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Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story is a video game soundtrack. You will find the track list plus an extensive track-by-track analysis below the standard review. It is my hope that you will gain a better understanding of video game music by reading exactly what it has to offer as it is different from American film music.
Composed by:
Hitoshi Sakimoto

Arranged by:
Hitoshi Sakimoto

Track 2/29 Conducted by:
Koji Haijima

Vagrant Story is probably the darkest, most oppressive game score thus far, and because of this fact, it is one of the most IMpressive. I bought this score without having gone through the entire game, but the definite highlight of what I *did* play was Hitoshi Sakimoto's music.

Sakimoto has been responsible in the past for the soundtracks to games such as Ogrebattle and his most famous Final Fantasy Tactics for which he recieved much acclaim along with his composing partner, Masaharu Iwata. FFT was his first composition for a Squaresoft game, and was not necessarily light-hearted, but was much lighter in tone than that of VS, which is Sakimoto's first solo outing that I am aware of.

In this score Sakimoto introduces atonal techniques that I didn't realize were possible with game synth, and didn't realize could be melded into a game's ambience so well. This score is, by and large, much more ambient than most game soundtracks, which may turn some game music fans off, but may actually attract many fans of film music. There is little here that includes much pop influence, and what we have is almost fully (synth) orchestral, though the opening track is techno. I don't think this hurts very much though because it is all of that style heard until the end credits have rolled.

Basically, I could recommend this soundtrack more to fans of film music than to fans of game music. Sakimoto's style is *very* distinctive and fresh, which only adds to my recommendation. Vagrant Story is a game soundtrack which continues the trend of breaking down the barriers between the scoring techniques of video games and movies.

The following in-depth review may contain spoilers about the game. Proceed at your own risk.

Track-by-track review:
Disc 1 (73:08)
  1. Opening Movie 1:17

    The first minute of this is a techno piece which gently mutates into the main theme: a soft and rather spiritual melody that appears quite often.

  2. VKP Headquarters 4:27

    This opens with dissonant strings and hideous (in a good way) piano. Later, there are sorted random outbursts from the brass. The second half begins deceptively soft, but soon picks up again. The track climaxes rather abruptly.

  3. Climax of Grayland Case 11:52

    This lengthy cue opens with a statement of the main theme but quickly turns to ambience marked by floating woodwinds, the woodwinds are very light and airy but the pulsing dark strings beneath make sure the opressive mood continues. After this section has exhausted itself there is a couple minutes-worth of almost nothing but percussion. More ambience continues until one of the most unsettling motifs is introduced, this motif sounds like a "chattering" synth choir. It's kind of hard to explain exactly what I mean by "chattering," but you'd get the idea if you heard it. This is all done on top of constantly throbbing low strings and eventually all of the techniques heard in the track so far begin to pile atop one other. Again, after this section has exhausted itself the same chattering motif that was done by the choir earlier is mutated and played in an eight-note pattern by trombones and snare drum. Eventually large string and brass fanfares rule over the soundscape and an impressive theme is played by brass as the track nears the end. The main theme plays again punctuated by church bells in an ecstatic conclusion.

  4. Intoduction - Report About Grayland Case 2:20

    More dark string ambience, though the main theme shows up near the end.

  5. Closed Lea Monde 3:20

    The opening of this track attacks the listener with piles of harsh dissonance. When this quiets down, there are several brass fanfares and a new string theme appears. It closes with string dissonance and the chattering voices motif.

  6. Minotauros 2:42

    The is a harsh string battle theme for the first true boss battle in the game with lots of rigorous percussion.

  7. Rememberance 1:26

    This is a lovely theme accented by piano used to represent the family that the main character used to have. Or is it...? Anyway, this is a great track, and an excellent break from all of the darkness.

  8. Catacombs 4:34

    This actually pretty boring. More string ambience with nothing else added to accent it.

