|27||ブレス オブ ファイア||2:06|
- Composed By, Arranged By, Performer – ,
Original soundtrack of the SNES game "Breath Of Fire II" = ブレス オブ ファイアII -使命の子-.
℗ 1995 Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
© CAPCOM 1993, 1994.
℗ 1995 Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
© CAPCOM 1993, 1994.
- Barcode: 4988009311920
- Matrix / Runout: DS-3446 1
- Mastering SID Code: IFPI L275
- Catching lightning in a bottle. Regardless of one’s age or generation of birth we selfishly wish for this ability. It’s not that we want to harness actual lightning but rather memories and experiences. When it comes to my own personal collection of reflections related to this phrase I’m often reminded of 1994’s Super Metroid. Given that Metroid was and remains my favorite Nintendo property (despite some of its most recent failings) it’s probably no surprise that I hold the third game in the franchise in high regard. This stance is far from shocking but my love of Super Metroid has always come with one small caveat. Yes, the game’s fantastic and deserves a play through every now and then but like countless others I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never be able to re-experience the emotions I had during my first playthrough. Such a situation brings us to the curious phenomena that seems to be single-handedly driving up the cost of old-school video games. Being in my mid-thirties, what is with my generation’s desire, a desire that’s sadly become a need, to relive the past? Despite the fact that my mind tells me my childhood was long ago, when this state of affairs is looked at from an outside standpoint nothing could be further from the truth. Given that decade or two are people my age really trying to recapture our youth that badly? Because if we are we’ve skipped ahead, missed a few steps and are having our midlife crisis a bit too early.
Of course I’m jesting with the above, but only partially. While there’s generally a wisdom that comes with age, I’m not immune to looking back to times when things were new to me, and some of the rosiest memories I have is when I first discovered the J-PRG. I stumbled onto the scene late and joined the party with many other people when Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 yet I didn’t travel forward with the newest games right away. I did play the original Wild Arms after completing Final Fantasy VII but I also went back and played older games like Final Fantasy VI because my friends owned them. The genre was so new and refreshing that going back technologically didn’t hurt older experiences. It’s because of this that games like Breath of Fire II were able to work their way into my rotation.
Being one of the first role-playing games I ever played, I honestly can’t remember if I played Breath of Fire II or Breath of Fire III first. This may seem inconsequential in the scheme of things, but in hindsight it had to be Breath of Fire II because its impact would have been significantly diminished if the opposite held true. Hell, I remember renting the game cartridge week after week from a nearby video store until I beat it so another renter couldn’t erase my save data. There were so many reasons Breath of Fire II became such an important title for me, but one of my most cherished memories centers around the dialog of a no-name NPC who utters the phrase “St. Eva will punish you!” I’m at a loss as to what my character’s party did to elicit that response but even now that line of dialog seems brilliant to me. Naturally, as I read into that piece of dialog given the game’s story (which may have been more controversial at that time had the internet and gaming been more widespread) people can probably gleam a few things about me, but the themes that Breath of Fire II explored were not uncommon to games in and from Japan.
Over the years I’ve personally come to know Breath of Fire II as “the poor man’s Final Fantasy VI.” Now, such a moniker isn’t very nice or proper (and is solely based on the idea that Final Fantasy was more popular than Breath of Fire) because when you look at Final Fantasy VI beyond its storytelling and settling it’s a bloody mess. However, over time I started to notice the parallels between the two games and the obvious one that most people seem to gloss over is that both experiences are very character driven. There are a lot of character building scenarios and they form the foundation of both games. One of the key reasons Breath of Fire II doesn’t get as much credit in this department as Final Fantasy VI does is Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu gave each character their own unique theme whereas Breath of Fire II opts out of this idea. Granted, you can kind of fudge the idea of character themes and make a case that they do exist in Breath of Fire II but it’s a matter of personal interpretation – not fact.
