Star Ocean Till the End of Time was a talking matter for RPG fans since 1999, though few suspected it would take as long as five years to get an international release. The game was announced before the PlayStation 2 was even released to the public, and was intended to be Enix's first use of the hardware. Though the previous Star Ocean games were not hugely popular, they had gained a considerable number of fans, particularly in Japan. Although Dragon Quest was the main series Enix was known for, when the company began promoting Star Ocean Till the End of Time and promising its good quality, more than a few people were interested; like the previous instalments of the series, it would be developed by the offshoot company tri-Ace, feature an epic science-fiction story and support a musical score by Motoi Sakuraba.
Surprisingly, the game did not enjoy the success that it was promised, apparently full of glitches and problems that hampered the player's overall enjoyment. It came as even more of a surprise that Enix briskly merged with the genre giant Squaresoft, which was suffering major financial problems after the box office flop of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Some speculate that the Japanese release of Star Ocean Till the End of Time was impaired by the merge and that the beta testing phase must have been finished hurriedly and not to full effect as a consequence. Yet it was not abandoned, and a Director's Cut edition was issued later under new company name 'Square Enix', having fixed the problems found before — it was this version that received an international release. Featuring new areas, cutscenes and FMVs, Motoi Sakuraba was hired once again to compose the music, thus resulting in the Director's Cut soundtrack.
The first track on the album is a relatively good one. "More Complicated" is the piece of music that accompanies the Ancient Gardens of Surferio, a location that was not available to those who bought the original Japanese release. Something about its sound somehow betrays its separateness from the Original Soundtrack — this does not concern the synths in any way, as they are most certainly the same as they ever were, but rather something about its overall feel. Of course, the other area themes varied a lot anyway, so perhaps it's adventurousness and mysterious tendencies are simply due to the fact that the dungeon is a side-quest that takes the heroes away from their main quest. 'Complicated' is an appropriate choice of word in the title, because Sakuraba seems to have been trying to convey a variety of different themes in his music; first off, the exploratory sense that features in many of the surrounding area themes is kept in tact, but at the same time, the track sounds threatening, heavily due to the unusual choice to include a piano. In the end, we are presented with something that is dominated by synth much as normal progressive rock area theme is, but with an accompanying piano that makes it not quite so. It very much fits in with the image of a ruinous Ancient Garden, and leaves you wondering just what you are heading toward. It is an interesting way to begin the album, undoubtedly, but presumes you are familiar with the styles used on the previous soundtracks.
The fleeting anticipation is eliminated straight away however, as the next track "Beyond the One" is the boss battle piece from the very same area. This is virtually entirely a rock organ and percussion track, with another synth instrument entering just before two minutes for a short solo. It is a similar track to "The Dark Battle," one of Sakuraba's arrangements on the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange album and, as such, is likely to receive mixed reactions. Some people will, without a doubt, hate the rock organ synth in general, as it does sound unusually grating on the ears and the composition will be dismissed as cluttered and superfluous; however, for this kind of battle theme, you might argue that it is very suitable approach. It is made to represent an ancient enemy that is as old as the gardens themselves, and somehow the disturbing organ manages to portray this worn enemy from times gone by who once possessed enormous power. Similarly to the track I mentioned, I feel it should not be judged as poor and irritating too soon. It might sound like a spontaneous mess, but listen to the music enough and you will come to realise that it is a well-structured piece of work that shows Sakuraba's talent with the instrument. One of its most interesting features is its regularly changing pace; at one time it might be fast and deadly, but at the next it will slow down to let you register the creature's power. It is effective, diverse, and I find it rather intriguing; it may not hold widespread appeal, but it is good for what it is.
I personally think "Over the Planet" is one of the best pieces on the album and even rivals some of the greatest on the other two volumes. I admit this is likely because of my bias of having played the game, as it was there that I first discovered and enjoyed it. Of course, the reason it is on the Director's Cut soundtrack was that the whole sequence it accompanies was added in for the English localization. In its context, "Over the Planet" stood out to me as one of the most effective pieces of music, largely because of the poignant scene it accompanies, where Commodore Whittcomb and his crew decide to sacrifice themselves to give Fayt and his party a chance to reach the Planet Styx. Instead of making a theme similar to the forlorn "So Alone, Be Sorrow" or the suspense-filled "Flabbergasted," Sakuraba decided to give these brave individuals a broad, orchestral theme dominated by proud brass and sweeping strings. The fact that it is used at a crucial moment is made quite clear to anyone who is playing the game from the unrestrained heroism conveyed by the music, and those who have not can probably discern it's importance from the feelings it stirs. After the dominant melody, which borrows from the main theme, has played through once, a fast paced group of strings enter and underscore the background, demonstrating Sakuraba's orchestral expertise. As it progresses, it seems to gain a rising cinematic inclination, which eventually phases down to allow a quieter section to make an entrance. This happens to be the weakest part of the track, and sadly brings down the overall effectiveness factor a notch. All in all though, "Over the Planet" is an excellent theme and is one of the best heroic pieces Sakuraba has ever written.
