One of the best things about Motoi Sakuraba is that he knows how to make you smile while listening to one of his CDs. This one is no exception. This is a rearranged version of the classic Star Ocean themes. The game itself may be oblivious to many readers since the classic game had its start on the SNES in Japan only are all spectacular and stunning in their own way. This album preceded the two releases of its soundtrack in 2004 and 2008.
The opening track, "New Generation", is a stirring reminder to better days and a future that has hope. The melody is strongly original and what brings the track up a notch is the fact that a drum is played somewhere during the 2+ minute mark. Sakuraba loves to incorporate drums in his playing, as was evident in Star Ocean The Second Story Arrange Album. The addition to drums isn't obnoxious at all, but only drives the beat — Sakuraba never overdoes it when it's not necessary.
One of the other things I enjoy about Sakuraba is that he doesn't rush his music at all. If it needs to be 7 minutes long, it's going to be 7 minutes long. "Poem" is a 7:45 minute long piece, and you know what? This has got to be one of the fewest 5+ minute pieces that doesn't bore me to tears. Once again, a drum is played along with the classical melody and even a simple yet highly effective bass line. None of the elements are annoying or out of place.
"Kingdom" is also another well done arrangement, giving off that signature that royalty carry. The string ensemble is very nice and carries the melody along nicely. The drum accompanying the main melody is very simple and crescendos are added where needed to keep the piece alive. The interlude the piece has at the 4:30 mark reminds me of a scene in a medieval movie where you would see the market place in action, people chasing chickens, and whatnot. A very enjoyable track.
Unfortunately, the whole album doesn't fare as well as I would have expected it to. "The Death Trap" isn't done well in my opinion, for a dungeon at all. The music is so happy and preppy that you forget your listening to a dungeon theme. It also exudes the aura of the last horrible piece, "Through The Mills". I thought that was going to automatically be a good arrangement given it is based on the battle theme. It started off nice, with a rockin' drum beat and a moving melody, but it never goes anywhere after that. Sakauraba switches up the melody more than twice, and then does the switching up more than twice as well. I seriously think this track would have done better with an electric guitar leading the way instead of a keyboard. "As Time Goes By" has more excitement than this one does.
This is a solid CD. With two exceptions, the album is a good one with arrangements that'll keep your classical side and your contemporary side happy.
Motoi Sakuraba's had his main impact on the game music world in 1996. Star Ocean, developed by the offshoot company tri-Ace, was the game that his received recognition for. But unfortunately, no original score was released, so his work wasn't fully praised unless in context of the game. Later that year, Sakuraba teamed up with two arrangers, Yohiharu Gotanda and Kazushi Satoh, and they worked on an arranged album in which they selected certain compositions of the same kind (i.e. selecting battle themes) and moulded them into one track. The album also contained all the characters' voice clips used in battles and movie scenes within the game. Many considered this arrange album as the Original Soundtrack, because of its void release, up until 2004 when the real one was released with much enhancements, too.
"New Generation ~Opening Theme~" is the first and only time that all three arrangers come together and arrange a track, and whilst I think it wasn't the most suitable theme to do so, the three contributors seem to pull it off nicely. With the exception of the last theme in this medley ("Mother Ocean ~Ending Theme~"), this track only arranges two of Sakuraba's original works. "Departures" is the first time ever where you hear Sakuraba's bombastic side, and for a first try, it is marvellous; this track is arranged for the first half of the theme. After the introduction is presented with the epic operatic strings, the true mysterious vibe of the theme arises as shown with the soft, dark, but dreamy brass and the light and weightless harp. During this minute of mystifying moments, the arrangers slowly develop the theme up until the point where the drums enter. "First Experience" enters to welcome the fantasy cross sci-fi theme to the album. Brass is important during this section in the arrangement, as it performs the melody line and keeps the climax strong before dropping into a sweet music box rendition of the theme. The arrangers clearly did an efficient and commendable job, though I feel their collaborating expression could have been better if they arranged more action packed compositions.
