Culdcept Saga Original Soundtrack
Culdcept Saga Original Soundtrack
December 22, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
Released on the Xbox 360 at the end of 2006, Culdcept Saga is the third in a line of card-dominated magic-meets-monopoly games. Culdcept Saga features 27 worlds from deserts, plains, canyons, and mountains to palaces, mansions, arenas, and ruins in coloured and colourless variants. The 104 track score mostly consists of trios of tracks that represent the first half, second half, and battle of each stage; there are 23 other themes that are used principally for storyline purposes. Like Culdcept Second, SaGa and Mana composer Kenji Ito is responsible for most of the creations here, though the Joe Down sound team, who are also known for their recent scores in the Chocobo series, fill in big gaps with respect to the stage themes.
Kenji Ito is responsible for the overriding thematic material of the soundtrack. The opener “The Road to SAGA” presents the game’s main theme; it’s a strong one that is maturely shaped and carefully structured to attain an adventurous and hopeful feel. This initial orchestra, piano, and chorus rendition is the most colourful and refined of its interpretations. The theme is thinned down and quietened in the reflective “The Road to Hope”, moulded into a militaristic preparation theme with “Rising Fighting Spirit”, and given some ‘new age’ styling in “Determination” and “An Encounter”; none are particularly inspired, but the strength of the melody makes the deficiencies of the arrangements forgivable. A secondary theme is also exposed in the simple but pleasant solo piano work “A Sorrowful Thought”. While the treatment isn’t bad, the wandering yet predictable melody seems to be based on “Never Ending Sadness” from Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Gushing orchestral arrangements filled with parallelisms like “Dinaar Mountain Range (First Half)” and “Insufficient Magic Power” further reflect a sad theme without substance or individuality. More interesting are the more subtle references to the theme in several stages. Beyond that, “To the Battlefield” and “The Wheel of Fortune” both stand out for their sensitively crafted melodies and courageous but saddening sounds. The ending theme, “Dearest Feelings”, is also decent; it simultaneously provides a sense of reflection and relief and references to the two main themes to make the soundtrack a little more coherent melodically.
Ito integrates electronic samples in a lot of his works here mostly to create an uplifting effect influenced by ‘new age’ music. They demonstrate a composer with a degree of competence in the area but little individuality and subtlety. “Trial” centres upon lavish orchestration of a predictable melody accompanied by electronic effects throughout that are intended to create an epic sound, but sound inappropriate. “Dinaar Mountain Range (Second Half)” adopts a similar approach, made worse by addition of a synthesized chorus in an attempt at profundity during the development section. Still, there are superficial features that differentiate many of the remaining electronically-influenced stage themes. As examples, the ‘Brumeer, the Misty Country’ themes blend piano work with a chillout bass line, the ‘Veinis, the Heavenly Fountain’ series use dreamy synth pads and novelty sounds to achieve a sense of elevation, and “Brobudin, the Sun Palace (First Half)” is more fast-paced and jagged. Some of the electronic experiments are very successful. “The Altar of Blessing (Second Half)” benefits from a strong wind melody and some beautifully assimilated electronic effects, despite a cringe-worthy string- and piano-led secondary section. “Phoenikion, Mountain of the Phoenix (Second Half)” boasts a hard techno bass line, an unpredictably distorted bass line, and a plethora of electronic effects to create an oppressive sound.
Ito’s battle themes vary in quality. The battle themes for the first stage, arena, Dinaar, Veinis, and Kalgad are all dominated by blaring orchestral discords, repetition of crisis motifs, and emphasis on a solo wind instrument. These Itonian features reflect a guy who fits music to scenes, but doesn’t always make creations of artistic merit. While their rock-influenced melodies would be sufficient were there a few less stages, their formulaic nature is very exposed given the soundtrack’s format. Furthermore, all the tracks end before or around the 1:30 mark and some loop after just 30 seconds. Some of the battle themes are among the biggest highlights of the score, though. ‘Brumeer, the Misty Country’ features a gliding flamenco battle theme reminiscent of Minstrel Song’s “Passionate Rhythm” except with panpipes and accordion replacing vocals. “Lalasadi, the Garden of Lamentation (Battle)” hybridises elements of Baroque and Romantic courtroom dances to fun effect; driven throughout by a vivacious string accompaniment, the antecedent phrase is a fine sedate flute melody, while the consequent violin phrase is brisk and punchy. Also awesome is “Brobudin, the Sun Palace (Battle)”, a witty rock-electronica-piano fusion with great rhythmical emphasis, while the experimental “Phoenikion, Mountain of the Phoenix (Battle)” will appeal to some. “Stairway to the World of Gods” is quite a strong final battle theme, principally thanks to its rampant chord progressions and accompaniment; it still feels like an anticlimax, though, and its predecessor, ‘The Altar of Blessing’, exacerbates this and totally sucks in the battlefield.
Ito also creates a few interesting fusions throughout the score. “Phoenikion, Mountain of the Phoenix (First Half)” combines driving rock riffs, orchestral discords, and peculiar sampled voices; despite its repetitious qualities, the outrageousness of its fusion is a testament to Ito’s creativity and it really does rock. “The Ancient Temple of Holy Yujia Isle (First Half)” is a similarly upbeat track that is written in an even more unlikely style; a guitar riff blends excellently with powerful orchestral work and some catchy panpipe melodies while ululation and the sound of warriors chanting is also integrated to reasonable effect. Its counterpart revolves around a hilarious tribal ostinato that, while repetitive, becomes interesting when brass and string melodies proudly resound from it. Also impressive is the integration of the Baroque chamber orchestra in the lyrical ‘Lalasardi, the Garden of Lamentation’ themes. Some attempts at creativity are derivative, though, like “Holy Melody” on the pipe organ, the light Iwadare rip-off “Time to Think”, or the overbearing brass-led nationalistic themes “Complete the Element” and “Complete the Universe”. Those stage themes that haven’t been discussed, i.e. the first stage, arena, and Kaningan, the Lunar Tower, mostly fall into the quasi-orchestral category most would anticipate from Ito; they’re meticulously composed and enjoyable enough, but nothing endearing, new, or worth shouting from rooftops about. All in all, Ito’s contributions range from the inspired and daring to the desperate and fraudulent, but are mostly enjoyable, fitting, and varied.
