This was a great month for game music with some amazing music coming from some unexpected places. A few of the big titles here left me disappointed, so be sure to check out our round-up that should help steer you in the right direction!
This album is a pleasant surprise. Originally released on the now-defunct Digicube label back in 1998, Basiscape Records is giving us a reprint of this gritty new age soundtrack with some bonuses. These bonuses come in the way of two prototype tracks and two new tracks tucked away at the end of the album.
First, though, the soundtrack proper is deserving of any game music fan’s attention. Think of the dark atmospheres of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene and his synthy stylings of Chronologie and that’s what you have here. Half gritty survival horror, half encompassing new age. Tracks like “Confusion” and “Little” are chaotic and downright frightening, while the massive pads, bassy synth sweeps, and reverberating belltone melodies and “Iraiza,” “Multiplex,” and “Holding Baroque Inside” will satisfy your craving for both great melody and atmosphere. This is literally the best thing I’ve ever heard from Masaharu Iwata who I’d mainly known for his orchestral works alongside Hitoshi Sakimoto on Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics in the past.
The two prototype tracks are textural pieces with layered pads, while the new tracks offer something more. “Timelessness” sports some dissonant pads along with the sounds of wind and rain, in line with the rest of the score, while “Miracle’s Loop” is a rather upbeat vocal theme with funky bass and hard-hitting percussion, combining pop sensibilities with the dark musical universe of Baroque. I love it.
I highly recommend checking this one out. It’s well worth the investment, even if you’ve never played the game.
Diablo III Collector’s Edition Soundtrack
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Price: $11.99 (digital) / Collector’s Edition bonus (physical)
Availability: iTunes / Collector’s Edition
Artist(s): Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford, Joseph Lawrence, Neal Acree, Laurence Juber, Edo Guidotti
I already mentioned in our ‘meet the team’ feature that this is one of my most anticipated games (and soundtracks) of the year. I loved what I was hearing in the Diablo III beta, and I love audio director Russell Brower’s past soundtrack production work, and the Diablo III soundtrack is no different. Each piece ties into the next in a continuous listening experience that’s meant to tell the story of Diablo III, making this more than a dumping ground for the game’s music; it’s another way to enjoy the story.
I was looking for familiar themes, but only found a few in the way of “And The Heavens Shall Tremble,” a powerful orchestral rendition of the Diablo theme that should please any fan along with the familiar 12-string guitar in “New Tristram.” From there, I found “Caldeum” to be most Diablo-like in its ambiance and most notably for its use of percussion, but nowhere did I find Matt Uelmen’s signature tribal rock percussion, which I missed. Still, I love the dark ambiance of “Tamoe Heights” and “Bastion’s Keep,” the ominous choral work in “Incantation,” and the dreadful “Evil Reawakened.” The beautiful choral work in “A Tenuous Bond” found towards the end of the album also caught me off guard.
That’s the thing though. I feel this is Diablo told through the musical voice of the World of Warcraft. Diablo’s ambiance is not as effective when voiced by such epic orchestral work. Still, this soundtrack album only highlights key moments in the story, and I have found much more Diablo-esque music to enjoy within the game itself.
Capcom has made it no big surprise that they’re trying to build a franchise out of Dragon’s Dogma. They went all out with the game’s music, having Square Enix publish the album and bringing on internal composer Tadayoshi Makino (Monster Hunter series), Rei Kondoh (Okami, Bayonetta), and making it an international effort with the inclusion of the ubiquitous Inon Zur (Dragon Age, Rift, TERA).
Does the album deliver?
The pieces tend to be on the short side, with many around the one-minute mark and most below two minutes. There’s a bombastic orchestral presence with many of the tracks featuring live orchestra and session players, and there’s a nice hint of rock thrown in. Tracks get darker and more intense as the album progresses, with the emotional ending you’d expect.
