When it comes to video games, I often feel compelled to root for the underdog. In such a vast sea of entertainment, there's no shortage of underrated products that lie just below the surface that's home to the big-name cash cows. While most of these titles have more than earned the respect they've worked for over the years, there are times where the endless praise and pageantry becomes too much. Sometimes it's when you look beyond the usual suspects that you find a true gem.
Enter Brave Fencer Musashi. A product of the seemingly unstoppable SquareSoft machine during the mid-life era of the PS1, Brave Fencer's claim to fame for many was it contained a playable demo of the upcoming Final Fantasy VIII. As hungry as I was for that title, which I could easily pass on now knowing what I know, I realized that a pretty fine game accompanied it, a game that had much more charm to it than a simple, copy and paste "Zelda Killer" should have. As much as I despite that term when it comes up in conversations about the game - something the title could never or even tried to achieve - I never the less found myself in the small niche of people that remembers the title for what it accomplished, not what it didn't.
As colorful as the world and characters within the game really are, Brave Fencer owes a lot of it's identity to Tsuyoshi Sekito's musical score. Having been previously employed by Konami, Sekito was no stranger to composing video game music despite the fact Brave Fencer Musashi was his first effort for SquareSoft. Those familiar with Sekito through his more recent works with arrangement groups like the recently disbanded Black Mages will be glad to know that the guitar is a prominent instrument in many of the game's best pieces, but isn't reflective of the score as a whole.
While not a feature that is solely exclusive to the music of role playing games, overarching themes are of vast importance in Brave Fencer Musashi. "The Musashi Legend" has no problem proving this on its own, but there are a lot more connections at play than the soundtrack itself reveals. With seventy-eight pieces spanning two discs, it may surprise some to know that this set only contains two-thirds of the music Sekito wrote for the game. I typically hate it when this kind of thing happens (see the wildly inconsistent Wild Arms Original Game Soundtrack) but before one cries foul, the remaining tracks are mainly variations and small, one-time pieces that are used during in-game conversations and mini-game events. Outside the loss of the night time village and toy store themes there are barely any tracks I miss.
The above omissions actually prove to be beneficial however. Without these small, rather inconsequential speed bumps in the way, the album is free to form a much smoother experience when listened to from start to finish. Still, there are some areas of Sekito's work that simply overshadow others. While there are some great location pieces to be heard like the techno-infused "Corona Jumper," I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't say the rocking boss themes are the real treat. Dead-on as these tracks are, they present the listener with what some consider the bane of the Brave Fencer Musashi soundtrack - the "ghostly warble."
So what exactly is the "ghostly warble?" The ghostly warble is a vocal effect that appears in a small handful of tracks - most notable being "The Frost Dragon" - and is part of an overarching theme that connects Crest Guardian tracks together. I'll concede that it can be somewhat annoying and shows the limits of the PS1 hardware much like Eve's opera singing did in Parasite Eve, but to say it flat-out ruins a star-studded piece like the aforementioned "The Frost Dragon" is ridiculous. I'd be more likely to agree if it was splashed throughout the score, but it's not.
Still, strengths aside, a score like Brave Fencer Musashi doesn't have the clout to take on the top scores of the era. It's easy to see how a soundtrack like Yasunori Mitsuda's work for Xenogears can trounce it, but then that's a pretty unfair comparison considering Xenogears' music is the best thing that game has to offer. Perhaps the most unfair thing about the Brave Fencer Musashi soundtrack is how Sekito would spend the next decade working on arrangements rather than compositions of his own. In all honesty the man deserved a lot more than that and this soundtrack has little problem proving it despite its problems.
Much like the game itself, the Brave Fencer "Musashiden" Original Soundtrack is a niche item. It will mostly likely end up in the hands of those who can see beyond the unjust labels that were placed upon the game by those in the gaming community. Copies aren't exactly easy to come by but hardly demand as much as other, out-of print soundtracks do. Hell, I was lucky enough to get a near-mint copy off of eBay for a mere ten dollars. That's doesn't paint the prettiest picture, but at least it's in the hands of someone who appreciates it. One can only hope more will do the same.