Code Age Commanders Original Soundtrack
Code Age Commanders Original Soundtrack
October 19, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
Though many don’t realize it, Kumi Tanioka is a remarkable composer. Why? Because her works encompass so much stylistic diversity. She has created everything from light-hearted Chocobo goodness to heavy rock-based All Star Pro-Wrestling and Fallen Angels madness, from light techno FFXI female character themes to ancient instrument Crystal Chronicles creations, from symphonic epics like FFXI’s “Awakening” to jazzy piano tunes with The Star Onions. Her score for the futuristic action-RPG Code Age Commanders doesn’t bring us back to any of these works. It enters a completely new realm once again — blending electronic and acoustic elements. The score doesn’t feature much techno music, but does feature hard-hitting electronic beats, endless synthetic loops, and, curiously, a lot of piano work. Some will find its electronic beats blaring and others will feel it’s aseptic, but the music will appeal to a certain audience and is effective in conjunction with the game. For those who can tolerate the soundtrack’s style, it’s actually a highly refined and fascinating work featuring outstanding work from Kumi Tanioka. It also introduces a particularly promising new face — synthesizer operator and arranger Yasuhiro Yamanaka. He ensures that the electronic and acoustic forces are realistically implemented and excellently mixed.
The first disc is dominated by nearly 30 individually fascinating setting themes. Most come in pairs — 12 themes each have ☆ and ★ variants in which the first form usually introduces much of the second form’s harmonic and, occasionally, melodic material. This is exemplified by the first two tracks, both called “Keid Crater”. “Keid Crater ☆” is built from just an ascending electronic riff and a ‘cello basso ostinato, which constantly repeat at fast tempo. Colour protrudes from above with acoustic and electronic melodies while the theme is supported by dynamic changes and occasional breaks featuring a distorted and disorientating synth glissando. Its counterpart, “Keid Crater ★,” uses many of the same harmonies and motifs from the other track, yet has a slight industrial rock touch; it no longer features the ‘cello motif that emphasised the original’s earthiness and generally feels much harder. While the second form of each setting theme tends to be more intense and synthetic overall, there are exceptions to this rule, notably “Minitaka Valley ★”. Entirely acoustic, this transfers the awesome synth basso ostinato from the original on to a marimba and intersynchs it with syncopated tuned percussion to create a mellow piece with groove; it later features one of the most atmospheric acoustic piano solos on the disc while the original features jazzy electric piano.
Despite most of the setting themes featuring electronic beats of some kind, eclectic influences are evident. Some simple examples are the gorgeous nationalistic fanfares of “Muphrid Palace ☆,” the Einhänder-influenced hard-edged techno of the “Zauruk Terminal” themes, the heavily syncopated nu jazz in “Regulus City ☆,” and the industrial percussion and grungy bass riffs of “Alphecca Island Great War”. One of the bonuses is that some themes reflect a wide array of influences as they develop. This is perhaps best exemplified with “Col Hydrae Ancient Ruins ☆,” which opens with an eerie chromatic chord progression on new age vocals before transitioning into the most aggressive piece of EBM in the album. The especially ambient “Sirius Volcano ★” blends eerie vocal chants, luscious string interludes, and mysterious alien-like electronic effects. It is capable of sendings chills down any listener’s spine while also leaving them spiritually enlightened. Sometimes the themes used on the soundtrack are reminiscent of Tanioka’s previous works too. “Elnath Power Plant ☆,” for instance, appears to be an abstract cross between “Metalworks” from FFXI and “Goblin’s Lair” from Crystal Chronicles. The curious ‘call and response’ structures employed between the lyrical flute part and the deeper string parts amuses in conjunction the lively syncopated harmonies and vigorous snare drum rolls.
