August 21, 1992
Buy Used Copy
In 1987, Taito created one of their most ambitious games to date: Darius. Much more artistically driven than their previous hit titles, Space Invaders and Puzzle Bobble, Darius featured spectacular sci-fi visuals and an even more impressive score. With Darius‘ soundtrack, Hisayoshi Ogura (aka OGR) decided to reject the fast-paced, hyper-melodic approach of other shooters of the day in favour of a more experimental, atmospheric score that blended organic and inorganic elements throughout. The score has been released in several forms over the years, but the most definitive of these is Pony Canyon’s album, released in 1992 and now out-of-print, that is reviewed here.
“Captain Neo” continues the tradition of shooters featuring unforgettable first stage themes. The main draw is Ogura’s exuberant jazz-influenced main melody, which seems to reflect the human protagonist of the game. However, the heavily punctuated bass line seems to still capture a sense of the technological element of the game. Despite the humble sound chips, the fusion still sounds great for its time. It’s one of the most memorable and appropriate first stage themes for any shooter. The other hyper-catchy addition to the soundtrack is “Cosmic Air Way”. This track perfectly captures that vibe most would associate with old-school melodies. Whether that’s principally because of its gliding melodies, punchy chord progressions, or driving bass lines, I can’t be sure. However, the whole composition comes together in an utterly delightful way and each passage complements the next.
As one might infer from the track title, “Inorganic Beat” relies primarily on the interesting use of beats. In fact, the entire piece is comprised of drums and some space-like synth. The rhythmic drive of the percussion really pushes this piece along while the semi-melodic nature of the synth helps to accentuate the instrumentation. Despite the percussive emphasis, this is still an interesting and enjoyable piece. Darius also introduces the main theme for the series, “Chaos”. Whereas the opening theme “Captain Neo” was almost superficially melodious, this one takes a totally abstract approach. Expect aggressive orch hits, haunting sound effects, weird dissonant harmonies, and an ever-repeating headline phrase. It’s one of the strangest main themes ever, yet it’s still so representative of Darius and memorable of a stand-alone basis.
The boss themes of Darius tend to be even more barren, since they focus entirely on creating tension during the game’s encounters with giant marine creatures. “Boss Scene 1”, for instance, is a minimalistic track that resolves entirely around a repetitive pulsating bass line and some treble frills. Though not especially appealing on a stand-alone basis, it sustains repetition very well during the game and fits the scene perfectly. While “Boss Scene 2” is a good complement for “Inorganic Beat”, “Boss Scene 3” takes things in a new direction with its totally ambient focus and features some very spooky sound design. “Boss Scene 4” meanwhile focuses mainly on the use of staccato notes, to create a crisis atmosphere, but some interesting harmonies and synth sounds still create an almost magical atmosphere. It’s already clear that Ogura intended something very different for Darius‘ music…
Moving to the climax, “The Sea” initially slowly and smoothly meanders to give a beautiful watery soundscape. However, the section from 0:39 is a complete contrast with its dissonant articulated chords, giving off a feeling of impending doom… Listeners are subsequently dazzled with a succession of three boss themes, the first two hostile and rhythmically focused, the final battle theme far more interesting. “Boss Scene 7” starts out with standard “Warning” motifs, but once the track actually starts, the listener is definitely taken on a joy ride. Thick bass lines, strong rhythmic motifs, and just an all-around groovy melody makes this track exceptional. This is probably my favorite boss theme from the first Darius. The soundtrack is resolved by a succession of subsidiary themes, the most notable of these being the bouncy end credits jingle, as well as a bonus sound effects collection.
This version of the album additionally features two bonus arrangements created by Nobuhito Tanahashi, “Captain Neo” and “Cosmic Air Way”. Focusing on the catchiest tracks from the soundtrack, both arrangements are unsurprisingly quite pop-flavoured and don’t share the abstract tones of the rest of the soundtrack. “Captain Neo” is nicely fleshed out with a sci-fi intro, synthesizer melodies, and catchy licks and beats. The slower tempo and smooth synths, in particular, transform the somewhat jagged original melody into something widely accessible. “Cosmic Air Way”, on the other hand, is considerably faster-paced and is something of a disco-industrial fusion, complete with orch hits and all. However, while these arrangements are decent, they’re mostly surpassed by those on the arranged album Darius the Omnibus -Generation-. They are nice bonuses to this CD, but hardly must-buys.
Overall, Hisayoshi Ogura’s score was revolutionary for its time and still is an impressive listen all these years later. Whether its memorable main themes, experimental avant-garde stylings, or incredible synthesis, the soundtrack is a major creative feat. This particular version of the soundtrack is particularly definitive, given it features all the pieces from the soundtrack (unlike the digital-only Darius Original Soundtrack released in 2007) and compiles them into separate tracks rather than medleys (unlike Darius -Taito Game Music Vol. 2- released in 1987). The arrangements are nice bonuses too. However, the album has been out-of-print for many years so will need to be tracked down second-hand from online auction sites.
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Posted on November 7, 2015 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on November 7, 2015.