I have to admit to at first being disappointed by the soundtrack to Panzer Dragoon Zwei. The first Panzer Dragoon's live orchestral music and studio synth were for me an epoch of the 32-bit era of CD-based game music, so Zwei's return to game synth - even via the Sega Saturn's quite respectable sound processor - seemed like a step backwards at the time. Only after hearing later Panzer Dragoon soundtracks did I come to appreciate this second score's significance. Panzer Dragoon Zwei Original Soundtrack marks the origin of the completely unique sound that now characterizes the series, and at times shows the style at its very finest.
The opening stage theme "Destiny Begins" provides an excellent representation of the soundtrack's unique sound right from the start. Rapid, sometimes fragmented tribal percussion and a mix of mock-orchestral synth instruments with completely original electronic ones establish the techno-organic setting, while meandering alternate melodies supplement driving main themes.
The soundtrack reaches its pinnacle, however, in a three-track sequence beginning with "The Empire's Giant Carrier", a boss battle track which lays the groundwork for the epic battle themes in Panzer Dragoon Saga. The lead melody in this early effort is just slightly on the minimalistic side, but when combined with stomping tribal percussion and dark, grinding background synth it's more than enough, especially when deftly crafted pan flutes and synth strings kick in for the chorus. "Forest of Taboo" utilizes similarly superb strings and percussion in a fusion of world music and New Age, led by an optimistic and adventuresome flute melody. The grand finale of the trio and climax of the score, "Hanuman", takes the intensely rhythmic tribal percussion and techno-organic electronic instrumentation from the tracks before and removes all melodic restraint - the result a raging, wicked boss theme with a hopeful and heroic chorus. It's the premier battle theme of the series, and the only flaw to be found is that it doesn't repeat for a bit longer.
The rest of the stage music and boss themes feature many of the same qualities but in not as coherent a musical whole. Early tracks like "The Great Ravine" and "Flight" are more atmospheric and have a stronger focus on the electronic instrumentation. Their melodies aren't likely to stick but there are any number of creative electronic touches to make the listen interesting. The latter half of the score becomes even heavier in mood with the almost oppressively cold "Rando Doura" and "Sea of Ice". "An Attack from Darkness" provides a transcendental respite when low, mysterious synths are joined by a brief but unmistakable reference to the first Panzer Dragoon's classic main theme.
As much as the experimental nature of the compositions and instrumentation distinguish the soundtrack, there are times I can't help but wish they were a bit more conventional. Occasionally melodies are meandering almost to the point of sounding random, with accompaniment coming in at mixed intervals and in tones that sound just the slightest bit off. In "Destiny Begins" this is compensated for by a focused main theme, in "Rando Doura" by the heavy atmosphere, but as standalone listens both "Ruins" and "Conclusion" beg for greater melodic focus (though admittedly they work well in their frantic in-game stages). And though the synth is essential to the techno-organic nature of the series, some of the less robust electronic instruments can be a tad off-putting at first, especially when compared to the more contemporary electronic instrumentation in Panzer Dragoon 1 and the more refined synth in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
The difference in instrumentation is most felt in the opening and ending themes, which despite being given gorgeous live instrumentation in all the other Panzer Dragoon scores are stuck with Saturn synth in Zwei. The somber synth reprise of the Zwei main theme in "Reminiscence" mimics the approach of the original Panzer Dragoon's orchestral "Staff Roll" but lacks its almost heart-breaking poignance. And though the optimistic reprise of the same Zwei theme in "Lagi and Lundi" is endearing in its present synth state, I can't help but imagine it with the amazing orchestration and enchanting Panzerese female vocals of the ending themes for Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta.
Regardless of the relatively synthetic instrumentation, Panzer Dragoon Zwei Original Soundtrack makes a strong case for the being the most essential soundtrack in an excellent series. I consider it well worth owning for the trio of tracks 9 through 11 alone, with the multitude of interesting moments in the remainder becoming more noticeable on subsequent listens and adding to the experience. It's probably the closest thing there is to an avant-garde action soundtrack; to my knowledge there's nothing remotely similar in the realm of game music or elsewhere, and if there ever is I'd be most excited to hear it.