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Xenosaga
*Not* what you'd expect from a video game! -Isaac Engelhorn (11/5/2002)
Xenosaga Original Soundtrack 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:
Yasunori Mitsuda

Orchestrated by:
Yasunori Mitsuda

Conducted by:
Steven Lloyd

Performed by:
The London Philharmonic Orchestra,
The Metro Voices

Yasunori Mitsuda has certainly been proving his value as a video game composer over the course of just a little over a half-decade now. For the guy who started his career with the simplistic "Chrono Trigger," we're now hearing the music of a man whose status has gone from noteworth in the Video game music world, to legendary. Everyone, even those who are only commonly fans of movie music soundtracks, can admit that VGM has been expanding in all sorts of different directions, with many different men leading the way, and though it has been Nobuo Uematsu who has seemingly been flagbearer for the group up to this point, his recent irreliance on actual creativity has pushed Mr. Mitsuda to the forefront of the industry.

Mitsuda's latest score, for Xenosaga, the prequel to the wonderful Xenogears, is without a doubt, his best work yet. So far, the most we've heard is the unusual from Mistuda. His tendency to go with music relating to a small ensemble has both caught peoples' ears and turned their heads, and though Xenosaga doesn't relate too closely to the styles employed by Mitsuda thus far in his career (with the exception of Xenogears, for obvious reasons), the styles that are employed are not just the most creative as far as video game music is concerned, I believe that they could easily catch the attention of Hollywood if given the proper chance.

First and foremost, Xenosaga is a modern score for a modern, sci-fi story, and it's reliance on synth should come as no surprise, but what is surprising is that the score is prerecorded, with no (or at least extremely little) synthesis coming from the playstation itself, but rather coming from the studio synthesisers of Mr. Mitsuda. That, however, is only the tip of the iceburg. Beyond composition, this is the video game score with the highest production value thus far, employing the hugely talented London Philharmonic Orchestra for a very large amount of the running time. This adds immensely to any recommendation I could give to a video game soundtrack, and is only proper considering the fact that many fans of the Final Fantasy series have been let down again and again by an apparent unwillingness to employ a significant amount of prerecorded music.

What's more interesting though, may be the fact that Mitsuda has gone with a decidedly dissonant path with his action music, which is impossible to go unnoticed by any listener. Action material is really the axis that Xenosaga spins on, and is it ever *loud*! Of course, this may bring up the point of exactly why this score may not thrill certain people as much as it has me: This score is overflowing with action music. It does have its share of soft and beautiful highlights, but those looking for the subtle and soothing sounds of Mitsuda's last score, Chrono Cross, may feel as though they've been smacked in the head by this score's almost consistently grueling pace, and I can't really argue too heavily for the soft music that is here, even though it is great, just because it is so overshadowed.

Xenosaga could easily impress those accustomed to the usual mediocre music that accompanies most video games, but the far more wonderful fact is that the music goes beyond being excellent in its genre, and it is something that can be recommended to fans of all types of soundtracks. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy!

