Soundtrack Review Addendum | Lufia: Curse of the SinistralssteemCreated with Sketch.

in #review6 years ago (edited)

My review of the soundtrack of the Nintendo DS remake of Lufia II, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals.

lufia curse of the sinistrals.jpg
From GameFAQs.

This remake of Lufia II was co-developed by Square Enix and the original Neverland. The game dates to Neverland's final years in business - after Curse, the only games it would release were Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny and Rune Factory 4 (after which the studio filed for bankruptcy and closed).

There is something of a happy ending - the Rune Factory development team was taken in by Marvelous, and their final game, Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven, completed.

Neverland will be missed. It was never the biggest or most well-known of developers and it never made the biggest, or most well-known, or even best-made games. But they had heart - they truly tried. When they closed they were the last of a dying breed, the "B-tier studio". Or, perhaps, not the "B-tier studio" but the "midsized" company. Thanks to the rising cost of development, there aren't many of those left - there are plenty of AAA developers and more indies than you can shake a stick out, but how many midsize studios are there?

Few. Platinum Games with its licensed games and action development, even if it hasn't yet gotten a true, original breakout. Level-5 has managed very well for itself, thanks to its relentless and single-minded focus on easily-marketable games (Professor Layton, Ni No Kuni, Yokai Watch). 5th Cell made it by on the strength of Scribblenauts, and licensed titles, until 2016 (the company apparently still exists, but only with a tiny amount of employees). Other companies? They keep themselves to evergreen games or to licensed games.

Yes, the midsized, or B-tier, or whatever, studio is a breed that has gone down the tubes.

In any case... Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, released in 2010 in both Japan and North America. Its music is drawn almost entirely from Lufia II, with a handful of tracks from Fortress of Doom. All the tracks, therefore, were composed by Yasunori Shiono, though the man himself had no involvement - instead, his music was transferred over to the game by Neverland's in-house team of Yukio Nakajima and Tomoko Morita (one or both of which had already left the company and were therefore working on a freelance basis).

In addition to that, Square Enix's own in-house synthesizer operators and composers Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki prepared fourteen arrangements for the CD release of the soundtrack, using high-quality sample libraries to produce some excellent arrangements.

Why this post? Well, cast your minds back to the far-off era of March 2nd, 2018, when I reviewed Lufia II...

[12] Music from Lufia II and a handful of tracks from the first Lufia were reprised, arranged by Yukio Nakajima and Tomoko Morita. Shiono to my knowledge had no involvement with this remake of Lufia II, and there are no new, original compositions. I include it here for completeness sake. There will be an addendum post soon after this one covering the rearranged soundtrack.

Time to finally make good on that!

review.png
You will understand, of course, that this will be something of a shorter review than my typical soundtrack reviews of the past, since all the tracks here originate from Lufia II or Lufia & the Fortress of Doom, both of which I previously reviewed (and have linked).

Here are the pieces that originate from the soundtrack of Lufia & the Fortress of Doom:

Curse of the SinistralsFortress of Doom
07 "Eseritko, Forest Village28 "Spirits of the Netherworld"
10 "Soma Shrine Underground"15 "Cave"
18 "Gratze Underground Factory"26 "The Silent Temple"
37 "Compensation for the Battle"04 "The Spoils of War"
39 "Time of Demise"04 "The Spoils of War"

I can't say in all honesty that these are what I would've picked. Indeed, among original Fortress of Doom tracks, "Tower" strikes me as an excellent pick, and it's a shame that "Parting" isn't present anywhere.

So, with the FoD exceptions covered, let's talk about the soundtrack as a whole...

The tracks are almost identical to their SNES originals. That said, they use not the original SNES soundfont but something close, a newer soundfont that Neverland used in many of their other DS games. I'm divided on my opinions to it - it has many improvements, but the strings have a distinctly different sound that I sometimes love and sometimes hate. The piano (which you can hear in "Autumn") manages the unusual feat of being worse than the SNES original. The oboe and trumpet sometimes bear a far faster vibrato than they ought.

The adaptations therefore vary somewhat in how much I am fond of them. "Battle #2", arranged by Yukio Nakajima, takes more liberties than most of the other tracks, changing over the strings to an electronic organ sound for some of it and doing the same with "Battle #3" (also arranged by Nakajima).

Though I didn't mention Morita's arrangement of "Battle #1", all three sound just fine.

