Over the past couple years, I have adopted a new rating system I use primarily for VGM albums. As I listen through an album, I take short-hand notes about each track and assign them to one of three "tiers":
P! - Favorite tracks, these make up most of what I focus on when I revisit an album
P - Passing grade, an effective track in context of an album but not essential for relistening
F - Failing grade, gets deleted
Once that is done, I look back at the album as a whole and assign it an overall rating:
(4) - I put this in front of the folder to mark it as a favorite
(5) - I put this in front of the folder to mark it as a generally decent album, but with either flaws, a ton of expendable tracks or just overall lacking despite some quality content. Basically, I just want them separated from the (4) albums.
(g) - I put this in front of the folder to mark a generally expendable album with a small handful of good tracks on it.
As I have no desire to waste 3-4 hours+ writing long winded reviews about my thoughts about a single album, I find these much more concise and useful when grabbing my favorite tracks from the album folders. I don't need to know why P! tracks are favorites, I just need to identify them so I can revisit them more easily and so I know which tracks I need to throw on my portable player. I have close to a hundred of sheets of these ratings sitting around me (mostly limited to what I have time to listen to at work, you gotta love office work), some VGM, some not. For albums with 20-30+ tracks per disc, I find this type of organization a necessity, as there's too many to just keep track of. I figure it won't hurt to share some of what I have jotted down so far. Your mileage may vary, as these are my own opinions and findings.
I have pretty much hit all of my longtime favorite albums, so I tend to use (abuse?) this when going through newer albums nowadays. I'm going to use this first post for my personal favorite albums (both OST and Arranges), the second post for original soundtracks and the 3rd for both arranged albums and anime albums. Let me know if there are any album requests you want my ratings for.
BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma Original Soundtrack
P! - 2,3,4,7,9,10,12,13,14,15,16,17,18
P - 1,5,6,8,11
P! - 1,3,4,5,8,9,10,11,12,15,16
P - 13,14
F - 2,6,7
P! - 4,5,6,7,8,12,24,25
P - 1,9,17,23
F - 2,3,10,11,13,14,15,16,18,19,20,21,22
Notes: Those are some pretty crooked numbers, hardly any cuts until Disc 3 and even then, most of those are minor tracks. So the majority of character and confrontation themes survived unscathed. Of course, the album benefits (or is hurt by, depending on your take) from the samey-ness of a lot of tracks, it carries a strong orchestral/melodic power metal vibe to it. It just happens to do what it does extremely well and it fixes the mixing issues that plagued Calamity Trigger's soundtrack (you have drums and bass that sound like they're recorded in the same room now!). Still, it's a bit much to take in from one sitting. One trend I noticed is anything with "II" after it tends to be excellent, while the newer themes are completely hit or miss. Sword of Doom II is my personal highlight of the album, it features epic Jpop vocals and a soaring, majestic riff that would do the likes of Rhapsody or Stratovarius proud.
Double Dragon II Arrange Album (4)
P! - 2,3,5,6,8,10
P - 4,9,12
Notes: Man, what is up with that vocal arrange of the Double Dragon theme. It's awful! Or rather, the singer isn't singing it very well at all. This could be have been amazing if it was done right. This album just screams 80's from start to finish and that suits the original music just fine. Intense and yet, oddly relaxing. Well, except for Roar of the Twin Dragons...That song just rocks my face off everytime I hear it. Required listening for oldschool VGM fans.
Dracula Battle Perfect Selection (4)
P! - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10
P - 8
F - 9 <- seriously what the hell is this thing doing here!?
Notes: One of the true legendary VGM arrange albums, it succeeds on both counts, that of grabbing melodies that virtually every serious VGM fan is familiar with (and some not...but even those are mixed in flawlessly with the classics) and that of arranging them to near perfection in true 80's heavy metal fashion. It's not about how heavy your sound is, it's what you do with it and Naoto Shibata basically writes the blueprint of what a VGM rock album should sound like (and look like...that front artwork is so metal). Every time hearing the arrangement of Bloody Tears is every bit as amazing as the first and Cross a Fear and Op. 13 sound like they are making a case for being on the Dracula X CD-ROM in place of the originals (kind of hard to take them seriously when I heard these two monsters first). But I just gotta wonder about March of the Holy Man. Guess they couldn't throw Clockwork, Aquarius, Mad Forest or Heart of Fire on here instead and create pure perfection. Even the best have something to nitpick, but I feel like this one was plopped on here for just that reason.
