I have been both dreading and anticipating this write up since I started my little blog back in February. Don't get me wrong, I love this game and one of the most interesting and original games Square-Enix has come up with in the past decade. From the graphics, to the characters to the music, this game is near flawless. So why am I having difficulty in writing a review for The World Ends With You? I have no idea what is popular on the j-pop scene.
To be perfectly honest, this games soundtrack feels Square grabbed the Japanese Top 40 and plugged it into the game. If it was any other game, S-E game, this would be a failure, but somehow with TWEWY, it works. That's not to say using Billboard top 40 songs or licensed songs in general is a bad idea. Jet Set Radio Future did it, as well as the Tony Hawk games, and they both introduced people to songs and bands they may have missed out on. TWEWY does the exact same thing, only this time with J-Pop.
Another reason why the TWEWY music is an abnormality is because it is an RPG, not a sports game*. Games like Tony Hawk, EA Sports games and JSRF can get away with using Billboard music is because they are set in a (somewhat) modern urban environment, be it a sports arena, abandoned warehouse or stylized Future Tokyo. Yes TWEWY is set in modern day Shibuya, but it is not a sports game.
So what makes TWEWY soundtrack so special? My personal belief is that while in Japan, the music is nothing special but to the casual jRPG fans in North America, it would give them more exposure to a new genre of music. The more seasoned jRPG vet's might be used to the songs, but still find them catchy.
So why do I think the music is special? It is a Square Enix game whose music is the complete opposite of what they usually do. Instead, for the most part they got licenses from several J-Pop musicians and used their songs. They still had one of their in-house composers and SAWA member (Also featured on the album), Takeharu Ishimoto; whose credits include, Vagrant Story. Legend of Mana, and Kingdom Hearts II among other games.
Mr Ishimoto's work on the album was pretty solid. Being mostly a synth artist, his brand of music was a perfect fit for this project. His works such as Underground and Forebode bring a sense of melancholy and despair while his other tracks like Let's Get Together as well as Slash and Slash are far more jubilant and uplifting, which brings a solid balance to the soundtrack.
On the other half of the soundtrack, I can't help but listen to the j-Pop artists. They bring a new kind of energy to the soundtrack and given that the game is set in a very urban part of Tokyo. From what I have read on Wikipedia, Shibuya is considered one of the fashion capitals of Japan. Given one of the tasks you complete in TWEWY regarding fashion, it makes much more sense. The j-Pop music is a perfect fit for the soundtrack as it seems to make the world seem more real. I feel without this music, the game wouldn't be as memorable.
The two halves of the TWEWY soundtrack compliment each other very well. On the Square-Enix side, Takeharu Ishimoto's work is fantastic and does a great job establishing the mood of the game. On the other side, the other musicians do a great job making the world seem real. The lyrics are fun, catchy and sometimes, suggestive as hell. If you are a fan of j-Pop this is a great addition to your collection. You can find the albums on Play Asia or on iTunes (and for some reason they've listed Takharu Ishimoto as sole composer)
Next week, I am taking a break from video game music and take a look at some modern, non gaming music. This is Daimo Mac and I am lost in the music
Footnote* Given the nature of JSRF, it would be easy to classify it as a pseudo sport game