Music is the backbone of stories in virtually every electronic form of storytelling there is, especially RPGs. 2004 saw the emergence of several RPGs with music composed by new and familiar faces alike. Which musical scores did staffers deem superior to the others? This is one thing that Baten Kaitos, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, and Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls have in common (aside from being RPGs, of course).
Motoi Sakuraba's Baten Kaitos: The Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean soundtrack is as diverse and creative as it is classic Sakuraba. The game had well over 50 tracks of music, ranging in styles from orchestral, to techno, to rock. Pieces such as "Rumbling of the Earth" and "Gentle Wind" are unique in their own rites and very different from each other, yet the distinct style of Mr. Sakuraba weaves them seamlessly into one another and into the rest of the soundtrack. It's easy to see why Baten Kaitos is the staff favorite for Best Music in an RPG released during 2004.
Though most of the music is written in the style definitive of Motoi Sakuraba, there is a noticeable twist to it. There are musical techniques and melodies that are as unusual for Sakuraba as Baten Kaitos is to the RPG genre. It's very refreshing to hear new styles coming from such a developed, familiar composer. This added flavor to the Sakuraba style is what makes the soundtrack stand out from other RPG soundtracks released in 2004. The music of Baten Kaitos accomplishes something that few games are able to do -- it is as enjoyable (though not distracting) to listen to in the game as it is to listen to on a CD player.
Coming in second is the Shadow Hearts: Covenant soundtrack, composed by Yoshitaka Hirota, Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Ito, Tomoko Kobayashi, and Ryo Fukuda. As a testament to the virtuosity of these composers, the music of Shadow Hearts: Covenant flows together in such a uniform fashion, that it seems as though it was written by one person. Variety is the main theme of the soundtrack, with melodies representative of different parts of the world. Unfortunately, though the music has an international feel to it, a few too many tracks produce a generic, dark and gloomy atmosphere that can get redundant. It's a small blemish on an otherwise good soundtrack that earns the number two spot for best game music of 2004.
Third place goes to Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. Though most of this music was originally composed by Nobuo Uematsu for the premier NES editions Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II, the soundtrack to Dawn of Souls has been arranged by Tsuyoshi Sekito and supervised by Mr. Uematsu, himself. Not only did Sekito arrange Uematsu's music but he also composed original music of his own for the games, adding a couple dozen new tracks that were not in the original games. Players unfamiliar with the original games will not be able to tell the new music from the arranged music. Unfortunately, the lack of originality and the limited sound capabilities of the GameBoy Advance keep this soundtrack from getting much lift.
by Elliot Guisinger