The seven contributors from Joe Down Studio compose in a wide variety of styles. They are responsible for a mixture of masterpieces and stinkers, but for most part really enhance the soundtrack and ensure it is the most rich and diverse Culdcept soundtrack to date. Yuuki Watanabe shines for his percussive compositions. The ‘Alcion, the Imperial Capital -I’m Ticomm-‘ themes all constitute ‘toy music’ — really amusing light-hearted themes that use phrasing and instrumental samples that sound infantile and mechanical. They’re pretty intricate tracks with some deliciously crisp phrasing and wild chromatic progressions. Watanabe’s final contributions, to represent The Altar of Vast Darkness, offer grandiose Gothic progressions, amazing timpani use and sound effects, and some unexpected chord changes as the compositions alternate between presenting divinity and darkness. Chiemi Takano similarly embraces the darkness with his eerie ‘Gravestone Canyon’ and ‘Zenador, the Great Temple of Darkness’ themes; epic melodies, bold progressions, and percussive use of sound effects, piano, crisis motifs, and, of course, percussion make these themes delicious from both a superficial and intellectual standpoint. The battle themes, especially, are merciless. By the second half of the score, it’s clear that Joe Down’s capabilities extend well beyond plain and pedantic stylistic experiments without integrity; they can produce some very rich music too.
Unfortunately, some of the more worldly creations are less inspired. Atsuko Kuwaiti’s ‘Melkizekia, the Blue Jungle’ themes all create an exotic feel with all sorts of percussion, sound effects, and fragmented wind phrases, but are just too random for their own good, often lacking direction or dynamism. Given the soundtrack’s presentation, listeners have to endure three themes for Melkizekia consecutively. Atsufumi Sorai’s two ‘Hermit’s Mountain on Mount Eternal’ themes are effectual at times thanks to some gorgeous synth swells and fantastical tuned percussion use, yet feel completely lifeless in the sections where a melody leads; there’s no bite, no tension, and certainly no entertainment. Worse still, Makoto Igarashi’s ‘Batooan, the Golden Desert’ themes are dominated by a sitar that uses pentatonic scales to present deeply unpleasant music; these incoherent and often nonsensical themes butcher the music they are derived from and insult the culture of India. Still, there are highlights even here. Watanabe’s ‘Bashisk, the Ruined Country’ pieces reflect an exotic culture in ruins through more idiosyncratic percussion use and beautifully established timbres. The ‘Illusia, the Rainbow Shoal’ are tropical themes rich with punchy rhythms, glistening melodies, and unusual instrumentation. But it’s the lush trio of themes for ‘Clanovia, the Windy Harbor’ that stand out as the true oriental masterpieces here.
The climax of the album is dominated by Yuzo Takahashi and Kenjiro Hiwatari. Yuzo Takahashi’s creations are the most ambitious on the score. As an example, “Belzelback, the Castle of Darkness (First Half)” opens weirdly with an oppressive repeated ostinato and some oriental melodies, but then takes an unlikely tangent into a dark electronica rhythm fest. Its counterpart gets straight to action with a pounding techno-chorus-orchestral combo that is rapid, unpredictable, and often distorted. “Omengald, the Great Temple of Light (Second Half)” is a 5:20 masterpiece dominated by electronic beats, grungy guitar riffs, lengthy timpani rolls, and dissonant orchestral chords. As for Hiwatari, he’s dramatic… “Alcion, the Imperial Capital -Capital Siege- (First Half)” opens with repeated choral chants and orchestral hits before becoming dominated by an uncompassionate brass melody; it couldn’t contrast more with Watanabe’s comical interpretation of the same world. The second half gains a mechanical inclination and becomes darker, deeper, and more frenzied, dominated by an ascending succession of suspended discords in one place. ‘The Shining Altar’ themes would fit in the Drakengard games given their exuberance. Anticipate wailing male choirs, intense romantic piano work, and agonising full-orchestral ritardandos. Marvellous… While the final six scene themes are actually less remarkable Ito creations, the disturbed dramatic arch does not undermine the strength of the early climax.
The road to Saga is a lengthy one with a roughly equal mix of interesting and bland stops. Culdcept Saga‘s score is nonetheless impressively diverse, incorporating a wide range of symphonic, rock, electronic, and multicultural influences to interpret a wide variety of worlds. It features many excellent stage themes and sounds wondrous at its lengthy dark climax thanks to the talents of Kenjiro Hiwatari, Yuzo Takahashi, Chiemi Takano, and Yuuki Watanabe. However, Ito’s trite new age tracks, numerous disappointing battle themes, and use of a plain orchestral style makes the score quite boring and directionless in places. Joe Down sometimes exacerbates this, particularly with certain dodgy oriental-influenced themes. Despite its inconsistency, Culdcept Saga is a satisfying and impressive work, ranking as one of Ito’s best contributions to game music and one of the most comprehensive and experimental soundtracks released in recent years. Even though many won’t want to embark on the Culdcept Saga‘s journey, the gold will make the journey worth it for the patient.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.