The Sekaiju no MeiQ 4 -Denshou no Kyoshin- Original Soundtrack features the original music from the next installment of the popular Sekaiju no MeiQ series, known as Etrian Odyssey in the West. While the first three games were on the Nintendo DS and featured FM synthesizer as the basis for composition, the move to the Nintendo 3DS came with a drastic change in terms of sound. Rather than opt for FM synthesizer, Yuzo Koshiro opted for a more acoustic sound and he asked Norihiko Hibino to coordinate a series of recording sessions for the title. In fact, many tracks mimics the sound heard on the Live Strings and Piano: Sekaiju no MeiQ Super Arrange Version. Does the drastic change in sound work for the series?
The album opens with "Adventurers Soaring the Skies," the title screen music for the game. As in the past, it features a very solemn, inviting melody with moments of grandeur. However, the traditional orchestral instrumentation reflect the shift in the series' sound and really sets the tone for the rest of the soundtrack. From there, the album moves into one of the town related themes, "Engraved Are the Names that Will Resound Tomorrow," featuring a powerful, martial tone consistent with the themes delegated to this role from previous experiences. The combination of powerful brass and percussion, mixed with the peaceful and calm woodwind sections, is very moving. "Margherita Afternoon" is certainly the shortest of the town themes, but despite its length, the regal, almost renaissance sound of the melody is quite enjoyable. The other two town themes, the jovial "A Town Embraced by the Azure Sky" and pensive "Twilight Brings Warm Tranquility" focus on jazzy soundscapes, similar to the town themes featured in Etrian Odyssey III.
New to this game is the inclusion of overworld area themes, four of which play during your journey towards the legendary tree in your hot air balloon. The first, "Land I - Windy Grasslands," signifies the start of the journey with its heroic journey. It also provides moments of calm and mystery that really help conjure up images of soaring peacefully through the skies and venturing into the unknown. Moving to the next area, "Land II - Red Stone Forest", is similarly beautiful yet harbours a more perilous tone. The string performance truly brings this haunting melody to life and I think it helps signify the dangers of the journey ahead. Moving ever closer to the destination, "Land III - Sacred Mountain of the Silver Wind" offers a very oppressive sound to start, perhaps signifying the snowy mountainous region you are traveling to, or the further dangers that your party will encounter ahead. The mysterious atmosphere emerges once more through haunting woodwind work and choral tones. The last overworld area theme, "Land IV - Land Beyond the Clouds," is also the most accomplished. Taking listeners on quite a journey, it offers an encompassing blend of moods and elements during its extended development.
Of course, at the heart of all the Etrian Odyssey games are the labyrinth themes themselves. The first, "Labyrinth I - Cerulean Woodlands," definitely follows in the tradition of the previous games offering a very beautiful and serene atmosphere that really captures that forest setting. The live instrumentation really brings this one to life, particularly pianist Ayaki Saito and flautist Ryo Sakagami. Fans of the Live Strings and Piano: Sekaiju no MeiQ Super Arrange Version will surely like the style employed here. The second theme, "Labyrinth II - Misty Ravine" incorporates influences from traditional Japanese music. From the opening shamisen and piano tune, it provides an almost feudal sound before moving into more romantic, yet mysterious strings and woodwind that dominate the majority of the track. In some ways, it mirrors the progression of the overworld theme associated with it.
"Labyrinth III - Grotto of the Adamantine Beast" is also very reminiscent of earlier Etrian Odyssey games. It offers a very mysterious atmosphere and an enticingly beautiful melody. I really enjoy how the bass guitar brings up memories of some of the more bass-heavy FM tracks from the previous games, while the piano and woodwinds really help capture that enigmatic soundscape. As the track progresses, the inclusion of Norihiko Hibino's saxophone really helps bring a more sultry feeling into the overall composition. By contrast, "Labyrinth IV - Archives of the Wooden Doll" is like a modernized version of some of the labyrinth themes heard in Etrian Odyssey III. The track is dominated by a heavy electric guitar accompaniment and keyboard work, creating a more oppressive soundscape. The highlight of this theme, to me, is the inclusion of a very powerful saxophone line. These four labyrinth themes also have "Small Labyrinth" counterparts that play during excursions to side dungeons found during the air balloon exploration portions of the game. These themes feature the same soundscape and melodies as the main dungeons of each area and are often slightly less arranged.
In addition to the dungeon themes, there are also some shorter, yet fairly satisfying tunes related to the event or story scenes in the game. "Chance Meeting" provides a very mysterious atmosphere and focuses mainly on chilling piano and strings melody against choral accompaniment. Both "Windy Silence" and "Ancient Covenant" focus on woodwinds, but provide extremely different soundscapes. The former is a pensive, haunting strings piece that has a bit of a romantic flair to it, while the latter definitely has more of a Renaissance sound to it thanks to the harpsichord and fluttering woodwind melody. Lastly, "Imminent Catastrophe" is the weakest, and shortest, of the event themes. It provides a suitably ominous atmosphere, but is rather clichéd. While most of these tracks are enjoyable, I wish that some of them had more time to develop.
