Tales of Rebirth Original Soundtrack
When starting my first listen of the Tales of Rebirth soundtrack, I was mentally prepared for another nice yet "usual" collaboration between Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura. After all, this "4-disc mother" — as it has been dubbed somewhere — is the sixth opus of their unbelievably long work. So, naturally, I knew what to expect. Thankfully, after a couple of tracks, it became clear that this soundtrack wasn't what I mentally pictured. By making pauses between the four CDs, I ended up enjoying my musical journey through Tales of Rebirth more than I expected.
First of all, for all of those who are familiar with the "Tales of" series, there's something obvious when you listen to any of the tracks of Tales of Rebirth: the sound samples are different. As Motoi Sakuraba renewed his digital instruments for Star Ocean Till the End of Time, he and Tamura finally decided to do the same for their latest work on the "Tales of" series. As a result, this improvement gives the whole album much more emphasis and audio quality than what you would expect before hearing it. It also prevents the listener from becoming tone-bored after two hours of listening to the same overused PSX samples, which does happen to me on most of their previous albums.
But what's the point in the use of better samples if the music is still the same? Even if Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura are good at creating new stuff that sounds similar to what they have done elsewhere, there has been a real effort to create original works that take full advantage of the possibilities offered by the new instrument system. For instance, "Prologue B" and its lively piano, the impressive brass section of "Icy Edge" or the surprising bagpipes of "Ancient Spirit." On the other hand, and despite this effort, more than half of the soundtrack is still very close to the usual Tales crafting style that favours quantity over originality. Here, as examples, take tracks such as "The Scratch on Ice," "Balka," or "The Edge of an Oath." All of them somehow remind me of some tune in another tri-Ace soundtrack but I cannot put the finger on them. They may do their job as background music during the game, but they undoubtedly pull the level of the soundtrack downwards.
My use of the word 'journey' in the introduction isn't innocent. Such a huge album dedicated to one RPG is aimed at describing an entire world on which the adventure takes place, and explaining the characters' feelings as the story unfolds. Since there are a hundred tracks and a rather important number of fillers among them, I'm going to guide you through the landmarks of the Tales of Rebirth musical panorama.
The first CD is the richest one in terms of diversity of atmospheres and styles. Listening to it is quite useful to get an idea of what the soundtrack contains, just like when you play a video game demo. The theme of Tales of Rebirth is the first one to be heard, most probably during the main menu of the game. The whole orchestra is used to play a magnificient but short opening that builds up and fades out rather quickly. The rest of the track is left to the quiet care of a harp and a flute. "Prologue A" must have been used in an FMV, to introduce what the heroes will eventually fight against. Low timpanis and bells accompanied by tremolo strings set up a creepy mood, quickly brought to an horrorsome climax by dissonant brass attacks. Suddenly, the whole bursts into action for a few moments. The track ends on one of these apocalyptical orchestra and choir settings. Despite the weak transitions between the three parts (probably due to the nature of the video), this track is among the most impressive of the album. The mood of "Prologue B" could very well illustrate the aftermath following what has been pictured in the previous track. The piano performance progressively evolves, from a despaired touch to an hopeful mood, as the orchestra backs it so as to cheer it up.
The first in-game action-based track, "Desperate Battle," is nothing as spectacular as the action sequence heard in the first prologue, but has a certain appeal. While a base melody is endlessly repeated by pizzicato strings, bass, and harpsichord, the brass and strings sections lead the track and handle the building up. The result is a solid battle track with a background motif that will strangely stick to your mind. A few tracks away appears the first incarnation of the main "evil" theme that will unfortunately follow you throughout Tales of Rebirth. "Scutum" is without any doubt the most annoying thing of the whole soundtrack. On this track, you are provided with the church organ version ("Scutum-Cruel"), which is the best at showing the bland repetitiveness and the lack of inspiration behind this theme. This is maybe why all the variations on it contain the same word on their trackname: for listeners to be able to skip them at first sight! Following this dreadful encounter, "Sulz" stands for one of the many village and field themes that start on a potentially good basis, and are then spoilt by a strange and pointless improvizing between lead instruments. With such a representative track, Sulz has better be renamed Dullsville.
