Nobuo Uematsu has done it again: the soundtrack is simply beautiful, and there are a lot of songs. The overall tone is one of melancholy, as befits the theme of the game. This is perfectly showcased by the “Main Theme”, which plays during the game’s grand introductory sequence, when Kaim travels back to Uhra from the Wohl Highlands: a martial opening beat with the orchestra gradually swelling in the background, segueing into a wordless, goosebump-inducing vocal solo. It’s poignant and majestic at the same time. However, your first encounter with the theme will be as the “Prologue” on the game’s introductory screen. This is a somewhat toned-down version: both the martial beat and the sweeping instrumental parts are still present, but the vocals are not. You will also hear it under yet different guises throughout the game: as a simple piano melody in “An Immortal Life”, which plays in some dream sequences; and as a warbling flute-and-guitar duo building up towards a rather unexpected riff in “Neverending Journey”, which is the World Map theme. It also features as a lull in the middle of the otherwise very tense “Escape!”, which plays while the party must escape from the Experimental Staff.
The game’s battle themes are also an unmitigated success: you have the rousing, restless “The Gun Barrel of Battle”, which accompanies regular random encounters; the distinctly groovy “An Enemy Appears!”, which plays during Backyard battles; and then the various boss themes, from the frantic electric guitar stabs of “Battle Conditions”, to the whirling strings of “A Mighty Enemy Appears!”, to the brassy “Battle with the Demons”, to the nefarious-sounding “Dark Saint”, which plays during the party’s first confrontation with Gongora.
Speaking of Gongora, his ominous, creepy theme, “Gongora’s Plot”, is also prominently featured on the soundtrack and notably serves as a backdrop in his mansion in Uhra. Its various iterations play during different scenes involving Gongora, sometimes one after the other. “Mystery of the Demon Machine”, which plays, among other things, when Gongora finally uses Grand Staff as intended, adds an extra layer of techy malevolence. “The Demon-Possessed Man”, which notably plays when Gongora takes over Uhra, is both more solemn and more furtive. The aptly-named, discordant “Space Distortion”, plays when the party confronts Gongora for the second time, as well as, oddly enough, in the two boss battles in the Sorceress’ Mansion. There’s also “Howl of the Departed”, which plays during the final battle, but that one doesn’t work so well: it starts off very intensely, but then devolves into a screechy, oversynthesised mess. A bit like “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI, actually.
Then you have the songs which are mainly used in dream sequences, all piano-driven. There’s the very oddly named, “Demonic Infringement”, a slow, wistful melody which has absolutely nothing to do with demons. Then you have the goosebump-inducing “Parting Forever”, a string of haunting notes falling like teardrops, which, strangely enough, also reappears as a sunny, vaguely calypso-sounding reprise as the theme for “Saman, Town of Merchants”. And there’s also “A Sign of Hope”, which, as the name indicates, is a happier, more luminous melody, which brings in strings and brass to liven things up.
Some of the location themes also stand out. “The Capital of Uhra”, with its Oriental overtones, gives an appropriate aura of solemnity to your explorations of the city. “The White Mother Ship”, which plays when you first see the White Boa, is light and breezy. “Numara Palace” sounds eminently zen, as if you were wandering around a Buddhist temple. “The Capital of Numara” is a soothing flute melody set against a lilting percussion and piano backdrop. “Kelolon Forest” has a minimalistic cuteness to it. “The Witch’s Mansion”, which also plays in some of the dream sequences, features a tinny, eerie, off-key piano, which sounds like stray beads scattering from a torn necklace. “The Great Voyage”, which plays onboard the Nautilus once the party decides to enter the Hall of Mirrors, sounds like an inexorable march towards danger and fits the setting very well.
Then there’s the stuff that doesn’t work so well. Oddly enough, this includes all the songs that have vocals. Cooke and Mack sing a horrendous little lullaby upon first encountering Sarah. I say horrendous, because neither of their voice actors can actually sing. The lyrics are also clearly translated from the Japanese, as they sound awkward and disjointed. Heck, the English version isn’t even on the official soundtrack. Mind you, the Japanese version of the song, “Kaette Kuru, Kitto…”, is no better. It still feels disjointed, and the singer is also off-key. It’s a shame, as the background melody is quite pleasant.
Something similar happens with the two songs contributed by Sheena Easton: “What You Are”, which plays during a specific scene in Gohtza and serves as a theme for Jansen and Ming’s blossoming romance; and “Eclipse of Time”, which is the song Ming plays on the harp when Jansen first meets her and essentially serves as her theme, although the vocal version isn’t actually featured in the game. It’s not so much that the singer is off-key, but you can feel that the songs strain at her vocal range, especially “Eclipse of Time”, which goes too high for her. The lyrics also sound…too long, for lack of a better word? Just listen to that “but then I feel the boldness that’s inside my heart just melt away” in “What You Are”: it’s like she’s struggling to fit it all in within the allotted time. Again, it’s a shame: “What You Are” has a nice melody (which you can enjoy in its pensive instrumental version), and “Eclipse of Time” has rather poignant lyrics, as it’s obviously sung from Ming’s point of view.