June 21, 1995
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Crafted from the remains of Toaplan, developer Cave’s first project was the shooter DonPachi. Enjoyed in Japanese Arcades and ported to the Saturn and PlayStation, the title popularised Cave’s name and formed the basis of the highly successful DoDonPachi series. Its music was created by Ryuichi Yabuki in a militaristic style in contrast to the mostly electronic scores of its successors. The Arcade sound version featured in the second half of the soundtrack is very muffled and displeasingly synthesized. However, the better synthesised original version is included in the first half and surprisingly clear sound effects and voice collections round off the release. Let’s take a closer look at the material here.
The first stage theme “Silent Outpost Base” immediately captures listener’s interests with a compelling repeated timpani rhythm and helicopter sound effects. The bulk of the theme focuses on a trumpet melody that commands with a serious militaristic tone in combination with the continuing percussion. During the development section, the trumpet melody takes a reflective turn and some dazzling pop-influenced arpeggios reinforce the epic edge. However, the continued repetition of once welcome heavy drums drowns out the decorative features in both the original and development versions meaning there is a lack of overall colour. “The God of Destruction Comes” uses a similar ensemble and approach to create an intense effect for the third stage theme. It benefits from a slightly more memorable trumpet melody, but the unchanging percussion thuds soon become laborous.
Considering the more rhythmically focused pieces, “Gale Force” assembles cheesy two note motifs in a unpredictable syncopated manner. Again the extent of repetition is undesirable and the stronger trumpet solo during the second section isn’t enough to redeem the track given listeners know what will return at the loop. “Sortie Order” is even more repetitive than most other select themes by Cave while the boss theme “A Worthy Rival Appears” mainly repeats derivative crisis motifs to create an initially compelling sound that soon becomes irritating. Also disappointing is the bonus scene theme, which is little more than fast-paced arpeggios and generic drum beats; it seems like it might develop at the 0:17 mark, but Yabuki apparently got bored and abruptly looped the piece instead. Given his capacity to expose rather than develop ideas, Yabuki suffices with the two fanfares on the score.
Moving towards the climax of the album, “Advance Through the Sky” combines the triumphant trumpet melodies and bombastic percussion characteristic of the score with some light rock touches. The result is filled with the flair of old-school game music, but again is too heavy and cluttered down below. The final stage theme “The Battle Intensifies” does nothing new musically with an assembly of generic crisis motifs and orch hits, though creates the appropriate climactic feeling and sustains repetition relatively well. Surprisingly, the last boss theme “Pressure” is much less intense and drags even with its minimal playtime. After this disappointment, Yabuki fulfils his duty to create a quick ending theme. Closing the score are “Eternal Shooter”, an ethereal mix featuring hints of “The God of Destruction Comes” before the loop, and “Chase the Dark Target!”, a triumphant assembly of militaristic instrumentation that was unused probably because of its lack of internal rationale.
The DonPachi soundtrack has some merits. Ryuichi Yabuki generally captured the correct mood for the game through using a militaristic style and action-packed cues. There are also several strong melodies and dazzling moments on the soundtrack. The fundamental problem is its sheer repetitiveness — effective stage themes like “Silent Outpost Base” are savaged by their prominent harmonies, rhythmically focused pieces like “Gale Force” focus too much on one superficial idea, and pieces like “A Worthy Rival Appears” never develop at all. Added to this, the soundtrack repeats itself in the second half of the soundtrack with the technologically challenged original sound version. While its inclusion is relevant here, this album only actually features 22 minutes of music in each sound version so it is definitely not an extensive listening experience after all. Avid collectors may wish to consider purchasing the DonPachi album, but there are far more accomplished militaristic and shooter albums out there for everyone else.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.