The first epithet that comes to mind concerning Motoi Sakuraba’s soundtrack is ‘incongruous’. I actually found some of the music to be borderline jarring when I first played, despite the fact that there’s a thematic cohesiveness to it: the songs alternate between cold melancholy and harsh, driving rhythms. The latter are apparent in every track related to combat and stem from a decidedly techno vibe, which is a strange thing to combine with Norse mythology. The first example you’ll encounter is “Take a Flight”, during the introductory sequence of the game. Then there’s the battle music, “Fighting the Shadowy Gods” (which is, however, fittingly dynamic), but also all the dungeon themes. In fact, the latter are all so consistently fast-paced that they just start blending together in a buzzing cloud of synthesizers after a while. Maybe it’s just me, but I found that wearying, as if the music were artificially trying to maintain a constant pitch of urgency and enthusiasm. That being said, there are some genuinely catchy tunes in the lot, such as “Evil Tales and Obligations”, which plays in the Clockwork Mansion, with its darkly bubbling undertones, like churning, murky water; the more heroic “Oblivion’s Joy”, from the Oddrock Caves; or “Ray of Darkness, Ray of Light”, from the Arkdain Ruins, with its meandering rhythm. There’s also the decidedly groovy “Blameless Thoughts”, which kicks in once you’ve cleared a dungeon (i.e. defeated its boss and picked up its artifacts) and is actually one of my favourite songs in the game. On the other hand, you have less successful efforts, such as the excessively messy “An Illusion of the Brainstem”, from the Cave of Thackus, the genuinely irritating “Hard Chain Reaction” from Lezard’s Tower or the dissonant “Mission to Deep Space”, which plays in the Seraphic Gate.
Luckily, apart from these hectic dungeon- and combat-related tunes, you’ve got calmer music related to exploration and storyline. The World Map theme, “Doorway to Heaven” is still relatively fast, expressing both Lenneth’s need to hurry in her task and the scope of the world she has to explore, but it’s already less of an aural assault than some of the battle music. Apart from that, there’s a whole array of slower melodies, like the eponymous theme of Valhalla, which fits the impersonal, solemn austerity of the place with its choirs and bells. Other tunes showcase the bleakness and hopelessness of Midgard, such as “All is Twilight”, which accompanies several scenes in the game (including Lucian’s farewells to Lenneth before being sent off to Valhalla), with its melancholy piano score laced with bitterly lonely flute strains. You also have the very similar “Behave Irrationally”, which notably plays during Yumei’s death, but replaces the piano with a tinny, music-box-like tune; the quiet sadness of “Epic Poem to Sacred Death”, which accompanies Platina’s death scene; or the slower, more ominous “Tomorrow”, which plays during some of the scenes in Hai-Lan. Speaking of Hai-Lan, it also provides one of the few brighter-sounding tracks of the lot, with “In Water, Air and Light” and its unmistakably Asian sonorities, which is the default ambient music in the city.