Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box
|Composed by||Акари Каида / Хитоси Сакимото / Мари Ямагути / Maurice Ravel / Минаэ Фудзии / Таро Ивасиро / Тацуя Нисимура / Ясуаки Фудзита / Ёко Симомура / Yoshino Aoki / Юко Такэхара|
|Release type||Game Soundtrack - Official Release|
|Format||11 CD - 307 tracks|
|Release date||March 31, 2006|
Breath of Fire was a relatively successful traditional RPG for the Super Nintendo, developed by Capcom and released by Square in the West during 1993. Undaunted by the technical limitations of the Super Nintendo, the four person sound team of Breath of Fire, led by Mari Yamaguchi, aspired to create a bold and dramatic orchestral soundtrack for the game. Though they succeeded, no stand-alone release was made available, as was quite common for Capcom soundtracks at the time. Thankfully, the two disc soundtrack for the game nevertheless eventually headlined the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box released in 2006. Was the 13 year wait worthwhile?
The defining compositions of Breath of Fire are Mari Yamaguchi's neo-Baroque compositions. She creates an instantly striking sound at the start of the game with "Blood Relation". The bittersweet gothic here string melody is harmonised beautifully by the sweeping harpsichord arpeggios and, while limited in channels and samples, the music still sounds surprisingly sophisticated. It's highly reminiscent of the composer's work on Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, in fasct, yet with a more cinematic leaning. "The Dragon Warrior" subsequently provides a delightful twist on the typical hero theme of an RPG, combining adventurous wind melodies and brass calls with an urgent, relentless bass line. "White Dragon", one of the darkest tracks on the soundtrack, also impresses with its brooding string-focused orchestration and gorgeous counterpoint between piano and harpsichord.
Another definitive composition on the Breath of Fire soundtrack is "Starting the Journey". Like any good overworld theme, this track undergoes quite a multifaceted development, from its motivating introduction, through an uncertain interlude up towards the relieving climax. Each phrase is delightful in its crisp focus, yet exuberant orchestration, ensuring a bold, immersive sound is created even on the SPC chip. Town themes such as "Day and Night", "Music City", and "Trade City" have a mellow and comforting quality, while still maintaining aspects of the period orchestration featured elsewhere. There is a diverse dungeon themes here too, ranging from the downbeat and ethereal "Deep Forest", to the Arabian-influenced "Sand Palace", to the mysterious and slow-building "Skyscraper". Though they adhere strongly to game music convention, they are still quite well done.
Compared with other RPGs, the battle themes on Breath of Fire are merely average. Among the more notable ones, the normal theme "Beginning of Battle" is a little reminiscent of Mega Man music with its bouncy slapped bass and slightly jagged melody; while the eventual development section is excellent, the primary section is a little too unfocused and plain to be of most interest. The boss theme "A Brave General" restores the modernist orchestral leanings of the score to portray a brutal and uncertain encounter, yet lacks the individuality and elaboration of Yamaguchi's headlining compositions. At least the climax of the score is impressive. Following two deliciously dark villain's theme, "The Final Level" provides some of the best moments of gothic orchestration on the score, before the final boss theme "Black Dragon" plunges listeners into chaos with an ambitious and mostly accomplished horror orchestration.
Though quite a dense and serious score for the most part, there are plenty of light-hearted moments throughout the score. Tracks such as "Flying", "Profit", and "A Drunk's Life", likely composed by Yasuaki Fujita, provide an interest contrast in mood with their light jazz flavour. "Song and Dance" meanwhile is quite liberating at the centre of the score with its catchy melodies and samba flavour. A wise musicologist once postulated that this track is Yoko Shimomura's guest contribution for the score and so it is likely her RPG compositional debut. The closing tracks, "Dawn", "Return", and "Great Achievement", are nothing special, but are again fulfilling in their in-game context and musically impressive outside it. The latter, in particular, provides a rare orchestration on the score that is not tinged by evil and tragedy. Overall, a fine and fitting conclusion.
While Breath of Fire's soundtrack accompanied quite a typical game, it was actually rather remarkable for the time. This is principally because the composers, particularly the wonderful Mari Yamaguchi, decided to also push musical and technical boundaries while creating tracks that fitted the scenes. Though it didn't receive a release originally, it is beautifully presented in the first two discs of the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box. Most of the subsequent soundtracks for the series are equally as interesting and experimental, albeit wildly different from the original. Those who enjoy RPG music with a slightly unorthodox edge should seriously consider purchasing the box set, despite its admittedly high pricetag.
The Super Nintendo's Breath of Fire II continued Capcom's dragon saga in 1994 to largely impressive results. Of all the scores in the series, Breath of Fire II's has the most noticeable continuity with its predecessor. Among the similarities include the focus on orchestral elements, the use of RPG staples, and the employment of similar synth samples. However, the ensemble team who scored the original Breath of Fire were replaced by a single composer, Yuko Takehara. While a talented composer, not all her contributions to this score are a clear progression from the predecessor. The initial soundtrack release for the game was incomplete, featuring one disc of music, though Capcom eventually resolved this by releasing a complete box set. Not all of the exclusives were worthwhile, however...