Another element of Breath of Fire II that’s still ingrained in my mind is just how grindy the original SNES game was. You had to fight like crazy to build up mass reserves of gold and experience which I didn’t mind at the time but would now. Thankfully, when the game was released on the GameBoy Advance in 2002 Capcom saw fit to adjust the numbers to make the game much brisker. Even though I grew up playing the SNES original this change makes the game much more enjoyable and I would suggest that new players opt for the GameBoy Advance rendition because of this, other improvements and lower cost to own. The only unfortunate thing about the 2002 port is the lack of a new translation. Being one of the most infamous elements of the game, I don’t know if you can call Breath of Fire II’s translation “bad,” but the game’s script obviously suffered during its translation. A missed opportunity by Capcom for sure, I do feel that the port’s sound programming does make up for it as the game contains some of the best sound I’m aware of on the Game Boy Advance. Most of the time when a Super Nintendo game got ported to the Nintendo’s GBA the crisp SNES synth would sound like it went through a cheese grater yet Breath of Fire II beats the odds in this respect. In all honesty I would like to hug the person behind this effort because it sounds excellent. There’s some obvious differences in the instruments but it sounds superior to many other games.
The Breath of Fire II soundtrack was composed by Yuko Takehara. Fans of other Capcom games might be familiar with her work from Mega Man 6, Mega Man X (e.g. “Boomer Kuwanger Stage”), Mega Man 7 (e.g. “Slash Man Stage,” etc), Mega Man 10 (e.g. Polluted Pump ~Pump Man Stage~) and Star Gladiator (w/co-composer Isao Abe). This one disc album from Sony Records more-or-less contains about half of the music from the game. While there’s ample room on the disc to include more songs, it’s believed it was an artistic choice to cut the track listing down to what we have here. Most game music enthusiasts know this can be a good bad thing depending on how it’s handled and in this case the results are mixed but more positive than negative. A significant portion of the omissions were for the best and (for the most part) this allows the album flow from track to track better. The omissions wouldn’t be addressed until 2006 with the release of the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box which contains a more complete rendition of the score. I’ll be bringing up some of the missing tracks as we talk about the music below (as they provide some interesting points and counterpoints to the pieces that made the cut) but at the same time I don’t want to make them the main focus. That said, the omissions may make-or-break this album for potential buyers along with the fact that the rendition included in the Original Soundtrack Special Box has a higher recording volume and longer fade outs.
Musically the Breath of Fire II soundtrack continues the regal sound that was cultivated by its predecessor. For the most part I find this game’s synth quality to be more inviting than the original’s which is a positive as I thought the music of the first game could be a little off-putting with its bombast and intensity. As those reading would expect, I will do my best to take off the nostalgia goggles while dissecting the tracks below. It’s been a long time since I last tried (and utterly failed) to write about Yuko Takehara’s work on Breath of Fire II but I feel I can be honest about this one despite my attachment to the game.
Blunt as the decree sounds, when you talk about the music of Breath of Fire II it’s almost an obligation to start with town themes. Those who haven’t played the game might be a little lost as to why, but those that have probably understand given the pivotal role towns (well, one particular town) plays in game’s story. I’d flesh out the reason why but it’s a pretty big spoiler. A section of the soundtrack that’s fair at its best and competent at its worst, all sorts of small and inconvenient conflicts reign over the proceedings. However, the first conflict is merely just a matter of placement, not composition. Am I the only one who thinks having a town theme coming up to the plate as track two is off-putting? There are other issues with “My Home Sweet Home” (track 2) that are smaller in stature, but having this play so early exacerbates those problems. As those reading would expect, this is caused by the omission of key tracks and is rectified rather well on the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box. It’s also worth noting that “My Home Sweet Home” is awfully familiar to “Opening 1” from Mega Man 7, another game Takehara composed for. This connection hasn’t been confirmed (full credits for the Mega Man 7 soundtrack are unknown as of this writing) but the track being alluded to in that game doesn’t help my trepidation that the track is overused in this game. This is alarming because were still only talking about the first out of the five town themes on this album. I know I should enjoy it more than I do but deep down I don’t. It’s like there’s a little bit of laziness stuck down in there deep between the notes and it makes me feel apathetic towards it as a whole.
