Might and Magic Original Soundtrack / Crusaders of
Crusaders of Might and Magic Original Soundtrack
Good Old Games
August 11, 2011
Download with Game at GOG
In 1996, developer New World Computing successfully led its Might and Magic RPG franchise into new waters with Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest, a real time strategy game. After this first experiment, it was only a matter of time before the franchise would branch off into other genres as well. The next Might and Magic offspring to follow were Arcomage, a card game that originated as a mini game in Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor, and Crusaders of Might and Magic. Among all these genre experiments, Crusaders of Might and Magic was the furthest removed from the original Might and Magic titles: a third-person action game that tried to enrich its combat-laden gameplay with some RPG mechanics. However, the title turned out to be a disappointingly mediocre game that satisfied neither Might and Magic fans nor action game aficionados.
With their outstanding work on Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest, Rob King and Paul Anthony Romero had secured their place as the new go-to composers for all things Might and Magic. However, Crusaders of Might and Magic would be the first Might and Magic title for which King alone would provide the soundtrack. Certainly one of the less revered games in the Might and Magic canon, the title didn’t see a soundtrack release until GOG.com made the game available years later as a download, offering the score without track titles as a free bonus item.
Given that Crusaders of Might and Magic jumps into a genre that’s pretty far removed from previous Might and Magic games, it’s no surprise that its music differs from earlier franchise titles. However, it certainly doesn’t cut all stylistic connections. The result is an interesting, if not consistently convincing variation of the music heard in other Might and Magic games. True to its nature as an action title, the score mixes in more contemporary elements than even such genre-bending scores as Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven and Might and Magic VIII: For Blood and Honor. More rhythmically pronounced than these earlier scores, the score gives a greater role to electronic beats and drum kit rhythms that are supposed to drive the compositions forward. Within the Might and Magic franchise, this is a new approach, as previous games in the series either didn’t feature battle cues at all or only as subdued mood pieces. In a similarly modernised vein, “Track 1” adds overdriven guitar riffs on a piece whose nature will come to describe the album as a whole: competent, but hardly outstanding. On “Track 1”, the lack of excitement stems from the anthemic, monotonous drum kit rhythm and the lackadaisical development of the piece, which simply adds some string overlays and ethnic flute fragments to offer at least a bit of variety.
Where Crusaders of Might and Magic stays true to its origins is in its eclecticism that’s carried right over from the main series. The aforementioned contemporary elements are packaged with orchestral sounds, ambient synth elements, and the same South-American flute and percussion instrumentations featured on the battle cues of the first three Heroes of Might and Magic scores. The problem is that the title is also similar to previous (and particularly later) Might and Magic scores in its inability to bring all these elements together in one satisfyingly cohesive whole. The dance beat that’s added to “Track 2” clashes with the already established hand percussion rhythms and only adds to the slightly obnoxious nature of the track, triggered in the first place by an edgy, endlessly repeated violin figure. “Track 3” opens with a bombastic orchestral intro before segueing into a breakbeat drum solo, over which the cue then layers watery male choir vocals. The drum rhythms are actually well composed, but the track is too long to sustain itself through its relatively simple and disparate ingredients. “Track 4” starts out promisingly with energising hand percussion rhythms and ethnic flute lines effectively set against a spacious ambient synth backing. But then an irritating electronic counter rhythm intrudes and while the idea behind this addition is intriguing — merging live and synthesised percussion — the implementation is lacking and the inclusion of the electronic beat feels forced as a result.
Cues also tend to suffer from a lack of stringent development that causes them to just play in the background, creating a vaguely exotic and kinetic atmosphere without really going anywhere or providing the intended rousing listening experience. One such composition, “Track 15”, is more tragic case than others. It is easily the most dramatic and energy-laden piece on the album and could have closed the album on a high note. But while its textures change reasonably often enough, the piece never develops any direction and at some stage just keeps dragging on, pushed forward by overly melodramatic orchestral hits. Another problematic factor is the melodically sparse nature of Crusaders of Might and Magic. True, an action game score can choose to focus on exciting combat rhythms rather than on melodies. But if those rhythms don’t deliver, a lack of memorable melodic material only compounds the issue at hand.
The score works best in those moments when it reaches back more explicitly to the style of the Heroes of Might and Magic battle cues. Fortunately, King takes a leaf out of Heroes of Might and Magic III‘s book, a game that featured more stirring action tracks than its predecessors. “Track 6” and “Track 7” feature aggressive, intense hand percussion rhythms complemented by ominous male war cries and brief ethnic flute motifs. Like “Track 5”, these cues derive their individual character from pitting these earthy sounds against ambient synth backings and choir pads. These synthesised sounds are more involving than the stylistically similar background orchestrations on the Heroes of Might and Magic action tracks and imbue the music with a foreboding, mysterious character. The combination of sustained, hollow-sounding synth pads and ethnic flute melodies also gives portions of these tracks an attractive New Age edge that contrasts nicely with the agitated percussion rhythms and lends them greater resonance.
There’s a good third of the album that hasn’t been discussed yet. Why? Because Crusaders of Might and Magic recycles six tracks from For Blood and Honor that have been inserted as one group of cues on this soundtrack album. They’re far superior to the score’s original compositions, but their inclusion here is jarring, as their darkly seductive nature differs considerably from the more rhythm-driven mood of the other cues.
What remains of Crusaders of Might and Magic if you disregard the misguided inclusion of about 13 minutes of material from Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor? Well, you end up with half an hour of action material that sounds more contemporary than previous Might and Magic scores, but is only mildly successful at seamlessly incorporating electronic and drum kit rhythms into what’s already an eclectic mix. King’s ambition to deliver a soundtrack that’s both energy-laden and atmospheric is appreciated. But in reality, orchestral elements, synth pads, modern beats and rhythms, and the ethnic sounds of a solo flute and hand percussion rarely mix well enough to completely convince. A trio of more world music-inspired cues are the highlight of the score’s exclusive material and most other tracks are competent enough, with more than enough flashes of originality. But stylistic confusion, only mildly exciting rhythms and a lack of well-developed cues make Crusaders of Might and Magic a minor entry into the rich musical history of this franchise.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.