting as it once again resembles Iwadare's approach to the same kind of theme. Compared to Sakuraba's godly track beforehand, this one doesn't quite reach that status (in a dark way, of course), but it's still very good nevertheless. In just about every other Hamada arrangement on the album, it is mainly synth and guitar driven, but the instrumentation that is contained in this track is more bass guitar and orchestral determined, and I must say that it isn't half bad, considering there is a lot less guitar to support the other instruments. The melody is very much like something you'd find relating to a Halloween theme, as it contains spooky and freaky features. Miyashita gives us very nice albeit tragic bass solo in the middle of the piece, and it certainly adds to the atmosphere of the entire track with its dark attribution. For the first time on the album, I believe Hamada packed in a great variable piece in the short time of only 1:42. This proves that the composer isn't impaired when it comes to this area in composing / arranging a track. "Devil's Theme" is a good comeback from Hamada after arranging a couple of average themes, though, the best is yet to come. (8/10)

7) Ending

As impressive as Sakuraba's contributions have been so far, and how average most of Hamada's arrangements were, I wasn't expecting such an amazing theme from the Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children original composer. Hamada really nailed "Ending," passing with flying colours and beyond. The idea of having an ending theme almost directly in the middle of the album seemed a bit farfetched at first, but after hearing the track for the first time, the arrangement doesn't sound conclusive enough to be credited as such a composition. To be exact, I was instantly hooked on this track from the very start with its synth melody and orchestral backing, but the power of the electric guitar, which enters directly after the introduction, simply takes me away. Aida doesn't really perform anything complex or awe-inspiring, but the simple chords are exceedingly impressive and do well to help the memorable melody line that Hamada creates. Most repetitive tracks can often get quite tedious and boring, but this theme, while meant to be repetitive, doesn't fail in such a way and always has something new to offer. The guitarist performs the last time on this track, replaced by a new guitarist later on, and he surely exits with style. The solo is pretty decent, being the fastest and the catchiest on the album, and is guaranteed to please guitar fanatics even though its length is questionable. The ending of the arrangement is also spectacular, returning to the track's repetitive nature, though is more conclusive and stronger than the theme's entrance. There is no word to describe how astounding "Ending" is, and it is no doubt my favorite arrangement on the album, though I do wonder why Hamada didn't keep up this excellence for the remaining of his contributions. (10/10)

8) Battle Theme 4 - Event (Red Book)

Earlier on the album, Hamada arranged a rather disappointing "Battle Theme 1 (Black Book)," and now, it's Sakuraba's turn to arrange a battle theme. "Battle Theme 4 - Event (Redbook)" is a good example of how less can be more. Hamada used a bass guitarist and an electric guitarist, while Sakuraba only has his synth to utilise, but still manages to produce a better result than the take by his fellow arranger. Not much stylistic diversity has come from the arranger in contrast to his other pieces on the album, but when thinking about it, using another style would have well and truly killed the life of the arrangement. The sound quality is very good for synth, especially the sampling of the electric guitar, which could easily trick most people into believing it is real. The same goes with impressive brass samples, but the composer has always been known for his good quality in the horns, trumpets, etc. Techno beats are once again present and significantly gives the theme a boost in the active and energetic area. But something bothers me. I can't seem to put my finger on it, but the melody seems very familiar for some reason, though this has little to do with Sakuraba's arranging, but more with Hamada's original. With this always on the back of my mind, I find that I cannot enjoy the music as much as possible. But other than that minor issue, I'm completely happy with the way that this arrangement has turned out. (9/10)

9) Victory

Tomoyuki Hamada has chosen the most obscure pieces for his final arrangement. "Victory," quite obviously a victory theme, would have been very hard to arrange, and, more importantly, impress the listener, because of its painfully short length. To make things even stranger, the composer hires another guitarist, Ken Yasumichi, to perform the supporting chords. I'm not sure why Toshiki Aida wasn't involved, but if I were the Yasumichi, I would be greatly disappointed that my talents were used in such a short and undeveloped arrangement. His guitar, much like Aida's in "Reality Theme (Red Book)," sounds very surfy, playing a repeated motif over and over throughout the composition. The weak synth, accompanied by the typical fanfare jingle that actually transitions well on to the guitar, is partly satisfying at first, but I would have loved to have more variability. Indeed, Hamada returns to his old problems with track length and time. "Victory" is an unsatisfying way to end the arranger's contributions, and, thus, sadly it is dubbed as the weakest arrangement on the album. (7/10)