Unfortunately, things get worse before they get better. Like two miserable peas in a pod “Kingdom” (track 12) and “Century of the Patriarch” (track 15) have no discernable hook and forces the listener to search for some sense of connection. When I boot up a role-playing game score one of the first things I want to do is fall in love with the town themes and I can’t really do that here. In the most basic sense these pieces allow the listener to envision the aspects of a populated area yet don’t live beyond doing that. They’re crude, straight-edged ideas. Yes, they have the regal flavor their in-game context demands of them but I can’t shake the feeling they’re designed to be as ruthlessly efficient as possible. Any and all flourishes that’re included feel so essential that they come off as unimaginative. Some listeners may feel this is the case with “Fly Pudding” (track 9) which tends to be one of the more celebrated pieces on the soundtrack yet it pulls ahead the aforementioned tracks with ease. In all honestly it’s not hard to see the allure of this composition as the classical influence lends itself well to the chapter of the game it plays in. However, I can’t help but come down on this one a little as well. The issue here is the instruments become a little grating as the game bats you over the head with it for a small yet concentrated period of time. I’ve no qualms in saying its construction is top notch yet it would be a lot more agreeable to me with a set of instruments that were a little more subdued and nuanced.
One of the more confusing tracks on the album has to be “Crooked Ladder” (track 22). Until I revisited the game after picking up a copy of the GameBoy Advance cart I was under the false impression from my hazy memories that this was another world map theme. Not quite. The track’s motif really lends itself as something that would play on the world map but it’s another town theme. Incidentally, the location where this plays is inaccessible at the outset of the player’s adventure, is visited about two hours from the end of the game on your way to the end of the game, so it’s understandable why I forgot its context. Generally, the flashbacks this track accompanies make the track more viable than its usage as a town theme, but it being used so late in the game hurts it to a surprising degree. Last there’s “Coliseum,” which, if you’ve ever had to venture into a coliseum in a role-playing game (*laughs*) you’ve heard this track before. One of the biggest clichés in the genre, I get the allure of the setting given these RPG’s are based on the pen and paper dungeons and dragons games. That said, I don’t dislike the setting as much as its overuse and basic structure of these tracks would imply. The events that take place at Breath of Fire II’s coliseum are among some of the best moments in the game and it benefits this track greatly. It’s just kind of unfortunate that this makes this piece one of the stronger town themes since it foreshadows problems in later areas.
Speaking of problems, Breath of Fire II’s selection of dungeon themes does it no favors. For the most part these tracks leave me frigid. You just have to laugh at “There’s Something Here” (track 4), which was hilariously translated as “Something’s Frozen” in the past, because it’s iconic for all the wrong reasons. Employed in an irritatingly large amount of dungeons, the track drones on and on being antagonistic and draining as hell and is without a doubt one of the worst pieces in the entire score. Dungeon themes should be interesting, inspire discovery, cultivate mystery, and yes, maybe even tease the listener. “There’s Something Here” is of the teaser variety but it doesn’t know how to straddle that crucial line of being tasteful. There has to be an unwritten rule that you can’t have an area theme that’s the musical manifestation of insomnia. This track THINKS it’s interesting when it’s anything but. It’s like the vacuum of space, cold and devoid of emotion. It’s a never ending workday. It haunts you, it detests you, and it wants to consume you. It’s the black hole to end all black holes. Seriously, it’s got to be against the Geneva Convention to put this on infinite loop. Worst of all, it makes you brace your ears every time you enter a dungeon which is just a horrible scenario for any video game to bow to. Enforcing its awfulness even more is how early it crops up in the track listing, derailing the beginning of the soundtrack to an even bigger degree.
Now that we’ve gone over why there needs to be a “don’t operate heavy machinery when listening” sicker on the cover warning people about track number four, we can move on to a track that has strikingly similar assets yet contains a little more merit. When compared on paper to its maligned predecessor, “Nightmare” (track 23) doesn’t seem to hold any new cards but once you experience it in context you’ll realize it does. Being the theme for the hellhole that’s Breath of Fire II’s final dungeon, Takehara unwittingly gives perfect life to the dungeon that throws the most annoying things in your way for the sake of throwing them in. Dead ends? Check. Insane, maze-like layouts that are solely there to confuse you and make you deal with the game’s insanely high encounter rate even more? Yep. While “There’s Something Here” is pretty much there to deprive you of sleep when you reflect back on it subconsciously, “Nightmare” seems to be there to rob you of your sanity. Again, it loses a lot of impact out of context yet, because it’s not slathered across the entire game, it’s much more tolerable.