Vocalist Aubrey Ashburn does a great job with the melancholy title theme, and returns again for the adventurous and triumphant main theme. Makino tackles many orchestral tracks, but also some darker and more foreboding ones, which I enjoyed. I love his rockin’ “Desperate Battle” and epic “Decisive Battle ~ Dragon Battle” as well as his Celtic-inspired “Soren, Capital City,” which sports some fantastic female choir and acoustic guitar. Kondoh’s contributions are my favorites, as he handles the softer and more ethnic contributions, with his angelic theme for Serena being my particular favorite. Zur brings his big orchestral sound to the mix, but surprises with the heavy rock influences in two of his tracks that I’d never heard from him before. I’d love to see more of this from him.
By the end of the album, I was left wanting something more memorable. A melody to hum, a battle theme to bang my head to. There’s none of that here. There’s big orchestral action from start to finish with a few noteworthy moments, and while that’s great for the in-game experience, I can’t recommend picking this soundtrack up without having the context of the game to back it up.
This is an album that’s sure to confuse, just as the original Final Fantasy XIII-2 Original Sound Plus album did. I mentioned that this album would contain some of the music from the recently-released DLC, but there’s a lot of other stuff here as well. I’d break down the collection into remixes from the DLC, alternate versions of tracks that amount to remixes, unreleased tracks, and alternate versions and demo tracks that you could have probably lived without ever hearing.
Let’s start with that last group. You’ll get a demonstration of the seamless cross-fades that occur between themes and their heavier ‘aggressive’ mixes (which play when enemies are near) as well as a version of “Historia Crux” with the vocals replaced with an annoying synth that was meant to guide the vocalist. There’s a long version of “The Last Hunter,” one of the weakest battle themes in the game in my opinion, complete with an extended violin solo, and a barely distinguishable version of “New Bodhum.”
In terms of new tracks, both “FirstPV” and “yuzo_050” by Masashi Hamauzu are nice, but are approximately 40 seconds apiece, not amounting to overly much. “Hopping Chocobo” is actually a really nice swingin’ honkey tonk piano arrangement of the chocobo theme. The remixes are also great, with the predicted rapless version of “Unseen Intruder,” a funked out version of “Starting Over,” a trancier take on Royal Ripeness battle theme, a pretty rockin’ guitar demo version and the trip-hop version of “Noel’s Theme” that was streamed on the album’s website, a Mitsuto Suzuki remix of “New Bodhum” that sounds like some of his excellent solo works, an amazing rock/traditional Japanese fusion with an “Oriental Mix” of Gilgamesh’s theme that combines rock guitar with koto and shakahauchi in an epic 7-minute remix.
Whew, I’m out of breath. There’s some good stuff here, but also lots of filler. The asking price is fair, though, so given how much I love the Final Fantasy XIII-2 soundtrack, I’d say it’s worth giving a try!
This one is a huge surprise. When I think of Grant Kirkhope, I generally think of his more upbeat work for RARE’s Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazooie, and even the majestic Viva Piñata. Kirkhope clearly demonstrated with Kingdoms of Amalur, however, that he’s not all rainbows and sunshine, starting with a tense main theme before moving into all sorts of dark and gloomy orchestral goodness. You’ll feel like you’re in a fantasy version of Gotham City with his bold themes that have a certain super hero vibe to theme.
The ominous “Troll” is one of my favorite tracks with its tense string stabs and amazing brass melody. It’s so powerful yet so simple. There’s the fleeting “Dalentarth” that lets up for just a moment before “Mines and Caves” once again plunges you into the depths with a foreboding and oppressive ambiance. This atmosphere continues through many of the tracks that follow, creating a unique voice for the game that is one of the best things I’ve heard this year.
While I haven’t and likely never will play this game, Grant Kirkhope has surprised me with this dark and haunting score. I’d recommend it to everyone, including those who are fans of the game and those who enjoy a great orchestral soundtrack.
