Musashi -Samurai Legend- Original Soundtrack
Musashi -Samurai Legend- Original Soundtrack
July 21, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
When it was announced that both Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano, alongside Wavelink Zeal, would be responsible for this soundtrack, I was nothing but ecstatic. I mean, how could I not be? It represented two of my favourite Square Enix musicians working together again after four years. In the meantime, I was able to understand and appreciate each composer even more. “Hamauzu’s creativity and Nakano’s rhythms together again!,” I would scream at random people on the street. They did not like that, by the way. However, I had never heard of the other composers, “Wavelink Zeal.” Apparently, they’re a married couple who used to work for the Capcom Sound Team, then they quit, and adopted the name “Wavelink Zeal.” Yuki Iwai (the woman) has composed one of my favourite soundtracks ever: Megaman X (Mega Man X, if you’re in Japan). Check it out if you can. Takayuki Iwai (the husband, duh) has composed for some fighting games, but I can’t remember the music in those games. Heck, I can barely remember the games themselves. Anyway, this album is an interesting mix of orchestral tracks, electronica, and some good ol’ rockin’. Shall we go on?
I’d like to begin by analyzing Hamauzu’s works. You can divide them into three categories: orchestral, electronic, and acoustic (or as I call it, the works that are neither one of the other two categories”).His orchestral works, as unfortunate as this may sound, are sometimes too short. Works like “Gaia Serenade,” one of my favourite tracks, and “Filled Heart” demonstrate the wondrous powers of Hamauzu and an orchestra. Both explore each individual section in a great way, and the finished products are very elegant and gentle compositions. Anyway, alongside those tracks there are also both movements, if you will, of “Symphony of Fire.” Both have a very happy, playful atmosphere embedded in them, making them very enjoyable, and they feature superb use of every section of the orchestra. However, unlike “Gaia Serenade,” for instance, these tracks don’t have a definite ending, which is a bit odd. The epic “Courage” shows not only some great use of brass and strings, but also is a nice way to reuse an older theme, this being “A New Hope.” “Dark Legacy” is a wonderfully ominous track, which begins with some dissonant brass chords, and features predominantly strings and a organ, with brass in the background. The violin, in particular, is the best instrument in this track, because it plays a delightfully evil melody, which you can’t help but enjoy. But no track comes close to the greatness of “Finale.” Featuring recapitulations of some other themes, including, but not being limited to, “Aeolic Guardian,” “A New Hope,” and “Mystical Princess.” Of course, none of this would be possible without awesome transitions between sections, but, obviously, Hamauzu accomplishes just that.
If you loved Disc Two of the Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack, then you’ll be very interested to hear Hamauzu has done some very pleasant electronic works in this album. “Mystical Princess,” for example, combines both pre-recorded woodwinds and some great synth work, and achieves a very calm and pure feel as a result. Its arrangement, “Mystical Princess (Casual Version),” uses very little synth in comparison, with a violin playing the melody, accompanied primarily by a lively beat and piano. Some electronic beeps can be heard in a latter repetition of the theme, while synth can be heard early on, from the very beginning, and then again in better form when the piano is leading the track in one of the interludes. Another mystical composition, and quite surely my favourite synth track, is “White Whale in the Sky.” With an echoing synth taking the lead before the guitar enters, we are treated to what can only be described as a “heavenly” atmosphere, straight out of paradise itself. It’s no common atmosphere, I can tell you that. With nothing more than strings, some beats, and an acoustic guitar in the background, with a piano-like synth playing the melody, Hamauzu creates a delightful, not to mention relaxing, near-masterpiece. It’s very reminiscent of Unlimited SaGa, and that means it’s great.
Straying far from the mystical atmosphere comes “Soul Stalkers,” a brash track that uses some weird synth noises to play a very simple melody. Later, some more synth instruments come in and the start overlapping each other, so this creates quite an abnormal mood, especially with a woman’s voice preceding such abnormality. Some might be turned off by it, for it’s something very un-Hamauzu, but it’s still a good addition to the album, showing there’s more to him than pretty synth compositions. “A New Hope (Industrial Versions)” is a more electronic rendition of the track with the same name, with a killer melodic line being played by a piano. Although less melodically pleasing, it does have a better rhythm, so you get jiggy wit’ it or whatever people say these days. I’ve mentioned “A New Hope” enough times without talking about it, so here I go. It begins rather mysteriously, but a strumming guitar quickly elevates the mood of the track, and the beat that appears shortly thereafter contributes to the uplifting nature of the piece. The melody itself, while nothing extraordinary, does a good job at being hopeful. What’s curious about this composition is that it’s mostly rhythmic, so the rather dry melody takes a backseat to the harmony. Unfortunately, the track doesn’t feel as refined as the rest of Hamauzu’s works in this album, so it kind of sticks out.
