JRPG’s tend to be a little on the dramatic side. It’s part of their charm, but it’s also a factor in how niche they have become. Final Fantasy used to be a much bigger deal than it is now and each new iteration was an event that few gamers failed to celebrate. These days Final Fantasy releases are comparatively quiet affairs, overshadowed by CoD’s, Creed‘s and Battlefield‘s. Kids today don’t want complex, emotionally damaged heroes with swept fringes soliloquizing about the nature of morality, not when there are deserts full of people to shoot. For a while it looked like the JRPG genre had fallen into a pretty steep decline (it hadn’t, they’d just migrated to handhelds) and it was going to take more than Skyward Sword to get it back on top.
Enter Operation Rainfall; a fan-led campaign for Nintendo to release 3 Wii JRPG’s in the U.S as well as Japan; Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower (They had already been released in Europe, in a move that I consider karma for Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Shin Megami Tensei and all the other JRPG’s America got that Europe didn’t). The campaign was, eventually, successful and thankfully so, because all three games took the genre in new and interesting directions. Today on High Score we’re going to look at the most frequently overlooked title in the Operation Rainfall roster, Pandora’s Tower and the work of fledgling composer Takayuki Kobara.
*Sadly, like the game itself, the score for Pandora’s Tower has mostly been overlooked by fans in the west, to the point where translations, or even titles, for the pieces are next to impossible to find. In typical fanboy fashion, devotees have taken to using fan-given names when discussing them, and these are the names we’ll be using today.*
Masters of Light
The boss battles are undoubtedly the stars of the show in Pandora’s Tower. The game spends a lot of time teaching you and giving you chances to practice new mechanics for your one and only weapon before throwing you into the ring to test your skills. The boss battle theme is the same for each fight, but is arranged, developed and presented differently each time. Masters of Light presents it in it’s earliest, and purest, form and it’s pretty intense stuff. The choir stab their way along an orchestral backdrop filled out with occasional bursts of dungeon-crawler pipe organ. Old school and new school RPG scores collide and the result is, unsurprisingly, dramatic.
Masters of Dusk & Dawn
Masters of Dusk & Dawn presents the same melody, this time with additional voices and even throws them into a chase with one group of voices frantically following the other. The orchestral backing is far more aggressive here, but the moments of peaceful repose, as brief as they may be, do a good job setting it apart from the other arrangements.
Masters of Darkness
Even more aggressive still is Masters of Darkness which presents the theme amidst a sparse, ominous, mostly percussive intro, gradually building layer upon layer of strings and percussion until, believing that we have been sufficiently teased, it launches its assault around 1.46.
Catenae Fortunae (Dies Irae)
There are also other melodies to be found in the score for Pandora’s Tower, but they’re certainly no less dramatic. Catenae Fortunae wears its Final Fantasy influence on its sleeve and that is definitely a good thing.
Pandora’s Tower might not be as inventive or experimental as it’s Rainfall companions, but it took a solid gameplay mechanic and developed it well alongside a compelling narrative for a hugely enjoyable, if somewhat retro, experience. The score shares a similar balance between classic tropes and innovative ideas, weaving elegant, catchy melodies in amongst soaring orchestral chaos.
There’s also drama. Lots and lots of drama.