Might and Magic VIII -Day of the Destroyer- Original Soundtrack
Might and Magic VIII -Day of the Destroyer- Original Soundtrack
Good Old Games
March 22, 2011
Download with Game at GOG
Funny how quickly things can change. When Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven was released in 1998, old-school RPG fans welcomed this long-awaited return of the Might and Magic franchise with open arms. But then developer New World Computing released Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor and Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer in successive years, basing them on The Mandate of Heaven‘s game engine. And while that engine hadn’t exactly felt cutting-edge in 1998, it was badly outdated by 2000 when Day of the Destroyer came around. Add to that a good amount of content that was recycled from earlier Might and Magic titles, and it’s no surprise that Day of the Destroyer was met with a decisively muted reception from both reviewers and gamers. As on the previous two Might and Magic titles, Paul Anthony Romero, Rob King and Steve Baca were drafted to write Day of the Destroyer‘s score. And once again, the music was released without track titles only about a decade later via GOG.com.
You’d be excused for assuming upon first listen that Day of the Destroyer was anything but a Might and Magic score. While For Blood and Honor somewhat changed direction from The Mandate of Heaven, they were both anchored in a melodic orchestral sound hybridised with various other musical styles. Day of the Destroyer, on the other hand, does an almost 180 degree flip on its predecessor’ss lavish, symphonic strains. That soundtrack’s intoxicating melodies are almost completely gone here — a very surprising fact given that Romero, King and Baca’s Might and Magic scores had always distinguished themselves through their sublime melodicism. In the place of such enrapturing tunes is the most ambient score of the whole Might and Magic franchise, short on melodies and heavy on moody, sustained chord textures. The subdued compositions on Day of the Destroyer are closest in nature to the battle tracks on the first four Heroes of Might and Magic scores — and if you’ve heard those soundtracks, you know that you’re in for a pretty dull ride, as the action cues were those scores’ Achilles heel.
Of course, the score’s predecessor demonstrated how to pull off ambient cues that don’t require much musical activity to keep the listener engaged. Unfortunately, Day of the Destroyer fails that test due to its flavourless, simple textures and lack of development. Most of the music sounds like mildly original underscore that you will have likely heard many times on other soundtracks, probably originating in the science fiction genre. The Might and Magic games have always balanced fantasy and science fiction elements and through the increased use of slow-moving, silvery synth chords to back the compositions, Day of the Destroyer tilts the balance towards the sci-fi side of the equation.
The composers haven’t completely done away with their fondness for instrumental soli, which still pop up here and there, but only to diminished results. It doesn’t help that Day of the Destroyer marks the culmination of the composers’ tendency to give the melodies on their Might and Magic scores a more repetitive shape than on their Heroes of Might and Magic soundtracks. One example is the heavy-hearted, descending string line on “Track 4” that is repeated over and over and ends up being obnoxious rather than hypnotising. And there’s the unexpectedly regal, pentatonic string melody on “Track 5” that is equally too thin to withstand constant repetition. Fortunately, there are also other instances during which the instrumental soli and their melodies still muster a degree of attraction — sometimes because they simply provide relief from the dull background mumblings.
It would be incorrect to say that the composers make no attempt whatsoever to develop their pieces or that they have abandoned the Might and Magic series’ trademark eclecticism. In fact, most pieces bring about variation within their limited structures by adding new stylistic elements. The problem is that the mix of orchestral and electronic components is considerably less successful on Day of the Destroyer than on earlier Might and Magic soundtracks. Several tracks add light contemporary beats and rhythms in a similar way to For Blood and Hnour. But while these elements increased the seductive nature of the predecessor’s more classical sounds, on this score these rhythms simply clash with the introspective, yearning violin melodies of “Track 4” and “Track 6”. Similarly, when the music finally turns lighter on “Track 12” through an emotional cello melody and tinkling synth sounds, the beautifully layered orchestrations and otherworldly atmosphere are marred by a monotonous electronic beat. “Track 10” experiments with creepier atmospherics and the inclusion of sound effects, but turns unintentionally hilarious when it uses the same cheesy horror movie sound of a creaking wooden door again and again and again.
There are occasional, more successful instances of hybridisation where a composition is coherent enough to be strongly atmospheric. “Track 8” is the best of lot, opening with an ethereal flute melody and light synth backing before settling into a tribal groove provided by hand percussion, which nicely complements the floating flute melody and the swelling and ebbing string pads. “Track 3” reaches back to its predecessor’s alluring atmosphere through a middle-eastern tinged flute solo over a soft drum kit rhythm and even some countermelodies. The track’s melodic content is thinner than what the listener found previously and the textures are less exotic, but the cue still remains a highlight here. On the other hand, “Track 7” features whizzing cello figures that try to be an intriguingly disintegrating force, similar to the sneaky chromatic woodwind motifs on For Blood and Honor. But cello material of “Track 7” is ultimately tonally too conservative to achieve its intended purpose.
Day of the Destroyer‘s most significant innovation is the addition of some minimalist, Michael Nyman-style string ostinati during the album’s second half. Their addition is welcome, simply because they inject some much-needed energy into the music through their busy nature — although they would have been even more effective if the string samples had a less watery sound and thus greater presence. These ostinati deployed most successfully on “Track 9” and “Track 11”. The former is the soundtrack’s most creatively layered composition that not only passes its opening string motif on to the woodwinds, but also has that instrument group play the motif in counterpoint to a variation of the same fragment in the strings. “Track 11” doesn’t play as imaginatively with its material, but still gets some mileage out of simply increasing the volume of its cascading violin figures — another recourse to earlier Nyman soundtracks and the way they develop their pieces. But when “Track 13” and “Track 14” come around to close the album, these ostinato figures sound static in their endlessly repeating forward motion and have exceeded their use-by date. “Track 14” also ends the album on a decidedly weird note. The music stops at 0:53 and then what sounds like a different cue starts at 0:58, as if somebody had simply stitched the two pieces together. Production error or not, it’s a fittingly disorienting and disappointing ending to the album.
After the uneven Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven and the excellent Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honour, this soundtrack is yet another change of gears for the Might and Magic franchise, and quite a puzzling one at that. The vast majority of cues on Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer are ambient, meandering orchestral/synth hybrids whose textures establish an eerie atmosphere, but rarely in a particularly interesting way. The few melodies that crop up are a mixed bag and aren’t helped by the reverberant, vaporous album sound. As on the previous two Might and Magic scores, the composers dabble in some stylistic experiments, but these mostly fall flat due to unconvincing implementation. The addition of Nyman-esque string ostinati adds a bit of excitement, if not on all occasions. At least there’s a handful of sufficiently atmospheric cues on Day of the Destroyer. While this score is the most stylistically atypical soundtrack of the whole Might and Magic franchise (including the Heroes of Might and Magic soundtracks), it’s unfortunately also the least substantial. For series collectors only.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.