Just like the game itself, Yoko Shimomura's score for Parasite Eve was an ambitious experiment that many listeners were baffled how to interpret. With haunting operatic vocals featuring alongside creepy ambient tones, pulsing electronic beats, and melancholy piano work, this was the most intense and unusual soundtrack Square had produced up to that point. Was it a recipe for disaster? It would seem so; electronica, synth vocals, and ambience are regarded as a bane to game music by the casual listener, while creating a game of the genre of horror-RPG was an unprecedented risk that failed to guarantee the soundtrack received exposure, never mind acclaim. Yet the soundtrack was a modest success in terms of popularity, partly thanks to Square's effective marketing campaign, and a profound one in terms of critical acclaim, thanks to the composer. Shimomura was certainly the best person for the job, with her creative nature being perfectly complemented by her wonderful ability to make practically all her compositions accessible, heartfelt, and memorable. Theoretical experimentation isn't enough; composition needs passion and exuberance, and Shimomura provides this in surplus.
Refreshingly, Shimomura cuts straight to chase on the first track "Primal Eyes," introducing important thematic material and the first of many stylistic fusions on the soundtrack, while creating a rollercoaster of emotion. With a pentatonic piano ostinato opening the piece, soon a electric guitar enters, playing overdriven riffs, accompanied by aggressive drumbeats and intense electronic overtones. While there is a refreshing transition whereby the piano adopts a solo, notably introducing Aya's theme, this only serves to add colour and tension prior to the intense rock-driven conclusion. The other track that makes up the 'Introduction' section of the soundtrack opens misleadingly with a dainty piano descant, synonymous with an ostinato used in Aya's theme, before becoming increasingly dark with the subsequent additions of synth choir backing, eerie bell chimes, and a transient music box melody. "Waiting for Something to Awaken" seems like a very appropriate title, and the feeling of anticipation is only exacerbated by the fact the theme hosts three of the soundtrack's other melodies, including the ethereal "Main Theme."
Perhaps the most memorable feature of the soundtrack is the huge operatic influence, introduced early on in the 'Resonance' section. The in-game opera 'La mia verita' begins with an exquisitely composed string-led "Overture," which convincingly creates tension with the use of an array of suspensions, imposing timpani rolls, and a convincing countermelody. "Se il mio amore sta vincino" is the pinnacle of achievement, though, an eerie "Aria di Mezzo Carattere" some might say. The musical composition is impressive, with the first section's minor modulation being agonisingly beautiful, and the subtle harmonies and vocal decoration in the subsequent section maintaining the wonderful aura. It introduces the theme of Eve, the game's antagonist, and her voice too, which is a signal that causes people to burst into flames! Those intolerant to synth vocals may wish to avoid this theme (and the rest of the soundtrack, for that matter) in case of spontaneous combustion too. They are, indeed, quite jarring until you get used to them, and it's disappointing that technological issues spoil such an accomplished composition. Nonetheless, Judith Siirila's live version, a bonus track at the end of the soundtrack, really emphasises the beauty of Eve's pitiful cries about accepting any punishment from God to be with her lost lover.
Love her or hate her, it's almost impossible to escape from Eve's influence on the soundtrack. One early example is "Sotto Voice," where Eve's vocals hauntingly suspend themselves above a creative piano line that combines dark bass chords, an arpeggiated ostinato, and sporadically placed high notes in the top register. "Memories of 'Aya and Eve'" is another mysterious piano-vocal fusion, though the piano lines are taken directly from "Theme of Aya." By using only brief fragments of each theme before looping, Shimomura ensures that the memories seem faint and leaves room for further musical development for the rest of the score, notably in "Memory II," where only the piano plays, with some eerie high-pitched discordant crashes against Aya's theme, and "Memory III," where the piano and voice both play unique melodies and there's a clearer sense of direction. Despite the existence of the monophonic "Phrase of Eve," the worst extended track on the album, all is redeemed in "Kyrie," which switches the piano for a pipe organ that plays sustained passages that; while simple, they are the perfect harmony to Eve's voice which enters after about a minute. It has tremendous emotive qualities and the immense power of the rich chord progressions is irrefutable.
The fact that Eve's theme was almost continually referred to in the last paragraph should make it clear that the thematic basis of the soundtrack is very strong. The aforementioned "Theme of Aya" is one of the game's main melodies and refreshingly combines a catchy yet deeply unnerving piano melody with sound effects and electronic beats. Though it is atmospheric and memorable, Shimomura's own arrangement in the Parasite Eve Remixes is infinitely better. This is probably the most exposed theme apart from Eve's, also appearing in the Memory tracks and "Primal Eyes" and its two superb arrangements, "Force Trail" and "Across the View". The "Main Theme" is more remarkable, however. Its melody is outstandingly simple, yet in inspires deep and multifaceted emotions, appearing mysterious, sombre, epic, and beautiful all at the same time. It's rare to encounter such a rich melody and it's put to use fully at the end of the soundtrack with a superb eight minute long orchestration. Opening monophonically on a solo piano, it is soon accompanied by simple arpeggios from the left-hand and delicate string backing as the textures gradually thicken and the harmonies grow more complex. With a pleasant interlude from the 2:05 featuring just solo piano decoration and sound effects, the most poignant moment of the theme comes at the 2:57 mark as the strings take control of the melody while the piano harmonises, both with arpeggios, a descant, and some imitation. It's so dramatic and bittersweet...
