Culdcept II Original Soundtrack Deluxe
Culdcept II Original Soundtrack Deluxe
November 21, 2007
Buy at CDJapan
The score for Omiya Soft’s sleeper hit Culdcept Second marked Kenji Ito’s first effort independently of Square and one of his few major expeditions outside the SaGa and Mana series. Responsible for composition and all aspects of sound production, Ito put considerable effort into the score and tried to broaden his horizons. The Culdcept series is a group of magic-meets-monopoly games featuring a diverse number of worlds. Each world is represented a set of three themes to represent its first half, second half, and battle screen. The music of each world in Culdcept Second is individualised with different moods or styles but continuous elements are present given the focus on an organic palette and Ito’s distinctive musicality. A range of supplementary themes were also composed for the events, menus, and other components of the game. The Culdcept II Original Soundtrack Deluxe is the second print of soundtrack that followed the good sales of the Culdcept Saga Original Soundtrack. Unlike the original release, it splits the world themes into individual tracks, features all the supplementary music for the game, and even includes four bonus arrangements. Is it a worthwhile purchase for new fans to the series or even those who bought the original print?
The opening theme is a fulfilling introduction to the fantasy game despite a laborous initial few bars. It demonstrates the spectrum of emotion featured on the soundtrack with three main sections; it develops from dark initial scales to a serene and melodic oboe-led passage to a lushly orchestrated climax. The tone and musicianship of the soundtrack are explored further in the themes for the first stage, “Open the World”. The first half is culturally inspired, opting for a light organic mix influenced by Western Europe. From a guitar-led accompaniment, a flute introduces the semi-improvised melody in a restrained but poignant manner. As the piece makes an explicit transition to the development section, a bandoneon undergoes lyrical interplay with the flute resulting in some pleasing contrasts. While the harmony never really develops, it produces a beautiful timbre for the rest of the track and is excellently synthesized. With the second half, the intensity of the music has grown due to the additions of some bearable string discords in the introductory section. Nevertheless, the style and instrumentation remains similar, the principle difference being that the bandoneon leads the piece entirely this time and the guitar is more dynamic.
Taking a tour through the stage themes, one sees Ito’s core musicianship and palette stays quite consistent, though contrasts of mood and novel additions to each piece maintain interest. Looking at the light tracks first, the jazzy rhythmical structures and over-the-top orchestration of the first half of “Bomber Princess” indicate a relaxed humorous stroll, while the second half retains a cheeky persona despite leading listeners into a false sense of seriousness with rococo features and harpsichord punctuation. “Sorceress of Fate”, on the other hand, blends Ito’s lyrical orchestrations with harpsichord in the first half and organ in the second half. “Rabbid Dance” initially contrasts whimsical lightly accompanied woodwind line with dissonant chords before becoming a surprisingly well-developed playful parade march occasionally interrupted by car horn sounds. The other dance theme for Darhan has an Arabian influence but the conjunct melodies and ordered rhythms are still distinctly Itonian. Contrasting all this lightness are the bombastic orchestral themes for “Holding Revenge in My Heart”, which are essentially written like the soundtrack’s battle themes. Fortunately the “Welcome to the Colosseum” themes mostly avoid the overbearing brassy approach.
Unlike Culdcept SaGa, Ito tends to avoid opportunities for lavish experimentation. “Lost Techno” isn’t the type of electronica one would expect from Ito’s work on that soundtrack; instead it’s a vanilla combination of tuned percussion, synth overtones, and very subdued electronic beats. The first half of “Oath of Fire and Ice” is a little different with its combination of rock-influenced bass lines and vigorous brassy melodies, but it’s not as explicit as his rock work on RPG soundtracks. Similarly, while the initial combination of Asian and Western instrumentation into the first half of “Ravine of Wind and Sun” seems imaginative, its body is pleasant but much like the other pieces on the soundtrack. More interesting are the percussive tribal-influenced themes for the penultimate stage “Prayer for Destruction” that open the second disc. Ito really explores new ground and, while the melody in the second half is a little naive, the other elements of these compositions satisfy. The first half of the final stage theme “Light and Shadows” opts to explore slow scalar melodies in a somewhat epic manner with orchestra and chorus. The second half exposes the darkness spectacularly with an organ-based rendition of the underused main theme introduced in the “Prologue”.
