Bravely Default is a game that balances old and new at every turn, and nowhere is the push and pull between modern expectation and genre tradition more evident than in the soundtrack. Though Bravely Default is a real looker on the graphics front and is filled with some of the best in genre multiplayer features and customization options, it strictly holds to rhythms of JRPG design more than a decade old.
This means that the music can’t push boundaries the way some contemporaries have, and every track fits into an established formula. There’s a two-minute or so random battle loop, a twangy guitar track for the desert city, and an overworld map anthem.
The challenge then, is how to make music that fits these categories without being predictable or—even worse—forgettable. The previous game from this creative team, Final Fantasy 4: The Heroes of Light, managed this by mixing chiptune melody lines into a more standard synthesized score. That game’s soundtrack fit both classic inspirations as well as twentieth century expectation by literally grafting the music of both eras onto each other.
I’m a huge fan of how that score turned out, and at first I was bummed that Bravely Default didn’t adopt the same tactic.
I was wrong to cling to the past, though. The Bravely Default score was composed by Yasuo Kamanaka, better known to the world at large as Revo, and he’s done a fantastic job. Where 4 Heroes of Light maybe took the easy way out, making the music sound like the classics by using sounds right out of the classics, Bravely Default manages to evoke those classics without ever sounding like less than a top-of-the-line 2014 release.
The key to this similarity is in the melody lines. Rather than imitate the symphonic grandeur of something like the recent Xenoblade Chronicles or do as Tales of so often has, and use electric guitars as a shortcut to high energy sound in combat, Bravely Default largely sticks to classical composition with instrumental solos coming from woodwinds and strings. These distinct melody lines evoke the simple compositions forced by 8-bit and 16-bit hardware limitations, but without ever sacrificing sound quality or sounding dated.
More important than recreating the style of composition used by classic JRPGs though, the Bravely Default soundtrack reminds me why so many people are nostalgic about this style of adventure. There was a time when these games never questioned character motivations or tried to offer insight about the human condition… they were about good triumphing over evil. The righteousness of the party was never in doubt, and any time you encountered a character with a problem it was expected that the party solve it. There’s an allure to that simplicity – to knowing that forward progress will lead to happily ever after, to knowing that every battle will make your numbers go up and every little level up helps.
The soundtrack in Bravely Default embodies this directness and optimism like no soundtrack I’ve ever heard. The overworld map track demands that the player go on an adventure. The music during minor boss battles, rather than sounding ominous, implies that triumph is just around the corner. Throughout the entire game there’s nary a dissonant chord and only rarely does the music adopt a minor key. Though there is wickedness in this world of Luxendarc, the soundtrack tells us that whatever evil exists is a blight on a world that is essentially good and that justice is never more than a dungeon away.
That’s the real achievement in this soundtrack–it’s no great feat to imitate the style of classic compositions, but capturing the spirit of those classics happens far more rarely. In Bravely Default, Yasuo Kamanaka does both, and does it with high quality orchestrated collection of songs that will stand the test of time just like the Square Enix RPG soundtracks players loved all those years ago.
1. One thing I definitely do miss from The Four Heroes of Light is the night version of the overworld map music. It seems a really picky little thing to complain about, but I felt like that added a lot. It made the world seem different at night, whereas here it’s still just triumphant adventure time.
2. The random battle music in a JRPG always warrants extra attention since the player hears it so often. This one is more on the upbeat side of things, recalling the quick tempo and brass of the Final Fantasy III re-release from a few years ago. It’s not a classic, but it gets the job done.
3. You can look forward to further coverage of Bravely Default on Siliconera in the coming days!