Guwange Arrange Album & Original Soundtrack
Guwange Arrange Album & Original Soundtrack
February 20, 2010
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In 2009, Cave produced quite a few arrange albums for a variety of their games, including DeathSmiles, Ketsui, DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou, and the two Mushihimesama titles. These arrange albums featured big name composers, such as Yasuhisa Watanabe, Yoko Shimomura, Motoi Sakuraba, Noriyuki Iwadare and a plethora of others. Earlier this year, the Guwange Arrange Album & Original Soundtrack was announced. Sold at the most recent online Cave Matsuri, it would be the first arrange album that featured arrangements solely by members of GE-ON-DAN. However, unlike the other albums, many of these contributors aren’t as big in the industry as those previously featured. Featuring a few veterans of the Cave arrange album, and quite a few new faces, including Taro Fujikado, Shunsuke Kida, and Yoshino Aoki, how does it stack up compared to the previous arrange albums? Well, I can tell you one thing. This is an entirely different beast we are dealing with, but does that spell trouble? Read on to find out how this Asian-inspired arrange album fares.
The original score for Guwange is included in the recent bundle. Composed by Masahiro Kusunoki, it’s a very interesting fusion of Asian soundscapes, given the nature and setting of the game, and electronic soundscapes. The soundtrack opens with “Departure,” used as the character select theme. This theme, albeit short, is dominated by profuse shamisen use and ominous chanting vocals. It’s a rather atmospheric piece and much different from many of the character select themes featured in later Cave games. The first stage theme is absolutely breathtaking. “Falling Cherry Blossoms,” which also features an Early Development version on the soundtrack, is a very interesting fusion of ideas. The combination of piano and shakuhachi provide a very earthly flavor, however, when combined with the futuristic synth, vocals, and industrial beat, we are given a beautiful fusion theme that is both beautiful, yet tinged with a sense of omen.
The second stage features two themes, “Festival” and “Heat Haze.” The former, “Festival,” is a frenzied thrill ride through the awesome use of electronica. In fact, I think the sharp woodwind accents really add to the somewhat repetitive bass line in a manner that is almost hypnotic and really helps accentuate the ominous tone. The latter, “Heat Haze,” is a beat heavy composition that has a bit of funk. The Asian soundscape of the melody is featured as well, but I think the strength of this piece, even though it is repetitive, relies on the beat. My favorite stage theme, “Underworld Cherry Blossoms,” is a very mesmeric composition. The piano and Asian instrumentation fuses together to create an air of mystery within the ears of the listener. At the same time, it doesn’t have a hectic approach to the music either. Both haunting and beautiful, it is definitely another extremely well written piece of music, although the child laughter is a bit creepy. The vocal version of this piece is very nice as well and I find the vocalist to have done a fantastic job by adding another level of depth to the piece.
“Household”, the boss theme, which also features an Early Development version, is a fantastic addition to the soundtrack. Rock, mainly in the form of riffs, and electronica dominate this piece with some extremely haunting synth work and piano mixed into the bunch. It’s exhilarating and beautiful at the same time and also provides quite an atmosphere fitting for that of a boss theme. “Symbol,” on the other hand, is a very short stage clear theme that uses shamisen to create a quick, yet pleasing, stage clear theme. “Seal,” the name entry theme, features prominent use of various Japanese percussion instruments and some Japanese vocal samples. It’s a very repetitive theme and one I don’t find particularly pleasing.
Similar to the second stage, the fourth stage features two themes as well, “Kagura” and “Buddha.” “Kagura” features some haunting synth sections that serve to accentuate the industrial nature of the track, through its focus on bass guitar. Unfortunately, it’s also quite repetitive. “Buddha,” while also repetitive, features an electronic beat combined with shamisen and other Japanese instruments to create an interesting composition as well. Unfortunately, similar to the second stage themes, these seem to be less developed than the first and third stage themes. The last boss theme, “Guwange-sama” is another excellent fusion piece, combining classic Asian sound with a very industrial beat. The beat is absolutely intoxicating and the Japanese instruments, combined with haunting vocals only heighten the experience and add to the creepiness and suspense in the piece. The ending theme, “Morning Star,” has a very beautiful atmosphere mixed with a very dramatic flair. It’s a very strong melody, but, like most of the soundtrack, features quite a short loop.
Evidently, this soundtrack is not perfect. Interspersed between beautifully developed themes, there are also a number of shorter themes that, while effective in game, are definitely not as strong as some of the other ones. The addition of the Early Development versions is nice, although the final versions are much better. In the end, it’s not a perfect soundtrack by any means, but it still has its place in the history of Cave music.
Let’s move on to the arranged album. Only three former participants contributed to the arranged portion of the music. The first, Michiko Naruke, arranges “Falling Cherry Blossoms,” the first stage theme for the game. Opening with some traditional Japanese instrumentation, the delicate nature of the original is captured. The woodwind instruments and dulcimer really transport the listener to Japan. From there, the arrangement definitely takes on a more Wild Arms approach. The string work is quite heroic in nature and the accompanying drums and beat really helps bring a certain energy to the arrangement that contrasts quite nicely with the interspersed, slower Asian sections of the arrangement. Particularly of interest is the inclusion of some beautiful acoustic guitar work that really enhances that Wild Arms sound and layers quite nicely with the strings. Overall, this is a fantastic take on the original by Naruke.
