I want to confess up front that despite being a fan of music, I actually know very little about it, so any comments here on instruments/composition/etc. will be necessarily vague. All I can really talk about is how I feel about the music, not it’s innate properties. Disclaimers section over.
PE has one of the most distinctive soundtracks in gaming– I’ve heard the combination of techno and opera again since, but nothing sounds quite like Yoko Shimomura’s score for the game. The soundtrack is so consistent in style that when I first saw the track listing for the OST, it seemed weird to me that the music in the game was cut up into actual SONGS–to me, it seemed like one cohesive whole. Part of that is due to actual repetition– songs as varied as Primal Eyes, Plosive Attack, Under the Progress, and Theme of Mitochondria are all essentially different variations on Aya’s theme. However, while this repetition weakens the PE soundtrack as a standalone entity, within the game it’s perfect; Rather than focusing on different tracks, you focus on their elements, which help communicate the story; from the hesitant, tinkling piano piece that represents Aya, to the throaty vocals that accompany Eve– it’s a very human sound, but doesn’t it sound alien somehow?– to the various techno bleeps and blips that bring to mind an alien consciousness, the soundtrack is truly an extension of the story in a way that few soundtracks achieve.
There are certainly flaws– Eve’s aforementioned solo, or aria, or whatever, is not a great example of Opera vocals, and you hear it entirely too often for something so mediocre. While the idea of representing Eve with Opera is interesting, the actual music falls short of the idea. Also, some tracks are just a bit too ambient to have much character.
Obviously, my goal here is not to convince anyone that PE has the best soundtrack ever– to give an example, FFX in particular has a much greater number of fantastic songs (even though that game uses repetition as well– To Zanarkand, Someday the Dream Will End, Braska’s Daughter, and probably a whole bunch more that I’m forgetting, all share a melody with Suteki Da Ne). What it does have however, is quite possibly the most appropriate soundtrack ever; it should have been nigh impossible to create a soundtrack that sounds like mitochondria, and yet Shimomura did it.
I could go on about the meaning of Aya’s theme and so on and so forth, but in the interest of brevity I think I’ll skip all that and limit my overall ideas about the soundtrack to the above. Instead, here are my thoughts on some of the songs in PE– I tried to keep it from getting too long (ha.)
The best arrangement of Aya’s theme, hands-down. Since it’s probably the first song you will hear when you pop in the disc, it sets the tone for the entire game, and does it perfectly. Cinematics in games may have come under a lot of heat in recent years, but as opening cinemas go, I would be hard-pressed to think of a stronger opening than the entire “Primal Eyes” sequence. If anything, the only thing wrong with it is that the rest of the game is inevitably something of a disappointment; there’s nowhere to go but down.
Most of the notable songs in Parasite Eve go for a kind of sophisticated, subdued feeling of slowly building tension without ever trying to blow you out of your chair: This song is the exception. In addition to having a wonderfully epic sense of scale, this is the only song in the game that provides an answer to the incessantly tinkling piano piece that is Aya’s theme. The delayed final chord sets an ominous tone for the whole game.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I still get a tiny chill from the end of the cinema when this song plays. It’s the combination of the song fading out with “The Worst Foe Lies Within The Self” creepily displayed on screen. Come to think of it, I’m really glad that no one in the game ever actually SAYS that line. That would have killed it.
Overture (from Opera La Mia Verita)
The song that plays when Aya and her date are watching the interminable opera at the beginning of the game, before Eve saves us all by setting everyone on fire. It’s by no means bad, just grandiose– The opera in PE is really a parody of Opera. I mention it only because the ostentatiously-emotional sound of it contrasts with how the rest of the music in the game sounds.
Arise Within You
Despite having a fast beat, this is surprisingly low-key for a battle song. This is the main random battle song, and it seems like it was intended to be pleasant more than anything else. Very different. I mainly associate it with getting cool item drops, like more tools (oooh, tools! And Super Tools!)
