7th Dragon Original Soundtrack
In 2007 and 2008, Yuzo Koshiro, known for his works the Actraiser and Wangan Midnight series, had a bit of a revival in terms of creating nostalgic music. While the games in question were new, they were a tribute to the role-playing games of old, where the dungeons were first-person navigated and the difficulty was pretty tough. The music for the Etrian Odyssey series, known as Sekaiju no MeiQ in Japan, featured quality compositions that were composed with an old-school feel in mind. As much as I was hoping for a third Etrian Odyssey game in 2009, I'm very pleased for 7th Dragon as it seems to be a bit of an evolution of the Etrian Odyssey series. Rather than first person navigating, the dungeons are third-person navigated while your party members follow each other in a line, akin to games like Phantasy Star. The music still features that old-school feel from the Etrian Odyssey series, but how does it stand against some of my favorite Koshiro themes of all time?
As with his Etrian Odyssey soundtracks, Koshiro clearly distinguishes which themes serve what purpose. In 7th Dragon, there are clearly defined labyrinth themes, battle themes, journey themes, and town themes. The event themes, unlike in the Etrian Odyssey series, are not defined as such this go around. There are also a couple battle themes that don't follow the "Battlefield" method of naming. Like the Etrian Odyssey soundtracks, there are two sound versions. The DS sound version on the first two discs features relatively high quality orchestral samples this time. However, the retro sound version on the latter two discs pays homage to the PC-8801 and sounds very different with its chiptunes. Both versions are charming, but I'll mainly focus on the DS version.
Just like his previous scores to the Etrian Odyssey series, this soundtrack also features six labyrinth themes. The first labyrinth theme, "Domain of the Bewitching Flowers," is a very mysterious, yet ominous, theme. The wood block and chiming percussion, combined with the suspenseful string passages and some ethereal synth helps to an atmosphere befitting of its name. The second labyrinth theme, "Underground Grotto," is also quite enigmatic in nature. The harmony between the various string melodies and the xylophone create an interesting fusion, while the strings that are used as accompaniment help to accentuate the overall atmosphere. It features a more playful section that features militaristic percussion, brass, and strings that help bring a bit of vibrancy to the mix, but even without it, it's a pretty beautiful theme.
Speaking of beautiful themes, the third labyrinth theme, "Jungle Navigation," is easily my favorite of the bunch. It's a beautiful mixture of acoustic guitar, piano, and soft ethereal synth. It helps create an almost heavenly atmosphere, yet I'm sure as is the case with the Etrian Odyssey series, during the dungeon featuring this theme, you'll face tons of tough enemies. "Ancient Ruins," the theme for the fourth labyrinth, definitely has some ethnic influences. I'm not entirely sure what the instrument is, but it gives it a very Asian soundscape. Unlike most of the dungeon themes heard so far, this one is quite upbeat. The exotic percussion, woodwind accents, and the lead instruments help craft a theme that is mysterious at times and jovial in others.
"Mysterious Sea Cave" is the one labyrinth theme that probably takes the most to get into. It's a very good theme, creating a nice sense of mystery and danger using ethereal chorus, interesting uses of percussion, and some glockenspiel sounding synth in the lead melody. As it progresses, there is a dominance in strings that brings out a more discernable melody and a more accented mysterious atmosphere. Lastly, the sixth labyrinth theme is "A Land Throbbing". This labyrinth theme also has an exotic sound to it. The tribal percussion, brass accents, sitar, strings, and woodwind create one of the most colorful dungeon themes in the game. It definitely features a more intense soundscape than the other labyrinth themes yet, at the same time, manages to tie them together by utilizing some ethereal synth backing as well.
Unlike the Etrian Odyssey games, you actually traverse a world map and there are quite a few themes used for this purpose as well. "Land of Departure" gives off a heroic atmosphere and a sense of adventure. Presumably, this plays in the beginning of the game, as the heroes go off into the wild. Featuring militaristic percussion and some beautiful string passages with some brass accents, it boasts a strong melody and is a bit more determined in sound than some of the other themes. My favorite world map theme has to be "Land of Dragons and Flowers". It's definitely a more peaceful and soothing world map theme, boasting a beautiful string melody. As it progresses, it features a bit of the militaristic nature heard in "Land of Departure," with climaxing sections and flourishing woodwinds.
Like "Land of Departure," "Soaring the Heavens, Travelling the Oceans" boasts a more heroic and exploratory atmosphere. Featuring a militaristic backing with some hints of exoticism, the melody is a nice fusion of brass and strings. It's one of the weaker journey themes, but I like how it combines a variety of instruments to create a very playful tune. When I first heard "Land of Conflict," the first thing that came to my mind was Dragon Quest. It features a very Sugiyama influenced composition, with regal brass, strings, and percussion. It's a fantastic world map theme that gives off a sense of urgency, yet at the same time, an almost celebratory nature. The last journey theme is "Lost Tokyo". If what I've read on forums is correct, this is the world map theme for when you are on the moon. It certainly seems like it would fit, given its spacey and mysterious sound. It's definitely an interesting choice of soundscapes, but ultimately befitting. The melody here is a bit more abstract than the other journey themes, but it's quite beautiful at the same time.