Speaking of cherry blossoms, Akari Kaida is back once again. This time, she tackles my favorite stage theme, “Underworld Cherry Blossoms,” the third stage theme for the game. Opening with a beautiful piano rendition of the original melody, the delicate nature of this stage theme is also captured. I also think that the shift in musical key really helps add a bit more mystery to the theme. As the theme progresses, the addition of some Asian instrumentation helps provide Kaida’s take on the Asian theme most of the arrange album adopts. The accompaniment is very ethereal, yet industrial, in sound and really combines nicely with the piano, which at times takes on a jazzy approach, and woodwind take on the original. The minimalist approach really works well for this piece and it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album.
Lastly, TECHNOuchi returns to arrange “Symbol,” the stage clear theme. Although the original was only 8 seconds in length, the arrangement nears the six minute mark. Opening with the original 8 second original, which has a very Asian flair to it, it quickly moves into a varied electronic based arrangement that combines both the concept of ancient Japan with the more modern vibes of the Tokyo nightlife scene. The electronic beat throughout mimics a taiko drum and the various additions of Japanese instrumentation, like the shakuhachi, adds a nice complex layer to the theme. Interestingly enough, each time the original “Symbol” theme is mixed into the arrangement, immediately after, the whole atmosphere of the piece changes. At one point, you might here some ominous chanting, while at others, you might hear an electronic/rock soundscape. It’s a very interesting take on such a short theme and the experimentation with the various soundscapes reminiscent of Japan really pays off.
The rest of the arrangements are by members of GE-ON-DAN who have yet to participate on an arrange album from Cave. Some of these include bigger names, while some also include relative unknowns. The album opens with “Departure,” the character select screen. Arranged by Castlevania’s Michiru Yamane, it’s an interesting take on the Asian soundscape as well. Opening with some beautiful Asian woodwind and strings work, it quickly moves into, as mentioned in our interview with Yamane-san, an electronic focused arrangement with a nice dance beat. The beat is pretty infectious and it really combines quite well with the Asian woodwind melody that is prominent throughout the arrangement. However, as it progresses, some operatic vocals are thrown into the mix. Although Yamane mentioned they were European inspired, they are definitely Japanese in nature. It’s a pretty nice development and it definitely enhances the overall Japanese sound heard in this fusion arrangement. Overall, it’s another fantastic arrangement and I believe this is the first time I’ve heard Yamane use a dance beat.
Resident Evil veteran Seiko Kobuchi meanwhile arranges “Festival,” which is used as the theme for first half of the second stage. Unlike Yamane’s arrangement, rather than focus on Asian woodwinds, Kobuchi has decided to employ gratuitous use of the shamisen. As for her arrangement, it’s an upbeat track with some great shamisen and woodwind work. These two instruments alternate between providing the melody, while at the same time, altering the overall soundscapes between something more frenetic and something more calm. Underneath the Asian soundscapes, we have some keyboard work that really gives it a retro vibe. She’s also on board for the upcoming Mega Man 10 Arrange Album, so I’m looking forward to see how different it is, given the non-Asian soundscape of the original music.
Next up, we have “Heat Haze,” the second half of the second stage. Arranged by Masafumi Takada, known for his work on No More Heroes, it’s quite different from what has been heard on the album thus far. His arrangement consists primarily of some industrial beats layered with some minimalist sound effects. Interestingly enough, the original melody is only showcased a few times, where the focus on Asian instrumentation and industrial beats is much more intense. As for the rest of the arrangement, I find it likes to “tease” in nature. Many times, you hear it building up to the original melody, only to become more layered in terms of the beats, additional instrumentation, such as some jazzy piano, and sound effects. However, once the melody does come in, it is undeniably catchy. This arrangement definitely was an experiment and one that really suits Masafumi Takada’s quirky style.
Speaking of unique styles, “Kagura,” the first half of the fourth stage, is arranged by none other than Shadow Hearts’ Yoshitaka Hirota. Given the original was primarily a series of riffs, Yoshitaka Hirota, and his love for bass guitar, is quite at home with this one. The arrangement is quite powerful and, as I always like to say when it comes to Hirota’s music, a parfait of musical layers. The powerful guitar riffs only get stronger as it progresses, the inclusion of some Shadow Hearts vocal samples, and the whole industrial vibe of the arrangement makes for an extremely potent concoction of musical flavors. The Asian soundscape is a bit harder to detect here, but I don’t think it’s necessarily to create a compelling arrangement. Yoshitaka’s love for deep bass guitar is what really defines this arrangement and sets it apart from many of the other arrangements on the soundtrack.