Theme of Mitochondria
Aya’s theme after going through a funhouse mirror, and emerging devoid of any warmth. It’s not a great track on it’s own merits, but the relationship between the two themes– Aya’s and the mitochondria’s– correlates with what’s going on thematically in the game.
Out of Phase
This is the BGM at the police station; it has a very routine, everday sort of feel to it. Still, there’s something curious about it– someone is obviously trying to figure something out.
Under the Progress
This is the ‘OMG stuff is about to happen’ song. Predictably, it’s based on Aya’s theme, but a much more danceable, exciting version. I’ve been wondering for years though: Why “Under the Progress”? Most of these song titles actually make sense, which is why this one baffles me.
The main boss-battle song, and one one of the highlights of the soundtrack. It starts off quietly with some subdued percussion (that may sound like an oxymoron, but what I’m referring to here is a soft cymbal sound rather than a loud thunk), and quickly ratchets up into a multi- layered aural landscape. Hearing the BGM for an area cut out and be replaced by the opening seconds of this song and knowing that the boss is about to appear is a very ominous, exciting feeling that is one of the unique features of Parasite Eve as a game. Some games get you pumped for a boss fight by playing a loud, kickass song, but Plosive Attack inspires mainly a feeling of “Oh crap, here it comes.” In fact, you kind of feel like you’re still anticipating something once the boss is already there.
To completely understand the impact of this song, keep in mind that the aural cue is usually the first sign that you’re about to fight a boss at all; Only in a few cases are there actually cinemas preceding a boss fight. You’re just running around, minding your own business, and then the BGM just cuts out….
Influence of the Deep
This is to Eve what Primal Eyes is to Aya– the ultimate version of her theme. You hear this song whenever Aya fights Eve, meaning that you hear it a lot. The title is more interesting than the actual song; the whole thing is brought down a notch by the boring Opera vocals, and it’s outclassed by all of the other boss fight themes. But I think it’s cool that the title at first seems like a non-sequitor, yet it makes perfect sense once they deal with Eve’s connection to the sea late in the game.
The Omission of the World
I’m pretty sure that you only hear this song after emerging from the sewers to the train platform on Day 5, and I always look forward to reaching that point on repeat playthroughs because of it. It’s similar to “Under the Progress” and several other tracks, however this song adds new elements– and it appears right at the point in the game where you think you’ve heard all of the music already. Again, the title is very interesting– there’s a real sense of menace here, and after bungling through the sewers for a while (probably for a VERY LONG TIME if you don’t have a map handy), it seems like Aya’s never been so alone. It’s a very lonely stretch of the game.
Wheel of Fortune
This is the song that plays in the museum, which is a huge area, thus you hear this one too much in my opinion. Some of the more simplistic and repetitive compositions for PE really work in a trance-techno sort of way, but this one just gets old. My intense dislike of this song might have SOMETHING to do with the fact that leveling up Aya to level 99 can only be done in the museum: Thus, anyone who has done that *cough* has had to listen to this song for a seemingly interminable number of hours while running from room to room trying to trigger random battles, which becomes more difficult to do the longer you do it.
I mean, it MIGHT have something to do with that. Draw your own conclusions.
U.B. (stands for Ultimate Being)
The final boss theme. The combination of distorted vocals and a danceable beat makes for a memorable final boss theme. Like Plosive Attack, it has a very distinct fade in. I feel like I should have more to say about this song, but it’s probably too weird to be explained.
Escape from U.B.
Oh my God hurt it kill it make it go away I am still scared of this song. And no, I don’t mean “Oh look at my keen exaggeration for humorous effect–it’s so bad that it scares me, tee-hee-hee”, I mean I am seriously goddamned scared. The post final-boss section in PE is still a bit harrowing to play because of the BGM, even though there’s no actual difficulty. This song is the sound of clowns dressed up as Nazis, or perhaps Nazis dressed up as clowns, coming to your house to drag you away to a torture camp where all they do is torture you, and then you die and you go to hell and get tortured some more. And then you somehow re-die and go somewhere else where chances are, they will torture in a way that is even more painful and bad. You get the idea.