To own the truth of it, none of the arrangements are actually bad. The problems emerge in the vibrato on the oboe and trumpet, the unusual tone of the strings, the inconsistent of percussion samples - I can count three different snares and two timpanis. "Opening Theme" ("Rumbling") is unfortunately abbreviated from its epic six-minute original to a mere 1:50, probably the biggest objection I have to the whole score.

That the quality of the rearranged score is barely better than the SNES score is extremely disappointing. Other scores make clear the potential of the Nintendo DS to produce truly excellent sound when pushed and utilized intelligently: Radiant Historia, scored by Yoko Shimomura, is a particular stand-out in that respect.


So, let's turn our attention now to the fourteen arrangements by Square Enix's Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki. They are all steps and steps above the actual score itself, produced with a far greater quality of sample library and with their professional experience.

"North Land" sound absolutely exceptional with its gorgeous flute and the choice of guitars, bringing that acoustic feel even more to the original. The string melody is given over to a solo violin - to repeat the superlative, it's gorgeous.

All three of the battle themes are worth listening to. The electric guitars sound leagues away from the original. "Battle #2" retains the electric organ from Nakajima's arrangement, which leads me to think that these arrangements were brought over from Morita's and Nakajima's versions rather than the SNES originals. That said there are creative liberties taken - "Battle #2" switching from organ to guitar to strings, for example.

Finally, "The Last Duel" (which ought to be its official name, not something ridiculous like "The Last Decisive Battle") is given its most epic form yet, with huge crashes and a far more brassy arrangement and even some woodwinds and in time a solo violin, some liberties taken with tempo part of the way through.

That covers the positives. And as excellent as these are, they still aren't what I'd quite want from a remastered Lufia II score. There are problems with the CD arrangements - "Opening Theme" sounds wonderful but "Rumbling" is still truncated.

A solo trumpet appears all over the place and it just doesn't fit - to the point, in "Three Towers", that I began thinking of it as the drunk trumpet. The french horns, though suitably big, sound muffled. The orchestra seems displaced - a solo trumpet slightly to your left, strings behind them, snare in front of those, horns behind all of it.


What ought you to do, then, for a remastered Lufia II score? If neither Yukio Nakajima or Tomoko Morita, who worked with Yasunori Shiono at Neverland since 1996 and 2001 (Nakajima and Morita, respectively, and Shiono knew Nakajima even before he [Nakajima] began composing at Neverland as evidenced by the Special Thanks credit in Lufia II) until Shiono left the company, could get it right, and if neither Hidenori Iwasaki nor Ryo Yamazaki, professional synth operators and sound programmers and composers employed at Square Enix since 1998 and still employed there, could get it right...

...then what is the correct way to remaster the Lufia II score?

My subjective opinion is that there are a couple ways to go about it: adapting the pieces properly for orchestra and band, fleshing out Shiono's simple originals with greater density of line and orchestral richness. The most orchestral pieces would become orchestral. Slower themes could be adapted for a smaller ensemble, such as a chamber orchestra or chamber group. Battle themes could become full-fledged rock pieces, while the ending ballad, and "The Earth", could be adapted for more folksy/80s-y/New Age-y ensembles, bringing in acoustic guitars, electronic percussion ("To the Future" only), and pan flute.

This sort of adaption for multiple different ensembles would, admittedly, be time-consuming and labor-intensive. A viable alternative would be to adapt all of it for chamber orchestra and then to augment that with guitars, drum kits, and synths. However, I am wary of using synths with the orchestra as it seems there are many ways this could go in quite the wrong direction.

The second option would be to locate the original ROMplers that Neverland sampled from to create their SNES soundfont.

This is hardly impossible - Mathew Valente did the extraordinarily impressive feat of not just doing that for Final Fantasy IV but then going on to adapt the whole soundtrack to those original sounds with various digital editing to make it sound as though Uematsu had produced it in the 90s, modeled off of the bonus soundtrack Uematsu released in the 90s called "Final Fantasy Mix," which "had two tracks that used instrumentation that sounded like the original synthesizers that Final Fantasy IV and even other sequels used for its samples." (You can hear Synthetic Origins Final Fantasy IV on YouTube here - it's a stunning listen and includes not just the original tracks but multiple unused tracks, two originals, and one bonus track each from FFIII, V, VI, VII, and VIII. [As you might expect, that V, VI, VII, and VIII bonuses are the final battle themes. {In the case of VI, it's the Kefka tier of "Dancing Mad"}] I highly recommend it.)