As evidenced from the opening themes, Breath' of Fire II continues the epic orchestral focus of the series. Yet whereas Breath of Fire featured elaborate gothic-tinged orchestrations, the treatment of the orchestra is often plain and straightforward here, if still effective. With its relentless chords and thunderous percussion, "The Destined Child", for instance, makes a massive impact despite its brevity and unoriginality. Other tracks such as "Coliseum", "Century of the Patriarch", and even the staff roll "Thank You, Everyone" also feature loud top-heavy orchestration that is highly striking in the game, but are a little obnoxious outside it. More moody tracks such as "Ther World is Trembling", "Cold and Dark", and "No One Knows" are also too dense yet static to be immersive. In general, Takehara's approach sometimes feels a little lazy and unartistic compared with that offered by Yamaguchi on the previous score. However, it's not an absolute regression, since the music works almost flawlessly within the game.
That said, Yuko Takehara had an above-average command of orchestration for a game music composer back in the day. Some of her works carried over on to the box set are especially reflective of this. "Kingdom", for instance, is a classically-oriented town theme with period phrasing and chamber orchestration. The most remarkable feature of this composition is the way it develops from a frivolous A section towards a much deeper B section, culminating in some striking fanfare figures at the 0:31 mark. "Clumsy Dance" is also far more intricate than the context demanded and could have sufficed perfectly fine as a short bouncy ditty; the fact that Takehara took the time to score a wistful development section makes the track worthwhile out of context, though. Other tracks that go way beyond the call of duty include "We're Ranger" with its delightful flute trills, "Let Me Sleep..." with its dreamy harp work, and "Left Unspoken" with its electric piano contemplations.
The most disappointing aspect of the entire Breath of Fire II score are its action themes. Given the rest of the soundtrack is dominated by traditional orchestral music, the rock stylings of these thankfully few themes provides quite an awkward contrast. "Cross Counter" packs a lot into its short playtime, entering a number of contrasting sections; however, none of these sections are strong enough for a normal battle theme and some of the treble synth sounds quite gimmicky. "I'll Do It" is one of the better implemented rock tracks on the Super Nintendo and has a real thrust, but unfortunately is let down by its fairly repetitive riff-based composition. Box set exclusives such as "Pincer Attack" and "Critical Moment" are also little better than the average hurry themes. "Lethal Dose" is a better fit for the score with its orchestral stylings, but is surprisingly low-key for a final battle theme, transitioning between slow-building brooding section and more urgent ones, without ever really sounding climactic.
Finally, it should be noted that there are occasionally moments in the score that reference the themes and styles of the original Breath of Fire. "Please, God" is a box set exclusive featuring a pleasant pipe organ. However, probably "God of Decadence" is the closest the soundtrack comes to emulating the gothic style Yamaguchi built up on the previous score. This is an invention featuring interweaving choral and pipe organ writing. The composition is among the more authentic-sounding Baroque imitations on the Super Nintendo and the synthesis of both elements is also highly impressive. Following the gorgeous "The Closing of the Dragon's Eye at the End of the Tale", there is also a delightful arrangement of "Starting the Journey" in the penultimate track "Breath of Fire", featuring more intricate countermelodies and enhanced synth. It would have been a worthy main theme for the series had it not been dropped in subsequent scores.
Breath of Fire II does often resemble a vanilla orchestral RPG score, especially when sandwiched between its gothic predecessor and jazzy successor. However, it's extremely evident during the course of the soundtrack that Takehara is capable of producing ambitious and elaborate compositions too. It's just a pity that a lot of the remaining material is quite superficial and lazy — albeit sufficient in context — perhaps due to demanding schedules. This is particularly emphasised in the box set and, while little of the additional material is bad, it generally feels like superfluous filler. However, there is enough gold offered here to make the soundtrack still worth purchasing, especially after playing the game. The box set version is ideal for completists, though the one disc release features most of the important pieces from the game and less of the filler for those somehow not interested in the other four soundtracks.
In 1997, Capcom's female duo Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki turned around the convention of RPG soundtracks by creating a light jazz-based soundtrack for Breath of Fire III. Given the time it was created, the soundtrack often features simple arrangements and dubious synth. However, the compositions within tend to be both stylistically inspired and melodically memorable. The results received mixed reviews among gamers, but have continued to be treasured by many soundtrack listeners. Until recently, all consumers had was a woefully incomplete single disc release of the soundtrack featuring omissions of many major setting, battle, and subsidiary themes. Eventually Capcom resolved that with an expensive box set, featuring three discs of music from the game, though not all the exclusives are worth paying big money for...
Starting with an item featured in the one disc soundtrack, the game's world map theme "Without a Care" was quite daring at the time of its release. The track presents a fairly memorable melody on xylophone above some funky jazz stylings. The resultant track is a refreshing departure from RPG norm yet somehow fits the worldview of Breath of Fire III quite well, at least until the second overworld theme took over. That track, "To the Distant Place," is a very cohesive piece of music, despite its blend of stylistic elements. Compared with its counterpart, it has a slightly more reflective tone given the progression of the game, enhanced by the use of a woodwind lead and serene strings. This track is actually exclusive to the box set and was one of the main highlights to be omitted from the first soundtrack release.
"Half Done is Not Done" serves as the first dungeon theme in the title. Again, its light jazz stylings are absolutely adorable and the interplay between the playful xylophones and chalumeau clarinets is especially effective. "Country Living" and "Breaking the Mold" meanwhile are interesting contrasts, as jazz and electronic arrangements of the same bouncy melody. Other delightful tunes include Aoki's "My Favorite Trick", an eccentric depiction of a mad scientist, and "The Town Loved by the Wind", a funny town theme exclusive to the box set. These have both been long favorites of mine and it's great that the latter has finally made it to album form. Sadly, not all the light-hearted tracks here are so delightful and some tracks are so similar in nature that the soundtrack can grow repetitive. Plenty of exclusive pieces on the box set, such as "Clumsy March", "Intermission", and a set of four character themes, are particularly shallow and irritating.