As I mentioned before, "Flabbergasted" is a track all about building up suspense. From the outset, we hear some shrill violins and a foreboding cello that collaborate with an unusual percussion effect to create an air of apprehension and mystery. As a listener, you are made to imagine that something is horribly wrong, and the tremolo strings that enter keep us on edge and are as tense and anxious as ever. Something about the sound gives an impression of lurking power and something prohibited to humankind, which is essentially what Sakuraba needed to make for the revealing scene in the game. It is arguably unoriginal, but in this case, I feel that it was the proper step to take for such a theme and it is successful in providing a nervous restlessness to the variety on the CD. When analysed by itself, I happen to find the track a bit too short and feel it could have developed further, but I cannot fault the experimental percussion work, which struck me as a flawless accompaniment that enhances the imagery that we ultimately shape from the music — a particular fascination I had was with the 'windy' quality some of the opening percussion had to it that is hard to explain in words, but is especially effective. "Flabbergasted" is certainly threatening in its minimalist manner, wholly achieves the effect the title hints at, and perfectly prepares us for the track to follow. It is positively another success for the album.
It is not at all a surprise that Sakuraba has worked with types of media other than video games, simply from the way that many of his pieces, particularly on this album, sound like tracks from a film score. This is particularly true for "A Critical Moment". It would be neglectful to not mention cinematic value where this track is concerned because it's orchestral styling displays just that, and is very much abundant throughout. The rising and falling strings in the background and the simple piano key transitions form the perfect backdrop for the dominating brass, which gives off an ominous, almighty feeling that takes on a more evil tone than "Over the Planet" and is more militaristic than its other orchestral predecessor. This kind of piece is certainly good at setting an appropriate atmosphere and even surpasses the on-screen visuals in many ways — it also marks quite a leap between the quality of the sound featured in Star Ocean Till the End of Time when compared with Star Ocean The Second Story; there were some orchestral fashioned pieces in the last soundtrack, but nothing that could hold up against the high quality performances featured here. There is no in concluding that once again, Sakuraba demonstrates his skill at producing this kind of composition, and that the class of the music on the album does not falter whatsoever at this point — it is possible that he may have spent more time refining and perfecting these tracks than those on the Original Soundtrack volumes, which would explain why the quality is so consistent. Regardless of this speculation, however, this constant barrage of good music contributes greatly to the overall success of the separate soundtrack, asserting powerful thematic material that ensures that it is not a flop simply because of it's lower number of tracks.
"Intricate Match" is, unsurprisingly by this point, a worthy successor to the prior pieces. One of the most appealing features here is the superb fusion of the electronica music featured in the latter half of the game with the moody orchestral style used before. It begins with a curiously addictive futuristic bass sound and some worrying strings that betray the danger of the surrounding area. Gradually, the piece gets more compelling as the drums enter and the melody gets increasingly powerful, and overall, ends up sounding pretty climatic; soon after one minute has passed, we hear obvious references to the previous tracks through the brass, which helps create that consistency which is a fundamental regulation for such a soundtrack, by which most of the best video game composers abide. If I were to make one complaint, it would be about the length once again; clocking it at just less than two minutes, it feels like the composition was not embellished as much as it could have been, which is a shame, since it displays a lot of potential. I thought that particularly the unusual synth percussion solo at about 1:30 provided an experimental road the piece could have headed down a bit further before looping — instead, it results in seeming more like a bridge to the next track and is not perhaps anything you will remember once the album is finished, sadly lacking the musical fulfilment "More Complicated" supported.
"Crisis of the Earth" is the last track of its kind on the album. It is a good thing, then, that it is one of the best too. The ominous pulsating brass and strings that play throughout assert the perfect militaristic, threatening sound for the cutscene, making the listener feel on edge and demanding authority. This format seems to be somewhat of a Sakuraba staple, but the pacing of the piece ensures that it does not seem uninspiring. As in the case of "The Dawn of Wisdom" from the Star Ocean Till the End of Time Original Soundtrack Vol. 1 album, "Crisis of the Earth" owes a lot of its muscle to science-fiction movie scores, sounding much like other space battle pieces it was obviously inspired by. The use of tremolo strings is as effective as in "Flabbergasted," once again serving to build up trepidation and anxiety, causing you to wonder just where the chaotic power will transpire next, when coupled with the portentous militarism elsewhere. If I were to liken it to another video game piece, Yasunori Mitsuda's "Gnosis" from the Xenosaga Episode I album would make a close enough comparison. While Sakuraba's attempt is not quite as successful out of the two, both are similar and successful in their own right at depicting a monolithic opposing force. I happen to prefer this to the earlier "Critical Moment," as it seems to get across that sense of dominance to an even greater degree. For not the first time, as the track came to a close I was left wanting more, and found that the sudden change of tone by the violins for the closing note was unfortunately anti-climatic. This is not too much of a problem, but it is an irritating occurrence that seems quite the regularity on this soundtrack; I would have thought that this is due to a combination of Sakuraba's ambitious ideas for the FMV tracks alongside the time constrictions of those sequences. Even so, when it comes down to it, "Crisis of the Earth" and the other situational numbers like it fulfil their purpose, which is enough, and the fact that they can be appealing by themselves only proves that the composer has done a good and thorough job.
