There’s a lot of video game music that has fallen through the cracks over the years. I can assure you that a lot of those games are deserved of that fate. In today’s gaming environment, there’s a lot of shovelware and garbage games that hire one guy from the Berklee Boston to just program all the music digitally with sampled sounds in his studio apartment. Done. And we’re not talking about quality small releases like “Torchlight” or “Plants vs. Zombies”, we’re talking about games like this. The sheer volume of garbage that is released week by week has to have an effect on whether or not we look at these releases.
So the small market gaming is alive, a lot of stinkers but some gems, yeah. Still, we can only compare these games to the mega releases (basically anything EA publishes). Many of these games have huge budgets, full orchestras, and probably hire the London Philharmonic. I don’t know why it’s always them but it usually is. BRITISH ORCHESTRA SEEKS VIDEO GAME COMPOSER AND COMPANY FROM JAPAN TO PAY LOTS OF MONEY TO RECORD JROCK RPG MUSIC. WILL FLY.
Anyway, this new series of posts intends on wading through all the games from the past and from today (and maybe even from the future if I can find a blue box) to highlight some soundtracks you may have missed. Today, let’s focus on SquareEnix’s loved/hated game, Unlimited Saga.
Unlimited Saga (2002 JP, 2003 NA), Publisher: Square, Composer: Masashi Hamauzu
Okay. Show of hands to how many people actually bought this game? Bought this game new? Okay, I’m willing to bet I’m one of the only people who bought this game new. I reserved it. I have no clue why I thought it would sell out.
I’ve loved the Saga series. I know a lot of people really hate it. Square really didn’t do the series justice by making Saga Frontier have some of the worst endings and most ridiculously repetitive gameplay. Saga Frontier II is generally considered very hard. The whole series has always been considered challenging.
Unlimited Saga came out and I don’t know why people expected this game would be any less difficult. This game took me a REALLY LONG TIME to even figure out how to play . I can say that I’ve completed about half of it- that is, about 3 storylines. The growth system after each “board” is confusing and time consuming. The board game style game play can be frustrating as you’re on a “move” timer. No one loves a game that has a timer (an oppressive timer at that!). And the battles can turn ugly very quickly as the wheel system requires very good reflexes and just one miss could cost you the battle. Oh, and you can’t save during most levels and some of the levels are 2 hours long. Great. I just think this game came out at a time where we really were not in the mood for a game to be this complex and unforgiving.
As a result, this game is considered awful. Most reviews cite that the game itself is way too hard, the graphics are lacking, etc etc. For example, Electronic Gaming Monthly writes, “This game sucks. Unlimited Saga exemplifies everything that’s wrong with RPGs today and throws it all together in one deluxe package for all to avoid like the plague” and gave the game a 3.33/10. Playstation Magazine gave it a 2.0/5.0, GamePro gave it a 2.5/5, etc etc. Interesting to note: in Japan, this game went GOLD in 2002, selling the most copies of any game after Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire. I guess it’s a matter of opinion. I frankly wanted to love it and tried really hard to love it. In the end, I’d say it’s probably just a 6/10 or 7/10.
At any rate, almost ALL of the reviews cite the only strength of the game is the soundtrack. And the soundtrack is amazing. Hamauzu, known for his more mature orchestral sounds, delivers a wide array of music utilizing both real instruments and synths. Let’s highlight some tracks from the game I find to be the most interesting:
Unlimited Saga: Battle Theme I
This track is a good mix synths combined with the real performers. We can hear the real violin (though very… studio) and the piano/guitar in the background.
Unlimited Saga: Mysterious Plan
More real violin and some nice interplay between synth brass make this quirky track amusing. The plot of the game while this plays is to break into a mansion and steal an idol during the middle of a party. I’ve always kind of loved this.
So this is great, get a couple musicians into studio, record stuff, mix it all up, and release. Sounds like something that most composers could do, right? Well, maybe Hamauzu had some extra help.
Unlimited Saga: March in C
Hamauzu is not afraid to use the full orchestra. What people don’t understand about Unlimited Saga is this game was expected to have commercial success in Japan. There was actually a lot of money placed into the production of it, despite the fact that it’s considered one of the top ten worst RPGs of all time by many in the US. So, we get tracks here where the production value clearly exceeds the general sentiment of the game.
Unlimited Saga: Anxiety Toward a Wonder
A town theme. And a good one. Again, we hear a fully utilized orchestra. But what if we combine this composition skill with some taste full samples:
Unlimited Saga: BT Ultimate
There we go. A mix of the orchestral sound and synths. Granted, Hamauzu relies on Ryo Yamazaki to actually do his synth programming but still, I’m sure Hamauzu had some hand in the finished product. Here’s a couple more tracks and then the whole OST for your enjoyment (all credits asukacrystalrose):
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you about your favorite tracks from this game so feel free to leave some comments!