Whilst we have tons of epic cinematic soundtracks that blast through our ears and now its in vogue to do chip tunes for the hip retro market, there’s a lot to be said for someone crafting that 16-32 bit 90’s style RPG soundtrack. This is the time when hooks and melodies were king as there was none of that voice acting malarkey. Welcome then to Dale North’s “Dragon Fantasy Book II” OST which aims squarely at the 16 bit RPG genre and sounds like a pristine late 90’s classic soundtrack.
From the booming brass overture of “Opening Theme” which sets us on a regal and noble path, we have the cute and plinky “Onward to Adventure” which is playful with its sharp strings, triangle jangles and a wooden block subbing in for a snare drum. The more sombre harp and string “Scars of the Past” paints an ominous picture with its unfurling arpeggios and subtle string yelps. Each melody is repeated twice on this soundtrack although the melodies are quick and so each track takes usually under two minutes. “Between Worlds” is an interesting mood piece that flips between tech noir bass buzzes and cinematic tom drums and it works to great effect. I prefer the Monkey Island-esque “Pirate Bill’s Boisterous Booty” which has all the flavour of the Caribbean but feels like it’s played entirely in minor keys. The result is a quite unique mood because almost always that sound palette is played for pure comedy or fun and this track feels more like going on an epic journey.
“Gutsy Tactics” is the first battle theme and wastes no time in working the drums and strings together. There’s a nod to Motoi Sakuraba in its style – a dramatic jazz flair in its step. Its enjoyable and also one of the longest tracks on the soundtrack so you can really get into it. The fanfare of “The Day Is Mine!” is suitably triumphant and jovial as is “Coconuts and Pirate Hats” which takes me back to the sweeping themes of Xenogears with its Mitsuda inspired string underpinning a tropical melody. It’s also great to hear Dale’s guitar back in the mix after it was used to well in Silent Horror. “Port Awesomegrogg” is an arrangement of the same theme but is less grande and more chipper. It also has a fantastic track name! Awesome you’d say… “Monsoon” continues the chord patterns and theme into a more damper version of the melody as sampled rain and thunder takes over any low-end on the track for a lighter arrangement.
“Secret of Treasure Cave” is a creeper with its shuffling percussion and space left between its curious chords. “Elevator Music” is cutely titled as the best shopping experience around version of the main theme. It’s got that bossa nova shuffle that all terrible elevators have but the theme suits it really well! “Ships and Stones” sounds like it takes the melody again and places it in battle as it proudly blasts its brass arrangement with its rock drums beating away behind every bar. It’s the meat in the sneaky triple sandwich as “Down and Out in Frostsword” is the sneaky middle bread. “Chanticleer’s Sweltering Funk” is all about the African percussion and the woodwind from which the melody flows from. It’s such a short track but there’s plenty of charm crammed in. “Rooster’s Ambition” then rounds out the triple sneaky theme sandwich.
“Frostword’s Underbelly” sounds metallic because it plays off a harpsichord and a sitar and the result is a fun comedy track that uses its stop/start mentality to make you smile. Smiles are wiped off though with “Valorous Struggle” which is a full of battle theme with guitar, brass, string and even a piano solo thrown in the middle too. Yet instead of feeling cluttered it feels uplifting and rousing. “Ballad of Frigid Winds” uses airy percussion and piano to give the wintry vibe and it works as a calming vastness and is placed into the soundtrack in a perfect place to relax. “Wenk Wenk Hideaway” sounds like a Wii or 3DS menu screen. It’s so cute with its xylophones and fuzzy synths – its Nintendo all over. “Spire of Sleet and Snow” takes advantage of the acoustic guitar and electric piano for a chillout vibe to laze too. “Hypothecary” then returns to the militant sound of the opening theme with its striding strings letting the rousing main voice of the brass sing through. “Subjugate, Eradicate” jumps genre to soul jazz with a quick beat and some slick organ work. All that’s missing is the smoooooth operator ad libbing sweet words of love!
“Waters of Southcape” waltzes its orchestral way like a romance theme. The synth samples sound late PS1/Gamecube for this soundtrack and its in tracks like this and the discordant “Embers of Glory” where the double bass comes out that it really pushes me back to that era. “Lady Cave Troll” is playful with its harpsichord stabs and tippy toe strings whilst “Ramblin’ Rock” sounds like a chip tune arcade attempt – something you’d hear in a cut scene of Double Dragon. It’s phat synths really give it a bounce and the short guitar sample is kept low-key. “Spark of Hope” sounds really familiar as an electric guitar takes the main voice over a wistful ballad where as “Spelunking Plunderbundt” and its marching beat epitomises great character and location themes with its style and energy. “Riches Among Wreckage” then takes our main theme and plays it slightly out of tune to the rest of the backing music for an off-kilter version. “Sway Of the Swamp” then turns it into an 80’s synth track that sounds close to a vocoder.
Into the closer quarter we go with the epic and rousing “To Lands Beyond” where things sound a bit Grandia inspired which is no bad thing. “Black Majesty” utilises the harp to perfection as a backing melody to emotive strings. I love these types of tracks and Dale does them with aplomb. “Unborn Destiny” has a really nifty piano section that carries the whole track as the rest of the instrumentation is turned down. Think battle theme with a piano as the lead in a full band effort. “A Chill Wind Blows” is mood muffler before the awesomely crazy “Rock Lobsters” gives you 100 seconds of coolness on sitars, tuned percussion and squeeze-boxes. There’s some great sound palette choices on the soundtrack.
“Amid the Sewage” feels like a tension builder before “Herald of Fate” starts the upwards momentum with its big cymbal crashes and synth brass/string fusions in this uprising track. “Anesidora’s Lament” is a progressive organ based track that builds with pace, momentum and a lot of strings. It feels a strange way to build up to what feels like it should be the end boss fight and have it a beat jazzy instead. It’s not under “To Better Days Ahead” kicks in with it’s a fond farewell parades that you think – where did the end boss go?! “Stolen Victory” then adds a small bit of dread and fear with its shivering strings before the dainty closer “Reminiscence of Journey” closes the soundtrack off in a piano led warm hug.
Overall Dale North has achieved a lot with this soundtrack. The main melody is strong and each iteration is welcomed. Elsewhere some of the battle tracks don’t feel as huge as I’d have liked, particularly the latter ones, but I enjoyed the diverse instrumentation of the soundtrack throughout so something had to give somewhere. You can find this on Bandcamp and Loudr and with so many game soundtracks making their way onto those platforms, you can rest assured you’ll be making a good purchase with this one.