Bard Banter – Favorites From Kenji Ito
Bard Banter is a series which highlights an RPG composer’s work by listening to, and discussing some of their greatest works throughout the years.
Though he might not be a household name, you might already be a(n unaware) fan of Kenji Ito, especially if you’ve been playing JRPGs for the past few decades. Kenji Ito is to SaGa and Mana what Nobuo Uematsu is to Final Fantasy. Having been active as a musician since the early ’90s, he is responsible for composing many of the works found in multiple classic RPGs over the years.
While Ito is credited as a composer for the Mana franchise, he surprisingly was not responsible for the two most iconic entries in the series – Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana. Regardless, he has composed some incredible tracks over the years, and I’m very excited to hear what is to come in the long-awaited Western releases of Romancing SaGa 3 and Saga: Scarlet Grace – two titles blessed by Ito’s talent. But for now, here are some games – and subsequent tracks that have really stuck with me over the years – from Kenji Ito.
Final Fantasy Legend II
Ito’s first composition, Final Fantasy Legend II is the second installment in the SaGa franchise, debuting on the original GameBoy back in 1990. Co-composed with none other than Nobuo Uematsu himself, their collaborative works set the standard for what a quality soundtrack could (and should) be despite the GameBoy’s limited capabilities. The two composers crafted a truly riveting soundtrack that is best listened to with headphones – you’ll thank me later. Some of my favorite tracks are:
Final Fantasy Adventure
Quite possibly the most jarring game I ever played as a kid, Final Fantasy Adventure – a Mana game – was Kenji Ito’s first solo composition, and he doesn’t disappoint. The action combat found within Final Fantasy Adventure was responsible for shaping the franchise for years to come, but I didn’t understand what was happening in “my Final Fantasy game” as a kid. While this would be Ito’s first and last plunge into the Mana series for some time, he leaves quite the impression in this debut title of the franchise. Some of my favorite tracks are:
Romancing SaGa 2
Romancing SaGa 2 is the kind of game I wish I would have played many, many years ago. SaGa games are known for not holding your hand – which is okay – but this entry takes that idea to the absolute extreme. In short, it didn’t set my world on fire when it finally released on Switch back in 2017, but I could have easily seen “10 year old me” binging it for hours on end. That said, I cannot argue with the fact that Romancing SaGa 2 features loads of ambition, beloved and staple SaGa mechanics like sparking, and a soundtrack by Kenji Ito. Some of my favorite tracks are:
SaGa Frontier is my favorite SaGa game to date, though the aforementioned Legend II is a close second. For me, SaGa Frontier is the pinnacle of the series, with its impactful combat, flashy visuals, excellent character (art) design, and epic soundtrack. To this day, there has been nothing quite like sparking – aka learning – new combat abilities like the iteration found in SaGa Frontier.
Needless to say, I would absolutely lose my crap if this game ever received a port or remaster on Switch. Either way, I’m hoping that the soon-to-come SaGa: Scarlet Grace and Romancing SaGa 3 Western releases prove to be formidable contenders to that top SaGa spot. Some of my favorite tracks are:
That sums it up for this Bard Banter, but there will be more to come soon! What are your thoughts on Kenji Ito? What are some of your favorites from his portfolio? What did you think about mine? Let me know!