As I wrote two posts ago, I was at a con last month where I ended up dropping a lot of money I don’t really have on several imported albums (as well as a few books that, uh, I can’t post here. Yes, they are basically what you think they are.)
Among my haul was the complete soundtrack of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, one of my favorite games, which comes in a double-CD set and a separate single CD. Why this division? Because the original release of Nocturne, commonly known as the vanilla version, was fairly thin and didn’t include the Labyrinth of Amala or the fiend fights, which add about an extra third of game and plot content, an extra third of music, and a new ending to the game. This expanded version, known as SMT III Nocturne Maniacs in its home country, is the version we got here in North America simply as SMT: Nocturne and that our friends in Europe got as Lucifer’s Call. (Yes, this is the version featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.)
What can you expect from these soundtracks? A mix of hard rock with some jazz influence, piano/organ/synth-dominated pieces, and synthesized orchestral music. In the first category are most of the battle themes (including “Normal Battle ~ Town”, my favorite of the whole soundtrack) and some of the boss themes.* Nocturne features almost a dozen battle themes in total, counting boss themes, meaning you won’t get absolutely sick of one theme that keeps repeating throughout (see “Mass Destruction” from Persona 3 for a good example of overused battle theme fatigue.) The second category contains nice contemplative pieces like “Apocalypse”, “Reunion With Master”, “Heretic Mansion”, “Mystery”, and the first part of “Tokyo Conception” before the organ and guitar come in. The orchestral stuff is smattered all over the game, featuring in overworld map themes and boss themes – “Fiend” from the extra soundtrack is one of the best of these tracks. I’m not always a big fan of synthesized music, but chief Nocturne composer Shoji Meguro and his associates use synths in a way that both fits and enhances the heavy atmosphere of the game.
One of my favorite things about Nocturne is that although it deals with an apocalypse (you might have guessed from the fact that there’s a piece on the soundtrack named “Apocalypse”) said apocalypse takes place near the beginning of the game. The focus of Nocturne is not the destruction of the old world, as it would be in a typical JRPG, but rather the creation of a new world based upon the ideals of the few surviving humans. The main setting of Nocturne is the Vortex World, a mostly ruined Tokyo enclosed inside a sphere – imagine that the surface of the Earth is on its inside instead of its outside and that the Earth is only something like 20 or 30 miles in diameter. The Vortex World is filled with demons and the scattered spirits of humans left behind after the end of the world. Kagutsuchi, a god of fire, shines in the middle in the form of a burning sphere, sort of like a very small sun. The entire setting is both otherworldly and bizarre, but it all works, thanks to the game’s visual design and to its soundtrack. Shoji Meguro’s music is a big part of why Nocturne is one of my favorite games.
That said, you might not get the same kind of enjoyment I got out of listening to these pieces on their own if you haven’t played the game. They are mostly excellent, but a lot of the value of the soundtrack comes out of its association with the game. Since Nocturne is a great game anyway (and not as reliant on cheap shots as some people seem to think it is – that’s a subject for another post) you’re better off playing it before binging straight on the music. You’ll have a better time with it that way. For that reason, these soundtracks collectively get a rating of 6 if you haven’t played Nocturne and a 7 if you have.
One more note about the Nocturne soundtracks. There is a CD floating around simply titled Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne Original Soundtrack that looks like it was printed for the western market. I’ve never seen a physical copy, but the Megaten wikia page suggests it was provided as a bonus with the NA release of Nocturne. In any case, it has tracks from both the vanilla core and the extra Maniacs parts of the game, but if the tracklist posted on the wikia page is accurate, the CD doesn’t contain anywhere near the game’s full soundtrack – it only lists 33 tracks, while the JP vanilla soundtrack alone has 49 tracks. An abridged soundtrack is pretty good as free bonuses go, but it seems like quite the ripoff if you’re paying for it separately. Just a warning in case you ever come across it. I don’t own this NA-only soundtrack, but based on the tracklist I’d give it a rating of 5. It’s good, but why buy this when you can get the whole enchilada?
Oh yeah, and happy Halloween. I guess. I’m spending my Halloween drinking whiskey and playing Disgaea 1 Complete. I don’t need any friends, you hear me? 𒀭
* Most of these battle and boss themes are actually vocal tracks. I didn’t realize this on my first playthrough, probably because the vocals are garbled and distorted so badly, but that barking in the background is in English, and you can make out some lines if you listen closely.