Town themes aren't exactly the pieces that you remember in Star Ocean, but Yoshiharu Gotanda attempts to arrange these tracks with a little bit of zest and style in "Poems". "Calm Time" is the first track to make an appearance, and in the most beautiful serene way possible. Gotanda utilizes the soft string backing for a perfect emotional experience, and with the melody being performed on top, it's hard to fight away the tears. So, when the strings start to transform from both slow to vivacious, it is a gateway for "Innocence" which is the polar opposite of the previous track; the transition to the theme is perfect and doesn't have an awful, bitter gap from a malfunction. Poignant in a happy way, "Innocence" would be one of the only memorable town themes. The reason supporting this would be because it is catchy and light, which you tend to remember and learn than the sadder, darker ones. 3:47 sees that "What Should Be" enters equipped with its acoustic guitar and jittery piano. Out of all the tracks present in this arrangement, this one gets the most development. This section starts off calm and softly attractive, but then forms into an orchestral work of art, though only for a short period of time before it unnoticeably changes into "Calm Disrupted," where it continues to use the tragic orchestral pattern with its heartbreaking melody. At 6:11, the final change occurs to the rightfully happy track of "Sunny Place." Even though the melody isn't nearly as memorable as the one used in "Innocence," it is quite catchy and moderately easy to hum. This happy effect, of course, is used up until the track's conclusion, so once it starts; it's pretty much on the peak of the development, and so a subtle way to conclude a long, well planned arrangement.
"Worlds ~Fields Theme~" is a mixture of the field themes within the game. The arrangement is supervised and performed none other than the composer himself, Sakuraba, and from what is presented in the piece is truly something that only the sensitive half of his mind could be produce. "One Challenge" begins with an epic tone; there are plenty of horns and militaristic drums symbolizing adventure best, while adding a touch of science fiction with the synth instruments that come in later. Since it would have been impossible to link "One Challenge" and "Stream of Wind" together, due to their radical differences, Sakuraba places a little musical bridge which tries its best to connect the two opposites, and it thankfully works out well. "Stream of Wind" is the best example of a brilliant empty sounding theme, and its presence on this track is most welcoming. I think the addition of the acoustic guitar and brass were a mistake because they wrecked the dark effect that was so interesting. But, if they weren't put into play, then I suppose the next bridge would have started a bit too suddenly. Directly after the second bridge, "Purge Thyself" makes an appearance, church organ and horn driven. Nothing too spectacular occurs within this part of the track, as it happens to be a tad boring, but one can't deny it's a powerful lead into "Ambition," one of the best songs to be used here. The harp makes it feel so incredibly beautiful and the synthetic male choir screams perfection. I like the way how the composer ends the theme, with a nice and calm peak that sounds heavenly to the ear; an impressive way to finish the track.
"Through the Mills" demonstrates where Sakuraba shines the most: battle themes. We have all come to like Sakuraba for his outstanding progressive rock compositions, and his talent is never shy during the long but enjoyable track. It is clever how he leads you to believing that the track won't be active at all with the slow interpretation of "Tense Atmosphere." He transforms it from a rather calm action track into a slow, short, string duet which is a nice way to enter a track which is almost ten minutes of non-stop progressive rock. The lead up, "Purpose" has energy and style, but is not used in the most productive way possible, though it has some nice development. A long instrumental bridge makes itself welcome to slow down the pace, and the composer gets to show of his organ skills, though the solo is slow. Unpredictably, a small acoustic guitar solo occurs directly after the bridge, and, while it doesn't serve much reason in a battle heated track, it sounds very much needed to help cool down and reset the action that seemed to have died down since "For Achieve." At 5:36, "Dancin' Sword" enters in its techno form, sounding malevolent and powerful, and while it's nothing too great, it gives us a good sense of danger and evil, which was needed for a track like this. Now, if you remember the calm string duet version of "Tense Atmosphere" that was explained earlier, it reprises as the final theme used on the overall track. This adaptation is a lot better than the earlier one, because it is now arranged in progressive rock style, which is certainly a more appropriate take on the theme. Apart from the beginning with "For Achieve," the ending is also good, as Sakuraba repeats the chorus of "Tense Atmosphere". It isn't the most impressive arrangement on the eight-track album, but it's entertaining and representative.
Sakuraba's last arrangement for the album is "Death Trap ~Dungeons Theme~," which consists of dungeon themes. Much like he does with his battle themes, Sakuraba puts in a copious amount of effort into his dungeon themes to please the listeners. Perhaps the most impressive start to any of the tracks yet so far, we are presented with an awesome build up with the theme called "Crevice." Throughout "Crevice," there is no melody, but the composer adds a nice variation of "First Experience" at the end to make it easier to move on into "Ancient Ruin," which is one of the most complicated compositions used in the game. This section of the track has two different supporting melodies and harmonies that have to coincide with each other in order to work. Melody and harmony combined, the whole thing sounds very ancient and mysterious, and I can see myself walking around a large ruin of some sort. The theme then goes directly from being action packed into, yet again, mysterious, but brooding in "Time and Space Lab." The quietness of the section proves to be very effective in gathering suspense and creating an atmosphere for the final segment of the track. "An Ideal" could have been arranged much longer, as its melody and anxiety are very much enjoyable to say. I don't really like how the track ends though, as it just suddenly stops and breaks down after some chaotic excellence. Overall, "Death Trap ~Dungeons Theme~" can be said as another talented arrangement by the Star Ocean series composer, and an influential way to end his contributions to the album.
