Dragon Force II -When the Gods Abandoned the Earth-
Dragon Force II -When the Gods Abandoned the Earth-
April 17, 1998
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Dragon Force II is the second game in Sega’s line of Saturn strategy games and was only released in Japan. Sega decided to outsource their music to Hayato Matsuo rather than assign in-house composer Tatsuyuki Maeda to the score. In many ways, this was an intelligent move, since Matsuo was regarded as a leading force behind strategy and tactical game music at the time (together with Hitoshi Sakimoto and Noriyuki Iwadare) and also had experience with cinematic underscoring on animes such as Magic Knight Rayearth. Nevertheless, some were disappointed by the move and perceived the score as boring and soulless. However, I largely disagree and find the soundtrack to be one of the finest militaristic works of its generation.
The main theme demonstrates Hayato Matsuo’s preferred approach. In a similar way to the Dragon Force soundtrack, it features militaristic orchestral instrumentation — specifically a heroic brass melody against a driving bass and percussion lines. However, it is also far more tense than its predecessor, thanks to Matsuo’s abrupt, intimidating progressions and the dark interlude at 0:47. It is a compelling fusion of the Dragon Force and Ogre Battle sound limited only by brevity. A large portion of the soundtrack is dedicated to the stage themes and, much like the Culdcept soundtracks, each have three different variations. The initial stage theme “Highland Theme 1” is an immersive orchestration that simultaneously reflects the heroism of the characters and the vastness of the landscapes. “Highland Theme 2” is far more dramatic, since it contrasts mild organic sections with sinister build-ups, while “Highland Theme 3” captures the heat of the action with a blaring theme dominated by brassy and percussive features. Together they work wonderfully in context and bring so much more to the experience than a single theme could.
There is a great scope in what each track inspires in terms of imagery and emotions. As the game progresses beyond the first stage, listeners are treated to new colours, such as the spiritual auras of “Fandaria Theme 2”, the turbulent piano wanderings of “Tristan Theme 2”, or the melancholic Asian infusions of “Izumo Theme 2”. Some tracks such as “Fandaria Theme 1”, “Bozack Theme 2”, and “Izumo Theme 1” have such an expansive and distinctive quality that they are comparable to the epic setting themes of Final Fantasy XII. Despite often sounding like a typical strategy or tactical soundtrack, there is quite a lot of diversity in the core musicality too. For example, “Select Your Leader” endears with its classical-oriented phrasing and interweaving string and trumpet line. In this regard, it is highly reminiscent of Matsuo’s first composition works in Master of Monsters. Other classically-oriented delights include the expansive “Moon Palace Theme 1”, the playful “Topaz Theme 2”, and wistful “Game Over”. It’s very clear that Matsuo intended this soundtrack to be a progressive one and, even though some of the setpieces disappoint, the core of the soundtrack is nothing short of impressive.
The remainder of the soundtrack is generally dedicated to the action-packed themes. Matsuo recounts the militaristic focus throughout with the percussive furore of “Personal Combat”, piano discords of “Battle Preparation Screen”, and ever-changing focus of “Topaz Theme 3”. At the centre of the soundtrack, there are also some highly emotional cinematic themes. The metamorphosis from haunting to uplifting sounds is incredible in “Prayer”, while “Blood Relative” and “The Robot’s Soul” are stunning during the darker moments of the game. However, the darkest moments of the soundtrack are reserved to the conclusion. Uncompassionate works like “Dungeon”, “Underground Empire Theme”, and “Midia Theme” segue into two effective last boss themes. Once again, these themes are all wonderful compositions and work well in context, but disappoint with their short track times on the full release. The five part epilogue is also enjoyable; while the individual components are again short, they come together to form a tour of the soundtrack’s emotions and musical influences featured. At the very least, Sega certainly made the right decision to hire an experienced anime composer to handle the cinematic underscoring of the game.
As with Dragon Force, female vocal themes flank the release. Composed and arranged by anime veterans Kohei Tanaka and Takayuki Negishi, they are of the high quality most would expect. The opening theme exudes a spiritual quality due to the airy vocalist and new age backing. After a subtle build-up, the vocalist is likely to win people with her interpretation of a wistful classically-oriented passage from 1:08. The final sound is comparable to Stella Deus‘ “Holy Spirit”, though with more electro-acoustic elements. In gaming tradition, the ending theme has a slow, reflective quality and shows a more emotional side to the singer. Although clearly synthetic, it is perhaps more fitting in the soundtrack since it creates a more classically-oriented feel with its harpsichord continuo and elegant piano backing. The highly moment is with the entrance of celestial organ work in the transition to the chorus at 1:56. Both are very well done and beautiful in context too.
Dragon Force II: When the Gods Abandoned the Earth stands firmly alongside Hayato Matsuo’s other orchestral scores, such as Master of Monsters, Ogre Battle 64, and Final Fantasy XII as a refined and progressive achievement. It’s truly impressive what Matsuo manages to achieve in the various character- and setting-focused themes and this results in an immersive in-game and stand-alone experience. The soundtrack also stands out for its high quality implementation, cinematic effect, and emotional vocal themes. In some ways it isn’t as enjoyable as Dragon Force due to a lack of especially memorable melodies and the sometimes abrasive style. Furthermore, it’d definitely have benefited from a two disc release since there are a few too many needlessly short tracks here. However, it is an improvement from its predecessor in most other respects and highly recommended for fans of serious orchestral strategy soundtracks.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.