Disc 1
Track TitleDescriptionRating
1. PrologueThe score begins deceptively calm, though uncertainty overshadows the soundscape. Naturally, this is a fully orchestrated track and the London Philharmonic, performing splendidly. The wavering calm end suddenly with many fast and furious hits. The percussion gets fairly wild and even a choir enters at one point. Once the action wears away, a womens' choir creatively finishes up.8.5/10
2. OpeningThankfully the first fully-synthesized track reveals that common lousy game synth is nowhere to be found. Rather, the composer, along with his sound team have used their own synthesizers to play as sound files off of the game disc as opposed to using game midi. Because of this, the sound quality is even better than that used for Mitsuda's last soundtrack, Chrono Cross. This track itself sounds very much like something from the recent Metal Gear Solid 2 soundtrack, though nowhere near as complacent. Fans of the Xenogears soundtrack may notice that Deus's theme makes a short comeback.7.5/10
3. BattleThe track used for battles in the game won't exactly surprise you when it burst out with action, but the high quality of the composition is actually far above that of the battle tracks from Xenogears, and Mitsuda is more able the let his maturing musical skills shine. The dissonant strings in the introduction are quite attention-grabbing, and the same chords are used here that were used in the battle tracks of Xenogears. The track is well-suited to battle, though it does seem to lack some of the replay value of other RPG battle tracks, though it is far superior to the ones from Chrono Cross.7.5/10
4. Battle's ConclusionIt's nice to know that there is a victory track here since one was missing from Xenogears, though this isn't near as optimistic as most others of its kind.6.5/10
5. Starting TestThis sounds much more like something from Xenogears than even what we've heard before, though there is a lot more dissonance, and the Metal Gearish synth beats return, though they don't interfere greatly. After a few moments of tension, the track gets an action boost and gets more frantic, though the action doesn't last long.7.0/10
6. MemoriesA synth music box-like sound plays a fairly typical and sweet theme from Mitsuda. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend the track, but it is perfectly listenable, though it fails to leave much of an impression, and I can only assume at this point that it stays in your head because it is overplayed during the course of the game.6.0/10
7. GnosisThe second fully-orchestral track of the score is a very broad and epic piece in the vein of Lawrence of Arabia, with large, sweeping strings. It gets quite action-oriented though and is pushed forward by thundering percussion and Williams-esque trumpets. There is a bit of dissonance, but a lot of it may be masked if you're not looking for it specifically. Though the sound of the track doesn't vary in style much, it remains constantly strong thoughout, and ends up being one Mitsuda's best tracks period.9.0/10
8. AwakeningThis begins forebodingly with distant strings. After a few seconds it sounds similar to the earlier, more synth-based tracks, though it ends with a gradual, though not *too* gradual, dissonant string crescendo.7.0/10
9. Shion's CrisisThe intro to this track is spooky and quiet, but it gets very loud and very atonal for a few seconds, obviously signalling a "crisis" of some sort (I really wish that the game would be translated faster). The cue calms down a bit and sounds kind of sad, but it ends on the same spooky and dissonant note that it began on. Overall, this sort of loud modern writing is very unusual for video game music, and is just very good music in general.8.0/10
10. Fighting Kos-MosThis is a very epic and frantic battle track overall, but there is a slow section near the middle that astounds me with its level of theme even though it seem somewhat detatched from the rest of the score.8.0/10
11. SorrowThough many fans have been impressed by Mitsuda's thematic writing for desparately dramatic scenes such as the battle in the ruined city from Chrono Cross, no previous work from the composer has reached this level of effectiveness with such an enchanting and warm string sound.9.0/10
12. Life or DeathMore action music, spearheaded by a subdued barrage of trumpet fanfares. The music reintroduces the epic theme from track 7, though this sounds much more battle influenced. It's not quite as driving as other action tracks, but it keeps its pace up well, and the theme is excellent anyway.8.0/10
13. Game OverA simple violin solo with harp assistance that plays when you lose in battle. Nothing special, but it works.6.0/10
14. MargulisThis particular action track is one of the less pronounced on the CD and is probably background music for a coliseum or something similar when used in-game. Not to say that this is a bad track, it's pretty good, but not particularly noteworthy overall.7.0/10
15. Ship PursuitThough the action music of this track is not as well-composed as the much of the rest, it is faster than the majority of what we have heard thus far, which makes it very exciting to listen to. The arrangement is fairly straightforward because is doen't have to be too creative, and it serves its purpose nicely.7.5/10
16. ReliefThis is one of the more superficially enjoyable tracks on the CD. It is another straighforward track, but it's also nice and brassy, with an enjoyable theme, that never gets too pompous. Just a good track all around.8.0/10
17. The UsualAfter all of the epic, orchestral stuff that we've heard so far, this little easy-listening ditty isn't exactly what most people would expect, but it actually makes a nice little break from all the seriousness.7.5/10
18. U.M.N. ModeThis track takes another big turn in a different direction, and though the turn may not have been a sharp as the last one, this seems a little out of place. It's sort of a jazzy background track, but it doesn't have as catchy a beat as the last track.6.5/10
19. DurandalAnother action cue, though this one hearkens back to the sound of Xenogears more than most, sounding much like the action segment of the "Light from the Netherworlds" cue from that score. The action is not quite as creative as in other tracks, but the constantly thumping timpanis do a good job of holding my interest longer than they ordinarily would.7.5/10
20. Invading the Enemy WarshipThis is just a very short action segment that I'm sure accompanies a simple little cinema from the game. There nothing special here, but it keeps with the flow of the album.6.5/10
21. U-TIC CouncilHere we go. This is far and away my favorite cue of the first disc. The London Philharmonic reapears in an incredibly exciting way with a cue that sounds almost like something from Goldenthal's Titus score, though even more intense than any of the action cues from that. It begins with quiet dissonant strings, but quickly bursts into a dark march. The music is given all sorts of bells and whistles, like a double-tounging flute, and cool choir. It builds up throughout the entire duration of the track, until it ends quickly with a huge choral glissando. Remarkable.9.5/10
22. The Girl Who has Sealed off Her HeartThe main character of the game, Shion, has her theme introduced here. It's done in the form of a piano solo. The performance is okay, but the arrangement is pretty simple. Overall, it's a decent track.7.0/10
23. Kookai FoundationBeginning with a rather new-age sound, this track ultimately becomes one of Mitsuda's pretty stereotypically soft and melodic tracks. It does build near the end though, but it seems to cut off too suddenly for my taste.6.5/10
24. Shion ~ Memories of Past DaysAnother performance of Shion's theme on piano, and though it is very short, it is a stronger arrangement than the one for track 22.7.5/10

