Tokuhiko “Bo” Uwabo* – Phantasy Star II (Ship to Shore remaster)

4 out of 5

Label: Ship to Shore

Produced by: Dietrich Schoenemann (vinyl master)

I know I’m conditioned to like this stuff, to a degree, because I grew up with it: countless hours spent playing, or watching my brother play Phantasy Star II, making me nostalgically familiar with opening and town and battle themes composed by Tokuhiko Uwabo. But, in these years of video game scores getting continual remastered-to-vinyl / -other format treatments, or just getting the opportunity to hear stuff digitally with adult ears, I’ll never stop being amazed at how much nusicality these creators could wring out of such limited means.

The relatively large cart size of PSII surely afforded Uwabo more room for more music – we impressively fill up two sides of an LP here, allowing for some looping, of course – but we’re still dealing with (I assume) only a few channels for sounds, and you hear the breadth of them in the first song: a couple pitches / types of synths, and a drum layer. And yet, there’s apparently an insane amount of melodies you can get from that, that are unique, and all individually memorable, and capable of communicating PSII’s various senses of wonder or excitement or fear or dread, or, y’know, boppin’ around a village.

This is doubly impressive for how identifiable as being part of a single game these songs are, due to Uwabo never straying too far from elements established in his opening. By erring towards a more “open” sense of composition – nailing the exploratory nature of the game, and it’s sci-fi setting – this gives Tokuhiko some wiggle room to push his main melody towards something more passive or aggressive, but nonetheless, nothing here feels like a textbook interstitial or bossfight: the tracks come across as purposeful, and integral to the experience.

On to presentation: not owning other iterations of this, I can’t say how much of the looping is on Ship to Shore or is just part of some inherited runtimes, but previous StS albums I have seem to have a similar problem I experience here: too much or too little. The opening tune, for example, is allowed to loop for too long, and then many of the tunes that follow could’ve used an extra loop or more, especially given the room leftover on each side of the LP. But I’ll allow I know nothin’ about vinyl creation and whatnot, so perhaps there’re limitations here I’m not aware of.

Sound quality is also the norm for StS, which is to say: average. This doesn’t necessarily feel cleaned up. It’s crisp and clear, but not “immediate” to the ears; there’s a layer of remove and some notable sound when we go from track to track. Nothing to chase me away by any means, I just always feel like I’m getting a slightly second-hand presentation from the StS stuff I’ve had. However, there’s love in the 8-page liner notes, which get a full two page praise from Jeremy Parish, then some great art samples from the game.