There is nevertheless a fair amount of diversity elsewhere on the soundtrack. "Eden" is an imitation of commercial smooth jazz with its laidback pacing and blend of acoustic and synthesised elements. Yet while it could have been disgusting, it's actually very pleasant and atmospheric, especially with the acoustic guitar performances and scenic bird tweets. Among the exclusives to the box set, "Falling Green" is an interesting but somewhat disjointed twist on Chrono Trigger's forest bass line, while the portrayal of Wyndia Castle brings some majestic orchestrations to the table. "Island" and its near-identical arrangement "Avoiding Death" enter another area in the jazz world with their Latin-inspired rhythms and saxophone melodies. Yet despite the exotic setting, there are still some slightly sinister vibes featured here. Finally, the last dungeon theme "Castle in the Sky" is another Mitsuda-inspired track that has a slightly more downbeat and ambient feel, but is nowhere near dull or aseptic.
The battle themes maintain stylistic continuity with the various setting themes, but have a more energetic feel to them. "Do Your Best" features more bouncy melodies and funk licks, but punctuates it with rhythm guitar chords and answering keyboard phrases. The resultant track somehow manages to simultaneously be easygoing yet motivating at the same time, which is perfect given the context. "DONDEN" meanwhile ups the intensity somewhat and is reminiscent of the epic rock-orchestral battle themes found on more conventional fighting soundtracks. Perhaps the most enjoyable are exclusive to the box set, however, including the multi-tiered "Angels and Dragons" and "Dragon Asymmetry". And, amazingly, the last battle theme "Self-Determination" is also an exclusive here... and a delightful one at that. With its ominous introduction, epic guitar melodies, and elating development, it'll help to reassure many that purchasing the expensive box set was worthwhile.
There are several major tracks to round off the soundtrack. "An Offering to the Dragon" is the main rendition of the main theme, initially exposed in the unremarkable "Opening" and a woodwind-based arrangement. More interesting is the fully-fledged rendition at the climax; the melancholy string melody and deep synthy accompaniment make a much bigger emotional impact here and there is also a fascinating evolution into a more uplifting section towards the end. "Stairs ~Ending~" is a short piano-based track that features increasingly elaborate orchestration. As the track progresses, there is a recapitulation of "An Offering to the Dragon" which is surprisingly touching. More disappointing is the ending vocal theme, "Pure Again", with its derivative J-Pop stylings. The use of the composers themselves as vocalists doesn't quite work here, although they put in good efforts. What's more, the instrumentals are largely quite derivative and repetitive, despite a decent guitar solo.
Overall, the Breath of Fire III soundtrack is an interesting twist on RPG soundtrack conventions. Though it features the usual set of setting, dungeon, and scenario themes, they're all different from the norm with their jazz stylings and upbeat nature. However, the full soundtrack for the game on the box set can be very repetitive with its similarly styled pieces and abundance of filler tracks. Consumers would be wise to consider whether they want to go for the one disc release of the soundtrack, despite its notable omissions, or instead head for the full box set release with its filler and pricetag.
In 2006, Capcom commemorated its modestly popular RPG series Breath of Fire with a then unprecedented 12 disc box set. The soundtrack compiles all five soundtracks for the series — the first three of which had not been released in complete form before — into a single beautifully presented package. Whereas most RPG series develop in quite a linear way musically, each of the five scores in the Breath of Fire series is very different and there is little thematic or stylistic conservation between the scores. This means there is probably something for everyone here, yet also potentially a lot of alienating material too. Thankfully, every soundtrack in the series has its highlights and its merits, ensuring the package will be a satisfying whole to many consumers...
The box set opens with the music for Breath of Fire, which amazingly had never been released before. Under Mari Yamaguchi's lead, a team of four composers created music that not only fitted the scenes in the game, but also pushed numerous musical and technical boundaries on the Super Nintendo too. Tracks such as "The Dragon Warrior", with its conflicting heroic melodies and urgent bassline, or "White Dragon" with its sweeping piano and harpsichord counterpoint, are certainly among the most sophisticated and emotional compositions created for the console. Away from these defining compositions, there are tracks such as "Trade City" with its mellow soundscapes, "Beginning of Battle" with its upbeat Rockman vibe, and Yoko Shimomura's postulated composition debut, the samba "Song and Dance"; while none are exceptionally impressive on their own, they collectively come together to create a diverse and mostly fulfilling soundtrack. It's certainly wonderful that it has been released at last and the exclusive tracks here are definitely the best ones.
Of all the scores in the series, Breath of Fire II's has the most noticeable continuity with its predecessor. Among the similarities include the focus on orchestral elements, the use of RPG staples, and the employment of similar synth samples. One theme, "Breath of Fire", even offers a delightful arrangement of the overworld theme from the first game, providing one of the only examples of thematic continuity in the series. That said, Yuko Takehara's offerings here are not always progressive. The top-heavy orchestration of pieces such as "The Destined Child", "Century of the Patriarch", and "Thank You, Everyone" is striking, but somewhat obnoxious and uninspiring, while the rock-tinged battle themes like "Cross Counter" and "Lethal Dose" are average in nature and awkwardly clash with the rest of the score. Nevertheless, the composer's talent does shine through in tracks such as the two-tiered "Kingdom", contemplative interlude "Left Solo", and awe-inspiring invention "God of Decadence", all of which are among the best in the series. The Breath of Fire II soundtrack was released before, but this is the first time in full form, though the additional tracks tend to be unimpressive.