  9. Dulahan 1:57

    This sounds as if it was inspired by the scores from the Alien movies. It begins with wild string arpeggios on top of loud dissonant chords in the low bass. It builds into a cacophany with extremely intense percussion and a cool trumpet solo.

  10. A False Memory 5:12

    This track opens with the chattering voices motif and brass notes played on the off-beats which for some reason remind me of some of John Barry's James Bond music. Some dissonance rolls on for a few moments until the tranquil theme from track 7 returns. The theme gains intensity as it goes but suddenly everything turns incredibly atonal without warning, it is almost on the same malicious level of Goldenthal's Alien3. Eventually the chattering voices come back and the track ends with more dark string ambience.

  11. Sanctum 2:17

    A collection of very evil-sounding minor choir passages.

  12. Golem 2:18

    A high-power battle track. Basically, this is a huge percussion highlight, though there are some other instruments being used. The piano is rather interesting.

  13. Rabbit Which Sets A Trap 1:20

    Nothing important. Just more wandering string ambience.

  14. Abandoned Mines Level 1 2:43

    This has more of the string ambience, but is more interesting because of the constant percussion which gains intensity throughout the duration of the track.

  15. Crimson Blade 1:59

    Very similar to the previous track, but more interesting because it has more variation.

  16. Waibam 1:43

    This actually introduces a new theme which is unfortunately drowned out by dissonance.

  17. Town Center of Lea Monde 3:19

    The first half of this track contains more unsettling string underneath constant harp arpeggios. The second half gets a little more exciting, and is less dissonant than most of the other tracks. The piano chords in the second half are a highlight.

  18. A Meeting 3:03

    More dissonance not unlike many other tracks, but it does contain more of the chattering voices.

  19. Snowfly Forest 2:55

    This isn't dissonant like the other tracks, but it isn't very melodic either. There are a lot of arpeggios on what sounds like a synth celeste.

  20. Lizardman 1:24

    More toneless orchestral meanderings with fluttery yet ominous percussion.

  21. Another Riskbreaker 1:20

    Sort of a soft mysterious piece of music is played as the main character discovers that there is another soldier like himself sent to his location. In the game I think that this played just before the "Snowfly Forest" section.

  22. Interior of the City Walls 1:58

    This tracks is odd. Mostly a jumble of jazzy percussion with occasional highlights placed on top.

  23. Brain Washing 1:29

    Another major theme in the score introduced acompanied by constantly throbbing notes in the bass to make sure the listener is unsettled.

  24. Rosencrantz 1:57

    More atonality. As you may have guessed, it crescendos thoughout the track's duration.

  25. Undercity 3:46

    This is actually quite soothing, though very spooky. It has some very lovely strings near the center.

  26. Game Over :29

    I'll let you guess what this is for. This has a delicate strings with a mournful trumpet fanfare.

Disc 2 (74:17)
  1. Factory 2:36

    The second disc begins with a flute solo that is actually very pretty and melodic. Halfway through the track though, a dark choir enters, bringing the flute section to a halt. Eventually the opening repeats itself.

  2. Teiger and Neesa 3:13

    This is more atonal battle music. As always, the percussion is very pronounced and heavy. There also seem to be melodies that try to break through the chaos at points.

  3. Curly 1:37

    Yet *another* battle track. This track's individuality is marked by what sounds like circular saws cutting through wood.

  4. Joshua 2 :59

    This begins with an elegiac version of the main theme but a new theme in waltz format appears after a few seconds. This whole track is melodic with no atonality to be found. Just a shame it's so short.

  5. Nightmare 1:41

    More dissonance with a constant snare drum that makes it sound like a train (sort of a "chugga-chugga" sound).

  6. Awakened 1:32

    This introduces something new to the dissonance: lots of weird, electronic effects. Though the orchestra is mostly made of sampled instruments, it's kind of interesting to hear the effects that are *meant* to sound electronic mixed in.

  7. Joshua 2:06

    An extended version of the sorrowful waltz heard in track 4.

