I awaited the soundtrack to Panzer Dragoon Orta about as eagerly as I once did new Final Fantasy soundtracks back in the day, as the Panzer Dragoon series is probably my favorite game music series to come about from the 32-bit era. This latest installment continues many of the traditions from previous soundtracks - most notable among them yet another incredible ending theme - even if the album as a whole doesn't reach the same lofty heights.
The distinctive style of Panzer Dragoon's action music - tribal-sounding fast-paced percussion and high-energy wind instruments, slightly synthetic brass and strings, and electronic accents - kicks in early on in the soundtrack in "Dragonmares", although it doesn't reach true form until "City in the Storm" and "Gigantic Fleet". In the latter in particular, the percussion and fast-paced, frenetic main melody (carried by a trademark Panzer Dragoon synth-brass instrument) really make you feel like you're caught in the middle of a massive, raging battle.
Although the battle-like stage BGM and "Ancient Weapon" boss battle music are exciting in their uniquely Panzer Dragoon way, the mellower pieces are largely the highlights of the soundtrack. The slightly ethnic style of instrumentation fits in perfectly with less frantic tracks like "Altered Genos", a new agey exploration piece with a nice wind solo in the lead, and especially "The Fallen Ground", which takes an even mellower approach and is quite pretty. I've been spoiled by listening to these tracks with the accompaniment of the game's breathtaking visuals, but even with the Xbox turned off you can envision the exotic landscapes scrolling by as you listen to The Fallen Ground. "Worm Riders" adds a sense of majesty to the mixture and "Iva" one of peace and solace, even if both are quite short.
Starting from "Legacy", the soundtrack takes an increasingly ambient turn, which it doesn't kick out of until partway into "Imperial City". Also around this area the music strolls further into electronic territory, with less emphasis on the tribal percussion and flutes and more on synth instrumentation. These tracks are interesting for what they are, but I personally prefer the more organic side of Panzer Dragoon. Thus the latter part of the soundtrack is a bit anti-climactic for me.
Fortunately, as is the tradition with previous Panzer Dragoon soundtracks, the ending theme is anything but anti-climactic. It follows Panzer Dragoon Saga's ending theme's formula of combining distinctive Panzer Dragoon percussion, majestic live orchestration, and enrapturing, exotic female vocals. It doesn't quite match the incredible feeling of triumph in Saga's, but it comes close enough to still rank among my top game music ending themes of all time.
My main complaint with Orta's soundtrack, as mentioned, is that it's a bit far on the synthy side. Granted, many of the synth-tinged instrument samples are what have given the series part of its distinctive flavor since Zwei, and there are times (such as a cool little pure-synth segue midway through "Ancient Weapon 2") where they serve the soundtrack optimally. But the percussion and especially the wind instruments and brass would have been far more impressive in live instrumental form.
A U.S. release by TokyoPop titled "Panzer Dragoon Orta Official Soundtrack" includes as bonus tracks one standout selection from each of the three prior Panzer Dragoon games. These will truly be a treat for newcomers who haven't experienced the Sega Saturn entries, as the selections from the original Panzer Dragoon and from Saga are respectively two of the greatest opening and ending themes I've ever heard. (However both soundtracks deserved to be enjoyed in their entirety.)
Panzer Dragoon Orta offers more of the absolutely unique sound the series' other soundtracks are known for, while having enough of its own new qualities to be unique even among them. It doesn't reach the same heights with as much frequency as its predecessor Panzer Dragoon Saga, but fans looking for more from the series should give it a listen, and the incredible ending theme is a must-hear.