On the PlayStation's Breath of Fire III, new composers Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki turned tradition on its head, daringly abandoning the orchestral sound in favour of frivolous jazz tracks. The fruits of their labours are reflected in delightful themes such as "Without a Care", "Half Done is Done", and "My Favorite Trick"; with their catchy xylophone-led melodies, funky bass lines, and frivolous development sections, these tracks are extraordinarily different from RPG norm and prove strangely compelling too. There is some diversity away from the headlining themes, whether the melancholy main theme "An Offering to the Dragon", the smooth jazz interlude "Eden", or the rocking final battle theme "Self-Determination", the results are usually satisfying in and out of context. While the Breath of Fire III soundtrack had been released before, its presentation was woefully incomplete (even lacking the final battle theme), and its three disc interpretation will be more satisfying for completists. That said, there is a lot of filler exclusive to the full release and sometimes the jazz pieces can sound superficial and uninspiring, so there is a downside to the expansive presentation.
Moving to the two discs dedicated to Breath of Fire IV, this selection is identical to the previously released — and thankfully complete — album release for the game. Yoshino Aoki took the sole composing duties of this title and focused on portraying the two contrasting scenarios. Much of the soundtrack restores the orchestral focus of the series, but with more elaborate and better synthesised compositions. This is perhaps best reflected by the normal battle theme, "It's An Easy Win!", an initially straightforward composition that develops through some incredible secondary sections to demonstrate Aoki's might as an orchestral composer. Further colour and emotion is reflected in the modest, yet increasingly elaborate, arrangements of the contemplative main theme, "The End and the Beginning", including its heartbreaking recapitulation at the ending. In addition to such orchestral tracks, Aoki portrays the scenario of the antagonist Fou-Lu with ethnic instruments, wild rhythms, and malicious dissonance. When the characters finally clash in "A Raging Emperor's Banquet", the hybridised resultant final battle theme is spectacular.
The final two discs of the soundtrack are a complete reprint of the PlayStation 2's Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter soundtrack. This title is the only game in the series to be scored externally and, in fact, also the first to be led by a man: Hitoshi Sakimoto. The composer once again turns the series' tradition on its head to offer the most dark entry in the series and probably his most stylistically diverse score to date. There are plenty of tracks that maintain the action-packed orchestral sound he developed on various RPGs — for instance, "Attack", "Imminent Crisis", and "Barbinger" — to delightful effect. However, there are others that are reminiscent of his experimental ambient creations on Vagrant Story, such as the multi-tiered "Waste Shift", and those that enter new territories, such as the gorgeously layered electronic-ambient theme "Power Supply Building". Thanks to the outsourcing of sound production to Procyon Studio, the various tracks are also impressively implemented and all the more immersive as a result. There are a few blips, most depressingly another weak vocal theme, but everything else in this release is surprising and wholesome.
To summarise, each score is highly interesting for different reasons: the unwarranted ambitious scores of Yamaguchi's Breath of Fire, the rich classical orchestrations of Takehara's Breath of Fire II, the carefree jazz innovations of Kaida's Breath of Fire III, the conflicted cultural influences of Aoki's Breath of Fire IV, and the diverse moody soundscapes of Sakimoto's Breath of Fire V... When packaged together, there is little to define the series musically, given the divergent themes, styles, and technology. Nevertheless, all five of the Breath of Fire scores reflect the ambitious and individuality of each of the nine featured composers. The box set therefore provides a fascinating example of differential artistry and is potentially worthwhile as a whole.
Born out of the atonement that Capcom Music Generation: Rockman 1 ~ 6 and Capcom Music Generation: Rockman X1 ~ X6 provided to fans of the blue bomber in 2002 and 2003, the 2006 release of the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box would seek to correct the injustices that defined the discography of another beloved series. It's true that the series' first installment was the only game that didn't receive some kind of a soundtrack treatment around the time of its debut, but these releases wouldn't become truly comprehensive until 2000's Breath of Fire IV, turning the half-baked albums for Breath of Fire II and Breath of Fire III into even greater sore spots than they where initially.
As simple of a prospect as it may seem to offer full-fledged releases for previously unreleased and abridged soundtracks, the concept is complicated by a factor that didn't exist with the Rockman compilations, namely that the music of Breath of Fire doesn't follow a precise formula. It does at first — Breath of Fire II being an extension of the musical style that was forged in the original adventure — but these kinds of connections are virtually nonexistent once stylistic individuality takes center stage in Breath of Fire III. Variety may very well be the spice of life, but is it the spark that fuels the series' flame or is it a hurdle that's made ever more noticeable in package form? Such a question can only be solved by looking at the box's highest highs, lowest lows and the objectives of its various composers.
Unlike the games that follow, my experience with the original Breath of Fire is more hands-off than hands-on. Because of this, only some of the oddest things surrounding its conception form the basis of my memories. For example, when one boots up the game and comes face to face with the Squaresoft logo — rather than Capcom's — one just has to wonder why Capcom wouldn't publish their own game abroad when one of their competitors did. Another thing that tends to grab people's attention is who is credited with composing the game's music, or more specifically, the misleading credit of one of them: Yoko Shimomura. While Yoko may indeed be credited with having a hand in the music, her role was extremely limited (crafting only one track) meaning the majority of the score is a reflection of co-composers Yasuaki Fujita (Mega Man 3, Mega Man 4), Minae Fujii (Mega Man 4) and Mari Yamaguchi (Mega Man 5). Minus Shimomura, that's still a pretty impressive pedigree but does the game's music live up to it? Yes and no.
