Beyond the Labyrinth is the latest tri-Ace game to feature the music of Motoi Sakuraba. As stated in our interview with him, he took a different approach to the music compared to his previous tri-Ace scores. The complete soundtrack was released in digital form only, meaning those who ordered the physical release will miss out on 30 minutes of music. Is the end result a pleasing one and should one get the digital copy over a physical copy to enjoy the entire soundtrack?
The album opens with "Labyrinth of Mist," a dark, brooding chiptune track that really brings to light that "dark sheen" he told us about in his interview. It's very simple, but it definitely manages to create a dark atmosphere that one might encounter in a labyrinth. "Lilac Mist" is another very interesting theme featuring both a dark tone, although not as prominent as in "Labyrinth of Mist". At the same time, it offers the first look into the fantasy soundscape that Sakuraba really manages to bring with many of the themes on the album through his lovely use of harps, strings, and choral samples. These themes are also featured in the "End-title roll" but in orchestral form. The dark nature is also brought to life with ominous brass tones and militaristic percussion. However, at the same time, the strings and tuned percussion help give off a wonderful fantasy soundscape that is present in many of the tracks on the album. While not as strong as some of his other staff roll themes, it is a wonderful combination of the two themes mentioned above.
There are a few mysterious themes on the album as well. Highlights include "Hallucination" and "Stray." The former effectively uses strings, particularly with the pizzicato strings work, to create this atmosphere. In addition, the synthesizer tones really accentuate the mysterious nature, while the percussion use, like woodblocks and glockenspiel, give off a very fantasy like approach. The latter gives off a feeling of desolation and mystery. The use of acoustic guitar and strings are effectively used to give off a vagrant sound while the synth and organ tones give it a bit of a dark fantasy atmosphere. "Beyond the Labyrinth" is a brooding, yet enchanting piano piece. Of all the themes on the album, it is definitely the most touching, providing a warm mood in the melody line, but at the same time, its progression gives off a sense of being lost.
Of course, there are some very fantastical sounding themes as well. "Gate of Memory," while not the strongest composition in terms of engaging the listener on the album, is a piece exudes a lot of atmosphere; the piano leads the fray with its poignant and heartfelt tones, but it also gives off an abrasive tone in the accompaniment. When I heard "Premonition" for the first time, I immediately thought fantasy atmosphere and in many ways, it reminded me of some of the ideas used to convey the fantastical world of spirits in the Ghibli film, Spirited Away. "Profusion of Flowers" also gives off that same fantastical feeling in "Premonition" through the incorporation of flourishing strings; however, at the same time, there is definitely a serious tone heard in the theme as well, as some of the accompaniment elements, such as subtle choir, give off an oppressive tone. But of all the fantasy oriented themes, I think that "Triangle shines" is definitely the most successful in capturing the fantastical air of the soundtrack. While it incorporates many of the elements in other themes like "Premonition" and "Profusion of Flowers," it is a much more successful theme overall. The piano melody definitely helps and is featured elsewhere in the soundtrack, as it lends itself to creating both a surreal and darker tone.
Of course, there are plenty of action oriented themes as well. "Cleave" is an excellent, albeit brief, battle theme that focuses on piano and strings work to create an energetic, slightly chaotic piece of music that really captures that fantasy sound. It is definitely one of the more effective battle themes on the album. "Illegal Hole," "Soul to Wander About," and "Clear Pace" also incorporates strings to give off a frenetic sound, combined with pulsing electronic beats, piano, and music box; however, they comes off sounding a bit like some of the music in Kingdom Hearts, in terms of style, so they may not be for everyone. Of the three, I find that "Soul to Wander About" and "Clear Pace" definitely manage to leave an impression. Another theme that incorporates some electronic accompaniment is "Return to Mind." It has a very fantastical sound with moments of ominous tones and I think the piano incorporation really makes it sound out as do the sections that focus more on the electronic aspects of the piece. It's not the strongest piece on the album, but I think it is successful in creating an energetic environment.
Another theme that manages to stand out is "Decayed Edge." It focuses on strings and piano, creating a menacing sound, and in some ways, is reminiscent of Masashi Hamauzu's piano incorporation in his battle themes, but also gives off a nice Sakuraba flair as well. It's an extremely effective theme that manages to convey the darker side of the soundtrack as well as some of the lighter fantasy moments on the soundtrack as well. "Illusional Defense" focuses on militaristic percussion and similar strings and piano work as "Decayed Edge" but, while enjoyable, doesn't manage to leave as lasting an impression. Similar things could be said of "Ask for light," although it doesn't feature much focus on piano, relying more on chaotic and frenetic strings work with an electronic accompaniment. The final battle theme, "Progresses Straight," however, is quite different for a final battle theme. It's a beautiful piece of music that, while not overtly oppressive, manages to give off the idea of tension. The piano focus on the theme is the stand out and it even incorporates some of the melody line from "Triangle shines." Overall, this is one of the most successful themes on the album.
In addition to the music on the CD release, the Complete Edition release includes some additional themes. There are 8bit versions of "Cleave" and "Lilac Mist" on the release that, while nice, aren't required to enjoy the sound. "Lost One" is a contemplative and melancholy chiptune as well, but doesn't stand out much, while the more successful "Trial to Wait" captures some of the sounds in themes like "Illegal hole" with its pounding accompaniment and melody lines that mimic the electronic and strings components of those themes. In terms of other themes, "Breaking Gong" is very much like Sakuraba's work on Dark Souls, creating a dark soundscape through ominous strings, percussion, and choral tones. It's a shame that this track is not on the physical release. Themes like "The Deserted World," "Round Air," and "Sad War" help round out the fantastical sounding themes and are each quite effective.
In the end, the Beyond the Labyrinth Original Soundtrack Complete Edition is definitely a different beast for Sakuraba. For the most part, his normal conventions are thrown out the window, only appearing in a handful of tracks. The most successful aspect of this soundtrack is definitely the atmosphere that Sakuraba created through his effective use of strings and piano, creating an extremely fantastical sound combined with a sense of darkness, as if one is actually lost inside a labyrinth. The digital release features some fantastic themes, such as "Breaking Gong," and bonuses that can't be found on the physical release. However, I find the physical CD to be the more ideal release, since it contains a majority of the themes and has a more cohesive soundscape overall. If the digital copy is the only copy you can obtain, it's still worth looking into for fans of Sakuraba looking for something a bit different. While it sounds more inspired than some of his Tales music, some may not like how many of the themes following similar stylistic patterns.