Hopefully follows "Icy Edge," a rousing march to victory where the entire brass section cleverly cooperates with strings to produce a massive, overwhelming sound that inspires valour and might. The energy brought by this show of power is the perfect opportunity to introduce the upbeat "Battle Organization." Intended or not, I can feel a strong influence from Valkyrie Profile dungeon themes here ("Ancient Fantasies Eternal" and "At the Bottom of Hell is Distortion," for example). This is also the first track of the album featuring Motoi Sakuraba's favourite synth instruments. They are used with virtuosity but their strong binding to his previous works make this piece of music sound rather out of place in Tales of Rebirth. As if goodness necessarily implied its counterpart, we are quickly provided with a few terrible tracks, including "Suspicion" (infamous string samples trying to build a mood of tension) and the second variation on "Scutum" (this time slower, with strings, but still as lacking as the first one).
The next field theme, "Alvan Mountains," could be really neat if it weren't for these exasperating repeating motifs played by loud strings. I think the bass here is really sexy, and should have been highlighted to bring this track to its true aim. The next track, "Annie in the Mist," illustrates a game event that takes place among the mountains. It is a very short, yet noteworthy piece of music entirely based on "new age" synths. It really stands out on this rhythm-dominated sountrack, and reminds me of Kenji Kawai's works for the Patlabor movie soundtracks. If only we could have more of it... Our last stop on Disc One is no less than one of the many incarnations of the town themes of the series, this time named "Minal." Leading winds, mellow strings, soft drums, and chromatic percussion in the background all create a happy-go-lucky feeling... No doubt, you're definitely into a Tales of... game.
The second disc is mostly dedicated to the dull ambiant background music that takes up most of the soundtrack. Hopefully, a few pieces of music do stand out. The first track is an ambient variation on the "Tales of Rebirth" theme, introducing this second disc in a nice way. It is followed by "Petnadjanka - Silence," another of these potentially good tracks that is spoilt by a little something. Here, the main melody is set up by a neat quintet, but the addition of strings after the 0:38 mark does anything but good to the overall sound. A few tracks after comes "Rafter," a funky oldschool piece of music probably dedicated to a mini-game. Its use of chip sounds and synthetic brass make it an entertaining listen that will probably remind you of music from any old platform game you've played, if you're old enough to remember that era. Our next step, "Oasis" begins in a very classic way. However, its progression is unusually beautiful, and stands out on this CD as an nice chill-out piece of music.
The two last works of the disc are clearly here to wake up the listener from the boredom of all the unreviewed tracks. "Like a Glint" starts with a violent percussion crash, like a cannonfire, introducing a fast and dramatic orchestral body. Brass and low strings are here used at full power to render an agressive and ominous battle theme. Unlike most of the other battle tracks featuring rock instruments, this one is purely orchestral and way darker, so as to warn the player "Now you're really facing something else." The next track goes even deeper into darkness, bringing us one of the longest battle themes of the album: "Geyorkias." Here, drums, bass and dark synths are added to the instrument cast of the previous track to play something slower but definitely more evil. Despite its length, the composition of this track is rather simple, and relies mainly on the repeating of dissonant brass motifs, as well as changes of rhythm. Nothing really outstanding there.
The third disc is slightly more inspired than the second one. It features several instrumental innovations, and is spiced with several short and intense FMV themes that won't be reviewed here because of their short timing. The whole orchestra is used again on the opening of this CD, "Proposition." This courage-inspiring track is quite an efficient theme, and may have been used in the game to evoke the strength of the bonds between party members. A few tracks later comes the part of the album where celtic instruments make their appearance. The unique feel of "Ancient Spirit" lies in the reassuring use of harpsichord motifs backing a duet between a bagpipe and a flute. The unusual instruments and harmonies used here successfully render a feeling of quiet might. Following this one, another celtic-oriented track appears: "The Trial." This one mobilizes way more traditional instruments into a fast-paced and creative piece of music whose style is not easy to make out. The closest guess I can make is "traditional dance," although its slight epic tones could as well be characteristic of a soft battle theme. Yet another kind of music is introduced a bit later on this disc, with "Kyogen." This track is a typically chinese piece of music, but suffers from its loneliness, since there is no other similar work to back it.