There is another example, as well, in the Dept. Heaven series games Riviera: The Promised Land and Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone. Both games were originally for the WonderSwan Color. They were ported, eventually, to the GameBoy Advance (with the GBA's fuzzy sound system) using sounds from Roland's famous SC-88. Finally just a couple years later the were ported to Sony's PSP, which had fully-produced versions from the SC-88. (I suspect, in fact, that the music was streamed.)

Similarly, Lufia II likely would sound even better on the original samples, not the re-looped and hugely compressed samples created for the SNES. One could even choose to flesh out the arrangement anyway with, again, greater density - and, because you are using ROMplers from the 90s, realism would not be that big of a concern, the goal instead being to create nostalgia.

By using the original sounds (the sampled origins, if you'll forgive a paraphrase), you at once match the original version of the soundtrack and the idealization in the player's head that results from years of memory and youth creating something sounding far better than what was actually there. Using the original sounds keeps the original version, upgrades it, and avoids the issue of nostalgia getting in the way.

concluding thoughts.png
Solidly functional but entirely unexceptional. The fourteen CD-exclusive arrangements are good listens but ultimately not quite good enough. If you're considering purchasing a Lufia score, this should be avoided unless you are an avid Lufia fan and must own everything. Otherwise, you are better off purchasing a release of the Lufia II score (which often comes bundled with Fortress of Doom - there was a 3-disc release last year), which sounds better and is friendlier to the ears than the flawed arrangements here.


A remark on reviewing: reading is one of my hobbies. Writing is a spin-off hobby off of that hobby, as it were. Writing reviews of what I read is a spin-off hobby of writing - it's my spin-off hobby's spin-off hobby. This is why there are sometimes decent periods of time between reviews - it all depends on what I'm reading and how long it's taking me and what other projects I might have going on.

Writing soundtrack reviews is something I gave up on for a while because they're extremely time-consuming - we're talking scores that are over an hour long, sometimes over two hours long, requiring multiple listens, and, because I am obsessive, time spent transcribing favorite melodies specifically for the purpose of the review. Reading requires no such work; I can read a book once and have fairly well-developed thoughts on it, where music requires multiple listens for me to fully develop my thoughts on it.

If you were wondering about how I think through what I review, there you are. As far as reviewing itself, any glance at a couple of my reviews reveals a structure - some favorites, some things I disliked, organization oft by the "subject" of that section, and an overarching Introduction-and-Information/Review/Concluding-Thoughts structure enfolding all of that.

Finally, most of these reviews are published as-is once they are finished. Revisions are made only in the case of typos (which aren't always spotted!) and factual error or additional information. Sometimes when writing I may rewrite a couple paragraphs or even excise paragraphs, but for the most part, these are published as-is-once-done.


My, it has been a while since I reviewed a soundtrack... please expect at some point or another a review of Lufia: The Legend Returns, the third and final game of the series and the only one for a handheld - GameBoy Color. (I refuse to count Ruins of Lore, which wasn't even developed by Neverland.)

I am still reading Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1, and beyond that still have all the books on me I mentioned in my review of John Adams, (Hope Never Dies already reviewed, though) and not only that but also Lamb: The Gospels According to Biff, Jesus Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, Errol Morris' Believing is Seeing, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and Daniel Abraham's short story collection (hopefully not his last) Leviathan Wept.

So - keep patient! More will come.

Sort:  

I agree with pretty much everything you said in your review; the choice of tracks used from Lufia 1 could have been a bit better. It might be worth noting that Curse doesn't use "Peace of Mind" from the original Lufia 2, but replaces it with the Priphea Flowers theme from the oriignal (although, for some reason, an arrangement of "Peace of Mind" and the first two battle themes from Lufia 1 are both in the ROM, despite not being used in the game).

Some (maybe most?) of the samples (like the guitar and harp) for Neverland's DS games came from the Roland SC-88, but they're sampled instruments, just like the original Lufia 2, whereas Radiant Historia's music is streamed, which is unfortunate for the former. I would have been happy with either of the options you presented for a better arrangement (an orchestral version better than one using the "sampled originals", of course, but either being a good choice). If it's of interest, Noriyuki Iwadare talks a bit about arranging a PSX game's soundtrack for the PSP here, and I think the final result turned out well: https://www.patreon.com/posts/pre-show-with-11452554

I like that Curse restored the introductory section from "Azure Sky" that was present in the prototype (but cut in the final version) of Lufia 2, at least. It seems the composers for Chaos Seed didn't adhere to the SNES sound channel limitations ("When I arranged Chaos Seed's music for the SEGA Saturn from the SNES, I added some deleted sounds, especially drum, because of the lack of channels" from https://web.archive.org/web/20030501034419/http://interviews.rocketbaby.net:80/interviews_nakajima_yukio_1.html), and it would have been nice to have any deleted sound channels from the original Lufia 2 restored in a remaster, if there are any.