At last, I have a reason to criticize, and it is called "You Know It Fails." The title, while understandable, seems rather ironic when paired with this dire mess of a track. I do not quite see what Sakuraba was trying to do here; it is bad enough that the rock organ sample employed is harsh to the ears in the first place, but it's use in this track seems thoroughly irritating, repetitive and unpleasant. In the game, the muddled piece is played during the FMV sequence in which the brave Commodore Whittcomb and his men go down fighting to the 4D beings, pretty much right after the use of "Over the Planet." To be honest, I think Sakuraba made a mistake in his approach to this piece — an action-orchestral theme carrying over the gallant melodies displayed before would have been nice, or even an unpredictable requiem of sorts; but in the end, the actual result is just plain inappropriate. Or maybe I'm being too insensitive and cannot notice its merits, much in the way others might condemn "The Dark Battle" and "Beyond the One" which I have talked about before. But to me, as things stand, this is a poor, underdeveloped follow-on track that shamefully brings down my overall appreciation for the album. If it is any compensation, at least it prepares us for the style featured in the next two tracks.
After the shoddy previous track, it feels nice to get to some familiar ground with a new rendition of the Sakuraba classic "Confidence in the Domination." I found its arrangement on the Star Ocean Till the End of Time Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 to be quite mediocre, so it is good to be able to listen to a better recording of it here. Sakuraba's infamous rock organ makes a return, but thankfully it does not seem at all out of place, and the composer plays out the catchy melody with it well. This time it gains a considerable amount of support from bass guitarist Atsushi Hasegawa and drummer Toshihiko Nakamura, who set an interesting a pace for the piece and ultimately enable its success. That Sakuraba chose to re-master the track is proof enough that he thinks it has a catchy melody and could be explored further; I personally wouldn't go as far as to say it is one of his all time best, as I actually find "Mission to the Deep Space" and its various soundtrack renditions and the newer "Highbrow" to be more pleasing works. Nevertheless, a memorable progressive rock tune and a band recording make the perfect couple in this instance, giving the original piece an extra dimension. Somehow this band recording, with the aggressive drums and furious rock organ sections, seems less flat than the Volume 2 piece, and the track ends up being highly satisfying, clearly outdoing the surprisingly effective "Beyond the One." One of the strongest points was the powerful conclusion that begins after three minutes, leaving a rewarding sensation as the main motif is blasted out once more just before the piece fades. This track also works well in building up expectations for the amazing piece that follows.
The soundtrack closes with a band recording of "Highbrow". There are few who would deny that the original "Highbrow" that features on the Star Ocean Till the End of Time Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 is a masterpiece, and many believe it is one of the best final battle themes ever created. I can personally vouch for that standpoint; to me, not only was it developed fantastically, but also contained all the appealing elements of "Mission to the Deep Space," "Confidence in the Domination," and his other classics. In fact, it was so good that I wholeheartedly believe the final battle in the game was not worthy of its excellence. Understandably, the arrangement of such a great theme is likely to be viewed with a certain amount of scepticism, but, unlike Noriyuki Iwadare's take on the piece on the Radiata Stories Original Soundtrack (which I thought suffered for it's lack of creativity and development of the source material), this band recording does not disappoint. Much in the same way as in the previous track, Hasegawa and Nakamura return to play their instruments, while Sakuraba himself creates some added interest by jumping between the piano, some weak string and brass synth, a few synth leads and his gluttonous rock organ. What we end up with is a piece that begins much in the same way as the original, albeit with a mellow piano and less aggression in general, but eventually goes off on a seemingly spontaneous tangent, experimenting further with the possibilities the piece presents. Unfortunately, while the piano work is certainly very good, we lose some of the jazziness that was evident before, which makes the arrangement feel less versed in terms of other genres; however, although that was one of the main attractions to the original for me, I feel that its overall excellence is enough to dispel such doubts. Just something about the track — the way it develops while remaining decisively "Highbrow," the way its influence can be found everywhere else in Sakuraba's most recent works — just gives it an unwavering integrity and orders respect. By the time the steady piano sections have ended, near the five-minute mark, we get treated to unusual distorted guitar solo that starts out impressive, but drags on for far longer than it needed to, regrettably tarnishing an otherwise near-perfect piece. A true pleasure was the short inclusion of the "More Complicated" theme before the ending, which pretty much made up for the slight overestimation on the part of the solo performance. All in all, there is no doubt that this is the best track on the CD. It might not be as ground breaking as the original, but it is a decidedly fine recording nonetheless, and does it's big brother justice, even though it got a little carried away by the end.
