Homeland Soundtrack, Hayato Matsuo, 2005
Nintendo’s GameCube wasn’t blessed with a huge number of system exclusives – and what made the situation even more frustrating was the fact that many games were only released in specific territories (out of the nearly 650 GameCube titles, only 281 were ever released in Japan!) As a result, there’s not a huge number of hidden GameCube treasures waiting to be unearthed – but those that do exist can be particularly obscure and little-known. Case in point: Homeland, an online RPG by Dragon Quest developer Chunsoft that was only released in Japan. It proved innovative in several ways – one of only four online games for the system, it was the only GameCube title where the console acted as a server. And instead of allowing parties of just four (like the GameCube’s Phantasy Star Online), Homeland let players band together in groups of up to 36!
Looking at the game’s simple, if charmingly naive visuals, it’s not difficult to understand why Homeland didn’t leave Japanese shores, considering it was released only a year before the next console generation hit the market. Consequently, most gamers missed out on Homeland’s delightful soundtrack by Hayato Matsuo. Considering that Matsuo had started his career under the tutelage of Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama and that by 2005, he had composed the scores for several of Chunsoft’s Shiren the Wanderer games, it was no big surprise to see him tackle Homeland as well.
For the Homeland soundtrack, Matsuo composed just over two hours of material (looped), covering the broad spectrum of moods and emotions one would expect from an RPG score. That being said, Matsuo’s work isn’t consistently strong across the soundtrack. The compositions that easily stand out the most – and ultimately warrant the game’s inclusion on this site – are the score’s most carefree and easy-going pieces, which make up about 35 minutes of Matsuo’s compositions for Homeland. “Title” encapsulates the spell that these pieces weave with sparkling effortlessness. Opening with lively castanets and piano, a spirited melody is passed on to solo violin and then to a sprightly acoustic guitar. Here and elsewhere, Matsuo works with small, intimate ensembles, but thanks to his orchestrational skills he derives a wonderful richness of sun-kissed colours from his instrument combinations.
“Title” is the Homeland soundtrack – or rather its strongest portions – in a nut-shell. These are compositions that only occasionally pass the two-minute mark when looped and which don’t aspire to make any grand statements or generate profound insights. Instead, Homeland charms like few other game soundtracks with its delightful tunefulness and fresh instrumental colours, energised by a good amount of melodic counterpoint and bustling activity. This is relaxed feel-good music of the best possible kind, crafted with immense care to detail while never displaying an ounce of overt effort. In some ways, Matsuo’s work here harkens back to his work during the 16-bit era, when game music compositions tended to get to the point (melodically speaking) without delay.
And so Matsuo generates a string of blithe pleasantries that vary in their approach, but never break the Homeland soundtrack’s graceful spell, bolstered by the composer’s skillful mix of folk and pop influences in his enchanting melodies. “Kaneltown” is a beautiful example of Matsuo’s ability to create tasteful, unobtrusive instrumentations – adding a subtle touch of Caribbean influences by incorporating steel drums and later layering three acoustic guitars on top of each other to achieve a rich yet light tone. “Ilmina” integrates aspiring brass chords into the nimble orchestrations without unduly weighing down the music, as the instruments’ heavier timbres organically contrast with the jovial flute ostinato underneath. “Polka Forest” has shades of bossa nova in its more complex, unusually long-spun flute melody, while “Polkatown” moves listeners with its fragile, tender flute harmonisations.
It’s no surprise that a track like “Event Epilogue” closes proceedings with light dance rhythms and some of the score’s most optimistic melodies. Not all pieces have as much of a spring in their step though – instead they’re happy to lean back and soak in the game’s joyful world. These tracks often feel earthier and more rustic than their livelier counterparts. Take “Croats”, with its pensive acoustic guitar line and nostalgic harmonica backing, carried by its simple melodic pleasures. On “Kiro”, it’s two accordions placed against gently swelling and ebbing violins that conjure up the music’s warmly welcoming mood, but the accordions also produce some passingly chromatic harmonies to prevent the cue from slipping into drowsy contentedness. And while much of the soundtrack feels like it’s bathed in the balmy glow of autumnal sunlight, “Valktown” and the yearning tone of its intertwining woodwind melodies seem to announce night falling.
The Homeland soundtrack is less successful when it travels into less idyllic terrain – but there’s still a few tracks that tweak the score’s cheerful disposition carefully and in intriguing ways. Out of the many dungeon tracks, “Dungeon Kousyo” and “Tetunagi Dungeon” manage to incorporate the melodic interests of other pieces. “Dungeon Kousyo” does so by setting a chromatic flute ostinato against a dulcimer and a strange whining background noise, before having some fun with playful chromatic woodwind harmonies. Here and on “Tetunagi Dungeon”, melodies are terser and more repetitive, with a sense of urgency and tension that is a welcome change of pace. On both “Tetunagi Dungeon” and the hushed, mysterious “Field 2”, Matsuo also cleverly adds synths to the acoustic ensemble, contrasting the score’s usually earthy tones. The Homeland soundtrack may require some curating, but once that work is done, it offers a short album’s worth of delectable pleasures.
- 01 - Title Matsuo, Hayato 2:16
- 02 - Croats Matsuo, Hayato 2:19
- 03 - Field 1 Matsuo, Hayato 2:09
- 04 - Kaneltown Matsuo, Hayato 2:11
- 05 - Dungeon Kousyo Matsuo, Hayato 2:15
- 06 - Ilmina Matsuo, Hayato 2:15
- 07 - Kiro Matsuo, Hayato 1:53
- 08 - Apricant Matsuo, Hayato 2:03
- 09 - Field 2 Matsuo, Hayato 2:15
- 10 - Valktown Matsuo, Hayato 1:45
- 11 - Eggshelltown Matsuo, Hayato 1:47
- 12 - Event Epilogue Matsuo, Hayato 2:08
- 13 - Field 3 Matsuo, Hayato 1:54
- 14 - Polkatown Matsuo, Hayato 1:54
- 15 - Polka Forest Matsuo, Hayato 2:00
- 16 - Tetunagi Dungeon Matsuo, Hayato 2:16
- 17 - Tetunagi Town (Softly) Matsuo, Hayato 2:28