How would you describe the Bahamut Lagoon Original Soundtrack? That's a difficult question to answer, indeed. This is one of the few soundtracks from Noriko Matsueda that didn't gather much attention, and that's a shame. Why, you ask? Read on to find out.
The music in Bahamut Lagoon is very epic, as it has a medieval setting, something I'm very fond of. The "Opening" theme is breathtaking and it fits the visual effects really well. For fans of strategy RPGs, you'll be served a full plate of militaristic music. An excellent example of this would be "Kanna Army," which is used for the battlefield mode. The use of the drum machine here simply gives the player the impression that he's really planning some tactic to overcome the enemy, which is the Granbelos Empire.
"Sauzer's Theme" is an inaccurate title; it hardly plays when Sauzer has the spotlight. It's more of a theme for the generals of the Granbelos Army. It does give off a feel of uneasiness, which fits their motives just fine. "Friendship" actually IS Sauzer's theme and it's a first in RPG History to my knowledge, because a villain was never granted a beautiful melody, in contrast to the usually evil/brooding themes. It's an interesting change. "Gudruff's Theme" (known as Gudluf in the game) is actually another villain's theme; however, this one is of the evil/brooding kind, and it does represent the vile Gudruff all too well.
An obvious interest in all RPG soundtracks are the battle themes. Does Bahamut Lagoon's do their part? Of course! These are among the best battle themes coming from Square Enix (SNES-era speaking, of course). The "Boss Battle" theme is a personal favorite. It gives off a sense of danger and urgency as you do your best to survive in battle. "Battle with Alexander" is another battle theme that stands out and, while it may be short, it makes up for it by sounding just plain good. Another large part of RPG soundtracks are the town themes. Well, Bahamut Lagoon has some good ones, as well as (unfortunately) some bad ones. "The Green Continent Campbell" is very soothing and reflects the peaceful town. Just lovely.
Another popular aspect of RPG soundtracks are the character themes. Yet again, Bahamut Lagoon's stand firmly on their own. "Jojo's Theme" is simply a light, peaceful track; of course, the princess has that particular trait, so it fits her well. "Little Nori-Chan's Appearance" is actually Donphan's theme, who just cannot stop flirting with the ladies. As he provides a good chunk of comic relief, it's just normal he gets such a hilarious theme. "Matelight's Theme" (known as Materite in the game) has a much more serious and military tone. This is played when he gives the crew a briefing or training session — it does its job.
That's pretty much it. Wait. There is a second disc? Why yes, it contains two orchestral arrangements, of the "Opening" theme and "Jojo and God Dragons," respectively. They are basically just souped-up versions of the themes and I'm not really 'that' impressed. And we get two bits of about 15 to 20 seconds of the arrangement Ending parts. Why did they do this? Heh, your guess is as good as mine.
All in all, I truly believe this soundtrack is worth picking up, mostly because it's from Square Enix, but also because it's pretty original for an RPG. Want this soundtrack? There's only eBay. All I can say is good luck — you'll need it as this soundtrack has become extremely rare like other CDs of the same year, Rudra no Hihou and Treasure Hunter G.
Let's face it: Not that many people step back into the 16-bit world these days. The sophistication of today's consoles has opened doors and created so many opportunities for music to expand in the gaming world in ways that most would have thought impossible. Inevitably, the Super Nintendo days are becoming forgotten, fading away into the past, only kept alive by the virtual console, and thankfully, beautiful albums such as the Bahamut Lagoon Original Soundtrack. This is a strong representation of the Super Nintendo's capacity, representing Noriko Matsueda's and sound programming Hidenori Suzuki's constant battles against hardware limitations as the 16-bit era approached its end. Each theme is lovingly rendered, tamed to please the listener, and enhance the game's atmosphere, and, while it may not compare technically to albums of today, it remains an underappreciated Super Nintendo classic.
With militaristic vibes running throughout the soundtrack, the album starts off with the awe-inspiring "Opening," a track that will satisfy just about anyone's creature comforts. Strings play a flowing melody to a brass accompaniment that soon becomes the main feature of the track, just before it shifts to the dominant key. Here we see the birth of a quaint, patriotic section led by the strings. Matsueda wraps everything up tightly here as the theme spirals into something even more grand. This theme is also synthetically orchestrated in a conservative yet epic manner by Takahito Eguchi for the bonus second disc of the album, which enhances its qualities greatly, and receives an expansive in-game variation in "Rebel Army," an upbeat theme filled with glorious peaks. "Rebel Army" is tailored by Matsueda, who carefully threads her melodies together in an attempt to get that one last sparkling button fastened into place, it is only the melodic line that receives any great treatment here, but that is all that is needed. The other army themes are also treated very differently. "Orerusu Salvation Army" creates an image of an army of toy soldiers, or perhaps something from Kodaly's Harry Janos Suite thanks to the sharp precise synth that plays the primary melody, while "Granbelos' Imperial Army" has a greater action orientation than the rest of the army themes, ideal for representing the dark army, and, while it largely feels like a light battle theme, there are some truly sinister moments featured.
