The melancholy of Koshiro Yuzo

I’ve been replaying Etrian Odyssey Untold lately. This has come to pass for a few reasons. For starters, I’m impatient to hear a localization announcement for Etrian Odyssey V from Atlus, who tragically appears to have stopped announcing U.S. releases until Persona 5 is out. Sorry, but Persona‘s not the fifth-in-a-series Atlus game I’m personally excited about, so I’ll have to settle for taking what I can get in the meantime. Secondly, I lost the save data to all my Etrian Odyssey digital releases when I made the jump from 3DS to New 3DS (along with a whole lot of other save data) and have slowly been working to reclaim progress in beloved games.

But most of all, the recent Micro episode on FM synthesis got me in the mood to hear some great faux chiptunes. On top of that, I was supposed to be interviewing Yuzo Koshiro during last week’s trip to Tokyo, which I had to scrub at the literal last minute as I unexpectedly rushed my wife to the emergency room a few hours before my flight. She’s fine, thankfully, but I didn’t get to talk to Koshiro, which a letdown… so immersing myself in Etrian Odyssey‘s Koshiro-crafted score, which simulates the FM synthesis sound of the PC9801 computer, seemed like an acceptable alternative.

By default, Etrian Odyssey Untold presents “orchestrated” renditions of its soundtrack, which is all well and good and aesthetically matches the enhanced 3D visuals of the game. But you can set the soundtrack to the alternate retro mode, which may result in a bit of an anachronism — the synth-style soundtrack worked with the original DS games because they seemed like such throwbacks — but I kind of don’t care. FM synthesis may not offer the same kinds of sonic texture and subtlety as live instruments, but it still can set a powerful mood, and for my money everything I love about Etrian Odyssey is summed up in the original chiptune version of its first labyrinth’s background tune.

It feels at once hopeful and adventurous, yet simultaneously somber. You’re striking out into the unknown with green recruits Fight and Heal along with a bunch of other level-one nobodies, just beginning to map out a labyrinth filled with impossible monsters and dire traps. You’ll be able to take it all on eventually, but at the outset, you’re just meat to be chewed up and spit out by the dungeon. All of that comes across marvelously in this composition, which should neatly dispel that myth about FM synthesis music only ever sounding like farting robots.

Koshiro composes most of his music in a tracker application to he’s tuned to replicate (more or less) the sound hardware of the old PC9801 computer, but Etrian Odyssey was one of the few instances where the final game used those vintage-style arrangements rather than being reworked to sound more contemporary. The DS game had to compress the sound to fit onto those tiny cartridges, and the official soundtrack releases for the first three games contained two sets of the tunes: The compressed in-game renditions, and the original FM-style source files. The 3DS remakes, which use more capacious storage media, skip the compressed DS tunes and simply give you pure, unadulterated FM joy for the retro arrangements. Because Atlus loves you. Even if they are holding out on Etrian Odyssey V. Why you gotta hurt me, baby?

You know, it just occurred to me… SEGA owns Atlus, DataDiscs has been churning out vinyl collections of classic SEGA soundtracks, including some by Koshiro. We need to start bugging them to release, like, a 12-disc Etrian Odyssey series FM synth collection. Anyway, in 2017 I hope to put together Retronauts episodes on both Etrian Odyssey (yes, it becomes eligible for our 10-year “retro” designation in a few months) and Yuzo Koshiro, so please put the music embed above on “loop” for the next few months in order to hone your anticipation.


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9 Responses to The melancholy of Koshiro Yuzo

  1. BuckTwenty

    Ugh, Etrian Odyssey being retro hurts so bad, getting old suckssss

    Anyway, I want not only Etrian Odyssey V localization to be announced, but the Untold remake of III to happen, as the original remains my favorite in the series. The music is a big part of that, too, with the third stratum’s being among my favorite video game tunes of all time. Looking forward to the EO and Koshiro podcasts, too!

  2. Ken

    You introduced me to the Etrian Odyssey series, so it shouldn’t be surprising but it was still nice to know someone out there is hoping for an EOV announcement!

    I’ve played through 4, EO2U, and am slowly making my way through 3 on the DS, but yeah I really hope they don’t leave 5 behind

  3. I just bothered John Hardin on Twitter a couple of days ago about EOV. Here’s hoping it gets announced once the Persona 5 fire drill is finally over.

    My favorite part about the Untold OSTs is that for the new areas that were added in the remake (i.e. Gladsheim in EOU1) that Koshiro added demake FM versions of those songs on the soundtrack.

    I really enjoyed his score in EO4, but part of me wishes there was a setting to flip them all to 9801 similar to Untold just for that added bit of flavor. He always gets to indulge his instrumentation in the arranged albums anyway.

  4. karobit

    Man, that track is so good. I really need to play more of the Etrian Odyssey games, even if I know I won’t like them/get very far.

    I’ve always been fascinated by how early it seemed he went freelance/independent. Other composers like Yoko Shimomura and Nobuo Uematsu were studio employees for nearly ten and twenty years, respectively, and I’m sure Japan’s salaryman culture fed a lot of the reticence they must have felt before striking out on their own. But was Koshiro’s parting from Falcom and forming Ancient really as much of a jarring outlier as it seems? Was there anyone else in the game music space doing this, and why did it take others so long to follow suit?

  5. I’m very interested in hearing this soundtrack. It’s still a shame I haven’t fully heard the Shenmue soundtrack. I’ve just never gotten around to it.

    I’ve been going through his PC 98 games as of recent. Also, there’s a composer, Ryu Umemoto that sounds similar to him, so it’s been really interesting.

  6. Jeremy Hopkins

    The Etrian Odyssey soundtrack is fantastic! Thanks for the recommendation.

    Sorry to go off topic but I’d still love to hear a remake of the Actraiser soundtrack with the Yamaha’s XG format. Guess it only makes sense that Yamaha would be a better fit with FM synth than Roland or Sony and could translate that feel over to midi. While I’m already way off topic, thought I’d throw in the fan remakes of Andy’s theme and Maridia as examples of nifty XG remakes. Wish there was a MSU-1 option for the GBA.

  7. While I’m getting used to DS games being considered retro (they totally are the system is 11 years old), it’s amazing to see how FM Synths have still stayed relevant. I love their tone.

    I love the moodiness of this music. It’s great to listen to, I love working to stuff like this.

    Do you know what tracker hey uses? I’m constantly trying to dive into Renoise. I haven’t written much electronic or chiptune music, as I predominantly write Rock and Roll, but I want to get into it badly. Any programs you folks suggest?