“Buddha,” the second half of the fourth stage, is arranged by Dariusburst‘s Hirokazu Koshio. His arrangement continues with the Asian atmosphere, but it also throws in a bit of that Zuntata sound. For example, there is a pulsating beat that really goes well, but the distortion and inclusion of vocal samples gives it a bit of a Darius sound. In addition, the multitude of various Japanese instruments, such as the shamisen and shakuhachi, really combine well with the electronic base. Of course, the electronic base changes over time to something more upbeat and with a bit more bite, to prevent the arrangement from becoming stale. It’s another fantastic arrangement that really showcases what is so unique about the Zuntata sound team.
The boss theme, “Household,” is handled by Procyon Studio’s Maki Kirioka, of Zone of the Enders fame. Unlike the frenetic and upbeat original, Kirioka’s take on this theme is a much more experimental beast, but one that is quite successful. Opening with a very delicate cello-like instrument, a sense of somberness is immediately instilled upon the listener. However, as the theme progresses, it takes on a very upbeat jazz sound imbued with a Japanese soundscape. Interestingly enough, this arrangement also features some Japanese vocal work, by Kyoko Natsume, also known as Avant Girl. I think the use of a live ensemble really helps bring this theme to life. It’s fun, bright, and bubbly, for the most part, but as demonstrated by the beginning, it has a delicate air to it as well. The ending though, in contrast to much of the entire piece, is very chaotic in nature. The strings work, piano, and spoken vocals really push the experimental envelope and really stand out. I think Maki Kirioka did a fine job on this one.
The final boss theme, “Guwange-sama,” is handled by Taro Fujikado, who worked on the PSN downloadable game, Trash Panic. When I first found out he was arranging “Guwange-sama,” I knew his style would be a perfect fit. It also happens to be my favorite arrangement on the album. Fujikado’s arrangement is an epic fusion piece full of Asian soundscapes, electric guitar, and electronica. Opening with a woodwind focused take on the original, it quickly moves into a melodic rock focus combined with an infectiously catchy electronic beat. What makes Fujikado’s music on Trash Panic stick out to me was how varied it was. Throughout the arrangement, the electronic beat changes with some various mixing effects and the inclusion of some random vocal samples. The bridge serves as a nice way to calm the track back down to the opening and really helps provide a contrasting delicateness to the energetic theme. However, once the focus shifts back to rock and electronica is where it really starts to shine. The electronic beats, while similar as the previous electronic section, offer a bit more harmonic layering and the guitar solo, combined with some orchestral strings work, really give it a nice epic touch. However, as the piece comes to an end, the electronic mixing becomes a work of art and provides that oh-so-quirky style I love about Trash Panic‘s music. Fujikado’s arrangement is a fine addition to the album and an extremely fitting take on the original.
Shunsuke Kida, known for his minimalist orchestral work for Demon’s Souls, provides an arrangement for the name entry theme. “Seal,” like many of the other themes, provides a very Asian soundscape. The inclusion of various Japanese percussion instruments, some Japanese chanting, and woodwind accents provides a beautiful blend of sound. However, the overall soundscape is one that is quite ominous and reminiscent of his work in Demon’s Souls, but with a Japanese coating. The ominous piano is a particularly striking aspect of the arrangement and contrasts nicely with the more melodious sections of the arrangement. As the piece progresses, an interesting bridge is added, which slows the tempo down to nearly a crawl and adds some ominous industrial beats. Once the bridge is complete, it reverts to the section prior, but rather than keep it the same, Kida adds some quirky synth accompaniment as well. It’s a rather interesting take on the original.
Lastly, Yoshino Aoki, known for her work on Breath of Fire IV, provides the arrangement for the ending theme, “Morning Star.” The arrangement opens with a very ominous and mysterious air, due to the suspended strings and haunting vocal work. As the theme progresses, it retains the ominous atmosphere, but at the same time, adds a bit of heroism to the mix. For example, the pounding taiko drums combine nicely with the strings melody and woodwind accents. It has a very epic sound, and I really think the vocals help give it a bit of panache. The arrangement ends on a delicate note, featuring a sole piano to close the arrangement. I wasn’t expecting this at all from Aoki-san, but it is an extremely well-crafted take on the original. One really needs to hear it in order to fully appreciate it, but she manages to mix ominous, Asian, epic, and beautiful soundscapes into one theme.
To summarise, when I first heard about this arrange album project, I was quite excited. Given I was a fan of the previous Cave arrange albums, I went in with high expectations and came out quite satisfied. I love how the entire focus on the arrange album was to keep the Asian tone of the original, yet at the same time, provide and unique twist on this. To this degree, I think the arrangers did a fantastic job, whether it’s through the inclusion of more electronically focused themes, some jazzy elements, or rock. In the end, I think the arrangers succeeded in their mission to provide an arrange album that was quite different than previous efforts but one that still allowed for some experimentation.
While I was surprised by the decision to produce this album, I was very satisfied by the results. While Guwange doesn’t feature the best original material, the arrangements are all wonderful thanks to the talent and creativity of the Japanese arrangers. I highly recommend this arrange album effort by GE-ON-DAN if you are fortunate to find a copy on Yahoo Japan Auctions or some other second-hand service. The original score can be a pleasant bonus!
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.