Soundtrack Central The best of VGM and other great soundtracks

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Daniel K Sep 1, 2008

Time we had a proper thread about this.   

Those who have read my posts on the matter may have noticed that I have certain pet peeves when it comes to MegaTen soundtracks of the last few years. I miss the old classic composers of the series from the 1990s (especially from Atlus' golden age - Saturn / Playstation 1), and I think the current composer Shoji Meguro has gotten worse with age, no doubt thanks to the fact that he now seems to compose every soundtrack in the series in a great hurry (the next Devil Summoner game will be out 5 months after Persona 4 - a little tight, eh?). So I'll just say it once more: MegaTenmusicwasbetterbeforeandShojiMeguroisdefinitelyoverworkedandtheothercomposersshouldreturn.


I wanted to get that out of the way because I have to say that the Persona 4 OST is absolutely amazing. It seems like the soundtrack that Persona 3 OST should have been. I really love the game Persona 3, and the music partially grew on me after I played it, but there's no denying that the soundtrack was kind of weak on it's own. Meguro tried to convey a "cool" and "hip" atmosphere, but only succeeded halfway. Persona 4 OST is another story altogether, I was initially skeptical, but it quickly grew on me, and I love it now (needless to say, I haven't played the game yet).

The style is reminiscent of the P3 OST, but everything is just done so much better. There are even more vocals than in P3, but they're much better (and no rap this time!). Now, when I say "vocals", the average VGM listener will think "ah, ending themes and such, I guess". Wrong! Just like in the preceding game, the vocals are intertwined in many of the "normal" tracks, making the vocal addition to the soundtrack much less pretentious, forced, and out-of-place than most typical VGM vocals are. Really, I'm definitely no fan of vocals in my VGM, but in P4, Meguro has succeeded in blending them so seamlessly into the mix that they become like just another instrument, and I don't mind them in the least. Some of the lyrics are the typical dumb J-Engrish fare, but on the other hand, some of them are not so bad and sound great in context (Come on, let go of the remote; don't you know you're letting all the junk flood in?). The singer isn't very adept at English, but it doesn't bother me that much - it even sounds pleasant, in a way. Anyway, almost all of these themes are great, check out "Pursuing My True Self" (<- that title just screams Persona), "Your Affection", and "Heartbeat, Heartbreak", especially. One has to hear them to really understand.

Apart from the vocal themes, the rest is great as well. There is some trademark Meguro-rock in the battle themes, but most of the stuff is lighthearted, up-beat electronic music and jazz-sounding pop. There is just too much good stuff to mention: "SMILE", "specialist", and "muscle blues" is hummable and funky pop with a classy jazz-feel to it (and leagues and bounds over anything Meguro's previously produced in the genre), "Castle", "Sauna", and "Theater" is slick and wicked-sounding techno that harkens back to Meguro's Maken X days (I especially love the repeating vocal sample in "Theater", this track reminds me so much of Persona 2). All of these tracks are just so well-produced and plain fun to listen to even for someone who hasn't played the game - I can only assume that they work wonders within the game itself.

The entire soundtrack is solid, really. The only stinker I can think of is the very last track, the bonus "Electronica in Velvet Room", a really lame version of this composition, almost as bad as P3's "Blues in Velvet Room".

Meguro has managed to do with P4 OST what he tried so hard to do with P3 OST and Burn My Dread - Reincarnation but ultimately failed, namely to imbue the music with the right Persona atmosphere - youthful, cool, hip, modern, but dark, thoughtful, and challenging at the same time. Personally, I think its his best work since 2003's Shin Megami Tensei 3 - Nocturne, or possibly even since 1999's Maken X (I say this because I can already feel it knocking SMT3 down the ladder). So, while I still feel that its not quite as good as the Persona 1 & 2 soundtracks and I still hope we will see the return of veteran composers such as Toshiko Tasaki and Kenichi Tsuchiya (sorry, I couldn't resist), I have to tip my hat to Meguro-san for this accomplishment and say that this album is a serious contender for best VGM of 2008. If anything, listening to it has taught me to not be so quick in sharpening the obituary pencil.