Before we get to the track that saves Breath of Fire II’s dungeon themes from being a complete disappointment (that unfortunately comes packaged with its own deadening drawback) we have to deal with another formulaic piece whose value changes depending on how it’s used. When heard outside of the game or when used as a dungeon theme “Sandy Slumber” (track 18) will probably be called out for the transparent and soulless Arabian-styled slice of pie it is like Breath of Fire’s “Sand Palace” was. However, when the track’s used a scene piece and correlates to the cast of Shamans (female magic users used to perform fusions) it validates its direction because of their visual design. This aside, not even this slow uptick in dungeon themes foreshadows the grace that is “Wanderer.” Being the only dungeon theme capable of thawing my icy heart, “Wanderer” perfectly encapsulates the telltale scene of a sun setting on a mountainside. Yes, the picture it paints regrettably limits its usage but when you hear it those limitations don’t mean a thing. This is what makes the following so hard to write. I could praise this track all day long but I only mention it to explain how damaging its omission to this soundtrack is. You can only obtain “Wanderer” on the Original Soundtrack Special Box and with that laid bare this section of the soundtrack (on this specific release) ends with a resounding thud.
Thankfully, as arduous as the last sub-section of this release is, we’re about to enter greener pastures. I know it’s only one man’s opinion but battle themes are an area were Takehara truly excels. Easily being one of the biggest draws of the soundtrack, those that love that classic Capcom rock are in for a treat here. “Cross Counter” (track 7) is the game’s first battle theme which is replaced by “Dying Corpse” (track 17) at the game’s halfway point. The original Breath of Fire employed the same exact strategy and it’s brilliant. A concept that was simple and ahead of its time (and should have been emulated by other games and developers) this allows these excellent rockers to have some breathing room in the confines of the game. Getting sick of “Cross Counter”? Don’t worry, the game is going to switch you over to “Dying Corpse” later on. On an interesting side note there’s a little bit of history about “Dying Corpse” that was buried when it came time to put the music on disc. There are a few faster paced renditions of it that play in the game during a timed event. I’m not entirely sure if those are hardcoded into the game or if the game just plays the original sequence faster (the SPC set hints at the former being true) but the faster renditions aren’t included on any disc-based version of the soundtrack.
Takehara follows up two great battle themes with the excellent “I’ll Do It” (track 10). Used for common boss battles, “I’ll Do It” will get you pumped for battle, eager to pulverize those antagonizing bosses. However, depending on the source of the audio (in-game vs. soundtrack) some might find the short duration of this piece to be a problem. In the confines of the game, where it can pleasantly loop until it needs to draw to a close, there’s no issue yet outside the game the piece barely makes the one minute mark (even with the double loop) and it doesn’t feel like enough. While I wouldn’t want to change track from its original incarnation it’s in good company with other too-short-for-their-own-good tracks like Mega Man X2’s “X-Hunter Stage 1” and Metroid Prime’s “Phazon Mines.” Last but not least there’s “Lethal Dose” (track 24), the music for the game’s final confrontation. Appropriately moody given the circumstances surrounding the player prior to the outset of the battle, it’s obviously not cut from the same mold as the previous three themes and it shouldn’t be.
Back in more hit-and-miss territory are the over world themes. The most story driven of these themes, “We’re Rangers” (track 6) is the best of the bunch; unfortunately it’s employed first and is eventually replaced by “Our Journey” (track 19) when the objective the player’s quest changes. It’s not that I dislike “Our Journey” altogether, but it’s another one of those tracks that feels overused when it’s not. It’s kind of a silly quibble to have considering you’re going to hear the over world theme a significant amount in any given role-playing game yet what amplifies this feeling is this track’s based on the Breath of Fire theme that was coined by Mari Yamaguchi in the original game. While I’ve never been overly fond of this composition (and wasn’t upset that Breath of Fire III featured a unique theme of its own) I can see the importance of linking the first two games together musically, especially when they’re on the same console and their soundtracks are built around the same overarching sound.