Kyokugen Dasshutsu ADV Zennin Shibou Desu Soundtrack
Release Date: April 19, 2012
Price: 2,625 Yen ($33)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Shinji Hosoe
Shinji Hosoe of SuperSweep is known mostly for his pumping electronic music, but this soundtrack for the successor to 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors explores a different sound from this industry veteran. Fans of 999 should be right at home among this soundtrack’s dark and moody trip hop, drum ‘n’ bass, and industrial compositions that are terrifyingly good. The glitchy and bass-heavy “Lounge” and the disturbingly out-of-tune “Dispensary” are just two examples found at the beginning of the album that set the tone for the rest that follows.
The distorted metallic sounds of “Pantry” and the chugging pistons in “Data” lend an industrial edge, while “Sinisterness” and “Portentousness” both sound like they could accompany a horrific boss battle from Dark Souls. And I’d say that the last two are pretty neat track titles along with others like “Consternation” and “Divulgation.”
While I missed 999, I’m glad I was able to give this a listen, as it’s turned me on to a whole new sound from Hosoe and shows he’s capable of even more than the incredible electronic music that he’s produced over the years.
OTOMEDIUS-X ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
Release Date: March 29, 2012
Price: 4,600 Yen ($58)
Availability: CD Japan
Okay, I say everyone is the artist, and that’s because OTOMEDIUS-X (Excellent) features nearly everyone who’s anyone from Japan, China, and the United States. After some catchy pop tunes sung by the game’s vocal talent, GEM Impact heads up a fantastic main soundtrack on the first of five discs along with Motoi Sakuraba who somehow makes convincing shmup music with his signature progressive rock stylings and Michiru Yamane who handles the bonus stages.
The remaining four discs contain music from the DLC song packs. You’ll hear everyone from Yuzo Koshiro (Etrian Odyssey) and Jake “virt” Kaufman to Masato Kouda (Monster Hunter) and Jeremy Soule (The Elder Scrolls). There are several shmup veterans here like Motoaki Furukawa (responsible for many of Konami’s early shmups), Manabu Namiki, and Kenichiro Fukui (Einhander), all of whom really tear it up. Shinji Hosoe and Ayako Saso of SuperSweep also provide an amazing retro-style set of songs while C.S.I. will have you out on the dance floor with their tracks. As this game pays homage to classic Konami shmup titles, there are even a few surprise remixes that should please fans.
I have to say that while the novelty does wear off eventually, there is a lot of great music here. I’m impressed that these composers are able to interpret the same game so differently through their music. The price tag is steep, but there’s a lot to enjoy here and I’m surprised to see something like this released at all!
PIANO OPERA FINAL FANTASY IV/V/VI
Release Date: May 16, 2012
Price: 2,800 Yen ($35)
Availability: CD Japan
Artist(s): Hiroyuki Nakayama
We posted about this album a few months back. It’s a piano arrangement CD intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, and follows up the PIANO OPERA FINAL FANTASY I/II/III album that was not only much needed, but an impressive effort.
I didn’t then, and after listening to this, still don’t understand why they continued with this particular album, however. The first piano opera CD was significant because the first three games never received official piano arrangement albums, whereas Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI did. Even more, seven of the twelve tracks presented here were also covered on those respective piano collections CDs. Why didn’t they tackle different songs to give fans who already own the piano collections CDs more for their money?
I loved the original piano collections CDs because they presented soft and simple arrangements, great for relaxing. Arranger and performer Hiroyuki Nakayama has admittedly prepared more balanced arrangements, taking more liberties with the themes as he did on the first piano opera CD, but I just don’t feel it’s necessary to revisit so many of the same themes. Speaking to the new arrangements, they are quite enjoyable, with three coming from Final Fantasy VI alone. “Save Them” was always one of my favorites, and this adventurous and playful interpretation pays perfect homage to Uematsu’s original. There’s also “Searching for Friends,” which is probably my favorite track on this CD with its nice swing, and the 10+ minute “Dancing Mad” suite is as impressive as you’d expect. There’s also the intense “Red Wings ~ Kingdom of Baron” from Final Fantasy IV and the touching “The Sorrow of Parting” from Final Fantasy V. And I will say the presentation is stellar, with a lovely slipcase, a cool metallic red print job on the disc, and a booklet filled with photos and commentary by Uematsu and Nakayama.
