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Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack :: Review by Totz

Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack Album Title: Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); King Records (Reprint)
Catalog Number: SSCX-10105/8; KICA-1337/40
Release Date: October 1, 2003; October 27, 2004
Content: 4 CD Set - 111 Tracks
Purchase: Buy at Game Music Online


Tales of Symphonia, the GameCube-exclusive RPG that later went on to the PS2, is one of the latest instalments of the long-running Tales series. As ever, Motoi Sakuraba, who is renowned for his works on the Star Ocean series, was chosen as the game's composer. For a man with such an impressive resume, the chances of the album not being good are slim. But composers can't be inspired all the time...

Character Themes

As I haven't played the game, I had to do an extensive background check on each character to prevent me from creating my own little story for the music to fit to. Before this album, "Theme of RENA" was the only character theme that I had heard from Sakuraba, so this album was an experience for me, seeing as though there are plenty here. Not only did he write a track for each character, but he also composed a variation for some of them, too, namely "Lloyd," "Collet," "Refill," "Kratos" and "Zelos." Lloyd, being the main character, deserves an exciting theme and, well, he gets almost that. Even so, it is his arranged theme that truly shines; "Lloyd ~ Ocarina ver." is a much more delicate version of our hero's theme, with some harp and strings being the main accompaniment. I wouldn't listen to this theme over and again, as, much like "Genius," it never really grows on you.

Most of the character themes are interesting to listen to, but a majority of theme lack something. The next track, namely "Collet," is a classic example of this. "Collet," is a pretty peppy theme, but for a girl who is 'The Chosen One', the composition assigned to her is pretty short, clocking in at around 30 seconds, before looping. Her arranged theme is a lot better, but each is underdeveloped. Next is "Refill," in which the melody is played by a woodwind, with what sounds like a harp and string accompaniment. Its development is quite interesting, because a piano appears along with a synth accompaniment. After the three previous character themes, this comes as a blessing. What's even better is that its arrangement, "Refill -Relical Mode!-" is quite enjoyable. This theme-arrangement pairing is the exact opposite of Collet's: Refill's theme is sad, while the arrangement is quirky, and Collet's theme is playful, while the arrangement is sad.

The next track that we hear is Kratos', the clichéd mysterious enemy. In fact, he is so evil that his theme's arrangement is a battle theme. Brass instruments are used to give the theme power and a certain sense of grandeur, while a wind instrument plays a certain rhythm repeatedly, but alternating notes between measures. This is the most effective character theme, with others such as "Regal" and "Collet" paling in comparison. After this comes "Zelos," which represents a womanizer, who just happens to be the comic relief of the game. It is certainly very enjoyable to listen to, due to its fun nature, but that's pretty much it. It fails to have the depth of "Presea" or the awesomeness of "Kratos." Even so, Sakuraba arranges this theme brilliantly in "Zelos ~serious arrange~," which explores dramatic heights.

The next character is Shihna, and her theme is pretty nifty. Percussion is widely used to give the track some rhythm, and it does just that, and with the overall atmosphere of the track leaning towards the hopeful more than the sad side, it is quite an awe-inspiring one, too. "Shihna" has some good ideas, like the part from 0:30 on, but it's not as memorable as one would have expected it to be. The last track that you hear from the character section is "Mitos." If the sinister organ, the bells and the creepy choir didn't tip you off, this dude is the villain, and, of course, as villains' themes always go, it's a lot better than the regular characters' themes. After a brief a cappella moment, the track, unfortunately, loops. This theme could have gone places with some more work, but it's really good the way it is. All in all, while not being the greatest character themes known to man, the Tales of Symphonia tracks are good.

Battle Themes

The character themes are acceptable, but the battle themes are great. When I think of Sakuraba, battle themes are the first things that come to mind. The regular Sylvarant battle theme, "Full Force," is classic Sakuraba; a simple and enjoyable melody, with some great percussion use. Unfortunately, "The Struggle to Survive," which is probably a boss theme, doesn't have the same luck. Dull melody, boring rhythm, this track has it all. Moving on, "Fatalize" has one of the coolest parts you can hope to hear in a battle theme from this album. A brass instrument plays the melody, before sending it to an electric guitar, which prepares us for the awesomeness which is about to come. At 0:24, the brass comes back, and, weirdly enough, with orchestra hits. What's even weirder is that it works perfectly. This track is ranked very highly in my favourite Sakuraba battle theme ranking.