Anyway, sorry for rambling a bit, haha. I don't think anyone would be disappointed if there was a significant delay between reviews, considering how time-consuming it is. I'm looking forward (patiently) to your eventual review of the GBC game and any future reviews!

(By the way, I recently came across a tool that you might find useful? It splits the sound channels of various game music formats - .nsf for NES, .spc for SNES, .vgm for Genesis/Mega Drive and a few others - into individual .wav files, which you could load into audacity or something if you ever want to transcribe music from one of those systems, since you can choose to only have one instrument playing at a time. Here's a link if you want to download it: https://f.losno.co/multidumpersetup.exe .)

By the way, a coupople of small typos I noticed, if you want to fix them: :p
-'{In the case of VI, it's the Kefka tier of "Dancing Mad}]' <- You can see song title has a } at the end instead of a closing quotation mark.
-"They are. They are all steps and steps above the actual score itself" <- I'm not sure what's happening with the first sentence from this sentence? (Maybe you put it there deliberately, but I can't make sense out of what it means/why it's there.)
-"That the quality of the rearranged score is barely better than the SNES score is extremely disappointed." <- The last word should probably be "disappointing" (and I agree!).
-"What ought you to do, then, for a remastered Lufia II score? If neither Yukio Nakajima or Tomoko Morita . . . couldn't get it right" <- "couldn't" should be "could" because of the double negation, but I probably would have made the same mistake with a long sentence like that, haha.

I didn't know there were unused tracks! Are there YouTube links anywhere?

Some (maybe most?) of the samples (like the guitar and harp) for Neverland's DS games came from the Roland SC-88, but they're sampled instruments, just like the original Lufia 2, whereas Radiant Historia's music is streamed, which is unfortunate for the former.

I know that many of the sounds for the original Lufia II came from the SC-88, but the massive change in strings makes me wonder what sort of soundfont Neverland was using and where it original came from. It could still be one of the Sound Canvas' of course, the strings sound - if only faintly - like those from The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap on GBA.

I would have been happy with either of the options you presented for a better arrangement (an orchestral version better than one using the "sampled originals", of course, but either being a good choice).

I don't know, actually! Orchestras would be great but with that you have the risk of running afoul of players' nostalgia. (Mind, the FFVII Remake is going to have this issue to a far, far greater extent, thanks to its far, far greater fanbase.) Even though I didn't grow up in the SNES era, the GBA has given me an enduring love for the SC series.

it would have been nice to have any deleted sound channels from the original Lufia 2 restored in a remaster, if there are any.

The LII music isn't particularly line-dense, which makes me think that there aren't any sound channels missing. That Nakajima interview is very interesting, I think it may be the only interview with him that exists in English. I wish we had more interviews with the composers of Neverland. (If nothing else to get a full track-by-track breakdown of The Legend Returns and who composed what, since all four Neverland composers [Shiono, Morita, Ishibashi, Nakajima] worked on it.) I keep wondering where and what Tomoko Morita (and Akiko Ishibashi, for that matter) are doing now! I know Morita joined Studio Qareeb, but there's a great scarcity of information about them.

I'm looking forward (patiently) to your eventual review of the GBC game and any future reviews!

Probably you will need that patience. XD I read a lot these days and I'm busy with other stuff besides.

By the way, I recently came across a tool that you might find useful? It splits the sound channels of various game music formats [...] into individual .wav files

I actually have a program like that already called Audio Overload. There's also VGMtrans, which lets you export the samples and even sometimes the .MIDI files, but I think it was you that introduced me to that one in the first place, so...

By the way, a coupople of small typos I noticed, if you want to fix them

I have missed your free-of-charge proofreading service. :-) I have fixed all those that you have mentioned. I always think I catch them all, and then it turns out it's not a misspelling but an incorrect word choice. XD Shows what I get for publishing as-is.

For clarity's sake, also, on one of the more complex-looking errors, "Dancing Mad" has been fixed, but I have left the } in place, as it is a nested parenthetical (itself inside of a nested parenthetical).

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