Culdcept Second‘s battle themes are numerous but not always as interesting as Ito’s RPG battle themes. Introduced by a pompous fanfare, the rather derivative battle theme of the first stage is briskly paced and firmly articulated. Its primary melody is a simple descending crisis motif passed through strings and brass, though the tension this builds leads to quite a triumphant second passage. A clear highlight is the flamenco-influenced guitar line that, though subdued, is very active throughout the track. For subsequent battle themes, Ito tends to mix bombastic orchestral passages with elements inspired by the stage themes. There is everything from the childish lyrical woodwinds of “A Little Fool Bandit” to the ridiculous tuned percussion march of “Rabbid Dance” to the commanding emotionally charged anthem of “Holding Revenge in My Heart”. A few seem to be hardly characterised, though, and most are usually quite short. Nonetheless, there are some very creative efforts distinct from their counterparts, such as the piano-infused trance of the previously unfulfilling “Lost Techno”, the bustling renaissance woodwinds of “Sorceress of Fate”, or the powerful melodic approach of “Prayer for Destruction”. The final battle theme is a commanding orchestra and chorus theme with furious drive and emotional main theme reprises.
A range of miscellaneous themes are present on the score. These include the glimmering victory theme, a celestial organ-based chorale, or a couple of light-hearted conversation themes. There are also seven ‘Brave Story’ themes to document the events of the game and all but “Courage” are very enjoyable. They range from the cinematic orchestrations of “Beginning” to the striking piano-based action cue “Escape” to slow-building ambient themes like “Terror”. Some help to establish the soundtrack’s underexposed main theme more while the stereotypically styled “Rest”, “Sorrow”, and “Pleasant” have fantastic melodies of their own. Another fine melody is present in the bookmark tracks used in the menus of the game. It is explored in charming if predictable manner on dreamy music box, sentimental synth glockenspiel, and whimsical small ensemble. “Epilogue” concludes the dramatic arch of the score with two minutes of underscoring, incorporating spiritual, contemplative, hopeful, and grand moments. Though the orchestration lacks subtlety and finesse, the emotional richness here is sincere. The subsequent two minutes of the theme are dedicated to the staff roll; through all the trumpet fanfares and snare drum rolls is another effectively crafted melody. Another three-tiered piece, it concludes with a simple piano solo that becomes increasingly orchestrated.
The deluxe soundtrack features several bonuses in addition to split world suites. The previously unreleased themes are insufficient to demand a purchase and instead introduce filler themes on to a once clean release. The three “Guide on the Journey” themes, “Game Over”, “Complete the Element”, and “Complete the Universe” are a series of short brass fanfares. There are also two additional bookmark themes that weren’t used in the game given their musically redundant features and one moody but cripplingly brief Brave Story theme. The real bonuses are the four arrangements at the end of the disc. The main theme is given a gorgeous new rendition with emphasis on evocative flute melodies, pre-recorded piano, and flamenco guitar backing. Everything feels more raw and emotional now. The rendition of Bookmark opens with a badly paced quasi-orchestration before moving into a soft solo piano passage. When the forces come together, everything is quite sentimental and endearing, although very predictable too. Also among the bonus tracks is a piano-infused new age interpretation of Culdcept Saga‘s main theme. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach its full potential and ends up becoming repetitive rather quickly. The best of the bonus tracks is the Extra: Hyper Game Music 2007 version of “The Phoenikion” featuring Kyoko Kishikawa’s passionate vocals and crisp flamenco guitar work.
The soundtrack to Culdcept Second is hardly a superlative effort. The formulaic approach and occasional naive musicality demonstrated here means this soundtrack isn’t as sophisticated as Culdcept despite most stage themes being meticulously put together. The general rejection of electronic, rock, and worldly influences means that the soundtrack isn’t as diverse as Culdcept Saga despite plenty of quirk and character still expressed. Nevertheless, there will be something very endearing about this soundtrack for those who appreciate Kenji Ito’s orchestral approaches. This soundtrack features some of his strongest melodies, comprehensively developed themes, and heartfelt representations of frivolity, tranquility, and darkness. It also stands out as a very competently implemented soundtrack with clean instrumental samples and fine balance. This soundtrack won’t challenge the opinions on those who don’t enjoy Kenji Ito’s work and many will find it too consistent or generic. However, it ought to be a solid and treasured purchase for those who enjoy his works or liked the music in the game. The reprint ought to be redundant for those who have already bought the Culdcept II Original Soundtrack given the bonuses aren’t worth the extra money. However, this print should be the one new buyers pick up given the split world themes really enhance ease of navigation and there are a few new treasures to be found.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.