Back into more "Tales"-esque music, let me remark on two tracks among the most successful field BGMs of the album: "Belsas" and "Belsas - Another Side." When listening to these ones for the first time, their simple, yet catchy flute melody immediately appealed to me. They might be similar to other tracks of the album, but I still consider them as worthy of being mentioned here. "Soaring Shaorune" brings us back into celtic music, using flutes, fiddles and percussion to mark the first encounter with the party's flying means with a short and intense theme. Its immediate sequel, "With Shaorune," is an uplifting flight theme that is most welcome on this soundtrack. It mixes leading celtic instruments with backing bass and chromatic percussion, thus rendering an original albeit familiar atmosphere. Last but not least: the musical joke "Dream Game." This mix between cartoon music and Sakuraba's most favourite battle instruments (synth, bass and drums) sounds like a dungeon theme that could have been used in a super-deformed version of Valkyrie Profile. Chibi-Lenneth, anyone?
The fourth disc illustrates the last step of the classic RPG, which consists in entering the most evil place of the game to try and deliver the world from its dwellers. Hence, this CD mostly contains ominous and epic themes. After an average first track comes the true prelude of the darkness that will follow. "Amusement Park" is an horribly empty theme park tune, played, of course, by a barrel organ. This track is so stereotypical and falsely innocent that it quickly creates a feeling of disease. When hearing it, you cannot ignore that part of your mind telling you that something is going obviously wrong. The next two tracks hopefully confirm that premonition: the theme of "Scutum" is finally back, first with a more elaborate arrangment (probably the best of the album), and second with a dedicated battle track that is nothing more than another variation on the same old theme. This time, drums and electronic effects are used to create a rhythm, and a new triumphant motif is added near the end of the loop. However, it doesn't help "Scutum" much: it still stands out as one of the worst ideas of the album.
After the confrontation come the final trials. "Mount Sovereign" illustrates very well the idea of the combination of respect and fear. As low timpanis and slightly dissonnant bells play a gloomy background rythm, the brass and string sections are used to set up a frightening and powerful atmosphere that eventually becomes supernatural with the addition of choirs. The more I listen to it, the more I'm certain that the title of this track couldn't be better to describe it. The next track, "Milhaust," has obviously been placed here to counter the ominous atmosphere introduced in the previous track. Here we got the whole orchestra backed by military drums, playing an air of trust and hope. The track does its work well, but the arrangement could definitely have been more passionate. I guess this one has to be lived with the game to be fully appreciated... After a few uninspired tracks comes "Will," another piece of music aimed at being heroic, but staying too standard in its composition. The backing of the main melody has a strong "heard it somewhere" feeling that makes the whole track lose its interest.
Finally comes the last battle music, "Final Episode." Nothing surprising here either, except berserk rock drumwork, disturbing deep thumps, and the ultimate comeback of the "Scutum" theme. After the stuffing bombastic brass of "Guidance of the Moon" and the short FMV interlude of "Sealed" come the classic 'aftermath' tracks. The first one, "The Answer," features the wind section and a harp, which are most welcome after what has happened during the previous fifty minutes. The mood, as well as the instrumentation, succeeds at evoking relief and balance. "Epilogue A" brings us the refreshing sound of piano, playing a sad theme — probably illustrating death — accompanied by the wind section. It may have been used for the "bad" ending of the game, as the track finishes on a very pessimistic note. Finally, "Epilogue B" offers us a nice but short epic orchestral ending.
Tales of Rebirth is, in my opinion, the second best album of the "Tales of..." series of soundtracks composed by Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura. However, despite technical improvements that have made several noteworthy tracks possible, Tales of Rebirth remains mostly filled with weak compositions and missed opportunities. The soundtrack might be easier to enjoy outside of the game than the other volumes of the series, but it would be better for you to know the game and its tunes if you want to spend your money wisely.
Tales of Rebirth B
The scratch on ice
A certain day...
Scutum - cruel
Scutum - unflappable
Annie in the Mist
Here and there