The majority of the score's strengths and weaknesses revolve around the qualities of the synth more than the compositions themselves. Breath of Fire has a very penetrating sound to it when it comes across one's speakers, the deep and dark percussion defining the very essence of even light-hearted pieces. Idealistically, this is prefect for picture the composers are tying to paint — and is just as important in the music of the first sequel — but along with it comes a rigid texture that not only enhances the experience but deconstructs it. In a way, it's a lot like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in that it's almost stuck between the extremes of NES and SNES generations of music, the major difference being that it's thick instead of thin. Regrettably, while Mystic Quest turns what can be seen as shortcoming into a literal goldmine, Breath of Fire can't, it's boisterous sound hindering its fair share of moments. In other words, the heart and direction of the series is here but it's clouded by the tools of its conveyance.
With the second installment of Breath of Fire we have another composer from the Mega Man School of music, Yuko Takehara (Mega Man 6, Mega Man X). Downsizing from four composers to one may appear to be drastic, but this is merely a facade as Takehara maintains the sound heard in the original game and streamlines it, redrawing the same picture with a handful of tweaks and perks. The most obvious of these is the medium being used (the general synth quality) is much improved over the first game, allowing ideas to come across with much less resistance.
All the drama and boldness is intact — "God of Decadence" being a major highlight — but the most radical change is what Yuko's done with the battle themes. Forming another parallel with Square's Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, the hard rock edge of "I'll Do It!" and "Dying Corpse" are simply delectable and inject an absurd amount of life into battles they preside over. Their ability to co-exist with the score's epic side originally lead me to believe this is one score that fires on all cylinders and it still does today. Indeed, Breath of Fire II goes far in defining the series' musical identity; something that is quickly turned on its head in the PlayStation years.
Perhaps more than any other game in the series, the music of Breath of Fire III is a fertile playground for debate. Dissecting this jazz-influenced score is no easy task, but one of the most important pieces of the puzzle has only recently been revealed. In a 2009 interview, composer Yoshino Aoki (Mega Man Star Force) tells us how lead composer Akari Kaida (Mega Man Battle Network) wanted to change the preconception that the music in role playing games always had to be of an orchestral nature. In defining such a mission, there is an obvious amount of weight was placed on the score's shoulders from the outset in proving itself, yet the story of the game really begins with a divide between listeners and how they experienced the score. Reviews for the game around the time of its release generally gave it low scores in sound, arguing that the game's music was its main weakness, and the this comes into play is that while general gamers mostly reiterated what the score implied, those who listen video game music intently and with a broader sense of appreciation seemed more apt to embrace them. Looking at what's here, I can't help but side with those that have certain grievances while simultaneously feeling that those that praise the score turn a blind eye to some obvious negatives.
The crazy thing is that the root cause behind these problems can be traced back to the aforementioned interview when Aoki talks about composing each piece of music for its given situation in the game. Such a concept may seem like a no-brainer, but the level it was practiced at quickly lead to a massive and unfortunate amount of filler (which likely spearheaded the limited, one-disc soundtrack back in 1997) and engrained a general sense of inflexibly in almost every piece. It's dumbfounding how many compositions (e.g. "Dragon Asymmetry") are backed into a corner because the ideas they represented were not foreshadowed or reciprocated elsewhere. It's the video game music equivalent of a potluck, a table full of dishes that don't compliment one another. But really, isn't ironic how the original soundtrack release didn't seem like enough, the track selection being stilted out of the desire to present the side of the score that was meant to change attitudes (originally leaving great tracks like "Do Your Best!" and "To a Distant Place" to the ages) and the three discs feels like too much? In the end, the real question isn't if the music of Breath of Fire III is successful in proving that a jazz-influenced score can define a role playing game, but rather how the game succeeds despite it and all the self-defeating problems that come with it.
In being promoted from co-composer to lead composer, Yoshino Aoki would once again return to the fold for Breath of Fire IV. This time not only would she give shape to the adventures of the iconic, blue-haired descendant of the dragon clan but to those of a raging, reawakened emperor with a chip on his shoulder. Like the majority of other elements in the game, the music of IV doesn't attempt to abandon or embrace the elements of its predecessor — at least not to the level III did with II — but the dual scenario system would have a dramatic effect on how the score was tackled and applied in-game. The employment of an epic, brave sound for Ryu's battles and a Asian influenced style for Fu-Lou's not only reinforced the general differences between these characters, it also highlighted the importance the world's geography had in the game's clash of cultures. The ethnic flavored pieces like "Men of War," "A Warring God" and the granddaddy "A Raging Emperor's Banquet" do have a upper hand on straightforward affairs like "It's An Easy Win" and "Bastard Sword" but the remainder of the score does a good job in balancing out these idiosyncrasies.
Balance, or rather consistency, seems to be one of the keys to the music of Breath of Fire IV. Most individual tracks don't pop out and say "I'm awesome, listen to me! Forget about them!" like they did on previous soundtracks. In this respect, IV is more homogenous in nature than III could ever hope to be, even when uncharted areas like ambient music are added to the mix. As impressive as it is in how many types of music come together in a smaller and more concise package, there are a few things that hold it back. The lack of consistent bite can be considered an accurate allusion to the game's somewhat dry and drawn-out narrative, a catch that's become clearer as the years have passed. III has become victim to the same syndrome as well, but its soundtrack manages to cover its tracks in this regard by keeping the listener on their toes with so many styles. More often than not, IV's yin often times turns out to be III's yang and vice versa. This being so, there's no clear-cut winner when pitting the two PlayStation games against one another, everything boiling down to personal preference. The downside to all of this is the negatives are never far behind.