Of course, one of the big draws to this series is the battle themes and once again, they do not disappoint. Like the first two games in the series, the battle themes feature a mixture of rock and orchestral stylings. The first normal battle theme, "Battlefield - Gale," is reminiscent of the jazzy rock battle arrangements on the Etrian Odyssey III arranged version. It really packs a punch, from the string leads to the gritty guitar riffs to the electric guitar solos. The second normal battle theme, "Battlefield - Faith Is My Pillar" features similar instrumentation. I find the electric guitar melody to be extremely catchy, though it lacks any solos. "Unrest - The Burning Crimson Sword Dances" is the boss theme of the game. It focuses on powerful crisis strings and brass melodies, ominous strings and brass accompaniment, and militaristic percussion. It's one of the better boss themes in the series of an orchestral nature, and I think that the use of updated sound really helps bring this one to life.
Of course, there are some battle themes that are used for stronger than normal opponents. The first, "Battlefield - Death Beyond the Line," is the F.O.E. theme for this game. Overall, it's a very chaotic theme, keeping in tradition, featuring extensive bass guitar work, frenetic electric guitar accompaniment, and some of that big band brass sound. I also like how Koshiro even throws in a little musical cue from the original F.O.E. The other two themes, "Unrest - Scatter About" and "Unrest - The End of the Raging Winds", come from previous games in the series and are arranged by Takeshi Yanagawa. The former is the staple Etrian Odyssey theme that has been in every iteration of the game. It's a rock oriented theme that really manages to succeed with its ominous bass work and big band sound. This is probably my favourite of all its incarnations. The latter is a rock arrangement of "The End of the Raging Waves" from Etrian Odyssey III. It's an extremely powerful theme that really manages to accentuate the original and also throws in a fairly lengthy guitar solo for good measure.
Moving to the climax of the soundtrack, one of the strongest labyrinth themes in the game is "Labyrinth V - City of Radiant Ruin." Overall, it follows the more melancholy themes of the earlier games in the series; however, the jazz touch that Koshiro adds is quite nice as I think that they rhythmic portion of this track is one of the true stars. Of course, the live performance brings humanity to the theme the strings bringing in a romantic soundscape and the brass accentuating this feeling with an air of nostalgia. The final boss theme, "Unrest - Successor of Myth," is, without a doubt, my favorite final of the series. It's a theme that manages to capture the spirit of the final battle, but does so in an elegant way. It features moments of bombast and I find the brass portions of this track to be the strongest part of the entire composition, as they really drive the melody, but the more subtle aspects of the track, such as the classical piano or the strings harmonies, really deserve a mention as well. From start to finish, the theme progresses wonderfully and cycles through a variety of moods and atmospheres.
The optional labyrinth theme, "Labyrinth VI - Lord of the Dark Realm," is a departure from the series in terms of soundscape. While this labyrinth has featured a dark soundscape in most of the series' soundtracks, it has always been a melodic composition. In this theme, Koshiro throws convention out of the window and creates a very dark, ambient composition that also has shimmers of beautiful synthesizer thrown into the mix. While it may not feature a melody, I find it pleasant to listen to and the mixture of both despair and hope, mixed with copious amounts of strange sound effects, is a very effective tool to engage the listener. Used during this labyrinth's battles, I find "Battlefield - With Fiery Eyes" to be the weakest of the three normal battle themes. However, I do think it is an effective at creating a sense of chaos, not unlike the optional labyrinth battle themes of games past. From the frenetic strings work in the background to the equally chaotic electric guitar lines, to the almost alien-like synthesizer melody, it really manages to entertain.
There are also two ending themes in the game. The first, "That Melody Shall Never Die," plays upon conclusion of the main campaign. It is a theme that progresses through a variety of moods, from the beautiful piano opening that initially captures your attention to an orchestral section that gives off a sense of heroism with its strong brass lead. From there, a second piano section is incorporated offering an extremely poignant and heartwarming melody before incorporating some beautiful strings accompaniment. Bombastic brass enters into the mix giving off a huge sense of accomplishment before ending with a very heavenly section featuring piano, choral samples, and the occasional light percussion. The other ending theme, "Your Adventure Has Ended," incorporates similar elements and ends with a bombastic, victorious brass sound. Both are extremely effective, though the first one is definitely the better of the two.
In the end, I think that the Etrian Odyssey IV soundtrack is able to stand up to the FM styled soundtracks of the past. While it may disappoint some fans who wanted the FM tradition to continue, I think that Koshiro was still able to capture the essence of the game, whether it is the labyrinth themes, battle tracks, or other themes in the game. Are you disappointed that there was not an FM synth counterpart in the game, or on the soundtrack? If so, at the end of September, a two disc FM arrange and drama album will be released.In regards to this album though, I highly recommend it for any fans of Koshiro's wider work as it proves once again his versatility and creativity as a composer.