Too bad "Like a Glint of Light" is ranked higher. Well, too bad for "Fatalize" anyway. Being another regular battle theme, "Like a Glint of Light" has an obligation to not get old, and in this purpose, it is a success. Disc Four has plenty of fight tracks. The first one is "Fighting of the Spirit," which had appeared before in Tales of Phantasia. Unfortunately, in the meantime, it seems to have lost some of its power. The next one is "The Law of the Battle." It's got some nice rockin' going on there, with an awesome electric guitar that shows Sakuraba's prowess with that instrument. Of course, I wouldn't compare him to, say, Sekito, when it comes to guitar use, but he knows his stuff very well. The next prominent theme, "Beat the Angel" takes a while until it feels like a battle track, because of the rather slow pace it has in the beginning. The synth instrument playing the melody feels very appropriate, but the harpsichord gets annoying rather quickly when it starts to repeat itself over and over again.

It's amazing how Sakuraba can keep his battle themes simple, yet make them so enjoyable. "Keen-edged Blade" is a proof of this statement. It features a simple electric guitar going on against an aggressive percussion. What separates this track from the others is the inclusion of what I can only describe as 'beats that sound like you're hitting someone on a really old fighting game'. "Keen-edged Blade" has some great fast electric guitar passages, to show the enemy you mean business, and the percussion is used fantastically to give the track some much needed power. This is a winner in my book. "It Can Waver and Fight" floats for about thirty seconds before turning battle-ish, and is this point that an electric guitar plays the melody. This type of theme becomes almost clichéd in that Sakuraba has utilised the style in many tracks prior to its creation. Finally, "Final Destination" begins with an evil-sounding choir accompanied by an organ. Unfortunately, like a majority of the other battle themes, this one also features an electric guitar. This just spoils the overall effect, which would have been a great one if it weren't for its presence.

Disc Reviews

Disc One

Aside from the character themes and "Full Force," there are almost no interesting tracks on Disc One. "A Prologue" is ominous in nature, and features a harp, which gives the composition a nice duality. The distortion guitar used in "Unsatisfied Desire" gives it an awesomely evil tone. Sakuraba hit the nail on the head with this one, and although it is quite short, it manages to keep the listener interested with some great dissonance later on. The worst part of the track is its instrumentation, which sorely lacks any variety. The next prominent track on the disc is "The Land of Sylvarant," but this is for the wrong reasons. The best world map themes never bore, but with this one featuring the same snare drum line over and again, the replay value of this track is zilch. This track is no match for Star Ocean The Second Story Original Soundtrack's "Field of Expel," which is a style that Sakuraba should have aimed for here. The next track, "Harbor Town" is quite relaxing, and after the long list of unmemorable themes, it's nice to hear one that feels good. "Untold Despair" could have been better, had it been longer. It's got the makings of any good track: substance, variety and nice instrumentation. In a nutshell, Disc One is a no go. The only good themes are the character themes and "Full Force."

Disc Two

Disc Two takes a very different approach in that it starts off great. Both "Roman Caravan" and "Venturers' Colony" are fun tracks to listen to. The former has a cool Latin-esque guitar melody, while the latter features a festive violin. It's very nice to hear these after the atrocious first disc. Nonetheless, it all goes downhill from here. Pretty much everything that we hear from now on is below Sakuraba's usual standards. "Off-key," despite some annoying instruments, has some pretty nifty piano lines. This is probably the most original track on the disc, as with the piano adding a sense of enjoyment to the surrounding brass parts, things could only sound good. "On the Tight Rope" sounds like a hurry theme of some sort, and in that purpose, it's successful. The melody is kept to a minimum, while a piano section is repeated over and over again. It all works very well. "On the Hill at Night" could have easily become one of my favourites on Disc Two, but it doesn't have a climax! What a pity. Stay away from Disc Two. If you want to listen to something from it, that something would be "Fatalize." The tracks I didn't mention don't deserve to be mentioned, for they are either too trite, too dull, or just plain bad. If I were to review every single track, I would go insane.