Let me be honest here, I'm probably the last person who should be commenting on the music of Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter. Beyond 1997's Final Fantasy Tactics, Hitoshi Sakimoto is not my thing. Still, there are some general things about the game, its soundtrack and its place in this box set that are worth investigating. As most know, Yasunori Mitsuda was originally slated to compose for the game, but such a plan would never come to fruition due to his busy schedule thus the opportunity was passed on to Sakimoto. Unlike his other works, there's nothing here that sticks out and grinds my gears outside the occasional Ivalice sounding passage. OK, I know there is no rule that says a certain flavor of composition can't appear in game whose world is unrelated to Ivalice, but when a style is so instrumental in forging a world such as that it feels out of place elsewhere. Additionally, I would expect some to point out calling it the "Ivalice sound" is a gross misrepresentation considering it can be heard in earlier soundtracks like Tactics Ogre.
However, while these small musical asides are the only reservation I hold towards the music of Dragon Quarter, there is nothing that draws me to it. It's this that will make some view my next idea as more malicious than respectful, and that is if Capcom would have presented this box without including Dragon Quarter. A preposterous suggestion, but again, it is not born out of my take-it-or-leave-it relationship with Sakimoto as composer than it is a personal desire to see two very different worlds maintain a certain degree of separation from one another. The experience Capcom put fourth within V was vastly different than that of the first four games, those differences encompassing everything — the most significant being the environment. Unfortunately, while I can completely agree with the series needing an overhaul, Capcom went so far off in left field for this game it left many fans in the dust. Be that as it may, with the original album still available from some online retailers and being rather common in the secondhand soundtrack market compared to the previous three, the original release for Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter still maintains an importance purpose, especially for Sakimoto fans that are otherwise not interested in the in-house Capcom section of the box.
Unlike the Mega Man and Mega Man X boxes the proceeded it, the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box is a product I wish I could be more excited about. What initially seems like a great idea — packaging soundtracks with less to stand on together with those capable of doing so — isn't the war of numbers it originally appears to be. There is some good, nay great, music to be had here, but there is just so much to sift through its mind-boggling. The lack of internal focus and connectivity among the scores, something one may initially view as a positive under the guise of variety, is a mere illusion. I badly want to believe it all comes together but the reality is it just doesn't, even after playing the majority of the games. Anyway, as if it needs to be said, if you're going to take the plunge, do your homework. As for myself, I'll continue pondering how Capcom could create something so attractive yet unappealing.
As if in psychic response to my increasingly vengeful tirades of cursing and oath-swearing, Capcom, one of the mighty giants of the video game industry, finally saw it fit to acknowledge one of its smaller (yet vigilant) fanbases. If you like RPGs, you've probably played Final Fantasy. And Zelda. And maybe you've even played a Breath of Fire game... much less of a name but no less of a game than its contemporaries. The fans who have stuck with the series have gotten a mixed message from Capcom since its inception — usually it's that they know we're here, fully admit that we in fact are here, and then happily move on to discuss that new Mega Man game for portable handheld X or that fiftieth Resident Evil remake for next-generation console Y. Needless to say, it would've surprised anyone to get more than at least a nod from the developer. Maybe Capcom just wanted to make sure the rapidly-cooling body that is the Breath of Fire fandom was still alive after it was clear that a sixth entry in the series wouldn't be coming for a long, long time. Maybe they just wanted to make sure we'd all buy whatever comes next. Or maybe someone up there high, high in the sky (or a Capcom executive's skyscraper office) just likes us.
So what peace offering has Capcom bestowed upon its loyal fans? It's big. It's expensive. It's elaborate. And it's got the full soundtracks to all five games in the series totalling over 300 tracks and a solid 10 hours of music. I rescind any previous curses and/or oaths made in offense, and humbly request they be stricken from the record.
As a game series, Breath of Fire is neither an artless imitator nor a path-burning innovator. Although it has its moments of both convention and invention, Breath of Fire's charm is in its consistent offerings: stories enriched with ancient and deceitful world histories, diverse and lovable casts of anthropomorphic heroes, and of course engaging and memorable musical scores. Immediate testament to the richness of the music is that each game had a different set of composers — across the series, a total of nine different minds, styles, and agendas. As one would imagine, each soundtrack is quite unique from one another and, with a few small exceptions concerning the first and second and the third and fourth scores, there are no carried-over main themes or motives. This adds to the value of the collection, as the listener can expect something completely different from each entry.