Main Theme (Orchestral Version)
Frankly, I think of Primal Eyes as the main Parasite Eve theme (and I’m willing to bet that most people who’ve played it do the same), but this is the nicest version of the main theme- an 8-minute suite featuring a lot of hauntingly pretty piano playing, among other things.
I forgot how much I liked this song until I started listening to this OST again for this post. It’s a slow number with Italian lyrics and a really nice female vocal performance by Shani, who I’d never heard of before but maybe I should look up her other work. It has a smoky, romantic sound, which is completely different from the rest of the soundtrack, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place. This is the song that plays during the ending credits, and it’s adds a nice, sophisticated “cigarette after sex” sort of feel when you finish the game. I mean, err, I wouldn’t know, but that’s the metaphor that immediately comes to mind. Normally I don’t like it when sound effects are added to songs just for the hell of it, but the rainforest samples added to the beginning and end of this song work in my opinion.
PE Remixes: Eve Goes Industrial
There is one more album in the Parasite Eve series aside from the OST (well, excluding PE2; let’s not even go there.) It’s an all-remix album that veers in a much more techno/industrial direction than the OST. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’ve always been impressed with just how unusual this album is. I was going to gloss over it, but it’s just too interesting.
A.Y.A.(theme of Aya Primary Mix)
This starts out as yet another version of Aya’s theme that at first seems like a waste of a track, but the ending is completely different from all of the other versions, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful endings to a piece that I’ve ever heard. It’s very strange when 75% of a song is boring, but you love it for that last 25%.
Arise Within You
This version takes a happy song and makes it even happier; repetitive, but fun.
Plosive Attack (Cultivate Mix)
This is tied with Primal Eyes for my favorite song from PE. All I can really say about it is that it takes Plosive Attack, and makes it awesome– not to mention the best song for running, EVER. It’s 8 minutes long, but it’s one of those rare techno songs that have enough interesting stuff going on that it never seems too repetitive. Also, unlike a lot of techno songs, it actually has a traditional climax, and it’s nifty.
If I was an awesome tech-type person, I would make a hacked version of PE where this replaced Plosive Attack as the boss theme. I mean, if I was going to bother to make my own version of PE, PRESUMABLY I would change other things too– I wouldn’t just add this mix and call it a day. Or maybe I would.
Influence of the Deep (DJ Hiraguri’s Operattack)
A very, VERY techno-fied version of Influence of the Deep, which automatically makes it better than the original, since I never had much use for Influence of the Deep. As you may have already surmised from the title, this is a very strange, but interesting track. And Eve’s solo belongs more in a song that is supposed to be insanely weird in the first place.
Primal Eyes (WE ARE ALL PARASITES MIX)
This song resembles Primal Eyes in the same way that a Western Omelet resembles a chicken; meaning, there’s a casual relationship there, but that’s about it. WE ARE ALL PARASITES reminds me a lot of some Nine Inch Nails songs from the Broken/Fixed era. It’s abstract industrial. Some people– make that many people– would not consider this song actual music, but personally I think it’s great. I love it when musicians achieve musicality in unpredictable ways, provided they do actually achieve it.
Across the Memories (DB Mix)
The Memories songs (I, II, and III), are those boring bits that play whenever Aya is having a flashback. This song starts from the memories theme, then somehow transitions into an awesome techno mix of Aya’s theme and several other songs. Also: features opera vocals that are not Eve’s aria, consequently they are much better. Okay, this one can go into my hypothetical hacked version of the game too.
Somnia Memorias: Platinum Mix
When I listened to Somnia Memorias for the first time in a while on the OST, I was baffled because I could have sworn that I remembered parts of it being in English. I was actually thinking of this version which does have English vocals. I can’t decide which one I like better; the Italian version sounds smoother, but the vocals have more impact when I can understand the words. I think the vocals make this one the better version for me. There are other changes, but they’re fairly minor.