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Star Ocean Sound Best Collection :: Review by Don

Star Ocean Sound Best Collection Album Title: Star Ocean Sound Best Collection
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: February 19, 2009
Purchase: Buy at eBay


This promotional album was bundled with the Japanese release of Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It features six pieces from previous entries in the series, chosen by fans of the game. It also features two selections from Motoi Sakuraba, one from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and one from Star Ocean: The Last Hope. In addition, it features a piece from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, chosen by president of tri-Ace Yoshiharu Gotanda, and another piece from Star Ocean: The Last Hope, chosen by its producer Yoshinori Yamagishi.


Starting with the fans' selections, there are two pieces from each Star Ocean game prior to Star Ocean: The Last Hope. For Star Ocean, "Tense Atmosphere" and "For Achieve" were selected. "Tense Atmosphere" has a nice focus on woodwinds for the majority of the piece. The accompanying rhythm is highly addicting and the melody is just superb. As the piece progresses, the more prominent progressive rock elements are introduced with a shift in the bass line rhythm and the addition of that classic keyboard sound for which Sakuraba is famous. "For Achieve" is quite similar to "Tense Atmosphere" in terms of elements. There is a nice orchestral tone throughout the piece and it offers some small hints of some progressive rock elements. It's not as strong as "Tense Atmosphere," but it manages to maintain a very catchy melody. There is also an arranged version of this on the upcoming soundtrack for Star Ocean: The Last Hope, entitled "For Achieve (Brass Remix)".

For Star Ocean: The Second Story, "Stab the Sword of Justice" and "The Incarnation of Devil" were chosen. "Stab the Sword of Justice" is the normal battle theme for this game. It is a driving piece with an intense percussion rhythm and a mixture of a pseudo-brass / synth melodies to comprise the meat of the piece. Exhilarating and intense, this battle theme is what many consider to one of Sakuraba's best. In fact, it also is getting an arrangement in the upcoming Star Ocean The Last Hope Original Soundtrack, entitled "Stab the Sword of Justice (Heroic Remix)". The other piece, "The Incarnation of Devil," is just one of the many fine examples of a perfectly executed progressive rock battle theme from Sakuraba. The biggest draw for this battle theme is its amazing melody. It's catchy, works well with the accompaniment, and best of all, changes spectacularly as it progresses. There are parts that are heavily focused on the bass, and there are times where Sakuraba decides to improvise. In the end, it's a culmination of the best things about Sakuraba's battle themes. He must love it as much as I do because it finds its way onto every tri-Ace game he's worked on, including Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It'll be on the upcoming soundtrack as "The Incarnation of Devil (Next-Gen Remix)".

For Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, "Influence of Truth Appearance" and "The Divine Spirit of Language" were chosen. "Influence of Truth Appearance," one of the battle themes, is fully orchestrated. Expect to hear very bombastic brass fused amazingly with strings, percussion, and woodwinds. The force behind this track is motivating and definitely pumps me up for battle. There are areas in the piece used for dramatic build up. These sections rely heavily on a crisis strings sound interlaced with some softer brass before breaking the tension and continuing with the piece. Well, to say this is entirely orchestral would be a lie, considering the addition of a crazy electric guitar motif near the middle of the piece. All in all, this is one of my favorite orchestral Sakuraba battle themes. The other piece, "The Divine Spirit of Language," is one of the boss themes for this game. It's essentially a prog-rock composition without the prog. The melody holds up well, despite being played only on electric guitar, and the percussion really helps pace the track. However, I'd still say the compositional merits of this battle theme are fantastic. Sakuraba is able to do wonders with the electric guitar, from the melody to the kickass solo sections making this one of my favorite Sakuraba battle themes.