Bernhardt Sep 1, 2008 (edited Sep 1, 2008)

RE: Persona 3 OST,

I liked the "Hip" that Meguro attempted with P3; the town and battle tracks were awesome, the problem was that there were too many generic ominous pieces, and not enough different gameplay themes; if you ask me, P3 could've used MORE hip pieces.

For example, my favorite town themes included: "This Strange Sensation," "Want to Be Close," "Dormitory," and "When the Moon Reaches the Stars," I liked the vocals in all of these; the vocals are what MADE these tracks, but the instrumentation wasn't lacking, either!

Opening vocals like "Burn My Dread" and "Changing Seasons" were awesome too, again, the vocals MADE them! The Dark Hour theme, "Voice of Someone Calling" was nice, as was "Aria of the Soul." A gothic piano sound, and aria? I'm SOLD.

Battle themes like "Mass Destruction," "Master of Shadows," "Master of Tartarus," and especially "Burn My Dread ~ Last Battle" were especially catchy, whether they were purely instrumental, or featured vocals, either lyrics, ore simple scat-singing.

But as I said before, not ENOUGH of the soundtrack consisted of these kinds of themes; there were too many bland, ominous cinematic tracks, and in those cases, you're too busy watching what's happening, and trying to listen to what the characters are saying, rather than listen to any music that might be in the background, so those tracks are rather useless and self-defeating.


I'm really looking forward to the Persona 4 OST, but I've already so much other music to root through these days; probably pick it up around the same time that I do the game.

Daniel K Sep 1, 2008

McCall: Feel free to post a link to your review once its up, I'm interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Bernhardt wrote:

the vocals are what MADE these tracks

So what are you fussing about? If you read my post, you should know that the Persona 4 OST has more vocal pieces than Persona 3 had, and all of them are infinitely better. Also, P4 has less "ominous" incidental music, so you need to have no fear there.

Bernhardt wrote:

I've already so much other music to root through these days; probably pick it up around the same time that I do the game.

Its your choice of course, but if you really loved P3's music as much as you say, you should move P4 to the top of your list, pronto. I cannot stress this point enough: it does everything P3 OST tried to do, only many times better.

And as for "Aria of the Soul", that one is in P4 as well, and it originally appeared in Persona 1.

Mario Sep 1, 2008

Daniel K wrote:

... there's no denying that the (Persona 3) soundtrack was kind of weak on it's own.

The style is reminiscent of the P3 OST, but everything is just done so much better. There are even more vocals than in P3, but they're much better (and no rap this time!).

... almost as bad as P3's "Blues in Velvet Room".

If you read my post, you should know that the Persona 4 OST has more vocal pieces than Persona 3 had, and all of them are infinitely better.

I cannot stress this point enough: it does everything P3 OST tried to do, only many times better.

You sure do hate Persona 3's soundtrack with a passion, huh? wink

I pretty much agree with Bernhardt all the way. I think the vocal themes for Persona 3 are good. Frankly, I enjoy just about every song that's played often in Persona 3. But when I actually listened to the soundtrack, I was disappointed by how many bland atmospheric songs there were. I didn't even recognize a lot of them, so I can assume they only play a time or two in the game, probably in the background of a conversation or something. So I guess, due the generic atmospheric pieces, Persona 3's soundtrack could be considered a bit of a let-down.

On a side note: I've heard people criticize Persona 3's soundtrack for not being more like the Digital Devil Saga soundtracks, which I don't really understand. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the DDS soundtracks (and I think "Battle for Survival" is possibly the best song Meguro has composed), but Persona 3 has a much different atmosphere and style than the DDS games, and their musical style simply wouldn't fit. At the very least, I think Shoji Meguro should be given credit for using a style of music that suits Persona 3 perfectly.

*remembers this thread is about Persona 4's soundtrack*
Anyhoo... I doubt I'll enjoy Persona 4's soundtrack more than Persona 3's, but who knows? I've only heard sample clips so far, and based on those, Persona 4's soundtrack seems like a less-inspired version of Persona 3's. I hope that's not actually the case, but I won't know until I play Persona 4 this December and hear the songs in their entirety.