Disc Three

The most creative track on Disc Three is "Darkside of Meltokyo." It attempts to salvage what's good of "The Kingdom City of Meltokyo," aka the melody. Fortunately, "Darkside of Meltokyo" has none of that dull harpsichord accompaniment, so there's no need to worry anymore. Now, "A Selfish Want" is utterly awesome. It's a jazzy piece that features piano, percussion and a saxophone. If the sax synth wasn't so bad, this could easily pass as non-VGM, so that you can trick those non-believers into listening to game music and enjoying it. Seriously, this is great, listen to it. "Tethe'alla Castle" follows this and it is another great arrangement. The church organ used in the beginning sounds holy, so you know that the place is important. The build up is excellent, and it is another track to listen to. Now, remember the Sylvarant map theme that was bad? Well, "Walking on Tethe'alla" is here to make you forget it. Although still not as good as "Field of Expel," it at least manages to be listenable. It's pretty good, in fact. The brass used gives the track a much needed epic feel, and the woodwinds split the melody with the strings wonderfully.

"Deepest Woods" uses the same echo effect as "Darkside of Meltokyo," but what really caught my attention was that the harp, at the beginning, sounds exactly like Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." "AVIATORS ~Rhea-bird~" reminded me of the Synard track from Star Ocean The Second Story. "Firing," despite its length, is quite good. I feel that it could have been a part of something a lot bigger, because of its epic, war-ish feel, pompous brass, and militaristic percussion. Lastly, "Encounter with Renegade" has an awesome rhythm that makes us ignore the ever repeating drum set on the first part of the track. When it develops, the strings play a chord progression together, but, since this track has some electronica touches, the strings go off-pitch with a pitch-bend. Disc Three is by far the best disc on the album. After the disappointment that the first two discs were, Disc Three should come just in time before you regret ever purchasing this album.

Disc Four

I've mentioned quite a few of the tracks from Disc Four already, as they are mostly battle themes. Anyway, "The Edge of Nowhere" has some really interesting dissonant distorted guitar chords. If I'm not mistaken, it's the only track like that in the album, so that gives it some points in the originality department. It's also well developed, but the weird synth section later on proves to be a weird addition, because it's short enough not to be important, but also long enough to be distracting. "Be invoked," like the third disc's "Firing," is a track that could have been a lot more. It's short, but really epic, with bursts of brass and a thumping percussion line.

The next four "Derris-Kharlan..." tracks all feature the same melody, but I found none to be interesting by itself, only as a group. Even still, the only interest I have is getting past them, because four tracks with the exact same melody and featuring minor instrumental differences is not my idea of fun. "Harmony" is a gorgeous piano, choir and strings piece. I absolutely adore the variation of dynamics this track has. The strings go from way in the background to 'in-your-face' in a manner that is anything but crude. The whole Track is very refined, and I wouldn't complain if it were twice as long. "Ending Staff Roll" will be a godsend. It combines features of both tracks into a fantastic 6-minute masterpiece. With great transitions between sections, wonderful use of all instruments, and a development to die for, everything seems perfect. Disc Four is not as good as Disc Three, but almost. It's surely better than Disc One and Disc Two, because the sheer amount of decent battle themes puts both to shame.


Like I said many times throughout the review, the reason why I chose not to mention most tracks was because they were not good, for any number of reasons. They could simply be uninteresting, or just plain bad. For a soundtrack that has over one hundred pieces of music, it's hard to choose a few to analyze, for it becomes hard to judge the album as a whole. Fortunately, since most compositions had nothing special to offer, I chose simply to ignore them. With that said, the Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack is not Sakuraba's best work. Filled with dull, generic tracks, this album probably ranks very low with most Sakuraba fans. With better Sakuraba albums out there, I will not suggest to get this one, unless you're either a fan of the game or a collector. I don't think that any casual VGM fan will enjoy this.

Percentage Overall Score: 58%

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