Blue Reflection: Sounds of School Days

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We’ve already talked about how distinctive Blue Reflection’s visual aesthetic is thanks to the contributions of Mel Kishida — but its music is worthy of some discussion, too.

It will come as no surprise to longtime Gust fans to hear that Blue Reflection has an excellent soundtrack — though it’s an interesting score overall in that it blends a variety of different styles to create something altogether unique.

It complements the action well and, between it and the visuals, means that Blue Reflection is one of the most distinctive games Gust has put out for a long time. So let’s take a closer look… listen, whatever.

Blue Reflection’s title screen is accompanied by this rather peaceful melody, accompanied by background sounds of everyday life. The piece opens with the simple sound of wind and the ever-present background noise of life in the city.

Before long, we hear the sound of a railway crossing and, shortly afterwards, a train passing. The piece subsequently develops into a slightly more upbeat number but still rather chilled out number featuring distorted, synthesised sounds and a drumbeat — but the piano is ever-present.

This piece reflects the fact that the game places a strong focus on everyday life and normality — Hinako is trying to live a normal life after being forced to give up the thing she loved, and is at something of a turning point.

This is where the railway crossing comes into it; not only are they seen all over the place in the otherworldly “Common” throughout the game, they’re also often used in a symbolic fashion to represent characters entering a new period of their life or undergoing some form of “change” — as Remy from The Lily Garden explains in this excellent article. This is absolutely true for Blue Reflection, as much of the story concerns Hinako learning to adjust to her new existence, both as a “normal” girl, and as a Reflector.

There are several variations on the track simply named “I” to reflect the different weather conditions, but they all serve the same purpose: to highlight the mundanity of the everyday. The repetitive, minimalist backing  reflects the fact that life as a young person in Japan — or at least in Hinako’s school — is based on predictable, reliable, perhaps even comforting routines.

The accompaniment that grows in complexity atop the simple backing reflects the fact that  even amid a seemingly boring existence, interesting things can happen. Everyone has their own story to tell, as Hinako discovers over the course of the game as a whole.

The music as Hinako, Lime and Yuzu explore The Common varies according to which of the Zones they are in, but they all maintain the somewhat light, floaty piano feel to them — though this time often with heavy processing on the sounds to reflect the fact they’re exploring a curious world constructed from the world’s collective unconscious.

The tracks are typically tuneful, but less outright “melodic” than some of the other tracks on the score. They’re intended to create an atmosphere, and they succeed in this without resorting to simple musical cliches — the music for the Sorrow Zone isn’t overly “sad”, for example, and likewise the music for the Happiness Zone isn’t bouncy, cheesy nonsense. It would have been easy to take this route, but much like everything else in Blue Reflection, Gust has taken the subtle route.

I say that. Here’s the battle theme for the first part of the game, which is obviously a massive contrast to everything we’ve heard so far — but there are still recognisable elements in there despite the much heavier use of thumping electronic drumbeats and synthesised bass.

The piano is still present, for example, and this time combined with the sounds of violin and cello, each of which get their time to shine in terms of performing the main melody. One could possibly interpret this as each instrument reflecting one of the main three heroines — whether or not this was intentional is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a distinctive and catchy battle theme that complements the heroines’ personalities well.

Later in the game, this becomes the battle theme. Somewhat less whimsical and more “serious” in tone, this is still an enormously energetic contrast to much of the rest of the soundtrack, reflecting that Hinako and her comrades have to fight and defend themselves as well as do their best to understand the struggles of their peers.

Again, the piece combines piano and solo string instruments with catchy, memorable melodies and a thumping rhythm section to provide an enormously satisfying accompaniment to combat.

The boss themes are some of the most interesting tracks on the soundtrack, consisting of multiple phases to reflect the various stages of the fight — the girls’ flight to the school field and preparation for battle; the beginning of combat; the questioning of whether they will be able to survive this encounter; and the final push towards victory.

Again, these tracks combine “natural” instruments such as piano and strings with fierce, aggressive electronic sounds to reflect the conflict between the normal, everyday world and the terrifying, fantastic world from which the Sephirot emerge.

Outside of the Reflectors’ more supernatural duties, important events are accompanied by their own distinctive themes, which often place a strong emphasis on the piano sounds — in the case of this track, a combination of real piano and electric piano.

These tracks typically emphasise the “emotional” aspect of the narrative in a more explicit, recognisable way than the music that accompanies exploration of The Common. This piece, for example, occurs during turning points in Hinako’s relationships with people, when they really come to understand one another and become much closer as a result. It’s a delightfully heartwarming piece to hear, as it tends to accompany correspondingly heartwarming events.

Further credence is lent to the “instruments to represent the heroines” theory by the fact they each have their own transformation theme that plays the first time we see them change into their Reflector costume (and a couple of times subsequent to that, too). Here’s Hinako’s theme, which emphasises piano in its latter portion…

…and Yuzu’s, which features energetic violin to reflect her rather youthful, carefree nature…

…and Lime’s delightfully “mature”-sounding track featuring emphasis on a cello melody, and a somewhat more restrained tempo to the whole thing.

All in all, Blue Reflection’s soundtrack is a real highlight to the whole experience; complementing the gameplay and characters extremely well, it is just one of many ways the game feels very “coherent” and “directed” in terms of its aesthetic.

Clearly a great deal of thought has been put into how it should both look and sound, and the result is a remarkable, distinctive game that will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

More about Blue Reflection

All music tracks in this article are included for the purposes of analysis and criticism only.

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