As a Rockman fan, it’s hard to explain what sparked my initial disinterest in the Zero series. The idea of following the red-clad, blonde haired hero into the future would have been a high priority for most; still, as the first game rolled out in 2002, the prospect of following another series of games while awaiting the conclusion of the X series wasn’t very attractive. The truth behind my indifference later revealed itself: I’d grown weary of the formula Capcom saw fit to repackage year after year - the day as a fan I thought would never come.
To some the above may appear to be an attempt to label the Zero series as the point were the franchise lost its luster. In my opinion, this occurred prior to the series’ inception and out of loyalty I turned a blind eye towards it; nonetheless, I respect and acknowledge what Rockman Zero was able to do in its time. There had never been a Rockman saga limited to the lifespan of a single console and it didn't wear out its welcome with ill-fated, tacked on entries. These are impressive feats, but when asked about Rockman Zero my mind always goes back to the music which came to life with the emergence of the remastered albums rather than the games themselves.
In the first game Ippo Yamada offered what was more or less an unfocused portrait; a composer presenting a myriad of ideas much like an artist’s sketchbook - a tool in the search for inspiration, boundaries and direction. With Idea, these initial ideas were sorted through; some were embraced while others were sacked to create a streamlined experience that showed strength in numbers. Telos followed Idea’s example minus the input from Ippo’s associates and felt stunted. Physis takes these concepts, even turning negatives into positives and provides the full picture: musical exploration nowhere near as random as the first album, the return of the invaluable cast (and beyond) from Idea and the wall that halted progression on Telos is lifted in what equals out to be one hell of a final ride.
Despite the majority of Rockman Zero’s audio and style being attributed to Yamada, I’ve always believed much of the series color was due to co-composers Luna Umegaki and Masaki Suzuki who were able to provide that extra something while adhering to Ippo’s framework. This isn’t to insinuate there is some kind of a “my way or the highway” mentality to everything Rockman Zero or that Ippo's the weak link in the chain that binds, but the appeal of his work could feel limited at times. In what seems to be a revenge shot for my ribbing, Yamada tunes like “Caravan -Hope for Freedom-,” rife with struggle and forward movement, show how incorrect such a view is. We are given another side of the composer, one that's finally able to intermingle with others. Other tracks like “Exodus,” a tightly-woven anxiety-wrought number and “Straight Ahead” create a fantastic sense of unity by emitting the same kind of forward movement. Even the quirky “Elves Dance” contains a unique brand of cleverness all its own as does “Rust in Dust” in revisiting the inherit sadness of Zero’s theme in Mega Man X4. The rest of Ippo’s work consists of typical items, items reminiscent of past ideas or whose origins can be traced back one/two soundtracks, concepts that are not exactly broke but pale to those that truly stand out.
The freshness of the pieces above is eventually matched by the co-composers as well. On the negative side falls Masaki Suzuki who, despite composing befitting guitar anthems such as “Max Heat” and "Magnetic Rumble" has trouble extending his style beyond what is expected. This inevitably makes the hidden allure of the off-kilter “Celestial Gardens” all the more enjoyable. This pleasant string of musical anomalies continues with Luna Umegaki’s “Holy Land” and “Esperanto.” The somber “Holy Land” correlates back to some of the moody, almost cryptic pieces of Yamada’s in the first game (“Ruins of Lab”) while being anything but. A similar scheme plays out within “Esperanto” where Umegaki concocts the RMZ equivalent of a lighthearted stage theme from the original Rockman series as is the case in “Cyber Space.” In more typecast territory newcomer Shin'ichi Itakura tackles the soundtrack’s aquatic based theme “Deep Blue” with exceptional results and offers up the poignant “Falling Down,” the booming, shot-in-the-arm final battle theme that finishes the series off in style.
There are other solid tracks throughout Physis but those mentioned stand to exemplify the various ins-and-outs contained within. However, if there is any fault the soundtrack holds as a whole it would be the synth quality. The majority of the album brings the power one expects yet there is a nagging feeling that some parts, like the opening beats of “Caravan - Hope for Freedom-,” are thinner than they should be in what may be an attempt to make the experience as clean as possible. Such shortcommings aside, the material presented is more than enough to make up for such misgivings.
Even though Remastered Tracks Rockman Zero Physis brings us the conclusion of yet another Rockman series it comes with a heightened sense of maturity, the idea that this is the fully conceived sound the series has come to represent. This isn’t saying the first three soundtracks were only mere steps in evolution or their importance in such a metamorphosis was minimal, but the experience Physis offers the listener simply feels greater than any of its forbearers at heart.