Dragonball Z Super Butouden Arrange Album (4)
P! - 1,2,4,6,9,10
P - 5,12,13
F - 3,7,8,11
Notes: Thanks again Jodo for mentioning that is actually an arranged album! Pretty oldschool at that, but with an eye towards establishing a groove than outright melody, although the melody lines are all very catchy. My personal highlight is track 10, the theme for Perfect Cell. It just takes its sweet time building up to the grand and majestic final part, very fitting of the character. Overall, my favorite of the 3 Butouden albums.
Dragon Quest IV The Chosen People Symphonic Suite (NHK) (4)
P! - 1,2,3,4,5,6,9,10
P - 7,11
F - 8, Disc 2 (Sound Story)
Notes: My favorite version of my favorite Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites and easily my favorite orchestral arrange VGM album. I think the strings are too loud on the London Philharmonic Suites, the NHK albums are more relaxed and effortless to me (same deal for III and V) and I haven't heard the Tokyo Philharmonic albums yet. Sugiyama's character medley "Comrades" is the real highlight here (Torneko's theme is GRAND!), alongside the arrangement of the town themes (as always). I actually kind of enjoyed the Sound Story disc, since I actually played Dragon WARRIOR IV back in the day (I remember walking all the way to Toys R Us to buy the game), but I don't think I want to sit through the whole thing again. Kind of like the game itself.
Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version (4)
P! - 1,3,4,5,6,8,9,11,14,15,16,17,18,20,22,23,24
P - 7,10,12,13,19,25
F - 2,21
P! - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10,12,14,15,16,17,18,19
P - 2,8,11,20
F - 13
P! - 1,3,6,7,8,9,10,11,13,14
P - 4,5,15,16
F - 2,12
Notes: What's this? I cut 5 tracks out of this and didn't label the ending theme or Aria Di Mezzo Carattere as a favorite!? Yeah, I guess this soundtrack's no good at all.
Konami Shooting Battle Perfect Selection (4)
P! - 1,3,5,6,7,8,9,10
P - 2,4
The very first Konami Battle album is one of Shibata's best. In fact, I think this is his best "arranging" work, since few of the actual melodies on display here are cut from the same level of quality as the Castlevania themes (when was the last time you walked around humming Xexex or Thunder Cross tracks? I rest my case). The album starts off slightly slow (Nostalgic is a great rock ballad that hangs around SLIGHTLY too long and I was never too keen on the track 4 medley), but once it hits Maximum Speed this album is every bit the equal of the first Dracula Battle and it's full speed ahead from there. I think the production here is much better than the first Dracula Battle as well, featuring a much fuller soundstage, drums that sit higher in the mix and overall a more satisfying guitar sound. But alas, no Bloody Tears, Beginning or Cross a Fear to be found on this one, so it shall forever be behind Dracula Battle I...Even after digesting this album many times, those Xexex and Thunder Cross melodies just refuse to stick (although Dog Fight III is a pleasant exception to that statement).
Konami Shooting Battle Perfect Selection II (4)
P! - 2,4,5,6,8,10
P - 1,3,7,9
That doesn't look too pretty, does it? This one is a clear step behind the first Shooting Battle, as it exhibits the same flaws (generally unmemorable melodies, although Colony and Try to Star work their way in there) and takes a step back in both arranging quality and production. The main problem is there are just way too many keyboards in here and the guitars are just buried a lot of the time. It just kind of gives the impression that the arrangements seem to drag at times. Colony and Faraway show that keyboards aren't bad when done right, Give My Heart to You is an excellent ballad and Try to Star/Cross Point show a teaser of what this whole album should have sounded like. A pleasing effort overall, but not legendary like its predecessors.
