November 18, 1994
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After a mixed second entry, Hisayoshi Ogura returned to the series with more innovations than ever in 1994’s Darius Gaiden. Released originally for arcades, then ported to consoles such as the Saturn and PlayStation, the game’s sound system was vastly superior to Darius and Darius II. As a result, Ogura was able to fully experiment on this title and its follow-up G-Darius, leading to the series’ most experimental scores to date. The soundtrack was originally released by Pony Canyon in 1994, complete with a bonus arranged version.
“Visionnerz” is regarded as one of the series’ classics for good reason. In context, this track spans from the introduction of the game right through to the second boss theme, so naturally the development covers a lot of material. After an ethereal opening, Ogura layers a range of forces on top, ranging from edgy industrial bass riffs to soothing jazz piano improvisations. However, perhaps the most remarkable feature is the vocalist featured from the 0:48 mark, who introduces the game’s main theme and brings a familiar yet otherworldly feel to the entire track. The track progresses through various moods and influences in an almost cinematic manner, but all the while retaining the same focus of blending organic and inorganic elements. Absolute bliss to listen to.
After the intriguing yet unfulfilling “Burst Out” and the elegant yet transient “Induction”, Ogura offers more musical fruit with the third stage theme “E-E-G”. The rhythmic beat that dominates most of the track is accompanied quite well by futuristic synth sounds, operatic vocals, and at times, piano passages. Despite being primarily driven by a rhythmic based composition, I think Ogura does a fantastic job of creating a melody that matches quite well with this rhythm. The accompanying boss theme “Axon” intriguingly uses derivation of the rhythm of “E-E-G”, but relies much more on melody. Ogura chose some very fitting and interesting instrumentation to go along with this beat. Interludes of piano and saxophone help to reinforce the futuristic sound that the rest of the composition creates and reinforces the jazz element of the series. The sighing vocals also help to add a bit of texture to this already crazy piece of music.
Ogura introduces a range of other elements to the series on Darius Gaiden. “Reflection”, for instance, sounds influenced by epic science-fiction movie scores with its boundless melodies and driving snares. It could have been horribly derivative, but this is Ogura after all and listeners are guaranteed amazing electronic soundscapes and wild synth solos soon enough. “Singing in the Brain” is the most Asian-influenced track on the series with its pentatonic melodies and earthy instrumentation. The melody’s development itself isn’t that strong, but what it lacks in strength, it makes up for in memorability. Finally, “Tranquilizer” and “Self” deviate from the oppressive quality of many Darius stage themes in favour of a more introspective and psychological approach. These are some of Ogura’s most beautifully soundscaped works.
A fascinating element of this score is the way the motifs from “Visionnerz” recur in numerous tracks. There are hints of the theme in “E-E-G” and “Tranquilizer” that bring some thematic continuity to the gaming experience. However, Ogura reserves the major arrangements for the climactic boss theme “Self” and the reflective minimalistic mix “Refrain”, both of which are very atmospheric in context. As with the other Darius games, the ending credits are much mellower than the preceding pieces. There is a nice blend of organic instrumentation and futuristic synth to create a perfect harmony between the two. The operatic vocal cues throw in an interesting twist and nicely recount influences from “Visionnerz” once more. If only for the emotional effect, this is probably my favorite ending theme for the Darius series.
Given the huge influence from “Visionnerz” throughout the soundtrack, it’s only appropriate that the track receives an arranged version here courtesy of Shinji Tanahashi. It’s an incredibly ambitious and eclectic arrangement, blending electronic, classical, rock, and jazz influences throughout its five minute playtime, all performed by live performers (including a whole string ensemble). There’s even a section featuring a soprano soloist. This version is vastly superior to that found on the full arranged album Darius Gaiden -The Last Kiss-, doing interesting things to the original while still retaining its ethereal, blissful vibe.
Darius Gaiden is one of the most daring game scores ever written. It is definitely a very experimental scores that won’t be for everyone. That said, I totally respect Ogura’s use of daring fusions of organic and inorganic influences throughout this score, as well as his use of technology and integration of motifs. For me personally, this is my favorite soundtrack in the series. The Pony Canyon version is worth picking up, given it features a complete original sound version as well as an excellent bonus arrangement. However, keep in mind it is now out-of-print so will have to be purchased from online auction stores. The soundtrack is also available in complete form as a digital download and on the series’ sound box set.
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Posted on November 10, 2015 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on November 7, 2015.