Daniel K Sep 1, 2008

Mario wrote:

You sure do hate Persona 3's soundtrack with a passion, huh? wink

I have never said I hated it. In the context of the game I actually love it. All I'm saying is that Persona 4's soundtrack is way superior. Can we keep the P3 discussion to the P3 threads, please?

Cedille wrote:


Pearls for swine. tongue

Eirikr Sep 1, 2008 (edited Sep 1, 2008)

I definitely didn't like P4's soundtrack on a first listen. Without experience with the game, most of the tracks I usually go to on an OST are the battle themes and I definitely prefer P3's. I'm not saying I'd rather have Mass Destruction than Reach Out To The Truth (love it), but there was a greater variety of style in P3, with Master of Tartarus and Master of Shadow, etc.

Then I listened to it again and starting liking up to some of the vocal themes, like Signs of Love. Though the Velvet Room theme is the same as P3s? Come on Meguro, that's just some weak sauce.

So yeah, mixed feelings so far. I will probably have to play the game first to get a true feel for it. I'm of the mindset that P3 was a "different" sort of classic that was made all the better for it. Within the context of the genre, it was definitely a unique listen. P4's soundtrack to me so far feels a lot "safer".

But other than that, bring back Tsukasa Masuko, seriously. What the hell is the guy doing nowadays other than arranging for Smash Bros.?

Daniel K Sep 2, 2008 (edited Sep 2, 2008)

McCall wrote:

Yeah, it got a little heated. I'm sorry to everyone in the world for setting up that dichotomy between the P3 and 4 OSTs in my original post: obviously not the best way to go about it, since just about everyone except McCall replied to profess their love for P3 music all of a sudden (gee, where were you guys when this OST was released and getting the shit ripped out of it on various forums...?).

I mentioned P3's music because I thought it was a good way to help me describe the P4 OST, which is similar in style and by the same composer. I figured fans of the previous score would be curious how the two compared with each other (but it seems I unknowingly de-railed my own thread). And once again: I don't hate the P3 OST. I consider it a very special soundtrack with some (admittedly major) flaws, a diamond in the rough. What I basically tried to say was that P4 OST is just 100% diamond (OK, 98%). It took 96 hours of playing Persona 3 for me to really appreciate and see the beauty of the P3 OST; P4 OST clicked almost immediately without a second of emotional attachment to the game. Make of that what you will.

Now let's discuss the P4 OST if there are any other fans out there except me and McCall, that is?

Daniel K Sep 2, 2008

McCall wrote:

songs that very easily could have lyrics but because they are so well written, and have such hummable and pure melodies, it doesn't even need them.


This is the bridge between VGM and the rest of the music world. This is something you can play for open-minded music fans and get that "WTF this is from a game" reaction, unlike the cheap, boring, by-the-numbers, same-sounding crap we've been hearing for the last 5 years (broadly speaking, of course.)

Tellin' it like it is! big_smile

Eirikr Sep 2, 2008

Considering how similar the games are, it's impossible for me to let it P4 stand on its own without direct comparison to P3. Try discussing Mega Man 9 without mentioning any of its predecessors.

Yeah, I didn't like P3 all that much when I first listened to my CDs, but when I played the game a year later, things did start to click.

The same thing might happen with P4, who knows, but for now, I just merely like a lot of what's on there instead of being in love with the entire album.

Zane Sep 2, 2008 (edited Sep 2, 2008)

I've heard most of Meguro's stuff, but Persona 4 doesn't resonate with me at all. P3 didn't click, either, but I guess that's just because this isn't the style of VGM that I enjoy. I still think Meguro peaked with DDS 1 & 2. P3 and 4 just sound like glossy synth-pop/rap/rock/electro that doesn't really fit in with what I look for in VGM.

Daniel K Sep 2, 2008

McCall: Chill, dude. I definitely understand your anger towards indifference, but we also have to acknowledge the fact that you can't win 'em all. Love what you love, offer it to others: if they don't care, see my "pearls" reference above. Life is too short to get mad about things like that.

