Adam Corn Dec 22, 2013
Seeing how this year Sega has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Phantasy Star series (technically Friday marked the 26th anniversary, but what's a year) and we only have a couple threads about the series' music (one and two), I thought it'd be a good time to hear people's recent opinions and recommendations.
Save This World: Phantasy Star Universe Original Score is - of the eight or so Phantasy Star soundtracks I've heard - the standout for me by far. It's a single-disc collection of the nine orchestral arrangements and four vocal pieces from the OST along with a single synth-orchestral track. What first drew me to this album was the involvement as orchestrator/arranger of Masamichi Amano, composer of my favorite anime soundtrack series Giant Robo. His orchestral work, combined with the compositions of Hideaki Kobayashi, Fumie Kumatani and Kenichi Tokoimake, makes for one of the better space-operatic sci-fi scores I've heard. The sweeping main theme "Save This World ~Orchestra Version~" is pure '80s John Williams, perfect for an outer space adventure. Even better is "Moatoob", another sweeping orchestral overture, this time in the vein of Dune. It's possibly my single favorite soundtrack theme I've heard this year (a few years removed from original release). The other orchestral tracks, including the very pretty instrumental version of "For Brighter Day", complement those standout themes nicely, and even the Broadway ballad-like vocal theme "With You" is very well done. The three English-language pop songs leave something to be desired (Phantasy Star pop vocals seem to generally be worse than most), but cut those three tracks from the playlist and you have an extremely solid fantasy sci-fi adventure soundtrack. (Aside from import CD it's also available at U.S. iTunes by the way.)
For Brighter Day: Phantasy Star Universe Original Soundtrack takes all the orchestral and vocal tracks from PSU Original Score and adds the numerous synth pieces for a full three-disc OST. I'm not sure whether it's the lack of Masamichi Amano's talents in the additional tracks, or simply the possibility that they'd chosen the strongest compositions for his arrangements in the first place, but the two extra discs of synth tracks don't add much to the experience. They're perfectly fine as BGM and a few tracks do stand out a bit, but nothing near the level of the selections in PSU Original Score. Except for huge fans of the game and completist collectors, I recommend getting PSU Original Score instead.
One last Phantasy Star Universe album to mention is the arranged collection Masamicz Amano meets Sega ~Best & Wind Orchestra Version~. This is basically a collection of select Amano-arranged PSU pieces along with his original compositions for the Japan-only "Mushiking: The King of Beetles" arcade game. The four selected PSU themes (Save This World, S.E.E.D, Neudaiz and Moatoob) actually get two different renditions - the original orchestral recordings featured in PSU Original Score and new, album-exclusive wind orchestra recordings. The recording quality is noticeably better in the wind orchestra versions, but given the space-operatic quality of the PSU pieces they lose A LOT by not having strings. As the collection is missing several noteworthy themes featured in PSU Original Score, I really can't recommend it as an alternative. As for the Mushiking tracks, they're actually extremely similar in sound to Amano's Giant Robo work, just not on the same exceedingly high level. Better to stick with the originals.
The only other Phantasy Star orchestral album I'm aware of is Phantasy Star Series 25th Anniversary Concert Sympathy 2013 Live Memorial Album. As a Phantasy Star newbie I was looking forward to this one as a way to get to know and love the series' music, but after two or three listens I came away almost completely disappointed. The recording quality is substandard (especially for the applause of all things, making it sound like there are all of two dozen unenthusiastic listeners in the audience), the arrangements failed to capture my attention (with an overused drum kit souring what potential is there), and the pop vocals are embarrassing.
I haven't devoted much time to the other Phantasy Star soundtracks but I'll throw a few early opinions out. Of the three Phantasy Star Online soundtracks I've heard (Phantasy Star Online OST, PSO: Songs of Ragol Odyssey, and Phantasy Star Online 2 OST 1), Songs of Ragol Odyssey seems the best of the bunch. There's a good mix of slightly ambient sounds with more lively pieces (even a bit of funk as I recall), and the synth production values are pretty solid. Phantasy Star Portable 2 OST in comparison sounds more like a typical fantasy RPG - not quite as much of an electronic focus (it's still there though) and as a whole not bad but not noteworthy either.
One last album to mention, going back to the old days. Again this is only an early impression, but given its seemingly high reputation I'm not impressed with the arranged disc in Phantasy Star Collection: Sound Collection 1 at all. It just sounds extremely dated - both the cheesy '80s synth pop that was still lingering around Japan at that time, and the Vangelis-like synths. Certain moments do sounds briefly, appealingly similar to early-era Sakuraba, but still I'm not sure there's a single track that I would want to hear again.
So, 26 years into the series, Phantasy Star Universe Original Score is my pick of the lot. Curious to hear what everyone else thinks.