Not much could really follow "Highbrow" and expect to leave a lasting impression. The bonus track here is no exception. Once you have finished to the album you are likely to find yourself humming bits of previous tracks, but this is not the type that you could even do that for — it is basically Sakuraba demonstrating his skill with the piano. We already saw signs of this in the beautifully intricate "So Alone, Be Sorrow ~ Piano Version," and he has since used the talent to great effect in the simple but brilliant "Ending Staff Roll" from the Tales of Symphonia Original Soundtrack. As such, I found myself hard pressed to comment on this track — there is not really a definitive melody, yet the key mastery alone seems pleasant if slightly overpowering at times. All I was left thinking at the end of the album was 'Sakuraba is talented', before quickly lapsing back into memories of the brilliance of "Highbrow." The solo piano performance, however, still deserves much credit.
All in all, this seems a great CD and it was a shame that it was so short, clocking in at little over a modest forty minutes. The periodic styles used are more mixed than in the case of volumes 1 and 2 of the original Star Ocean Till the End of Time soundtracks — not only do we have a couple of area themes from the long section played out in the old-fashioned Airyglyph, but also some of the pieces played during the sci-fi cutscenes in the second half of the game. It makes a nice change to hear both sides of Sakuraba's composing talents together for this soundtrack, and avoids some of the problems that can be identified on the other two volumes of the set. Having said that, it is not without it's catches; while the overall quality of the tracks is very good, some of Sakuraba's more ambitious compositions seem to have been limited by the time restraints of the accompanying cutscenes — there are even some pieces, like 'Intricate Match' that had the potential to go far when developing it further was certainly a possibility given its usage, yet the opportunity was clearly not seized. I must conclude, then, that I harbour mixed feelings towards the overall worth of the Star Ocean Till the End of Time Director's Cut Soundtrack. At a quick listen it might seem really good, but at the same time, if you own it and have listened to it a couple of times, you may agree that it is not one of the composer's standout works. It has "Highbrow ~ Band Recording" and "Over the Planet" going for it, which are a huge advantage, yet at the same time, there are not any other new melodies that really stick out. I suppose I was expecting something a little more substantial in the end, and, while each individual track has its merit, you are not likely to find much use of built tension and eventual resolution, as you would on a chronologically structured music CD.
The true question that most album reviews are created to help answer is whether or not it is worth the money you would spend on it. That is not always the easiest question to answer, as you are always likely to find people who appreciate and value an album more than others. It seems difficult, especially in this case, to specify just whom the relevant album will most appeal to. On the Director's Cut soundtrack, you have some of Sakuraba's usual progressive rock music, which will likely be popular with those who enjoy his more upbeat battle and area themes; the tracks 'similar' to those featured primarily on Volume 2 of the Original Soundtrack release, perhaps. Then we cross over to the other end of the spectrum, in which there are the orchestral tracks, designed and intended to depict a specific scene; these may appeal more to the more compositionally particular individuals, or anyone who enjoys the type of music on Volume 1 of the Original Soundtrack release more. (And if, of course, you are a "Highbrow" fanatic, you might consider the commendable arrangement featured within worth the price alone.) There are also those people, of which I am one, who enjoy listening to both the band recordings and the orchestra. I can say that, at least from my perspective, this album was mildly disappointing when viewed next to the other two volumes. I wouldn't say that it is not as 'good' exactly, but that it collectively seems lacking and less defined when compared to the previous instalments. The funny thing is, had there been another great new piece with something noticeably original about it instead of the awful "You Know it Fails" — something that was as much of a significant moment for the original content as "Highbrow ~ Band Recording" was for the arrangements — I think the album could have completely reprieved itself and I might be unhesitatingly urging others to purchase it. Or maybe I just expected a greater number of tracks in general from Sakuraba, which I suppose would be a little presuming, given that it is not his decision how much extra music he creates. Ultimately, I would recommend anybody who liked the original two volumes to give this a listen, or even anyone else who likes Sakuraba's music, but I am sure that opinions from the average listener will differ quite a lot on the album, and it might be advisable to measure exactly what you want first of all, if you are not a collector.