Breath of Fire, the first game in the series and the only one to never get a soundtrack publication, spans the first two discs without omitting a single important track. A strange but wondrous little soundtrack, the first game was scored by members of Capcom's former sound team Alph Lyla, principally Mari Yamaguchi (aka Mari), Yasuaki Fujita (aka BunBun) and Minae Fujii (aka Ojalin). While there's plenty of familiar RPG styling for your typical RPG scenarios, there's an air of intrigue to a number of tracks that help the first soundtrack stand out from its genre. The enchanting piano features "Profit" and "God's Footsteps" exhibit underlying jazz colors, an uncommon modal choice for the game's time of developement. The adventurous orchestral overworld tracks remain powerful standouts of typical RPG heritage as well: the riveting main theme "Starting the Journey" exposits the highly recognizable and jubliant melody of the first two titles; and the stirring and romantic march, "Distant View", captures a subtle Straussian flavor with graceful, expressive string lines stretched over a propulsive rhythmic motion. Other highlights include a pair of finely written battle tunes for the game's "normal" fights and of course the diverse and wonderfully charming town themes which range in style from the orchestral classicism of "Music City" and the waltz "A Road" to the Middle-Eastern flavored "Sand Palace" where exotic oboe and flute lines snake over a simple rhythm of sitar and bass. It's hard to believe it took this long for such a classic game soundtrack to be pressed to CD, and the one we now have will be that definitive print we've been waiting for.
Breath of Fire II's soundtrack can be considered the most conventional work of the series, largely catering to the typical modes and tendencies of 16-bit generation RPG music. Nonetheless, it's a solid score and remains as the accompaniment to what is perhaps the series' most beloved entry. It was also the first in the series to get an official soundtrack print, although the release wasn't a perfect one considering the omission of several important themes. This situation has been mercifully addressed, and the version found in this collection is complete. Composed solely by Yuko Takehara, Breath of Fire II manages to fill all those cliche RPG moments with either frustratingly short or otherwise underdeveloped musical sequences. Most of the battle themes will give a good idea of musical brevity, and critical pieces like the prologue themes and other one-time BGM will illustrate a noitceable lack of development. Yet given the generation and given the tools, this is hardly an uncommon feature of RPG soundtracks from the time. And in fact Takehara's ideas, while at times leaving the listener wanting for much more, are more often than not much more interesting than what you'd find in the typical RPG. Most of the battle themes incorporate an energetic rock feel, fast-paced and melodically oriented. Sheer simplicity of composition warms the listener to tracks like "Memories" and "Crooked Ladder", conservatively arranged but melodically appealing. Add to it the evocative "Century of the Patriach", the beautifully mesmerizing "Wanderer", and the timelessly ancient "Daybreak" and you've got a strong rival to the first game's soundtrack. Could a third possibly live up to its predecessors?
Oh, yes, it can. But talking about Yoshino Aoki's and Akari Kaida's music for Breath of Fire III and comparing it to other game soundtracks is kind of like looking at John Adams' approach to opera: you would have never expected it, but it sure is cool. This game's music was previously graced with an embarrassingly shallow and incomplete release which is quite literally tripled in this collection, spanning three discs filled right up to the edge with some of the genre's finest and most unique RPG music. Stylistically the score pulls a hard 180 away from convention, keeping the frame of a typical RPG but completely leaving behind the aural identity you'd usually associate with it. The material here teems with a sense of jazz permeating its various facets of melody, harmony, and rhythm, and the effect is absolutely stunning. Sure, it's probably a turnoff for the typical fan, but to not be moved by the cunning composition and depth of arrangement of this music is to be dead from the neck up. From lighthearted and bouncy to dark and serious, everything an RPG needs is here — it's just spiced up, energized, and shamelessly confident. I feel I could talk for hours about all the great tracks here, but my point works better in summary: three discs of masterfully written, innovative RPG music that you won't hear anywhere else, ever.
Thankfully, Yoshino Aoki was hired back to be the composer for Breath of Fire IV. Her work here takes several steps back from the jazz feel of the previous score, and takes several more toward a totally new sonic identity for the series. Branching out into increasingly exotic degrees of composition and arrangement, Aoki assimilates both familiar orchestral and previously unmatchable and disparate sounds for her unique masterpiece of RPG music. The battle themes present a particularly immersive listening experience, with two completely different instrumental configurations depending on the continent the player is on. Lively town themes capitalize on the exoticism such as with the Celtic "...Yet the Merchants Will Go" and the rhythmically asymmetrical "Song of the Plains", a clever conception of what the nomadic Woren tribe's music might sound like. More colorful surprises are found within, held between variations of the timeless main theme which has its climactic rendition during the expressive trio of epilogue tracks. Conclusively, part four makes a great candidate for the strongest score of the series. Needless to say, if there's ever a sixth game, I want the composer to be Yoshino Aoki.
For the first time in the series, the overall concept for Breath of Fire took a dramatic turn with the fifth installment. Matching the drastic gameplay change, Yasunori Mitsuda was invited to write the game's score. Allegedly being booked with too many other soundtracks to accept the proposal in full, Mitsuda nonetheless wanted to have his studio produce the music. He recommended a good friend and well-known composer to write the score in his place: Hitoshi Sakimoto. The finished product ended up as a fusion of Sakimoto's familiar orchestral music and a modest electronica style. The main difference between the fifth score and its predecessors is perhaps the overwhelmingly serious and dark tone — not so dark as Vagrant Story, but clearly sparse in lightness. There are some brighter moments, but they are surrounded by shadow; given the game's overall tone and story, this is hardly a surprise. From the dramatic opening movie to the beautiful ending sequence, the journey from start to finish is one of much greater intensity than previous entries in the series, and certainly feels like the most epic Breath of Fire to date. As a huge Sakimoto fan I can confidently call this one of his best works, strong in orchestration, thematic consistency, and affect. It works as the perfect closer for this monumental collection.