I will say that while it was covered previously, I don’t mind hearing “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV again. They could put an arrangement of this song on every CD in existence and I’d be happy (it’s my favorite Uematsu composition, and I even have a bit of its sheet music from the original piano collections CD on my business card!).
So yeah, save your money and pick up the first piano opera CD if you haven’t already. Pass on this one.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories Original Soundtrack
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Artist(s): Daniel Licht
For anyone who was impressed with Silent Hill: Downpour, be ready to be amazed by Book of Memories. Sure, maybe you’re not happy about the change in direction that the game is taking, but the music, once again provided by Daniel Licht, is simply amazing. Tons of gritty atmosphere, overdriven electric guitar, and even a couple tracks from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn await you.
The game is broken up into different themed areas, including a water, fire, wood, and steel world, to name a few, and Licht does a great job conveying each world through its music. The water world, for example, features warbling ambient sounds, while the wood world gets rhythmic bongos and a groovy guitar riff. I like the decisive march that makes up “Earth World,” the chugging piston-like percussion in “Steel World,” and the incredibly disturbing “Blood World” with distorted synths and emotional string swells. The boss themes are carry these themes forward while providing a tense backing for each combat session.
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn returns in “Now We’re Free,” a gloomy alternate rock track that gives rise to a cathartic chorus section appropriate to the end of the game, whereas “Love Pslam,” featuring McGlynn on vocals and Akira Yamaoka on guitar is a heavier rock track with some great lyrics pertaining to books and memories (oh, and there’s a cameo of “Theme of Laura” in here too).
I all, I love this soundtrack. Even though I’ll never play the game, the soundtrack will be is one of my favorites of the year thus far. I recommend checking it out.
Torchlight II Original Soundtrack
Release Date: TBA
Artist(s): Matt Uelmen
Those who are missing more Matt Uelmen in their Diablo III experience can rest easy because Torchlight II is just around the corner. Uelmen retains the signature sound he developed working on the Diablo franchise by producing a very dreary soundscape accented by his iconic 12-string guitar work, down-pitched rock percussion that yields a more tribal sound, the use of many ethnic instruments, and textural orchestral layering courtesy of the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. The production of the soundtrack is also quite nice in that the tracks flow into one another with cross-fades, creating a continuous listening experience that takes you through the game (although this makes outside listening of individual tracks a bit awkward).
In terms of specifics, the “Torchlight II Title Theme” is desperate yet subtle, opening with a brief glimpse of beauty before the tense classically-tinged melody takes over. “Temple Steppes” should also please fans, bringing in the aforementioned 12-string guitar and rock percussion that should sound immediately familiar Uelmen’s fans. There’s oppressive electric guitar work that will have you rocking out in tracks like “Djinn” and “Ever Deeper,” and sheer terror produced by the heavy strings and distant percussion in “Bog.” But it’s not all dark and gloomy, as there are moments of beauty that shine through in the night/day cycles of “Enclave,” “Zerypheph,” and “Camp.” In particular, “Enclave Morning” stands out for its new agey approach and a cameo of “Town” from the original Torchlight, and “Camp Dawn” features swelling strings and extensive 12-string guitar. Oh, and there’s also a cameo of “Mines” from the original Torchlight in “Curse of Ember,” which sports Uelmen live on pedal steel.
This is a fantastic soundtrack, and it’s wonderfully produced. It’s really not about any one individual track; there are 28 tracks here, some of which come in at under a minute in length. It’s more about the journey the album takes you through, and I think fans will enjoy it. While a physical CD has been distributed as a promotional item, we’ll keep you posted if and when this soundtrack becomes more widely available.