Originally published on Pixelitis.net July 31, 2012.
(Editor’s note: From Super Mario Bros. to Metal Gear Solid, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame soundtracks.)
The Vandal Hearts series may not bask in the popularity of other turn-based tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, but it’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Konami’s sequel to the 1997 cult-classic Vandal Hearts is a touchy subject among fans of the series. Released two years later, some fell completely in love with the game’s art style, twisting plot, and engaging characters; others felt it was a major disappointment in not living up to the original.
But if there’s one thing fans can agree with, it’s that Vandal Hearts II had an incredibly majestic soundtrack. It’s one that in my opinion features some of the best tracks to ever grace the original PlayStation.
Anyone who’s played Vandal Hearts II can tell right from the violent first scene that the game’s plot is dark and edgy – ruthless murder, back-stabbing, and corrupt leaders are common themes juxtaposed with a few lighter moments and some depressing revelations.
The music compliments all of this incredibly well, conveying a diverse range of emotions.
Composed solely by Hiroshi Tamawari, the music in Vandal Hearts II has a synthesized orchestra that strangely sounds like a live recording at times. Each song does a fabulous job of capturing a sense of grandeur you’d feel with live instruments.
Some of the game’s greatest tunes come from its 17 different battle themes. You can tell Tamawari put a ton of effort into these tracks – after all, the player would be listening to these on loop for long periods of time, with some battles known to last up to an hour.
Funny enough, my favorite track from the game, “Warfare on a Plain,” serves as the game’s first battle theme. The track starts light, with an instantly catchy flute harmony that accompanies a light group of strings and a marching snare roll.
The build up continues, eventually crescendoing into what can only described as an orgy of harmonious strings, wind instruments, and brass. It’s all wonderfully dynamic. With this grandiose piece, along with other bombastic, Wagner-esque ones like “Warfare on a Mountain,” Tamawari had me hooked.
“Warfare on a Plain”
Big fans of classical may notice the influence of Igor Stravinsky in this particular piece.
“Confrontation Against Enemies (Metamorphosis based on Theme)”
If there’s anything else I can say about the battle themes, it’s that I love the use of castanets, which give a particularly Mediterranean feel to some of the tracks. In songs like “Confrontation Against Enemies,” “Warfare on a Constructions,” and “Warfare on a Town,” there’s just a tinge of Spanish flavor. You just don’t get enough of that “clickety-clack” in videogame soundtracks these days.
One of the most chaotic tracks in the game has to be “Madness People.” This track is a battle theme that plays whenever there’s a fight with a character who becomes a murderous brainwashed zombie thanks to the game’s main villain, Godard. And that happens a lot, believe me.
Everything about this track is nuts – it’s completely schizophrenic in its time signatures, which is appropriate given it plays while the party is battling a murderous psychopath. The brass and strings are all over the place with this one, and it easily makes more one of the most intense pieces in the game.
Throughout the game’s many cutscenes, one track with several different variations plays depending on how the characters are interacting with each other. Be it an argument, tragic death, or introspective moment, each new variation adds more instruments to the mix.
This is evident with the track “Will,” an emotional track that’s rather simplistic in its instrumentation. Throw in some more stringed instruments and a little variation and “Destiny and Will” conveys a more regal-like feeling.
“Destiny and Will”
Next to the Breath of Fire series, Vandal Hearts II‘s music is something I’d love to see performed live. Once you hear the game’s catchy melodies, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. Sure, a lot of the bigger names like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda get their fair share of support from the game music crowd, but we ought to also focus on the underrated cult phenomenon of other titles.
It’s a true shame that Hiroshi Tamawari seems to have faded into obscurity. Despite his stellar work on Suikoden and the first two Vandal Hearts games, he hasn’t composed any game music since. Even with his small catalog, I still think he’s an under-appreciated, top-tier game composer.
That being said, I realize that the Vandal Hearts II soundtrack may be an acquired taste. It might just be the kind of soundtrack you need to experience through hours of time with the game. I’d tell you to go out and purchase this soundtrack, but like many other JRPG soundtracks, it received a limited printing in Japan back in 1999. It makes me wish Konami would sell a digital MP3 album, but given their lack of regard for the first two games in the series, who knows if it could even happen.
Top Five Tracks:
- “Warfare on a Plain”
- “Warfare on a Mountain”
- “Madness People”
- “Destiny and Will”
- “A Crisis (Metamorphosis based on Theme)”
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