King Colossus / Image from
Image from King Colossus
September 23, 1992
Buy Used Copy
Tougi Oh King Colossus takes its place in gaming history as one of the more surprising experiments in cross-media interaction, with a mangaka directing the game’s development and marketing, SEGA staff actually making the game, and both an in-house SEGA musician composing the score and an outside arranger preparing an orchestral album of the game’s music. Makoto Ogino’s high-fantasy Ys clone offered not only the well-established musical talents of K.N.U. from SEGA, but also the venerable Yasuhide Ito, an arranger and composer who primarily writes for concert bands and orchestras. Only Ito’s interpretation of the in-game soundtrack ever made it to album form, brought to life by a series of orchestral arrangements performed by the Sega Sound Orchestra. Through this, the album is also one of the earlier examples of game music played by an orchestra, at least outside popular RPG franchises such as Dragon Quest.
Being an early orchestral album, Image from King Colossus isn’t without its flaws, among them being performance hiccups with some spare and underwhelming arrangement. However, the album succeeds in delivering an interesting mix of styles, feeling at once like John Williams, as much as it evokes memories of Joe Hisashi’s great scores for films like Laputa, and capitalizes on its faithful arrangement style to be just as accessible to orchestral music fans as it would be to fans of the obscure game. Years before Koh Otani would record his music for Shadow of the Colossus, King Colossus provided a unique interpretation of game music, as played by orchestra. The album starts at the “Gate of Great Colossus”, wherein an intro segment greets the listener with its brassy fanfare, flying strings, and coarse timpani percussion. Moving into the meat of the adventure, the same melodic motif gets built upon extensively, moving to gradually more triumphant textures while clumsy, trod ding percussion gives the piece its distinct medieval march feel. Being the opening theme to the game and the album, it’s understandable that the stylistic choices heard here will be heard later on, in tracks like “Fighter’s Field” and “Black Enemy”, both of which also share the same 4/4 time signature and signature usage of brassy sections..
Just as worthy of note are the memorable medieval melodies found throughout the album, as the production moves into “An Old Sad Dance” of its own. Contrasting with the brilliant fanfare heard prior is the quiet, yet somehow motivating and beautiful mixture of a 3/4 waltz with lyrical strings and double-reed woodwinds, painting a bucolic Image from the vast expanse of nature and human wondering surrounding the game’s setting. As with the previous piece, the thematic elements heard in “An Old Sad Dance” also get repeated throughout the soundtrack via slower sections in “Walk Thru Illusions”, “In Her Tears”, and the final two selections within the CD. Most striking, however, is the variation and rearrangement of the melody in this ballad for use all across the soundtrack, usually in the slower, more contemplative themes, marking it as the one consistent melodic motif heard throughout. And as was the case with the previous arrangement, the same style of gradual build-up and instrumental diversification is just as present here, a style that Yasuhide would use for nearly the whole album in conventional, albeit well-executed ways.
The two movement suite “Walk Thru Illusions” drops the listener into the middle of the action, with its bass percussion augmenting broad string melody and low brass embellishments. While this first movement chose a typical mix of orchestration and similar arrangement, compared to what was heard in-game via FM synth, the second movement is slower and more lyrical than was previously the case, reverting to 3/4 and relating its song to the audience by alto saxophone. This sort of stylistic clash is, of course, brought back to sane levels through string backing and motif trade-offs to the bassoon and other instruments, though the movement makes up the majority of the track and presents a fresh, modern take on a slower exploration theme. While said selection was a contrast between two kinds of exploration themes, one more anthemic and the other slower and more song-like, the tale of the “Blue Dancer” is considerably shorter and with more gaiety, combining the previous two interpretations into a short dungeon theme carried by rough string backing under dancing woodwinds (none of them being saxophone, for some reason). Many of the sections presented in these lighter tracks, though performed under the guise of Western arrangement and instrumentation, are distinctly Japanese in their usage of stand-out melodies and romantic stylization.
