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Xenogears – “Star of Tears” (Yasunori Mitsuda, Joanne Hogg)

January 8, 2010

In many ways, Xenogears is one of the heights of Yasunori Mitsuda’s career as a composer. Xenogears Original Sound Version (1998) was his first full-length soundtrack that used the capacities of modern videogame hardware (read: the optical disc) to produce music that was not bound by the limitations of cartridge-based storage (ok, he worked on Tobal No. 1 prior to this, but was not the sole composer). It also stands as his first major collaboration with international composers, combining Celtic and Japanese music to generate his unique style using the exceptional talent of Joanne Hogg. While reviews of Xenogears seem mixed, nearly everyone agrees that the soundtrack was of the very high quality we have come to expect from Mitsuda.

Xenogears Original Sound Version – “Star of Tears” (Yasunori Mitsuda, Joanne Hogg)

The song is an outtake for an introductory cutscene that was never used in the game. The lyrics, penned by Masato Kato, the game’s scriptwriter, are quite beautiful, though seem to lose a bit of sense through the English translation (Creid uses the Japanese lyrics). The Wikipedia article on the album contains more information about its composition compiled from many different interviews. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, despite being re-released in 2005 (maybe Square-Enix will reprint it on iTunes?). The themes of the game’s narrative include loss of memory and preserving the world’s culture amidst a global war.
Your fingertips,
Moving gently to my heart:
The force of life,
Goes on and on.
The song remains,
Like a haunting melody,
Of angel music held in chains.
And I ask you:
Can we ease the pain,
Of those who’ve lost?
(The force of life goes on!)
Can we know the cause,
Of all this sorrow?
(Tears of loneliness!)
Can we catch the tears,
Of a broken world,
Falling down upon the earth,
Falling down…?
The waves of time,
Take me deeper into you,
A haze as blue,
As summer skies.
And turn to find,
The key will not unlock the door:
This broken bird,
Away it flies!
And I ask you:
Can we ease the pain,
Of those who’ve lost?
(The force of life goes on!)
Can we know the cause,
Of all this sorrow?
(Tears of loneliness!)
Can we catch the tears,
Of a broken world,
Falling down upon the earth,
Falling down…?

“Star of Tears” combines the work of Joanne Hogg from the Irish band Iona and Davy Spillane (low whistle) and the Japanese musicians Hitoshi Watanabe (electric bass) and HALTA (acoustic and electric guitar) and KATA (drums) from the Japanese group GUIDO. The song was recorded in the “Ireland Session” from December 18-20, 1996, and the Celtic ditty at the end of the song was added spur of the moment during recording. Mitsuda predicted that there would be a boom in Celtic music in Japan soon after he completed his soundtrack, and with the release of Titanic and the appearance of Riverdance, this came true, which helped lead to the success of his album sales. Though Hogg did not reprise her role in the arrange album, Creid, she did go on to sing the main themes for Xenosaga Episode I, which Mitsuda also composed. Finally, the soundtrack is also notable for its spirituality and sense of the sacred: Mitsuda had been aiming for a soundtrack that made people reflect, and I think this is most strong in the track “In a Prison of Peace and Regret” (known as “Creid” in the remix album), but there is also a sense of this in “Star of Tears”.

After composing Xenogears, Mitsuda left Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) to become an independent composer for his venture, Procyon Studios (Mitsuda’s move is credited with beginning the mass exodus of vgm composers from their studios to go independent and culminating in the Video Game Sound Creators’ Alliance.

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