Unfortunately, the war between myself and Capcom still rages on. I should be really humbled to have this collection. And I am... mostly. There are however a few problems I have with it — flaws in the production that seem like gross oversights. I'll start small. While the first three soundtracks were revamped for content, the soundtracks for IV and V are exact reprints of their previous releases. Hardly a big deal considering IV was complete, V missing only one track. But in its defense, that one track could only be accessed from the game's music menu... still, I'd have loved to have my own personal copy of it. I know, cry me a river. Moving on, this next one's a little more serious. Anyone who might have heard the original Breath of Fire III soundtrack print (or at least had read my initial review) will know that one of the best tracks, the boss theme, was vandalized with a string of voice and battle FX. For some reason, even though tracks previously unreleased were obviously recorded for the collection's version, that very same grafitti boss theme hack somehow made it to the tracklist. I'm actually pretty offended by this. Feigned shouts in Japanese and imaginary magic spell sounds do not qualify as music for me. And when they exist on top of what I DO consider music, well, it pretty much ruins the whole experience for me. Thanks for that Capcom, I know you really do love me.
OK, so now that my whining is done, I'd like to comment on what really offends me about this release — and this one I truly hold Capcom responsible for. Ready for this? Composer credits. Oh, the names are all there in the booklet. Unfortunately, if you happen to be a fan of the first and third soundtracks, you won't have a clue who composed what. Not unless you're a sincere music nerd like me who tries to do everything in his power to hunt down evidence or at the very least rumors of where the credits belong. Now, some people might think "Who cares? If you like it, does it matter who wrote it?" Well, yeah, it does. Maybe that's because I'm a composer; maybe it's because I've got a strong sense of the importance of individuality of the human race. However selfish and/or humanitarian this belief is, its still there, and prevents me from giving Capcom a break. Especially since they (along with Konami) are repeat offenders, and rarely give proper breakdowns. Granted I've figured out a few credits for Breath of Fire III out of sheer determination, but as good as I like to think myself at identifying composers' tendencies, I can hardly cite it as scientifically sound methodology. And frankly, I just can't see how hard this information could possibly be to find out. Your composers have done you a great service, Capcom. A paycheck is nice, but acknowledge them as artists deserve to be.
Well, if you've stuck around for this far you might actually be interested in this thing. The package is dreary on the exterior aside from an emblematic logo design. It's the booklet that has the most visual interest, with rare and wonderfully hand-drawn scenes from the five games. Aside from that, you're paying for 11 discs of music. The first four are a bit shorted in terms of length, but almost all of the rest exceed an hour of run-time. If you are a fan of the series and its music, I readily concede that this is a solid buy. Add to that how rare the soundtracks of II and III are (and how crappy those releases are anyway), and that part one never had a release in the first place, a very fine item for fans does this collection make. But if you're not already a fan, I don't know how to properly review and prepare you for five completely different installments of music coming from three different console generations. There's no doubt in my mind that this music is good — and in fact, the latter three are, in my opinion, some of the finest game scores out there. I'm glad this collection was produced and, although I take some of the flaws personally, I would recommend it to those interested. Here's to one of the truly great soundtrack compilations of video game music.
Limited Release with only 2000 printed Boxes.
Breath of Fire I Original Soundtrack
Yasuaki Fujita: 1-01~05, 1-08~20, 1-22~25, 2-01~04, 2-07~11, 2-13, 2-14, 2-16~22, 2-24
Mari Yamaguchi: 1-06, 1-21, 2-12, 2-15, 2-23
Minae Fujii: 1-07
Tatsuya Nishimura: 2-05
Yoko Shimomura: 2-06
Breath of Fire II Original Soundtrack
Composed by: Yuko Takehara
Breath of Fire III Original Soundtrack
Composed by: Akari Kaida, Yoshino Aoki
Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack
Composed by: Yoshino Aoki (except 8-01, by Taro Iwashiro, and 9-21, by Maurice Ravel)
Breath of Fire V Original Soundtrack
Composed by: Hitoshi Sakimoto (Except Disc 11 Track 15 by Chihiro Onitsuka)
Sound Director: Yasunori Mitsuda (Procyon Studio)
* Performed, Music & Lyrics by CHIHIRO ONITSUKA
Mastering Engineer: Yoshihiko Ando
Mastering Studio: AOBADAI STUDIO
Discs 8, 9, 10 and 11 have been taken directly from the Breath of Fire IV Original Soundtrack (CPCA-1043~4) and the Breath of Fire V Dragon Quarter Original Soundtrack (CPCA-1067~8).
Blood RelationYasuaki Fujita
The Dragon WarriorYasuaki Fujita
White DragonYasuaki Fujita
Starting the Journey ~Breath of Fire~Mari Yamaguchi
Day and NightMinae Fujii
Beginning of BattleYasuaki Fujita
Victory SongYasuaki Fujita
Gentle BreezeYasuaki Fujita
Strong FortressYasuaki Fujita
A Brave GeneralYasuaki Fujita
Deep ForestYasuaki Fujita
Distant ViewYasuaki Fujita
Small HermitageYasuaki Fujita
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- Booklet 01 & 02
- Booklet 03 & 04
- Booklet 05 & 06
- Booklet 07 & 08
- Booklet 09 & 10
- Booklet 11 & 12
- Booklet 13 & 14
- Booklet 15 & 16
- Booklet 17 & 18
- Booklet 19 & 20
- Booklet 21 & 22
- Booklet 23 & 24
- Booklet 25 & 26
- Booklet Front & Back
- Box Side
- Card Back
- Card Front
- Case Back
- Case Front
- Case Inside
- Case Side
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- Disc 03
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