This traditional Japanese influence is just as easy to listen for in the stronger battle anthems, like the grand “Fighter’s Field”. Interestingly, this gladiatorial herald starts off with little percussion presence at all, letting the percussiveness kick in after the woodwinds get their chance to introduce the main theme before more obvious flute interjections and brassy interpretations come in, alongside great percussion build-up and harp glissandos. And, of course, this build-up continues in the same pattern up until the very end, a conclusive upward fight that adequately sums up many of the stylistic experiments heard in the former half of the album, and ultimately leaving more room for the next four selections to work guard duty. As chaotic as the track was, so was its actual performance, with some out-of-place brass cracks and missed partials, making it probably the sketchiest and least-rehearsed track on the album — thankfully, not one that bore any omen for the rest of the album.
“In Her Tears” lies an immediate contrast and new start for this second part of the album, with strings giving way to rich woodwind harmonies and a melodic variation on the overarching theme presented for King Colossus. K.N.U wasn’t this album’s arranger, but he most certainly was the main composer, and to hear him weaving rich chord progressions and medieval stylings is a shocker for those attuned to his droning industrial work for Bio-Hazard Battle, the only other game he was involved with; this revelation, along with Ito’s involvement in the project, shows the versatility of the SEGA Sound Team in a different shade than heard before, switching out rampant distortion for relaxed harp and harmonics. However, K.N.U.’s interpretation of “Black Enemy”, in-game at least, was more frenetic and shapeshifting than Ito’s colossal, ominous anthem of stressed strings and breaching brass. With a simple melody to work off of, basic downbeat percussion steps aside from blaring interjections and percussiveness from the orchestra — which, combined with block percussion and other unique instrumentation, creates both a mysterious atmosphere and a grave warning for the player himself, a Hisash-esque track in contrasted to the more triumphant passages heard earlier in the album.
At this point, near the end of the great musical journey, one might expect one last triumphant theme to come along and save the day, though that isn’t the case with King Colossus‘ score. Instead the producer opted for some slower, more subtle ending themes, which turns out to be a bad draw upon immersing oneself in “Silent Fog”. The track itself is a beautiful, slow-paced arrangement of “An Old Sad Dance”, with some minimal percussion textures contrasting with sections of unbridled harmonic beauty coming from flute and strings (among other variations). Yet it doesn’t follow into any more upbeat material, unlike the previous lyrical themes on the album, and this turns out to impact the effect that “Beginning In The End” may have also had, were it in the same position as “Silent Fog”. This can be attributed to K.N.U., who composed “Silent Fog”, and to Ito, who included “Beginning In The End” as one final exercise with the main theme. Either way, the album’s inability to conclude along the same lines that it had begun is quite disappointing, a dull point on the tip of the greatsword.
For both musicians, the King Colossus project was a chance to become more involved in the game music scene. Yet follies like this can make one wonder how both faded into game music obscurity, K.N.U. simply disappearing from the album scene and Ito simply returning to his traditional line of work in face of the album’s disappointing sales. Image from King Colossus, nevertheless, is an impressive achievement in a time when game music was still in the throes of appealing mainly to fans of a particular game, as an enthusiast crowd had yet to materialize and actively promote larger, more ambitious arrangement and composition projects. And, much like the game itself, the album and the music succeed in building off of film score influences and game music influences alike, while offering great flow for almost the entire album through a mixture of simple, effective arrangements, and stylistic contrasts between these arrangements.
What makes the album is, of course, what often holds it back, with a general lack of complexity compared to some of the work offered by Koichi Sugiyama’s own arrangement projects of the same era, as well as performance issues and an unfulfilling conclusion. Yet this full mixture of a musical medieval backdrop with more modern instrumentation and excellent performance provides a unique interpretation of K.N.U.’s original score, transcending from high-quality FM sound to excellently-recorded orchestral sound, and only its obscurity and low print run has prevented it from entering the game music limelight. An exercise in transferring highly effective melodies to a more complex arrangement style, Image from King Colossus is, with no doubt, one of the more interesting orchestral game music albums yet released, where the flaws are equally as thought-provoking as the many successes heard within. And though it may be a typical JRPG adventure, both in context and in the music, there’s definitely nothing wrong to say about that!
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.