Gotanda's second solo arrangement on the album, "Kingdom ~Castle Theme~," isn't as good as his previous arrangement. This is certainly Gotanda's weakest effort, but by no means does this automatically mean that the arrangement is awful. A key reason behind this is that one third of the track is entirely suspended strings, thanks to "All for One." Personally, the addition of this composition made the experience boring for the first half, and led me wishing for the next section to come fast. Fortunately after a little wait, one of the best and memorable castle themes, "The Strong," which was heroic and grand, takes part in the track. Like "All for One," the theme is overplayed and can get repetitive very fast despite its catchiness. I also don't like how there really wasn't any real diversity, which, if used, could have saved the section from being above-average. Because of its two brothers and their failure, I wasn't expecting much from "Refinement," and while it still suffers from the same techniques, it proves to be a pleasing listen. I like its tranquil feeling and how it relaxes me after going through the other sections, and I was also surprised at the instrumental variation of the melody that occurred towards the very end of the track. "Kingdom ~Castles Theme~" may perhaps be the most loosely arranged theme on the album, but it still ranks high in terms of spirit and effort.
Kazushi Satoh's only solo contribution to the Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection is actually very good. "As Time Goes By ~Events Theme~" is the perfect way to total up all of the albums emotions and energy before the conclusive ending theme. The first theme used in this track is "Calm Disruption," which does exactly what the title says and causes disruption as the theme develops further down the trail. The melody is very pleasant, beautiful, and can be mysterious thanks to the harp which hints of this vibe. But when you think the piece will expand to the highest and best, it ends, and ferocious, rapid, orchestration takes its place. "Far to Get" has it's moments of glory, though nothing quite as amazing as the previous segment. Melody, instrumental and composition wise, it is similar to "Calm Disruption," but nowhere near as good or as strong. Once more, another identical musical break enters to stir up the mood, creating a nice entry for a familiar theme that has appeared before on this album. "Ambition," previously arranged by Sakuraba on "World ~Fields Theme~," undergoes another impressive makeover by Satoh. Just like the Sakuraba arrangement of the theme, "Ambition" proves to be an excellent choice to end the track with, and in comparison to its counterpart, it succeeds to make a huge deal with loud strings, brass, and percussion. Satoh's arrangement is worthy of the highest place in this inspiring album.
After all the amazing tracks and various different themes, we come to the final track on the albumm "Mother Ocean". Gotanda has the pleasure in arranging the ending themes used in Star Ocean into one huge epic tour de force by the name of "Mother Ocean ~Ending Theme~." Gotanda starts the track off by arranging Sakuraba's "Both Side's Case" into a stunning piano solo that begs for your attention by the sheer beauty of each piano key stroke. The tear jerking high quality of the solo is, alone, enough to warrant the track the best on the album, and I'm happy that some light orchestration was included for the solo to have extra harmonious support, but I'm not a fan of how Gotanda developed the theme to be implemented on the entire track. In other words, Gotanda should have kept the theme simple, instead of moving so suddenly to "Mother Ocean" with painfully unexpected orchestration after "Both Side's Case" time was up. Anyhow, I think the arrangement of "Mother Ocean" (which includes the "Star Ocean Main Theme") is pretty good, but, as stated before, I felt like the piano should have kept playing into the theme until the very end where an orchestra could perform the coup de grace. "Mother Ocean ~Ending Theme~" expertly concludes the album, and has the power to make the listener want to come back for more. Anything that can do that wins my respect, and Gotanda has earned it.
Motoi Sakuraba, Yoshiharu Gotanda, and Kazushi Satoh must have tried their best at the time of this albums production. Since no original scor was available at the time, this was the closest option to it, so don't feel bad if your favorite composition isn't on it, because the ones which are selected do more than enough to please. Each arrangement is focused on something completely different, hinted in the names, from the action packed "Through the Mills ~Battles Theme~" to the soft and dreamy "Poem ~Towns Theme~," all which have excellent arranging and moulding, and contain great track time. There isn't a bad apple in the eight arrangements, but I feel Gotanda's "Kingdom ~Castle Themes~" didn't keep up with the other superb tracks that he and his partners did. The voice collection was totally unnecessary, in my opinion, and, besides showing what the characters voices sound like, I doubt any English speaking fan would be remotely interested in any of the tracks. Otherwise Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection is one of the best arranged albums for the series and naturally some of the arrangements are some of the best done by Sakuraba. The question remains is whether you should buy this album, and the answer that I will give you is yes, but finding it would become tedious due to it being out of print. If you manage to see a copy, then snatch it right away!