Now that we have the fans taken care of, it's time to move onto the head honchos! However, unlike the fans, I'm going to save the two Star Ocean: The Last Hope pieces for the end. Yoshiharu Gotanda's choice was "Highbrow," the final battle theme from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. To say that "Highbrow" is an epic composition would be robbing it of all its glory. As with any final battle theme, you need that opening that sucks in the listener. Well, Sakuraba definitely gives us that. The ominous organ and percussion, combined with some lighthearted and chaotic piano, leads the way into this chaotic piece of music. In fact, there is so much going on in this piece that it's really hard to review like a normal piece of music. Sakuraba inserts and re-inserts compositional motifs into this piece so often that you feel like it starts over at times, however, in the entire 10:38 seconds of this battle theme, the track never really truly loops. It's quite amazing really. But let's back away from that for a moment. To me, "Highbrow" is by far the least 'game sounding' composition he's done. In fact, it reminds me more of his Gikyokuonsou album from 1991. That was Sakuraba truly having fun, and this composition seems to mirror that almost perfectly. This is by far my favorite Sakuraba battle theme, and to be honest, he's set the bar extremely high for the final battle theme in the upcoming Star Ocean The Last Hope.

To dive into the meat of "Highbrow" is no small feat. You'll hear hints of standard progressive rock, bits of jazz, bits of electronica, bits of orchestration, hints of rock... basically, hints of almost anything you can imagine. Each of these pieces, while different from one another, comes together beautifully to take us on a rollercoaster of musical stylings. In addition to fusing all of these various styles together, Sakuraba also improvises a lot of this composition towards the end. Having seen videos of him in concert, it's amazing to see how he actually plays these improvisations. At times, he glisses the keyboard, at other times, he forms fists and strikes the keyboard, all of which can be heard to some extent in this composition. The other piece from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is the normal battle theme, "Cutting Edge of Notion," chosen by Motoi Sakuraba. It comes to no surprise to me either, as he's used this as the basis for his normal battle themes for other games as well. Sakuraba is in full force with his prog-rock in this theme using pulsing percussion and an infectiously catchy synth melody. The melody is so good that is has been reiterated in at least three other battle themes. The track alternates between a bubbly synth melody and a more melodic one. Towards the end, there is some electric guitar work used in there before the loop and it helps to create a nice sense of determination.

However, I'm sure most of you reading this are most interested in hearing what new offerings Sakuraba has for Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The first piece, chosen by Motoi Sakuraba, is entitled "Night of the Chase". Upon hearing the intro, those who follow the Star Ocean series closely will hear a piece from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Indeed, "Night of the Chase" offers a subtle homage to "Fly Away in the Violet Sky". Combining progressive rock with some jazzy piano proves to be a wonderful experience. As the piece progresses, the jazz piano starts to improvise and offers quite the playful soundscape. The progressive rock elements also help contrast nicely with the piano, from the deep bass to the infamous use of the Hammond organ. It's a nice piece, if you ask me, and probably serves as one of the dungeon themes. The other piece was chosen by Yoshinori Yamagishi and is entitled "Wild Fight, No End in Sight." As one might surmise, this is one of the battle themes, presumably one of the boss themes, for Star Ocean: The Last Hope. For this one, Sakuraba combines orchestral soundscapes with some progressive rock soundscapes. The most prominent part of this battle theme is the brass melody over top some keyboard and drum work. It has an extremely exhilarating pace. As the piece advances, some interesting synth work is fused into the piece. It's a more straightforward piece, but it offers great intensity, some ominous soundscapes, and a pretty nice fusion of ideas.


Most of this album was chosen by the fans. The pieces they chose are top-notch entries from their respective game. It offers a nice insight into the evolution of the battle themes for the series while offering a hint of what's to come. The two pieces from Star Ocean: The Last Hope display a nice idea of what's to come in the upcoming soundtrack. I think it has potential to be as good as Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, but that's just my opinion. The battle theme has some good intensity, while the dungeon theme definitely keeps true to the series' roots. In the end, this album is a nice addition, but I'd wait for the soundtrack for Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It'd be cheaper than buying a copy of this from someone on eBay or buying a Japanese Xbox 360 game, that you can't play, if you are in the states.

Overall Score: 8/10