Disc 2
Track TitleDescriptionRating
1. OrmusThis is just a choral piece very similar to most others done by Mitsuda in the past. The difference this time is that it is performed by a real choir (the Metro Voices) and it has actually latin lyrics. In the end, the track comes off very well, and blends excellently witht the rest of the score.8.0/10
2. NephilimAnother soft piano piece, this time assisted by a string quartet. Though performed by real instruments, the track doesn't stand out as much as you'd think it would. It's simple and pretty repetative.7.0/10
3. WarmthGuess what? Another piano solo! Unfortunately, this one is game synth, though it doesn't sound too bad. It really isn't composed all that well anyway, which is probably why it doesn't have a live performer.6.0/10
4. SuspenseIf you read the title first the music in this track won't exactly surprise you. It's basically just a bunch of quiet dissonance performed by random instruments. I think that it probably would have been more effective though had the piano been eliminated from the arrangement. What we have in the end is decent though, and the track eventually sounds very much like the "Omen" track from Xenogears.8.0/10
5. The RusurrectionAnother choral piece. This one is far more intense though than "Ormus". It gets pretty loud.8.0/10
6. Shore of NothingnessA barrage of lonely string make up this track. The melody that appears isn't exactly catchy, but it forms an excellent track all around, and the arrangement is quite good, though pretty simple as always.7.5/10
7. Green SleevesI think that just about everybody is familiar with this traditional melody. Mitsuda works it into yet another of his simple piano solos. Not much else can be said.7.0/10
8. ZarathustraYou may be surprised to know that this has nothing to do musically with Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra." Instead, we have another large and dramatic cue performed by the London Philharmonic. The sound is very classically-based, and I would almost guess that if it weren't for the shifts in sound that most people would mistake it for a classical composition. An extremely well-done track, and one that should gain much praise from game music fans. I'm certain that even most film music fans would love this track. The choir and pipe organ add greatly to the sound, as well.9.5/10
9. KOS-MOSThis is a pipe organ solo that doesn't really stand too well on its own. The fact that it's stuck in the middle of the disc helps a little, but not that much, and the fact that it isn't recorded very well doesn't help. There's tons of hiss in the recording.5.5/10
10. PanicThe first big action cue of the second disc is another very good one. It is synthesized, but that doesn't hurt too much. The track is pretty thematic, and it has good arrangement, though I'm not entirely sure why the single electric guitar note is in there; it seems kind of pointless.7.5/10
11. Song of NephilimThis is a pretty short track showcasing a synth women's choir. The track doesn't do much for me as it has no personality.5.5/10
12. The MiracleAnother fully orchestral action cue, rivalled by few other tracks as the most intense of the score. It begins quietly, but has a very driving beat and strong choir, of course the volume is eventually boosted greatly and the music gets downright scary in an almost religious way. One of the best tracks of the score.9.0/10
13. Inner SpaceWhile this track basically just boils down into filler background music, it does have some pretty interesting instrumentation. It does drift by at a slow pace, however.6.0/10
14. AlbedoWhile the tempo of this track stays quite calm, it doesn't deter the intensity of the composition. The sound of the track is very evil and scary, but always keeps a strong pulse, plus the synthesized vocal solos add to the operatic sound, making this another of the score best tracks.8.5/10
15. OmegaThis orchestral action cue isn't quite as interesting as the others, even though it has a little more variation, but it still maintains the overall power of the score. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here though. The guitars seem kind of weird at first, but after you've heard the track a few times, they really seem to fit right in. The brass is especially strong in this track, and it closes well.8.5/10
16. Proto MerkabahThis seems to be a battle track, though one of incredibly grand and epic preportions. It's just a shame that it has to be synthesized because it's written so well. There is one electronic effect in there that I don't like though, like some kind of electric "spark." You'll understand what I'm talking about once you hear it.8.5/10
17. Last BattleIt probably should come as no surprise that the track for the last battle of Xenosaga is almost identical in style to the last battle music of Xenogears. This isn't exactly your big and epically conclusive battle. Rather, it goes with a sort of mix of orchestral and pop sounds, with a "dancing" piano part and a constant drum beat. There are different breaks here and there in the music that tend to let one style overshadow the other, and it almost seem like a battle between the orchestral and pop aspects of the compositions, but then again, that's probably what the composer was going for.8.0/10
18. PainIn what appears to have already become a staple for the Xeno-series, Mitsuda includes a pop diva song. The vocalist is Joanne Hogg of the Irish Christian music group Iona, returning from her gig as the vocalist for the song "Small of Two Pieces" from Xenogears. I don't think that this song is as strong as its predecessor, but it's pretty good and should satisfy fans of Mitsuda.7.5/10
19. EscapeWe get to bid farewell to the London Philharmonic with what probably isn't the most intense action cue of the score, but is probably the most raucous. It doesn't sound that much different than other action tracks, but it's very listenable and fun. The track ends on a conclusive cadence similar to "Bishop's Countdown" from James Horner's Aliens score. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, this entire cue seems to be based on "Bishop's Countdown". Hmm...8.5/10
20. KokoroMiss Hogg gets another song to sing, this time based on Shion's theme. The song is okay, but the problem I seem to have with it is that Mr. Mitsuda never varies on his instrumentation for these songs. The only thing new here is the use of Uilleann pipes, and their use is really nothing that special.7.5/10
21. Shion ~ FeelingAnother little piano performance of Shion's theme closes out the soundtrack. Not much else to say.7.5/10


Xenosaga is Copyright 2002 DigiCube. This review is written by and is the property of Isaac Engelhorn and does not reflect the opinions of Tripod.