Aside from the main themes and vocals, fairly intense and sometimes piano-led electronica is probably the most dominant element of the soundtrack. Take "Urban Noise," for example. This track reflects the urban setting of Parasite Eve perfectly, both reflecting the pace of life and the man-made influence, while retaining rhythmic impetus throughout and melodic memorability in a few sparse fragments at the same time. It's highly entertaining, despite its ambient focus. "Out of Phase" is another noteworthy title that, despite relatively little melodic emphasis (apart from some brief piano overtones of the "Main Theme"), remains very memorable because of the unusually cross-rhythms created by its bass riff. What is featured here is reused even more effectively in the fast-paced remix "Under the Progress". "Theme of Mitochondria" isn't a significant part of the thematic basis of the score, rather an action theme that is led by the bass, which carries a temperamental riff. It is well-supported by instruments that reflect the primitive nature of these parasites (which, of course, are present in our cells due to an ancient endosymbiotic event, for the biochemists among you). In stark contrast, "Matrix" and "A Piece of Remain" feature a return to more relaxed electronica, having some 'new age' vibes again that feel ideal for chilling out to. They delicately enhance the score's diversity.
Battle themes are an area where Ms. Shimomura always succeeds, and the same is true here. However, the themes featured are nothing like those one would expect from her, or, for that matter, any other composer. "Arise within You" is the normal battle theme, yet is written in a soothing trance style. It feels quite calming with its deep synth pads, but some energy is created with its underlying electronic beats, keeping gamers on edge. It shouldn't work, but, thanks to Shimomura's influence, it does, while also being an entertaining listen at the same time. "Plosive Attack" is more clearly defined as the normal boss theme, with its grungy organ melody and string secondary melodies creating a feeling of tension against the constant electronic beats, which pump the listener up. The special boss themes are most interesting, though, with "Influence of Deep" being nothing less than a masterpiece. Used in a special battle with Eve on a runaway carriage, it is an exotic fusion of operatic vocals and techno beats — appropriate considering its location in the 'Fusion' section of the soundtrack. It sounds odd in theory, yet works tremendously well. Like the opera, it also has a special bonus track recording featuring Judith Siirila, which is ten times more effective than the original, as inspired as it is. "Femmes Fatales," used in the final battle with Eve, integrates passages from Aya's theme to show her influence, whilerecapitulating Eve's own haunting theme in epic manner to conclude her story.
Unsurprisingly, ambience is heard in significant quantities through the soundtrack, which suits the horror RPG element of the game. Two factors generally make the ambience often enjoyable for stand-alone purposes. For one, ambient themes are usually sandwiched inbetween much more thematic or action-packed tracks throughout the score, meaning they don't unnecessarily accumulate. More importantly, though, the ambience is generally made interesting by original features. For example, despite creating a barren feel overall, the varied electro-acoustic timbres of "Gloom and Doom" make it an enigmatic gem. "The Surface of the Water" is also a fine track, with deep bass notes combining with abstract sound effects to create a piece almost reminiscent of the potentially oxymoronic 'noise music' genre. "Musica Mundane" is interesting and effective, too, with an endless bass riff accompanying a mishmash of sounds. There's also something hypnotic yet endearing about the lulling chord progressions that characterise "Wheel of Fortune." Shimomura fails when there is far too much repetition, however. Despite their shortness making them brief 'blips', "Mystery Notes," "Memory," and, worst of all, "Escape from U.B." all are abrupt, repetitive, and ultimately disappointing. Who would have expected the latter would eventually be arranged over a decade on?
The conclusion to the score is one of its most remarkable features, yet also its most inconsistent, thanks to a few unnecessary fillers (*cough* "Escape from U.B." *cough*). Nothing on the entire score surpasses the final battle theme "U.B." Building from some mysterious a capella chanting of a male choir into an energetic electronica section, the male voices fade in and out to emphasise the harrowing nature of the track. It isn't until the 2:30 mark that the piece really peaks, however, as the track moves into an intense section featuring prominent organ arpeggios and aggressive drum beats, somewhat reminiscent of "Plosive Attack". Here, the listener can immerse themselves into the darkness. Following these tracks, there are a few staple ending themes, including a music box piece and character theme reprise. The album's vocal theme, "Somnia Memorias" is a soothing but unremarkable ballad, sung by Spanish diva Shani Rigsby with considerable sensitivity. The soundtrack concludes with full-orchestral rendition of the "Main Theme," a masterpiece for reasons described above, as well as the two CM vocal tracks, which interpret the true form of technologically limited compositions.
While perhaps an unlikely success, the Parasite Eve Original Soundtrack generally excels at being a rich and entertaining experience. It demonstrates Yoko Shimomura's ability to create haunting operatic vocal melodies, fast-paced piano-led electronica, and imaginative and resourceful ambience, between a multitude of weird and wonderful fusions. To say it will have universal appeal would be unwise, however. The cynics among you will almost certainly find a multitude of minor musical flaws, exemplified especially by the disappointing repetitive pieces, while many others will take time to accustom to such an unusual style of composing, and, of course the synth vocals. Yet, with the aid of the CM versions of the vocal tracks, the beauty of the operatic tracks will be exposed. In addition, the score's pleasant strong thematic basis — with the accessible "Theme of Aya," "Primal Eyes," and "Main Theme" — enhances the listening experience considerably. It requires lots of time to appreciate, but it might suddenly click. It's outstanding, but easy to misinterpret, which is equally the bane and merit of such an unprecedented project as Parasite Eve.