The colour of both discs is boosted incredibly by four major themes performed by full orchestra. The “Main Theme,” distinguished clearly on the track listings as a joint creation of Kumi Tanioka and Yasuhiro Yamanaka, characterises the whole soundtrack. Much like Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” main theme, it features sweeping melodic progressions, grand brass fanfares, and a sense of perseverence. However, it is sped up and enhanced with all sorts of cool electronic overtones and tuned percussion use. It’s a very special collaboration. Norihito Sumitomo’s “Prologue” and “Airwing” are among a handful of themes in the soundtrack that feature major changes in style and emotional capacity throughout. “Prologue” is dark and grand, opening mysteriously with beautiful synth vocals against a long-held string note, before full-orchestral textures enter and a series of majestic fanfares are heard. The third minute of the track sees the tide change and the pace quicken with the entrance of brass crisis motifs. Soon after, an exhilarating action sequence is introduced and it becomes clear that the main character has an uncertain fate ahead of him. As for “Airwing,” this is the pinnacle of the action themes on the soundtrack. It combines wit, agitation, and instrumental variety into an unpredictable and enticing mix. There are some absolutely awesome metamorphoses in character here.
The second disc of the soundtrack has a firmer thematic basis than the first. The four main character themes have less of a sense of personality than the secondary character themes, curiously enough, but this is probably appropriate at the start of the game. Basic symbolism is quite clear nevertheless. Notably, light and dark are contrasted in “Fiona” and “Gerald,” who spend their lives in servitude of the White Army and Black Army respectively. However, each theme’s similarities — particularly the near-identical harmonic frameworks and equivalent use of synth vocals — indicates that both characters have doubts about their leaders and each is surprisingly similar at heart. Innocence is provided by the rich exotic flute melody in “Gene” while the laid-back nature of “Haze” is ideal for representing the character’s need for pacifism. Perhaps the most representative character theme of all, though, is for Gene’s young sister “Aliz”. Her theme demonstrates Tanioka’s ability to create simple and evocative piano melodies more so than any other creation on the soundtrack. The repeated tuned percussion descant represents the character’s youthness further while evoking a sense of mystery regarding her disappearance. The most charming character theme is reserved for “Ashe”, however. It blends electronic overtones, unforgettable string melodies, witty tuned percussion descants, and deep development to highly enjoyable effect.
The leftover secondary character themes and various event themes provide piles of filler throughout the middle of the second disc. It’s disappointing that initially impressive character themes such as the rich “Guinevere” and bombastic “Sullivan” loop so prematurely. “Alvin” has no promise at all though. The sheer majority of the event themes offer nothing original that hasn’t been heard in superior form in the area themes. Listening to the first five seconds of “Memory,” “Thought,” and “Recollection” reveals that Tanioka has taken a highly formulaic approach. Each theme is opened and led by synthesized vocals and this does little to offer variety; they’re inoffensive and functional, but unnecessary filler in a soundtrack largely jam-packed with goodness. As for the rest, there’s light-hearted percussion to represent a ‘comical’ event, chromatically ascending discords for portraying ‘fear’, and repeating synth vocals in “Reign”. These attempts at conveying basic emotions or accompanying certain events are dull and generic, much like the damaging themes on Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song‘s fourth disc. However, “Serious”, “Fate”, and “Coded” are all colourful additions to the soundtrack neverthelesss. Also, the three poor character themes and six dull event themes are so brief that it is easy not to notice them; they just happen, and fortunately just as you move on to longer and better things.
So it’s time to prepare for and engage in battle in perhaps the most enjoyable and diverse section of the soundtrack. The passive new age track “Facing the War”, Drakengard-esque “Aggressive Behaviour”, and upbeat character theme arrangement “Gene’s Determination” provide good preparation for battle. “Havel” and “Vient” are the two most aggressive pieces of electronic body music on the soundtrack; they’re complete with unrelentless beats, distorted electronic samples, and an overall sense of pessimism and despair. It’s immediately clear that the soundtrack is reaching its conclusion, but first there are relatively light electronic remixes of Aliz and Ashe’s themes; “Ashe Hetero Carillon” succeeds in being the single most ‘whistleable’ theme on the soundtrack. And so the ‘decisive battles’ begin. Tanioka composes a worthy battle theme for each for each of main characters. They combine features from each character’s original theme, the soundtrack’s trademark electronic beats and overtones, and a more traditional sound that hearkens back to the days of Tanioka’s Final Fantasy battle themes. While all succeed, it’s “Decisive Battle Gene” that offers the comprehensive development and emotional and textural variety to be of truly remarkable calibre. It two-tiered track combines inspirations from Code Age Commanders with those of FFXI’s “Awakening”.
