Lack of Love (also known by its acronym L.O.L.) was a rather obscure game released by Ascii for Dreamcast and PC, evidently a life-simulation RPG similar to EVO and 7th Cross Evolution. You wouldn't expect a game like this to have a soundtrack of particular note, but LOL marks the first excursion into game music for longtime film and classical composer, techno-pop pioneer and general musical polyglot Ryuichi Sakamoto (known at least to anime fans for his score to Wings of Honneamise). Although presumably well received by Sakamoto fans, the soundtrack seems to have gone completely unnoticed by the game music community, and unfortunately so, as it's quite a special one and among the best game soundtracks of its year.
Unlike other recent scores by film and animation composers dabbling in games (e.g. Kenji Kawai's Deep Fear and Yoko Kanno's Napple Tale), the music of LOL is completely synthesized save for one solo instrument track. The sound programming is decidedly artificial, but with a rich, high-fidelity sheen to it that suggests artificiality by intent rather than by limitation. A pioneer of electronic music for over 20 years, there was little danger of anything from Sakamoto's studio sounding commonplace or routine.
If there's one track to hear the CD for, it's "Artificial Paradise". After a slow introduction establishes a brief, wavering main melodic idea that will run throughout the track, Sakamoto fades in a simple but effective techno beat while warm electronic timbres swirl abstractly above; a bass loop is eventually introduced and a variety of sounds interject textural arguments. The sensation of serene flight over empty terrain is undeniable. Change happens slowly and in long breaths, rather like gradual transformations in a landscape seen from above, and the effect is quite meditative. At twelve minutes long, it's a thoroughly and gratifyingly unexpected sort of music to encounter in a game.
Unfortunately, LOL is a pretty short soundtrack, with only 13 tracks and several in the 1-2 minute range. But these short ones all contain intriguing ideas and deliver them in a concise manner; these tracks are compact rather than underdeveloped. In "Birth", a delicate pizzicato synth sound, like tuned bubbles popping, steps through a coldly ethereal monochromatic stringscape. "Transformation" features an elegant Bach chorale-like fragment played by music box. "Mission", the above mentioned live instrumental, is a classical minuet performed by Sakamoto on the rare, accordion-sounding Portatif Organ. A lovely rhapsodic strain is given two muted, undulatory arrangements redolent of underwater calm in "Dream" and "Unity". And "Crisis" is a terse, expressionist Bartok-ian outburst for piano and strings. More prolonged is "Storm", a pounding noise-based techno industrial track; if Silent Hill had a dance club, this is what you'd hear.
The piano and strings main theme, heard in "Opening Theme" and in extended recapitulation in "Ending Theme", is typical of Sakamoto's normative orchestral style - melancholy and full of Romantic sonority and gesture, similar to his themes for The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha, but given a distant, icy gloss by the undisguised electronic provenance of the instrumental samples.
This CD is definitely not for everyone. It has nothing in common with "mainstream" game music (as much as such a thing exists) and the sound world it conjures up is quite abstract and remote. But fans of Sakamoto and those looking for something different in game music - very different - should give Lack of Love a shot.