10) Demon Combination Theme

Easily the most creative arrangement on the album, Sakuraba presents to us the electronic-based "Demon Combination Theme." Unsurprisingly, the music featured in the piece is very dark and eerie, as shown by the melody and the instrument use, and, with no questions asked, it succeeds in making an impression unlike other arrangements of its kind. The electronic harmony is very appealing, being repetitive yet memorable, and is the source of about half of the track's quirk, even overriding and overpowering the main melody. Due to this, the track isn't melodic at all, but rather beat-filled and ambient. This could be a problem to some listeners who like more melodic compositions. If you focus enough in the background noises, you can actually hear recorded voices talking. I can only imagine that this was used to add a more haunting and chilling environment, and if so, Sakuraba definitely succeeded to do so. There's nothing remotely flawed in the production of the piece, though my only little gripe with the track would be its lack of diversity. While we're on the topic of negatives, as I mentioned earlier, the environment of the theme won't be too appealing to everybody, but the perfect instrumental choice surely compensates for it. "Demon Combination Theme" is yet another sensational arrangement by Sakuraba. (8/10)

11) Final Boss Theme

For some, arranging a final battle track can be dangerous as the music itself, but for some, it can be easy. Motoi Sakuraba is one of those easy going people, and this is where he decides to get vicious. "Final Boss Theme" isn't progressive rock like most of his other famous past and present last battle themes, but it's more of a powerful orchestral arrangement mixed with a mean dose of techno and a little bit of opera. The mixture of all of these styles truly makes this piece stand out. The main body comprises of a brass-dominated synth orchestra, which performs the somewhat distant melody and keeps the whole track bunched together. Within the orchestra's depths, the dark techno beat rages on, keeping the brass and the rest of the ensemble in shape and reflecting the enemy's menacing form. Finally, the operatic vocals (which similar parts will be used in the future on Mitsuda's score of Tsugunai: Atonement) maintains the piece's natural chaos. Like with most other major compositions by Sakuraba that utilise operatic or choral samples, they are simply necessary, despite how overused they are in general. I have to say that I liked the heavy orchestral approach to this battle theme, as it is a good change in pace from the normal Sakuraba battle compositions, though being more active could have added to certain people's interest. "Final Boss Theme" bares no compositional and arranging flaws, making this one of the more ideal tracks on the album. Underlying teror and a calm sense of hope, Sakuraba knows what he's doing and that's why this arrangement is one of the best. (10/10)

12) Title

The final track on the album is arranged by none other than Sakuraba, who puts one of his trademark styles to the test. "Title" is like most of the arranger's main themes, powerful, dreamy, and enticing, and it is apparent that the composer easily made the original seem very average when compared to his own. The overall atmosphere is dark and epic, with some typical Sakuraba instruments to keep the impression the way it is through the entire theme. Included in the orchestra are quite obviously brass, strings, and some synthetic voices; and, naturally, for a Sakuraba arrangement, they all mix well with each other. But not only did the composer choose perfect instrumentation, but triggered some great harmonies with the brass and strings that remain to be memorable moments within the piece itself. As said earlier, his trademark style is very noticeable, being very reminiscent of the Sci-Fi tracks in earlier Star Ocean Soundtracks. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because the style works so well with the epic melody. This theme could have been used in a movie sequence due to it being split up into various segments, from the slow beginning, fast-paced middle, and conclusive ending, and I could see this working much better as an ending composition rather than, say, Hamada's arrangement of the previously discussed "Ending." Sakuraba triumphs over "Title" and would surely make you feel satisfied after this incredible album. (9/10)


In almost every single collaboration album, there are a good number of flourishing themes and a certain amount of substandard tracks, and, unfortunately, the same problem lies here on this very album, though it is more separated by composers. The main issue here is that both arrangers, Sakuraba and Hamada, are affected by quality over quantity, and vice versa. Hamada had the privilege of using real electric and bass guitars, but he suffered from not using time and freedom to his advantage (for example, "Demon World Town 3" and "Victory") whereas Sakuraba had only his synths, but managed to create some outstanding arrangements and was able to manipulate the use of time (best shown in "Reality Theme (Black Book)" and "Final Boss Theme"). Shown here, there is no question that Hamada was the weaker of the two in terms of arranging, because of the lack of thoughtful and interesting development in his themes, but then he comes up with great additions like "Ending," which make me wonder if he was just having a relatively bad few days when molding the other tracks. But, if his presence wasn't included on this arrange album, I'm quite sure that, with just being Sakuraba involved, it would have sounded a lot different, if not for better or worse.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Game Music Arrange Tracks is agreeably a two-sided album, but the great positive qualities more than easily recompense for the little amount of average themes. If you can find it, buy it. It's well worth your money.

Overall Score: 7/10