All things considered, this thread did not turn out the way I thought it would. Maybe we should put it in the freezer for a while...? As for the P4 OST, I'm am absolutely confident that it will, in time, get the recognition it truly deserves. Once the game is out in English you'll see... Its gonna be vindicated.

Daniel K Sep 2, 2008

McCall wrote:

Your pearls analogy is perfect though...should probably start using that in my life more often. wink

Well, I can't take credit for the analogy, Jesus came up with that one. smile

Eirikr Sep 2, 2008

I'm not a musician, so the only measure of quality I can register is if I like the music or not. It's more important that I like it than it be well-produced, though oftentimes the two are intertwined. 

The way I like to judge game music is weigh 45% on how it resonates outside of the game and 55% within it. It's still composed to make a game more effective, after all.

Persona 4's 45% probably gets a 30% from me, but even that will probably go up once I play the game and hear more of the music in context (and unavoidably, since I can't skip tracks that seem boring). I'm one of those people who can sit on a soundtrack without playing the game and think it was "okay", but absolutely love the music after experiencing what it was composed for.

I will admit to having a harsher ear for P4's music. I think P4 was pretty much a quick cash-in game after the sudden massive popularity of P3. I loved P3 and while more of the same isn't necessarily bad, after four playthroughs of P3 I'm inclined to say the formula is pretty boring and slow after your first time. smile So yeah, like it or not, I personally won't be able to shake this off until I play the game.

Daniel K Sep 2, 2008 (edited Sep 2, 2008)

Wow, this thread sure went south very quickly. Why does this always happen with my threads? (Don't answer: it was a rhetorical question). While I'm not gonna argue people's subjective opinions on this soundtrack, there is just one more thing I'd like to comment on (to anyone still reading): 

Zane wrote:

P3 and 4 just sound like glossy synth-pop/rap/rock/electro that doesn't really fit in with what I look for in VGM.

This is something you hear often about P3's music (and now P4 as well, it seems). It seems like a lot of people like to put it down for it's supposed shallowness (I'm not necessarily directing this towards Zane or anyone in this thread, just my experience in general). Personally, I don't think these soundtracks are "shallow" just because they sound "glossy" and have slick production that on the surface sounds not very unlike what you'd hear on the radio. Just because something has a shiny surface doesn't mean that its devoid of substance underneath, and there's a lot more depth to this music than just sounding like "radio-pop". It actually has a quality that the Persona games themselves have mastered into perfection: to project an image of poppy shallowness while having many, many more layers underneath. The games are about teenagers who, on the surface, seem cool, popular, and content (in short: the people you probably hated in high school if you're on this forum). But the more the story progresses, the player gets to explore and experience their fears, insecurities, and hang-ups. Persona players will know what I'm talking about. There's a lot more to the stories than that of course, but my point is that this aspect is carried over brilliantly and very skillfully into the series' soundtracks: while an uninitiated VGM listener who's not familiar with the style and mythos of the games can download a mp3 rip of the music and dismiss it as shallow after a few listens, there is a lot more depth there than first meets the ears. The P4 OST is in this regard the exact polar opposite of the many countless "serious" and "mature" orchestral VGM scores played by real symphonies that still just turn out to be uninspired crap in the end: on one end you have a "shallow" soundtrack with many layers under the surface that just grows with each listen, on the other hand there are a lot of "heavy" and "deep" scores that turn out to be the really superficial stuff. No names, I'll leave it at that.

I'm not trying to sell this soundtrack to anyone, I just wanted to put into words some of the thoughts I've had about it. And if someone still doubts that there are works of profound art and power that at first are discarded by most people as one-sided and uninspired, I have the ultimate, kill-all argument up my sleeve: iFUTURELIST. tongue

Eirikr Sep 2, 2008

Daniel K wrote:

Wow, this thread sure went south very quickly.

I don't really see that this thread went south. It's people giving their opinions on a soundtrack that is unusual for its genre, so opinions are more polarized than usual.

Also, though I only post here occasionally, I think I'm conditioned from other forums to step in and argue where Persona and Shin Megami Tensei matters are involved. smile

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