It's a great thing that Capcom has finally decided to get serious about releasing music for the Rockman series (who is known as Mega Man outside of Japan). The series has always been known for having fantastic music, yet the worst luck with getting their actual soundtracks released. It was surprising to see Capcom announce a soundtrack for this entry in the series, though the follow-up announcement of the Rockman X1 ~ X6 Complete box set further proved that they had completely gotten over the "Rockman Music-Phobia" they had for so many years. In a nutshell, Rockman X7 is the first installment of the X series on PlayStation 2 hardware and, as a soundtrack, it provides a perfectly capable, though unspectacular entry alongside the other masterpieces in the series. At the very least, the soundtrack manages to stand out as the player trudges through a horribly failed attempt to bring the series into 3D.
Just as the game's soundtrack that proceeded this one has a slightly different feel from the rest of the series, this one does little to remind you of previous musical entries in the series. X6 brought a laid-back feel to the table and, upon first listening, this one has much more of a techno flavor to it, as opposed to the rock-ish sound of the previous games. Some guitars are worked into the mix, but the overall nature of the album is to let the synthesizers do their thing, with steady combinations of beats and small hints of melody to enhance the experience. It's not quite ambient, but the tracks are hardly what I would label as memorable, as many of them seem to have a very similar feel to them. Generally, though, the grooves are done well enough to pull the listener in. All of the samples are crystal clear and recorded at a very high level.
The tracks come up in order of importance. The album begins with the opening level tracks and are immediately followed by the Maverick themes, which make up the brunt of any Rockman X soundtrack. The first main level track is a pretty good hint of things to come, in "Conflict~Escape Stage"-Hard steady beats with hints of melody in there. Tracks such as "Naval Battle ~ Battleship Stage", "Mod Electric Wave ~ Radio Tower Stage" and "Ruins'n Vains ~ Deep Forest Stage" seem to follow this pattern.
Of course, not everything simply follows this pattern. "Cyber Geometry ~ Cyber Field Stage" trades in the hard steady beats for a wacky series of light-hearted beats that are all over the place. These then fade into the background, as the lead synthesizer comes out and plays the main melody. This track is nothing short of a classic; it actually makes the unplayable anti-gravity ceiling-dancing stage it accompanies bearable, which is no small feat. I could see this one being arranged for a killer dance mix. "Underground ~ Tunnel Base" uses a similar series of wacky beats and is downright dancable as well. "Bomb Recovery ~ Central Circuit Stage" and "Just Before Red ~ Palace Road Stage" have a good, smooth rock feel to them as well, while "Soul Asylum ~ Crimson Palace Stage 2" is one of the few ambient tracks on here. The combination of beats and sound effects is downright creepy.
Finally, "Higher the Air ~ Air Force Stage" deserves special mention. It was composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, of Grandia fame. I personally wouldn't have guessed he was behind it, but it's one of the few techno-based themes on here that doesn't sacrifice a good melody for the futuristic feel. There's an air of confidence around it that draws the listener in, something Iwadare has a tendency to do in most of his work.
The place this soundtrack truly shines is in the boss battle themes. While they don't come close to the awe of "X vs Zero" in Rockman X5, they still rock nonetheless. The general boss theme is catchy and upbeat, while "Relation ~ Vs Red" is loud, but at the same time, sad and downright unsettling. Sigma's first theme opens with a guitar that sounds exactly like the boss theme from Gradius, before the lead synth comes in, followed by the guitar. Sigma's second theme mimics the first version, except it uses more of an orchestral approach with the synths. It's slower, but the synthy strings give off an incredibly menacing feel. While most of the Rockman battle themes are generally expendable, the five on here are nothing short of excellent.
One thing they tried to with X7 was to make it much more story-intensive. While the cutscenes themselves aren't bad, the music that accompanies them is nothing short of boring. Unfortunately, it's all here. I'm happy they put it well past the main themes in the game, but they're still rarely worth listening to on their own. At first, their names would seem to hold some interest (such as "Theme of X" or "Nightmare ~ Ending of Zero") but the music is near-useless without the accompanying visual material. Only "Ending" seems to hold anything with any substance.
Generally, Rockman vocals don't grab my attention, but "Lazy Mind" is one that feels right at home on here. It's a good, fun, solid rock vocal, with an excellent bass guitar and plenty of J.D.K. Band-style broken English. Shotaro Morikubo sounds a lot like Hironobu Kageyama (the guy who sings a good number of the Dragonball Z songs) so he has a natural rock-feel to his voice. I'm not sure if it appears inside the game, but it's a cool bonus nonetheless.
Overall, the Rockman X7 Original Soundtrack is a rock-solid album. If you're a fan of the blue bomber or if you're looking for a high-quality techno VGM album or just something that's just plain fun and isn't too deep of a listening experience or if you (somehow) managed to enjoy the game, you should look into this. I would strongly recommend you buy the Rockman X Box Set ahead of this one though; some of the earlier attempts at the series do manage to top this by a fair margin. For me personally, it just feels great to be able to finally have the chance to review a Rockman original soundtrack on its own. This soundtrack is widely available at most game music retailers.