The second type of over world map themes focus on forms of transportation. First there’s “A Whale (La-la-la)” (track 11) which is connected to a later scene theme (track 16) and then “White Wings” (track 20) that crops up a little later. If anything, the track titles will give those unfamiliar with the game an idea what the game’s two vehicles entail, but as far as what they offer musically I can generally round out what I think about both in one shot. While not as bad as some of the town themes, I can’t help but believe that these creations meander on with no real sense of purpose. This being the case they remind me of the vehicle themes Michiko Naruke wrote for Wild Arms 2. The first two transportation influenced themes in that game fall into the same exact category and, as you’d expect, their meandering nature is no accident. On the surface level this may appear to be a fruitful alley to explore because when a player acquires a new mode of transportation in a role-playing game they’re likely to poke around the world map looking for things to explore. That said, when it comes to Breath of Fire II, Takehara seems to have missed the idea that both vehicles are organic creatures with actual backstories, not inorganic nuts and bolts. I guess there’s a part of me that wants these numbers to be more focused and personal because of this. Maybe have them be a little more upbeat? I don’t necessarily need something that’s as upbeat as Final Fantasy VIII’s “Ride On” as that wouldn’t fit within the scope of the score but maybe something that feels a bit more engaging? My qualms aside it’s interesting how similar these two tracks are when they’re also leagues apart: “White Wings” is kind of twangy like “Fly Pudding” while “A Whale (La-la-la)” is one of the smoothest sounding tracks on the soundtrack.
At the center of the Breath of Fire II soundtrack lies the themes used for scenes and events. What’s strange about this is despite it being the center it’s been mined hollow on this release. This section was the hardest hit when it comes to omissions yet was the wisest area to subtract from. Like dungeon themes this is another conflicted area but oddly enough it’s not due to compositional infractions. As any role-playing game music fan will tell you, scene themes should carry pivotal memories of the game, even after the game is shut off. The thing is Breath of Fire II’s scene themes don’t live beyond the game. Oh, I remember scenes from the game all these years after the fact, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what track was playing. Even the most important scene theme, the emotional “Left Unspoken” (track 13), is left in neutral outside its original conrext. I can’t help but feel these themes not holding their ground indicates the game is more important to me for what it represents symbolically than its tangible, underlying merits. As stated in the opening paragraph of this review I first played Breath of Fire II when the genre was new and exciting to me. This freshness allowed games like this and Wild Arms let my imagination to run wild despite their faults. As much as I hate to admit it, Breath of Fire II, game and score, aren’t as good as my love for them might indicate. The game was merely the beneficiary of being there at the right time. If I had played Breath of Fire II at a later point in time we wouldn’t be having this discussion and I surely wouldn’t have given the soundtrack a second look.
The remaining scene themes like “Memories” (track 3) don’t fare much better in my case, although “God of Decadence” (track 21) is one of those unique tracks I mentioned earlier that kind of crosses over into character theme territory, only this time it’s depicting an adversary. “Let Me Sleep So I May Dream” (track 16) links back to the world map theme “A Whale (La-la-la)” although in the scheme of things I’m a little puzzled by its inclusion given it’s a specific piece of music for a rather specific scene. The final four pieces on the soundtrack focus on the game’s closing scenes. Not all the ending pieces appear and the key piece used for the good ending (“Last Impact”) is omitted so these selections generally replicate what you’ll hear if you get the game’s bad/sad ending. “Breath of Fire” (track 27) is a reprise and main rendition of the theme first heard in “Our Journey” and last but not least we have “Thank You, Everyone” (track 28) which is used for the ending montage all role-playing games are obligated to have. Personally, I’ve always found the game’s ending montage to be one of the most curious aspects of Breath of Fire II as I’m more impressed with it graphically than musically.
Wrapping up what the Breath of Fire II offers musically I have to admit his is not Yuko Takehara’s best work. As I’ve said elsewhere prior to writing this the score has a difficult time keeping up with its contemporaries in the genre and it unequivocally shows. Still, despite the countless flaws explored above Breath of Fire II’s soundtrack should be at the forefront of any discussion when the topic turns to Yuko Takehara. Again, I’m fond of the score because of the memories attached to it rather than the quality of its compositions. Nostalgia aside, this doesn’t mean the score gets way with any of its shortcomings. People will be able to see the deficiencies of this one coming from a mile away. However, this is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the score. Even knowing what the game means to me Takehara’s music isn’t really assisted by the concept of nostalgia, which is insanely curious given how blinding nostalgia can be. As one would expect I can’t recommend this release to just anybody and I can’t recommend it to all fans of the game. While not one the most niche soundtracks I can think of or own, Breath of Fire II -Shimei no Ko- will only be attractive to a select few, and even those with a fondness for the game will seriously have ponder the overall value of the purchase.