  8. Abandoned Mines Level 2 4:20

    This is an unessessarily long track of nothing but ambience and I usually skip it.

  9. Iron 1:46

    Terrifying ambience with very harsh use of low piano.

  10. Bloody Sin 1:16

    Some more cool throbbing in the bass with rather shallow accompaniment, which strings take control of near the end.

  11. Tattoo of Reverse-Ank 2:08

    You guessed it, more ambience. This has a synth choir to make it more interesting.

  12. Remembering :46

    Some great string fanfares lead up to an uplifting statement of the main theme. Once again, great track. Once again, too short.

  13. Limestone Quarry 2:40

    This is actually a good action set piece with little to no dissonance with the ever-present pounding percussion.

  14. Dark Element 2:14

    This begins with more of the chattering voices motif which has been slightly altered. Later in the track the constantly blasting dissonant low brass chords really leave the listener nervous.

  15. The Last of Rosencrantz - Curly 2:12

    Wow! String glissandi in a videogame! Definitely a highlight.

  16. Ogre 2:08

    It's hard to keep coming up with new things to say so I'll just let you know that this is another battle track. It's still excellent though.

  17. Temple of Kilitia 2:10

    This is much more eerie and foreboding than most of the other tracks, though much less dissonant.

  18. Great Cathedral 1:16

    This seems to be much more of a dark action cue highlighted with synth effects that sound something like Basil Poledouris used in his score to The Hunt for Red October.

  19. Ifrit 3:03

    This track actually sounds quite different from most others in the score. While the previous track contained what may have been effect from a Basil Poledouris score, this tracks sounds almost as if that composer could have written it. This is probably the highlight of all the boss battle music.

  20. A Fanfare :36

    Well, this plays after you complete a boss battle in the game. Kind of short and not quite as exciting as you might guess.

  21. Power of the Last 1:19

    Another action cue similar to "Ifrit." The percussion is much more subdued here though.

  22. An Attic of the Great Cathedral 2:00

    This is more of a light, inspiring track with a spiritual synth choir. A piano enters at the end that sounds like it might have come out of Newton Howard's The Sixth Sense.

  23. Banquet of Transmigration 2:08

    An oppressive track that gradually becomes more dissonant and loud throughout its duration. Obviously something bad is happening while this plays.

  24. Truth 3:50

    This track sound much more like it could have come from Final Fantasy Tactics, four minutes of soft, thematic bliss. The high strings are the mainly what hold it together. Great track.

  25. An Odd Looking Creature 2:10

    The final boss music, though some might not care for the lack of melody, I consider it excellent because of its originality. This is the first time that this has happened in an RPG soundtrack.

  26. Escape 2:09

    This is probably my least favorite track of all. While the beginning is promising with more synth choir, the second half goes overboard on ridiculous synthy percussion making it sound like hackneyed Media Ventures sludge.

  27. Epilogue 1:06

    Just a little over a minute of poetic string writing. I'm sure this has much more meaning in the context of the game.

  28. Dawn of Lea Monde - Vagrant Story 2:49

    The first minute of this plays a new string theme but after a minute snippets of the main theme are heard and suddenly cut into by the new theme again. It ends in a big burst of energy.

  29. Staff Roll 7:28

    Wonderful. After the game has ended, for the end credits we are treated to a complete genuine orchestral piece, containing the major themes from the score. All are put through many interesting variations, but of course the highlight is when the main theme enters at about three minutes. My favorite part is the string passage at 4:50. Of course it all ends with a spectacular coda.

  30. Opening Movie "Fight Mix" 5:21

    I don't know why they had to tack these on to the end, but the last two tracks are just techno remixes of a couple of tracks from the score. I seriously doubt that fans of orchestral score are gonna like these, so you might wanna hit the stop button after the Staff Roll is over.

  31. Dungeon Robot Mix 3:38

    See above.

Vagrant Story is Copyright 2000 Digicube. This review is written by and is the property of Isaac Engelhorn and does not reflect the opinions of Tripod.