The "Star Ocean: Second Story" soundtrack is already an amazing work, with excellent compositions, great synthesized instruments, and music that packs emotional punch. So imagine the arranged version of the soundtrack. What you get nothing less than superb.
If you were expecting something like a symphonic suite, you're not going to find it here. The CD is filled with numerous techno-like remixes of themes and lots of piano. The mood of the arranged soundtrack is somewhat dynamic... it tends to go from epic and grand (as "Silent the Universe" shows entirely) to upbeat and funky (like "Sacred Song", which is radically changed from in the game) to painfully emotional ("Theme of RENA").
Each track is long, too. The tracks are all at least five and a half minutes, which is perhaps a subconscious after-effect of the extremely short tracks on the OSV. At times, some of the tracks (like "Lavender") seem to go on repeat mode, but at the same time, you don't want other songs (like "Stab the Sword of Justice") to ever end.
Motoi Sakuraba rivals the big names in game music for sure, like Uematsu, Mitsuda, and even my personal favourite, Sugiyama (who composes for Dragon Quest). When you listen to the tracks on the OSV, you realize why. But when you listen to the tracks on the arranged album, you are left with no doubt of Sakuraba's ability. He goes from a nail-biting, adrenaline-pumping battle theme to a heart-warming town theme in a beat. His music summons such a wide range of emotions and feelings that you think anything is possible with music.
In the CD, there is much use of synthesizer and other electronic instruments like electric guitar and drum machine. There actually isn't one speck of a live instrument in this CD, which is somewhat disappointing, because tracks like "Silent the Universe" and "Theme of RENA" really deserve a live arrangement. But actually, you won't notice. The quality of the samples is extremely good, and you'll notice their synthetic nature only if you really look for it.
The first real thrill of this soundtrack is the Battle Theme, "Stab the Sword of Justice". Because the original theme was based on electric guitar, this one doesn't give you any surprises by adding in a beat and a lot of synthesizer, but the end result is great. The track is tense and yet, exhilarating, and it's a great change from battle music that consists of repetitive bass. The second treat is "Resolution - Pure a Stream", which is a rendition of the ending music that waves directly into an excellent piano/flute version of the first town's music. The crescendos in "Pure A Stream" are nothing short of amazing.
Another treat (this entire soundtrack is a treat) is "Integral Body and Imperfect Soul", which is the remix of the final battle theme. This is one of the most well done tracks in the game, and if all final boss music were like this, I'd probably end up dying in each role-playing game because I'd put the controller down to listen to the music. This track starts off with a chorus of voices that strike you with fear, but from there comes in a heavy techno beat that has you totally immersed in the song. The catchy bass and the blare of the ominous trumpets give this track a tense, spooky tone, but yet, at the same time, it's energetic and exciting.
My favorite track, though, is "Theme of Rena". This track packs in everything that Rena goes through in a seven-minute emotional roller coaster. The track starts with a simple piano motif, then it adds in a haunting voice that strikes you. With the bass, and then the innocent playing out of the motif from "The Venerable Forest", you can't help but to be moved. I immediately recalled the scene from the game where the music was played. This is one of those themes where you're left just staring off into nothingness, trying to sort out your thoughts and emotions. It's that shocking.
This CD is worth every cent you have. If you like emotional piano pieces, heart-pounding battle music, and grandiose orchestras, then Star Ocean Second Story Arrange Album is for you, and you'll adore it to pieces. Even if you're not as much of a fan of the OST, this CD is still a must-have for anyone who likes mood-setting music, as it excels at setting moods.