The Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) franchise has a rather far-reaching grasp in Japan, with plenty of side-stories and spin-off branches to add to the mix. To my knowledge, the first title to reach US shores was the first Persona. Since then, Atlus has brought the Devil Children games, SMT 3: Nocturne, and the two (incredibly awesome) Digital Devil Saga games. Next on the roster for American release is a title in the "Devil Summoner" series.
The new title is "Kuzunoha Raidou." Before this, there was Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. And before this, there was the original Devil Summoner, which carried the "Shin Megami Tensei" title to show that it was a cousin to the main SMT series. Later Devil Summoner titles drop the SMT prefix, much in the same way that "Jedi Outcast" isn't entitled "Dark Forces 3: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast."
The reason I give the history lesson is simple: most gamers recognize SMT music when they hear the techno-rock work of Shoji Meguro. Don't get me wrong, Meguro is a great composer. But the news I have for you is that Toshiko Tasaki and Tsukasa Masuko (unknown names to me) also know how to rock the block.
The first disc of the Devil Summoner Sound File is the OST disc. For a 1996 release, the synth here is above the bar in almost every song. A lot of musical styles found in newer SMT games are here as well. Funk, jazz, synth-rock, power-rock, ambient atmospheric stuff: it's all here. And, again, it's all good.
The usual sign for me that a soundtrack is really consistent is when I'm trying to determine which songs to sample, and I can't seem to make up my mind. As I wrote this review, such a crisis happened to me. Take that as a sign: this stuff is good!
Every one of the first twelve tracks is great, but the first song to truly stick out for me was track 13, "Kitayama University." If you listen to the sample, there are some quick sections where a piano lays down a quick solo lick. Every time I heard that lick, I wanted more. Too bad the tracks are all short to fit on one disc.
Up-tempo ethereal techno-pop can be find on a number of songs, and I sampled some of them (see track 32 for example). If you're looking for some straight rock, you need battle themes. The last boss theme wasn't too impressive, but the regular "boss battle" music is amazing, but original and arranged.
Which brings us to the real reason why people should want to own this album: disc two. I've never heard of a more unique arranged album in my life. Entitled "Hell Summons Live ~Devil Yell!~", the 8-track arranged album seems to be a fake live album. Clapping and cheering are added at key points, but the technical quality of the sound makes me believe that this was actually made in a studio. Nonetheless, it's completely awesome.
The opening track features some Japanese male vocals...and they are certainly unique. Before this time, I had never heard a Japanese man, singing in English, do a growl/scream/yell/screamo thing with his voice. The sample will prove my point. He switches between singing and screaming on this song, and it's certainly interesting. The opening track is eight minutes long, and every minute of it is pure SMT awesome-ness on a CD. You need it.
Two female vocal pieces come next, with an instrumental separating them. I loved both tracks 2 and 4, but hearing a Japanese female attempt to sing in French and do so fairly well was too good to pass up. So, listen to track 2 and see if you agree with me.
The majority of the album from here is instrumental, and it is straight up hot. Track 5 has a neat Latin guitar solo, and track 7 (the boss battle arrangement) is equivalent to some of the better Falcom rock arrangements. The staff roll is a great ending piece, far exceeding its original counterpart in aural quality.
My recommendation to everyone drooling over Digital Devil Saga: dig deeper into the roots of the SMT series. It's good to the last drop, and I think this soundtrack proves it. Though, technically, this album isn't even near the beginning of the series (for the beginning, start at "Megami Tensei I.II."). Thanks for reading, and good luck finding this beautiful rarity.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann