ESPGaluda Original Soundtrack
ESPGaluda Original Soundtrack
March 15, 2004
Buy Used Copy
Electronic dance music can be an amazingly powerful tool in stimulating people to be ‘active’. Video game music is one area that sometimes exemplifies this, with shooters, racing games, and many other action games often boasting stimulating and rhythmically driven soundtracks. One of the finest examples of a game soundtrack that utilises electronic dance music to amazing effect is the ESPGaluda Original Soundtrack; almost entirely based on the trance genre, its success doesn’t come from simply the utilisation of trance music itself, but the combination of other features in conjunction with it.
Trance is pretty transparent in its most banal form. Characterised by pulsating beats at a fast and consistent tempo between 130 and 140 bpm, mesmerising synthesizer melodies to make a clubber glide, and a constant feeling of ascension and euphoria due to crescendoing and layering of forces, it’s a generic and musically unremarkable formula that makes repetition sustainable, sometimes even highly effective. Many of the most derivative Trance artists manipulate the win-win scenario of repetitive and derivative pieces of music being some of the most effective on the dance floor, though the music lacks on a stand-alone basis as a consequence. The same would have applied to ESPGaluda if it were treated in a fruitless way. Fortunately, however, it proves both effective in context for a manic ascending shooter and worthy of critical acclaim and a soundtrack release.
Cave aren’t shy to allow many tracks revolve around very typical features which would appeal to mainstream audience, but nearly always add highlights to make the listening experience pleasurable. The power of the melody means a lot here. The first stage theme “Different Blood ~ Wearing Blood,” for instance, is typical of what most would expect from modern trance — unwavering driving 4/4 rhythms created by drum machines and a static bassline, repeated ascending arpeggios on minor chords to give an ‘epic’ effect, breaks involving wind sound effects to emphasise a feeling of ascension, and the utilisation of 3-3-2 subdivisions of the 4/4 metre to give a driving and punchy effect — though also boasts a rhythmically intricate and extremely catchy anthemic melodic line. Its biggest charm is perhaps the highly lyrical and jazz-influenced secondary synthesizer melody that appears in contrasting ‘B’ section of a piece, much like a chorus would in a popular song. In similar kin, “Huge Battleship Elinies” features especially lyrical piano melodies supported by briskly ascending synth lines and ethereal interludes. The extent of the development is impressive, but it is the melody that is the compelling force here.
The best feature of the soundtrack is its diversity. While anthem trance is the background for the major thematic elements of the soundtrack, the soundtrack features a lot more than that, making it, up until its sequel release, the definitive VGM trance experience. The select screen theme “Secret Power,” the album’s opener, is characteristic of hard trance’s repetitive tendencies, dominated by the infamous ‘vacuum’ drone sound in the bass, aggressive synth stabs in the treble, and predictable and simple chord cycles. Its sound will be oppressive to some and its development will be underwhelming for others, but losing oneself in the music can nonetheless have tremendous emotional effects; even independently of the game, it feels like one is being sucked into a world above, ascending, hypnotised and entranced, but without escape. The boss theme “Sudden Attack” is the score’s definitive action cue. A distorted bass line penetrates through the whole piece in metronomic fashion, giving a throbbing feel that doesn’t diminish with repetition; this track is non-stop action, supported by intense melodies, electronic arpeggiations, sampled voices, and tonnes of crazy effects.
A notable stage theme is “Ravine”, which revolves around a fast-paced arpeggiated bassline. It is syncopated by punchy treble chords and given direction through some carefully chosen chord progressions sustaining a massive amount of energy output over its four minute playtime. In contrast, “Floating Castle Urotsubune” relies on a considerable amount of rhythmic variation to create a dynamic but disorientating sound; it’s a psychadelic trance gem made compassionate by a degree of underlying lyricism. “Fort City” is one of the most upbeat and colourful additions to the soundtrack. It features lyrical piano work in conjunction with lively beats, effervescent synth, and gliding string descants. It inspires a dance of a very different flavour to the more mainstream trance pieces here. The name entry theme “The Dream Seen as a Child” is one of the most modest works on the soundtrack but still a highlight for its soundscaping with warm suspended synth pads and dynamic supporting electronic beats. It’s wonderful that a stylistically continuous yet creatively inspired approach was taken to even the subsidiary themes.
ESPGaluda isn’t simply a mini-survey of Trance music with nothing unique to offer, however. The final boss theme “Tremendous Pressure” is the best testament to this. A percussive masterpiece, it’s driven by a driving and erratic bassline, exotic cross-rhythms from drums and cymbals, and sporadic bursts of shouting. This creates a delicious ever-building clutter of sounds below a melody that is actually very simple. Interpreted by a thin synth pad, the descending three note melody creates a fragile and ethereal sound as it hesistantly and slowly glides above the clamour. The contradictory forces don’t merely represent action and intensity; they set a scene and context for the final battle while providing some sort of psychological assessment of both the player’s tension and the enemy’s abnormal nature. The ending theme “Gentle Voice” is the only orchestral track on the score and is surprisingly well done. It focuses on repeating a slow string melody that captures listeners with its heartfelt shape and solemn pronunciation. Eventually drum beats and ethereal forces accompany it, though they surprisingly reinforce the sad and epic feel created. Simple but oh so emotional.
At the end of the album, three bonus arrangements by Super Sweep associates add new perspectives to the intermediate stage themes. Yousuke Yasui strips down “Ravine” into its bare components and gradually layers different repeated forces such as spacey electronic beats and gentle vocorder samples on top; while the mixing is pleasant, the track lacks the dynamism or conciseness of the original and ultimately bores. Shinji Hosoe takes a similar but more successful approach with “Fort City” by initially focusing on building minimalistic ambient soundscapes with recognisable elements of the original. From 1:40, however, he adds a hard Sampling Masters style bass line resulting in a very energetic amd atmospheric interpretation of the main melody. Takayuki Aihara’s “Huge Battleship Elinies” serves to enhance rather than transform the original with elaborate decorations and new sections increasing the euphoric mood of the track and adding some sinister undertones. Finally, Manabu Namiki offers “Dynasty” as an image track for Cave’s next game Mushihimesama. He combines the strong melodies of the Mushihimesama first stage theme theme with his own distinctive trance style; given he later embellished this style in ESPGaluda II, the piece unintentionally serves as a prelude to two scores.
ESPGaluda is a landmark video game score given few trance soundtracks had been released for video games at the time of its release. It provides a colourful and energetic accompaniment to the manic shooter. However, it is also entertaining on a stand-alone level given its diversity and melodiousness. Not all will like it, but it will appeal to fans of melodic electronic music, especially the trance genre. While most themes are instantly attractive here, one of the finest qualities of the score is the way themes have a timeless quality about them upon revisiting them. Admittedly, the arranged section is limited in length and quality, but DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou & ESPGaluda Perfect Remix makes up for these deficiencies. Overall, a highly recommended purchase if you’re the right target audience.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.