The epilogue themes for each of the main characters wrap up their stories well. They are made more enjoyable by the reuse of the memorable melodies, despite relying a little too much on synthetic vocals once more. “Epilogue Gene” is easily the best and most developed of the bunch; the recapitulation of Gene’s theme with full textures in the final minute and a half is just so memorable and poignant. Unfortunately, the fully orchestrated “Ending” falls short of reaching the same heights. The first two minutes are musical bliss and wraps up all the major character themes in a poignant arrangement; it also offers the rich piano lines, synthetic vocals, and tuned percussion that are so characteristic of the acoustic element of the soundtrack. However, the rest of the theme is merely a straightforward recapitulation of the main theme with no adjustments. Its integration feels like a cop-out on the soundtrack, as if Tanioka didn’t have a clue how to fill four minutes of credits and just shoved something on top without even considering how the transition from instrumental bliss to the hard-hitting main theme would sound. Reprising it is a good idea, but some changes and an improved transition were needed, especially in soundtrack form — it’s just unappealing to have identical versions of the “Main Theme” at the ends of both discs in the soundtrack.
The soundtrack doesn’t quite end there as there are bonus tracks. The three Otero themes are used to represent little coded creatures that battle with the main characters. They are very brief, but are ideal for creating a robotic sound and vary in style quite a bit. They feature the most mature and hard-hitting electronica on the soundtrack, courtesy of Yamanaka not Tanioka. Code Age Commanders also features some electronic remixes that give two new talents a chance to demonstrate some of their skills. Yamanaka gets his final chances to shine with “Main Theme -PubMix-,” a rugged electronic interpretation of the “Main Theme” made to sound like it is being played in a bar, and “Gomeisa Marsh ☆ -Recode Edition-,” a brief variation of one of the less notable area themes. Ritsu Mizutani also creates two amusing creations. “Keid Crater ☆ -EffectMix-” involves various sound effects being used to recreate the harmonic and melodic foundations of the original track, while “Theme Ashe -Otero Mix-” is even more amusing; it takes samples of the Otero’s cute and devilish squeals and integrates them into a remix directly alongside the Ashe delightful melody. All in all, these remixes are not something the average listener would want to revisit again and again, but they are inspired and amusing takes on their originals. They certainly end the soundtrack on a positive note (well, the sound of a single Otero, to be pedantic…).
The Code Age Commanders Original Soundtrack demonstrates that Kumi Tanioka and Yasuhiro Yamanaka are two of the most talented and versatile Square Enix employees. While the soundtrack can grow a little dull with its characterless secondary character themes, uneventful event themes, and reliance on similar forces, it has more than enough variety — particularly in the diverse setting themes, quaint major character themes, and breathtaking battle themes — to keep listeners thoroughly enthralled once familiarity has been achieved. This is the first time that acoustic and electronic forces have combined so successfully in a Square Enix soundtrack as a result of various musical and technological achievements. Yamanaka is ultimately the force that achieves this, reuniting the producer’s inspiration for an electronically-influenced score with Tanioka’s acoustic leanings; he spent endless hours refining the synth and personally adding each piece’s electronic elements. Still, Tanioka also does very well, creating a variety of sophisticated creations and captivating melodies. Together they make an excellent team. This soundtrack will obviously not suit all listeners, but previous fans of Tanioka’s work and those listeners with an electronic leaning should certainly check it out.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.