NiGHTS Journey of Dreams was a surprising Wii sequel to Sonic Team's popular dream-like adventure NiGHTS into Dreams. The team from the original game — Tomoko Sasaki, Naofumi Hataya, and Fumie Kumatani — returned alongside a large team of arrangers. They carried over most of the familiar themes from NiGHTS into Dreams and reinvigorated them with diverse arrangements. Nevertheless, there is a large amount of original material offered too and the resultant soundtrack spans a full three discs. Let's take a closer look...
Once again, Tomoko Sasaki's main theme for NiGHTS into Dreams remains at the centre of the soundtrack. Yu Miyake's opening orchestral arrangement isn't quite on par with Hayato Matsuo's equivalent, but effectively establishes the warm and dreamy atmosphere with its romantic waltz-like orchestration. There are also offers several noteworthy instrumental renditions, including "Located Link Mix" with its uplifting electro-acoustic soundscaping, "NiGHTS and Reala" with its bold big band brass, and "Growing Wings" with its upbeat flute melodies. However, it's probably the vocal variations of the theme that will be most remembered, for better or worse. There are numerous performances of the themes throughout the soundtrack featuring child vocals, adult vocals, or an ensemble of the two. While they retain the aura of the original, the performances are variably tolerable and the accompaniment is generally poppier. If that isn't enough, there are even two instrumental variations and a bonus vocal arrangement at the end of the soundtrack. Even more so than the previous soundtrack, the reliance on the main theme is overkill on this soundtrack, but at least the core melody is enjoyable and most arrangements tend to be novel.
The most enjoyable feature of the album are the various stage themes. Sasaki recounts the whimsical and organic flavour of the series with the first stage theme, "Eloquent Echo"; while a simple piece, the streamed instrumental recordings really bring a new humanity to the soundtrack. Plenty of diversity is subsequently created with the lively tropical instrumentation of "Sweeping Seashore", the jazzy night-themed soundscapes of "Electrical Entertainment", or the folky dance flavours of "Merry Memory Go Round". No theme is one-dimensional, however, and most impress with their intricate and often surprising development. As with past NiGHTS soundtracks, each theme receives several arrangements to vary during the gameplay. Some are completely different to their original, such as the impressionistic second variation of "Merry Memory Go Round", while others evolve from what was offered in their original themes, such as the increasingly broadway-flavoured "Electrical Entertainment" arrangements. Later in the soundtrack, the variations of "Crystal Choir" an "Ai-Di-La" will delight those looking for more experimental soundscapes still within the dreamy context of the series.
Away from the stage themes, there is plenty of diversity to be discovered and rarely at the sacrifice of quality. Each stage receives a battle theme and a hard variation. For example, "Drifting Donbalon" is instantly infectious with its rhythmical and chanting, while its arrangement is bass-heavy, distorted, and accelerated. At the stages become harder, the boss themes become more intense. Whether the mocking funk riffs of "Cacking Chameleon", haunting neo-classical orchestrations of "Bony Bomamba", and aggressive rock-funk blends of "Queen Bella's Ball", the composers ensure the dreams can turn nightmarish in the sequel. The way the battle themes are scattered through the soundtrack also helps to break up the stage themes. Less welcome are the abundance of event themes featured in the soundtrack. While most suit their in-game purpose, they are usually to short and contextual to be anything other than interruptions in the main soundtrack release. Nevertheless, a few of the cues towards the end, such as "Captive", "Suspicion", and "Belief", bring genuine drama to the album.
While the soundtrack was composed by the original team of NiGHTS into Dreams, the arrangement cast is a lot bigger and features a number of popular Sonic Team composers. These composers often bring their trademark styles to the forefront to enhance the diversity of the soundtrack. Yu Miyake generally comes to the stage when orchestral elements are needed and offers competent and emotional results. As a guest contributor, Hideaki Kobayashi gives a spacey twist on "D'Force Master" with some ambient and operatic influences from Phantasy Star. Meanwhile Crush 40 maestro Jun Senoue really enhances the rock influences of "NiGHTS and Reala: Theme of a Tragedic Revenge", blending emotional violin leads with distorted guitar solos. Both are major enhancements of their NiGHTS into Dreams originals. Several guest arrangers also bring out the life of the duos of boss themes. Teruhiko Nakagawa's "Giant Girania" themes feature a brutal modernist focus yet occasional retro moments while Tomoya Otani's "Clashing Cerberus" achieves tension with its warped electronic focus and rapid drum beats. While the diversity is nice, what is even better is that these diverse pieces all really fit their in-game context too.
The musical revival of NiGHTS is a welcome blend of old and new. The familiar themes from NiGHTS into Dreams are back in novel and accessible arrangements that make the most out of the Wii console. However, maybe the biggest pulls are the diverse new stage themes, boss themes, and their variations. The album has a few problems, mainly the numerous short cues and overreliance on the main theme, yet there are sufficient highlights to make it an interesting listen from start to finish. This is highly recommended for those who enjoyed the NiGHTS into Dreams soundtrack and want a lot more.
Tokyo Session: Yukifumi Makto (delfisound inc.)
L.A. Session: Jun Senoue, Stan Katayama
S.F. Session: Greg Weber (Webtone inc.)
Sega Digital Studio (Tokyo/Japan)
Sound City Studio (Tokyo/Japan)
Jungle Room Recording Studio (Los Angeles, CA/USA)
Webtone Recording Studio (San Francisco, CA/USA)