Sailor Moon S Super Famicom Game Music (4)
P! - 3,4,7, 8-14
P - 2,5,6,15,17
F - 1,16
Dragonball Z isn't the only Toonami series that boasts arranged VGM albums posing as original soundtracks! Of the four Sailor Moon arranged albums, this is by far my favorite because those character themes don't mess around (the 8-14 marked above). This one is right up there with my favorite fighting game soundtracks and arranged albums. Of note, the in-your-face rock of Sailor Mars theme (that intro is shred guitar at its finest) and Sailor Uranus (those basslines are nothing short of sexy), the homage of Sailor Venus to the classic Venus song (YES!!!) and the understated, mercurial power of Sailor Neptune's theme (very fitting of her character). Highly recommended, although the goodness is on the short side.
Star Ocean 2 Second Story (4)
P! - 2,3,5,7,8,9,11,12,13,14,19,23,24,26,28,34
P - 1,4,10,15,16,17,21,25,27,29,32,36
F - 6,18,20,22,30,31,33,35,37
P! - 1,2,5,6,7,9,12,13,15,16,18,19,21,24,26,31,34
P - 4,11,17,20,22,25,29,33
F - 3,8,10,14,23,27,28,30
Notes: By far, my favorite Sakuraba soundtrack. I wish he did more stuff that resembled this soundtrack, there are some real classics on here and I feel he does way better with the synthesized orchestra and rock instrumentation than he does with the live stuff. It just feels and sounds "right", without trying too hard. A little trimming to get down to the really good stuff really helps this soundtrack, especially factoring in the infamous non-looped nature of it. Also, I have a weakness for mini-game music, since I have "Come On Bunny" and "Cooking Master" pegged as favorites.
Star Ocean Second Story Arrange Album (4)
P! - 1,2,3,6,9,7
P - 4
F - 5,8,10
Notes: Perfect compliment to the excellent OST, this isn't like the more recent arranges, which are more less extended versions of the originals. These are reworked, totally ass-kicking renditions of the originals. Well except tracks 5 and 8. These are original compositions, which frankly, I didn't like them enough to keep around. Why!? There are so many other amazing OST tracks that deserved arrangements. Oh well, Sakuraba got "Stab the Sword of Justice" and "Mission to the Deep Space" on here and they are both amazing, plus "Integral Body and Imperfect Soul" obliterates its' original in every way (I never cared for the original). On the more somber side, "Theme of Rena" is pretty much perfect. And adding a backbeat and some phat bass to "Sacred Song" and bloating the playing time out? Hey, it works. I can't argue with the results, even though I want to.
Xenogears CREID (4)
P! - 2,3,5,6,8,9
P - 7,10
F - 1,4
Notes: I still consider this album cheating. Taking the 2 vocal arrangements from the OST and adding Japanese vocals is not my idea of an arrangement. And I have always found October Mermaid to be incredibly overrated, both the original and the arrange. But what this album does well, it does EXTREMELY well, enough to secure it a spot among my favorites. Spring Lullaby, Balto and Dajil couldn't possibly be done any better.
Ys III Super Arrange Version (4)
P! - 1,2,4,5,7,9
P - 3,6,8
F - 10,11
Notes: I have written down that this version of Styx A Premonition is the best version I've ever heard. I'll have to take my word for it, this song is so overdone and so consistantly underwhelming (Feena? HA!), the samples probably swayed me to think that way. The two tracks you want this album for are "The Boys Got Wings" and "The Strongest Foe", both are masterfully arranged and show off the melodic prowess of Ys III's compositions. I like how this version of "Strongest Foe" can both balls-out rock and not be in your face at the same time the whole way through. You kind of need to hear it to understand what I mean. I do dig these versions of "Valestine Castle" and "Searing Struggle" as well and "Dancing on the Road" is about as good as it can possibly get, but they take a backseat to the aforementioned tracks.