5 out of 5
Label: 5pb. Records
Produced by: quad (Recording & Mixing & Mastering Engineer)
The score to “Etrian Mystery Dungeon,” a 3DS game.
While fully orchestral scores aren’t out of the ordinary for games nowadays, it’s still impressive to me that a handheld game gets such a flourished treatment: 2 discs worth of material; wind instruments, strings, and accordion accompanying a standard guitar / bass / drum setup; and dense, luscious production. That’s not meant to denigrate handheld games in any way, which offer up just as intense gaming as full-fledged systems, and can be a premiere method for playing heavy duty JRPGs, it’s just another eye-opener to the wide world of gaming, and how much effort can go in to every little bit, on any given system.
Yuzo Koshiro’s work on this (with some arrangements from Takeshi Yanagawa) call to mind, initially, classic Disney: big, bombastic scores from 90s-era, hand-drawn flicks, shifting through sort of tell-tale tonal tunes of adventurous themes, or comedic ones, dramatic ones, etc. But the music isn’t limited by that sensibility. Whereas a lot of that style of work tends to blend together to me, Koshiro’s compositions, in general, are guided by a sense of momentum and layering that one could trace through his video game-scoring lineage; as applied to a full band sound, it creates a constant sense of being on your toes, eager to peer around the next corner. The two discs of material work through a wonderful progression of that, starting out more celebratory – pomp trills to accompany the start of an adventure – and then bringing in some rip-roaring guitar work towards the middle of disc one as things heat up. These rock tunes are also not playing around: the guitar and bass and drums interplay are impressive, and worth revisiting to hear how busy they are, beneath the consistent themes that the score wends throughout. Towards the end of the first disc, things get dark and ominous; more string-laden, giving way to when Koshiro and his performers step out from ‘neath the Disney-infused banner for a second disc of wholly original sounding tunes, combining that animated vibe with a very modern, driving, heroic sensibility. About halfway through this, we get the emotive ‘Petal Bridge,’ which incorporates more traditional Japanese instrumentation, which is our bridge to the score’s last section of longer, often very dramatic and momentous tunes, wrapping back around for a coda which matches an introductory track at the very start, presenting the main theme in a calming mood, though this conclusion appropriately lets it linger and grow.
A thrilling whirlwind of bombast and emotion, filtered through a seemingly traditional animated-movie style, but sharpened and modernized under Koshiro’s hand, and those of his excellent performers.