The character themes are also undeniably varied in nature, ranging from the downright inspirational beauties to the edgy and militaristic. "Sauzer's Theme" and "Matelite's Theme" are very similar, with both themes using militaristic instrumentation while featuring a fragmented and beautiful melodic line, essentially representing the quest of innocent warriors. "Guldorf's Theme" offers a percussion line, suspended chords, and certain other features that are highly reminiscent of Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War"; it is not without beauty, but clearly reflects a sinister force that will undermine the world, even if through a hackneyed format. Protagonist and antagonist introduced, the themes used to represent Jojo are among the best tracks on the album, being both inspirational and well-developed. "Jojo and the Sacred Dragon" is superior to "Jojo's Theme," featuring some profound rhythmical and instrumental contrasts, though both themes are excellent. It is also one of the two themes that is pseudo-orchestrated for the bonus second disc, enhanced wonderfully by Gizaemon de Furuta, who also created the string and horn part for the Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time's "Undersea Palace." Starting with a quaint oboe line, lovingly licked by a bassoon part, the arrangement blooms when a refined string section becomes evident. In comparison to the other arrangement, Eguchi's "Theme of Bahamut Lagoon ~ Opening," de Furuta's theme may not be as grandiose, but it certainly is an improvement upon the original theme, drastically limited by the console's sound capacity.
Although the approaches to few themes are unprecedented, their refinement and collective diversity makes the album much more appreciable. The setting themes are a highlight in this respect. As some examples, "The Green Continent Campbell" is a relaxing theme that generates so many images of nature and its glorious miracles, "The Water Continent Maharl" utilises water-like synth and other interesting instrumentation to emphasise the nature of the continent, and "Desert Daphira" is perfectly mastered by Hidenori Suzuki and features some appropriate sand sound effects. As for the town themes, "Magical City Godorando" is most notable, featuring an instrument of Indian origin to create an image of an enchanted city with oriental vibes. The album is rather dark in places too, adding to the emotional variety. "Monsters" and "Altyre's Monsters" are interesting stereotypes — the former being the typical tension-creating theme with shock discords, eerie pauses, and crisis motifs, the latter being much more random and chaotic, highlighting a sense of action and unpredictability with its avant-garde leanings. Perhaps the strangest theme is "Boss Battle," which features one of the most random bass lines out there that supports a melodic line that would be an incoherent and uncoordinated mess were it on its own. With its trotting rhythms, regular octave leaps, and sinister and temperamental tones, it manages to be fun, tense, and quirky all at the same time.
The conclusion to the soundtrack is of the quality most would anticipate from an early Square soundtrack. "Battle with Alexander" is a classic penultimate battle theme, featuring a cluster of discords that work superbly together, as well as an enticing melody. The timpani line in the background of the track is another key feature too, contrasting with the album's other percussion-led tracks in that it doesn't maintain a steady tempo, but makes the theme constantly sound as if it wants to rush on with its rapid yet repetitive beats. The next theme, "Decisive Battle!," is just one of those final battle themes that captivates during gameplay; it sings out so loudly and with such passion that it almost steals the show on the spot, but just about manages to convert all its mixture of aggressive and positive energy into enhancing the game. Though there is only a single ending theme, it is developed to be the most comprehensive track on the album at six minutes in total. Among the best available on the console, even giving the likes of Chrono Trigger's "To Far Away Times" and Final Fantasy IV's "Epilogue" a run for their money, it starts off subtly and gradually thickens with the delicate addition of various instruments until the metamorphosis into an action-packed section with much flair is complete. This theme ends the album, and the game, in the best way possible, including a fine reprise of the main theme along the way, and is unbelievably rich musically and emotionally.
The Bahamut Lagoon Original Soundtrack is one of the richest imitative orchestral SNES soundtracks available and a strong addition to Noriko Matsueda's discography. While it suffers from total lack of harmonic variation, which can be rather tedious after forty tracks, the strength of the melodies, diversity of the instrumentation, and overall emotive nature of the score ensure this isn't especially significant. It isn't quite as good as Matsueda's other major pseudo-orchestral effort, the Front Mission 2 Original Soundtrack, less profound musically and less refined technically, so it'd be advisable to perhaps consider said album first, though both are extremely worthwhile. Now out-of-print, eBay and the Marketplace auctions at Chudah's Corner are the only major sources to obtain a copy; it may, however, be worth it, especially if one is fond of traditional SNES RPG soundtracks with a militaristic vibe. It is a respectable effort that is worthy of being cherished from a underappreciated composer.