There is also a multitude of battle themes featured on the soundtrack. The two normal battle themes, "Swords Bursting" and "Howl, Veteran Soldiers!" definitely retain a very old school feel while providing a synth based melody with orchestral and rock backings. The former is probably my favorite of the two normal battle themes, mainly for its tremendous energy. The latter, however, is also quite nice. While the focus is more on a string led melody, rather than a synth led one, the combination of synth, strings, and rock make for a highly entertaining listen. "Those Who Stand in the Way" is a bombastic boss theme that focuses on creating a chaotic and energetic atmosphere by introducing piano, strong orchestral motifs, and militaristic percussion. It's a pretty engaging listen. "Engraged Ones" is more akin to the themes that played when you battled FOEs in the Etrian Odyssey series. It's a driving battle theme that features little in terms of variation in the bass line, but the militaristic percussion does help set up an interesting atmosphere for the choral melody. The motivation behind this piece rests solely in the synth choir.
Similar to "Those Who Stand in the Way," another battle theme, "Seven Threats," is a bombastic militaristic approach. Unlike "Those Who Stand in the Way," the bombast is more centralized towards percussion and brass serving as accents to the piece, while the sweeping string passages, giving it a very suspenseful and energetic atmosphere. "Tower of Crimson Pickets" has to be the most emotional battle theme on the soundtrack. It's melancholy nature, created by some stunning brass and cello lines, helps it contrast with many of the more bombastic battle themes. The melody is absolutely superb and as the piece progresses, it takes on a more haunting sound. It's one of Koshiro's highlights on the soundtrack for sure.
The two final boss themes, one presumably for the final boss and the other for the secret dungeon's boss, are the last of the battle themes. The first, entitled "Three Dragons / The Mad True Dragon Niara," is a militaristic style piece that creates a nice sense of discord and chaos through its use of melodic fragments, yet at the same time, it also provides a more heroic atmosphere through its use of brass. As one of the longest battle themes in the game, I'm glad to see how diverse it is throughout the piece, switching up main melodies and atmospheres at times, but also offering a very cohesive listening experience. The other theme, "Two Dragons / The Cruel Mother God N.D," definitely reminds me of "Scatter About" from the Etrian Odyssey series. It's a moving orchestral theme, with a focus on strings and piano. It's also a bit calmer than most of the battle themes, but its classical approach reminds me a bit of Hamauzu's piano and string compositions. It's a beautiful theme, that while soothing, sets an epic tone for the final battle with the secret dungeon's boss.
Lastly, there are some town themes that bear mentioning. "Castle of the Hero King" is the theme that plays in the opening town of the Kazan Republic. It's a bright, uplifting theme that focuses on a nice mixture of string and brass passages, yet at the same time, it provides an air of regality through its more bombastic interludes. On a similar note, "Beautiful Garden," the music for the Miross Federation, features a more classical approach with an elegant mixture of harpsichord and strings. The melody in this theme does have a beautiful sound to it, and as it progresses, it gets a bit more mysterious in nature. The theme for Pleroma, entitled "Academic Capital of Heresy," features a more mysterious atmosphere and its use of xylophone and strings, combined with some interesting percussion beats, makes for a very interesting town theme, but one that does take a bit to get into.
The last three town themes all seem to feature some more cultural influences. "The Lion's Resting Place," the theme for the Aizen Empire, definitely gives off an oriental vibe with its fusion of strings and a shamisen-like synth. It's probably my favorite town theme on the soundtrack and features some beautiful string and woodwind passages, giving it a sense of elegance and awe. The Marlleaire Islands' theme, "Songtress of the South Seas," definitely has a nice bossa nova style incorporated into it, yet at the same time, manages to give off a very Caribbean vibe, even if it doesn't really utilize traditional Caribbean instruments, such as the steel drum. It's a playful theme that boasts a pretty catchy melody. Lastly, "Isolated War Association," the theme for the Nebanplace Empire, definitely gives off a Middle Eastern flair. The use of sitar, combined with some exotic percussion, gives it a fantastic atmosphere and the melody is superb. It's as if he took a page out of Mitsuda's book and composed this. I'm definitely getting some "Dajil" vibes from this one!
In the end, the 7th Dragon Original Soundtrack features a pleasant and diverse array of sounds. Ranging from sweep orchestral themes to more ethnically inspired compositions, there is something for everyone on the album. There's even a retro version for those who love chiptunes. It's hard for me to compare it to the Etrian Odyssey series, although reading my review you might think otherwise. On one hand, despite the many similarities in terms of how the soundtrack is broken up, the 7th Dragon game is an ultimately more evolved game than the spiritual predecessors, calling for a bit more variety in terms of themes. On the other hand, some of the themes are a bit weaker than their Etrian Odyssey counterparts. In the end, though, this is a very solid Yuzo Koshiro score and one I see myself coming back to quite often, as I do with the Etrian Odyssey soundtracks. I can't wait to see how the Live Strings and Piano arrange album turns out, as I'm a huge fan of the Etrian Odyssey dedicated one.
Disc 3 & 4: Retro Sound Source ver.
Music Composer: Yuzo Koshiro (Ancient corp.)
Sound Director & Arrangement: Takeshi Arai (Ancient corp.) [disc4 Tr.5,9]
Arrangement: Takeshi Yanagawa [disc3 Tr.8,17 / disc4 Tr.1,11,12,13,15,19]
The Adventurer's Beginning
Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic
Journey - Land of Departure
Battlefield - Swords Bursting
Labyrinth - Domain of the Bewitching Flowers
Battlefield - Those Who Stand in the Way
Sink into Flowers, World
The Tale Began
Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation
Journey - Land of Dragons and Flowers
Labyrinth - Underground Grotto
Battlefield - Enraged Ones
The Heroes' Triumphal Return
Labyrinth - Jungle Navigation
Labyrinth - Ancient Ruins
The Lion's Resting Place / Aizen Empire