Might & Magic X -Legacy- Original Game Soundtrack
Might & Magic X -Legacy- Original Game Soundtrack
January 23, 2014
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A full twelve years after the bug-ridden Might and Magic IX had more or less buried the Might and Magic franchise (although its offshoot Heroes of Might and Magic continued to generate titles), Might & Magic X: Legacy tried to rekindle the flame – or maybe it just wanted to wring some more money of the brand name. With its consciously retro stylings, Legacy definitely aimed to endear itself to gamers familiar with the franchise’s history, hoping they would be willing to take a trip down memory lane. However, the game’s critical reception was lukewarm, so it might be another few years before somebody else tries to revive the series.
The music for the Might and Magic games has always been overshadowed by their Heroes of Might and Magic counterparts. In their heyday, both franchises were underscored by the core team of Paul Romero and Rob King, who created some of the best fantasy game soundtracks out there. However, their track record on the stylistically wildly varying Might and Magic albums was rather hit-and-miss, ranging from the sublime Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honour to the synth murk of Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer. For Legacy, the developers drafted Jason Graves and Roc Chen, who had both already contributed music for Might & Magic Heroes VI, if to somewhat middling results. With Legacy‘s soundtrack coming in at under 30 minutes and due to the game’s low-key nature, expectations for the album release didn’t run too high, but for score collectors, it was still of interest to see how Graves and Roc would continue the storied musical history of the Might and Magic lineage.
Well, don’t hold your breath expecting a return to past musical glories after the musical decline that the franchise has been caught in since Heroes of Might and Magic IV. If it wasn’t for the actively obnoxious soundtrack for Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen, Legacy would rank as the worst Might and Magic score album, and the blame can be squarely laid at Roc Chen’s feet, who approaches this score assignment with an astoundingly non-committal attitude.
Chen’s compositions fall into two categories, although it feels more like he wrote two pieces that he keeps regurgitating throughout the album with very slight alterations. Six of his tracks are vaguely ominous mood setters, realised with a bare minimum of effort. Be it “In the Castle”, “City Night”, “Depths of the Eart”, “Secrets of the Shantiris”, “The Palace” or “Darkness, the formula is always the same: a bass drone sets the sombre scene, over which Chen layers heavy cello chords, tremolo strings and haphazardly thrown in woodwind motifs and synth sounds that serve no purpose other than to simply break up the monotony. The problem isn’t the unrelenting gloominess, but the fact that Chen tries to evoke this particular atmosphere in such lackadaisical fashion. None of these near-ambient pieces develop in any way, simply meandering along for two minutes before simply subsiding, relying on the most basic application of their elements to create an effect. Sure, there are a few details that set these tracks apart, if only a little bit – percussion on “Drums of the Earth”, gong strikes on “Secrets of the Shantiris”, floating choir voices on “The Palace”. All this doesn’t alleviate the boredom though: there’s not a single interesting melody, rhythm or texture to be found in this throwaway filler material.
Chen’s remaining five tracks – “Morning in Kartha”, “Lulled by the Waves”, “A Peaceful Evening”, “The Agyn Peninsula” and “Moonlit Journey” – are slightly more tolerable, but that’s not because of a jump in compositional quality. Instead, these pieces simply happen to rely on more pleasant timbres, but Chen deploys them in just as lazy a fashion. Again, the instruments remain the same on almost each of these tracks – gentle plinking from a harp or acoustic guitar, soft string pads, and some lyrical woodwind motifs. Chen’s use of the woodwinds as solo instruments is puzzling – these serene compositions would the perfect place to develop the woodwinds’ melodies, let them flow and enchant listeners (listen to the Anno 1701 scores for a perfect example). Instead, Chen’s melodic ideas run their course within the space of a few seconds and then disappear again, simply tossed into the mix without much rhyme or reason. A lack of these qualities also describes these tracks’ shape as a whole – once more, Chen establishes the music’s ingredients at the beginning of each piece and then simply lets the music drift aimlessly for two minutes. “Morning in Kartha” at least features a passable amount of musical activity, even though its prettiness is rather bland; and “Moonlit Journey” attempts to apply a slightly more melodic focus to the murky environment of Chen’s darker tracks – albeit to little effect, since it’s all pulled off with so little care.
The whole mess is bookended by Jason Graves’ two compositions, and they sound like they belong on a different – and better – album that realises it’s actually the score for a fantasy adventure. Album opener “Might & Magic Main Theme” plays by the rules of the genre, but its tuneful opening with its delightful melodic and rhythmic woodwind work makes for a captivating start to the soundtrack. Once the usual fantasy bombast takes over – pounding percussion, string ostinati, a relatively simple, heroic brass melody – the track loses some of its appeal, but its lead melody is just strong enough and the orchestrations sufficiently colourful to hold interest. The real reason to consider listening to this album at all is “Legacy”, a beautifully flowing, passionate string piece with a classical sheen that leads the album to an unexpectedly emotional, majestic conclusion. With its moving melodic flow, “Legacy” might actually be Graves’ best orchestral composition outside of the first two Dead Space soundtracks, and it sure makes you wish the composer had composed the entirety of Legacy.
A sore disappointment, Might & Magic X: Legacy is of very little interest to game score fans and one of the nadirs of the franchise’s discography. Roc Chen delivers nothing more than meandering, sparse underscore, bereft of any musical ideas of note. His barebones approach has the unwelcome effect of creating an immensely dull listening experience, with his pieces being completely interchangeable. There’s really no other word than ‘lazy’ for Chen’s approach to this music. Jason Graves rises to the occasion and delivers one solid and one very strong composition, but his contributions are too short to save this album. Ignore Legacy and head back to Romero and King’s vastly superior works.
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Posted on September 10, 2014 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on March 11, 2015.