Time to buy stock in Kikuta Inc. - this guy's on the rise.
Reader review by James McCawley
Soukaigi Original Soundtrack is remarkable. I consider it Hiroki Kikuta's finest work ever - completely burying both Seiken Densetsu scores - and one of the true "legendary" soundtracks from Square, on that same hallowed level as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Xenogears. In a first for a Square OST, the complete body of music is performed entirely with live instruments. Shrugging off altogether the fast-stagnating classical and medieval RPG sound, Kikuta mixes in an underground progressive rock theme with a variety of ethnic cultural styles on one side, and balances out the other with music for full orchestral and classical acoustic instruments, all for one vitamin-packed punch of diversity.
The orchestral tracks are not of the grandly cinematic and straightforwardly melodic nature of Final Fantasy, but are of a more thoughtful, ambient, dreamily capricious character; they're similar to what we've heard in Densetsu, but realized in far more interesting and sophisticated fashion. Kikuta's orchestration is surprisingly sharp, with thick harmonic textures and excellent use of the full instrumental range. The opening "Ancient's Power" and ending vocal theme "Lovely Strains" best exemplify this intricacy of symphonic design, gaining impact and emotional conflict from the soft dissonances and unlikely chordal leaps gracefully carrying Kikuta's lithe, soulful melodies.
What's really surprising are the small ensemble set tracks. Kikuta manages to fuse together genres that would not ordinarily seem inclined to mix, creating fantasy rock and trip-hop tracks that are magic to listen to, and also blessing Soukaigi with some of the most electrifying and unique sounds ever heard in a game soundtrack. Certainly, there's nothing in earlier Square soundtracks that parallels such precious touches like the heavy trip beat and jazzy piano voicings of "Strange Promise", or the Hammond organ strains in the retro-rocking "Absolute Lady" and "Riot Emotion".
It's difficult to believe that this is an original score and not a rearrangement. With the shackles of PCM synthesis and track length restrictions removed, Kikuta produces a score that sounds like not one idea or means of musical expression was sacrificed to the limits of technology. Really, this CD should be an immediate purchase for any Square music fan, and at the top of the list for anyone just looking for something new and exciting in game music. While previously only a mild Kikuta fan for his Seiken Densetsu work, I now label myself a rabid one. And certainly, those who already love his SD work will even more so appreciate how much his voice has matured and branched out in Soukaigi.