Fatal Fury Symphonic Sound Trax
Fatal Fury Symphonic Sound Trax
November 17, 1995
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SNK are primarily known for producing contemporary rock- and jazz-influenced soundtracks for their fighting games. However, they have occasionally dabbled in orchestral territory and, in the mid-90s, even released symphonic arranged albums dedicated to their three main series. Featuring twelve performances from Fatal Fury Special and Fatal Fury 3, Fatal Fury Symphonic Sound Trax features a portion of the impressive results. Despite being newcomers to orchestral recordings, the company decided to outsource production of the album to veterans in the field. Classically-trained veteran Fumio Yasuda arranged the album and the scores were recorded under the baton of Chihiro Hayashi in Slovakia. The final result is at least as well-produced as equivalent albums for Japanese staples such as Dragon Quest, Ys, and Final Fantasy. But with the original material comprising contemporary fighting music, can it really be as fitting?
The production values of the Fatal Fury Symphonic Sound Trax shine right from the first track. In this very liberal interpretation, Yasuda transforms the arena rock-styled title theme from Fatal Fury 3 into an imposing orchestral fanfare. He coats the track in rich musical colours — with suspenseful calls from muted trumpets, cantabile passages for the strings, and warm flourishes of assorted woodwinds — which is brought out wonderfully by the ensemble. While the credits do not list the individual performers, it’s clear that all the session musicians featured in this release are experienced and sensitive instrumentalists. Benefiting from the acoustics of the Slovak Philharmonic Hall, the recording is also excellent and has a vintage classical sound. Who would have expected a track like this from SNK?
It’s clear throughout the album that Fumio Yasuda is deeply influenced by Impressionistic and Avant-Garde composers. He continues to channel influences from Americana pioneers such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein with entries such as “New Poem from Southern Thailand” and “Soy Sauce for Geese Howard”. The former combines the rich lyrical melodies of the original with warm tone colours and a vast scope. It deviates considerably from the Asian origins of the character, inspiring images of the American landscape instead. Appropriate for a climactic boss encounter, the latter features a much harder, dryer sonority. He incorporates avant-garde dissonance in a satisfying but accessible way, while building up rhythmical energy throughout. The composer reserves the most intense sounds for a reprise of the dramatic Romantic orchestration “Encounter” from the Fatal Fury 3 arranged album, this time enpowered by a full orchestral performance.
While most of the entries are artistically inspired and competently produced, few are faithful to the concept of the originals. By reshaping contemporary and worldly pieces into classical works, he did more than simply shift their instrumentation — he also rejected any melodies, moods, and other ideas that he felt were incompatible with this approach. “Kurikinton” is a particularly remarkable example; this jazzy Peter Gunn ripoff is re-envisaged as a formal, filmic orchestration. There’s barely a trace of the rhythmical or melodic ideas from the original, and most will fail to recognise it as Terry’s theme. Such shifts have provoked mixed reactions — some will miss the jazzy melodies, others will find the transformation contrived and pretentious, and a number of people will just accept the adaptations as distinct entities. This liberalism is both the album’s greatest strength and its only weakness.
That said, there are still some additions that capture the universal nature of the series’ characters. The rendition of Tung Fu Rue preserves the pentatonic melodies of the original with a stunning Chinese-inspired performance from a solo violinist. Displaying his versatility, the composer also explores Spanish influences with a passionate rendition of “Working Bullfighter” for Lawrence Blood. While neither piece features regional instruments, the orchestral writing and performance still preserves their distinctive sounds. But perhaps the crowning artistic achievement on the release is the interpretation of “Fire Dragon God”. While essentially an extended harp solo, it sustains interest and conveys much during its playtime — each pluck exploring the intimate feelings of Mai Shiranui, while portraying her ethnic origins. It isn’t as gushingly romantic as her arrangement from the Fatal Fury 3 arranged album, but interesting and satisfying in its own right.
Popular music is no stranger to classically-oriented interpretations. Spanning expressionist symphonies based on Rammstein, to the trashy string quartets on a theme of Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, they vary vastly in quality and depth. However, in almost all instances, the approaches are so detached from their originals that they only manage niche appeal. The same is true for the Fatal Fury Symphonic Sound Trax. By producing an orchestral album dedicated to a contemporary fighting franchise, SNK probably alienated core gaming fans and classical listeners alike. This is rather unfortunate, given the featured arrangements and performances are in this case astonishingly good. If treated as an orchestral experience in its own right, this album should satisfy.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.