Fortunately, “Aeolic Guardian,” which I mentioned before, is quite refined. The violin and the ‘cello, played respectively by Hijiri Kuwano and Haruki Matsuba, are the main instruments of the track, as the melodic material lies in their hands. The piano gets a piece of the action too, but it’s nothing when compared to the strings. Actually, the piano is more of a supporting instrument, not a leading one, and so is the percussion. I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best Hamauzu pieces ever. The melody is perfect, so I have no complaints there, and it develops quite well, because the main instrument is constantly changing. This is how I expected the entire Original Soundtrack to be like: acoustic-based. It’s not that the synth works aren’t pleasing, but I’m more of a traditional kind of guy. Another acoustic piece I greatly enjoyed was “Vixen Maiden.” Kuwano returns to play the violin, but now it’s hardly the main instrument. The piano in it sounds more like an improvisation than anything, which accentuates its jazzy atmosphere more than anything. The violin has quite a simple part, and it appears very little throughout the track. Although not as good as “Aeolic Guardian,” “Vixen Maiden” does a fine job at keeping the listened at a lively mood.
However, not all is well in Hamauzuville. For what I believe to be the first time ever, Hamauzu has composed FILLER TRACKS. Inexcusable. Works like the 10-seconds long “A Breath of Relief” and the 8-seconds long “Playing Dumb” add nothing positive whatsoever in the soundtrack, and end up spoiling what could be an even better album. Even worse is the awful “What…?”; here, Hamauzu attempts to create a goofy atmosphere through utilising disjointed piano lines and quirky sound effects, but what we get is something really annoying, that seems to go on forever, despite being only 1:04 in length! Still, I can easily recommend this album to the Hamauzu fans out there, though I’d suggest looking elsewhere if one wants to get into Hamauzu. I would suggest trying the SaGa Frontier II Original Soundtrack, then the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack, followed by the Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack. Then, when you’ve become more familiar with his style, you can check this album out with no worries.
As weird as this may sound coming from a huge Hamauzu fanboy, it is Nakano who shines in this soundtrack. By boasting an amazing amount of talent in most of his works, he has impressed me once again. Although he is barely featured in Disc One, Disc Two is choke-full of him. His first track on the album, “Boss Battle I,” sounds like a mix of his Final Fantasy X compositions “Enemy Attack” and “Summoned Beast Battle,” in the way that it is powerful and threatening, perhaps even to a greater extent than both of the battle themes it is based upon. If you want epic cymbal crashes, powerful percussive lines, strong brass accompaniment, and impressive string parts, look no further. Thankfully, this isn’t Nakano’s only battle theme. “Molten Menace” shows Nakano going in the opposite direction of “Boss Battle I”; he relies more on electronica (namely electronic beats and an electric guitar) this time around. His last three battle themes — “Holy War,” “Dark Duel” and “Last Battle” — are some of the best I have ever heard. The first, “Holy Battle,” is very similar to “Boss Battle I,” because everything you hear in the latter is in the former, but that’s not it. Nakano has added a harp, just like in “Summoned Beast Battle,” and I find this to be a great move by him. On one hand, you’ve got the “hit ’em” strings and brass parts, but on the other, there’s the tenderness of simple harp lines. “Dark Duel” is an interesting mix of electronica with strings, resulting in something very otherwordly. It’s very neat. The last of the bunch, “Last Battle,” isn’t as good as his other brethren, because even though it is quite threatening and fast-paced, it is way too repetitive for its own sake.
Of course, Nakano wouldn’t be Nakano without his ambience, a style I have grown to like because of it rhythmic nature, despite the repetition that is usually associated with it. Another great feature of this genre is the instrumentation; what these tracks may lack in melodic variation, they make up for it in instrumental variety. “Firewalker,” for instance, employs use of all sorts of percussive instruments, some synth, and an electric guitar. The whole ensemble works perfectly, and the electric guitar part halfway through the piece is invigorating, to say the least. Disc Two’s “Resurrection” takes it one step further; not only does it have “real” percussion, but also sine waves for synth beats. An electric guitar is also featured, although not as prominently as before, and some strings are as well, playing some melodic fragments here and there. Speaking of melodies, fragmented or not, I’d never thought I’d see the day that two of Nakano’s exploring/ambient themes would share melodic lines. Come on, these themes barely even have melodies, so I was quite surprised to find that “Jungle Journey” and “Call of the Wild” shared the same melodic material. Although I can’t quite picture how an accordion relates to the jungle in the former, the tribal instruments used in “Call of the Wild” are fantastic. It kind of sounds like something you would hear in a nature documentary. If Nakano’s Final Fantasy X ambience was like this track, I’m sure there would have been no complaints about his works. It’s got a nice rhythm and even a short melodic line. As for another great one, look no further than “Shopper’s Delight.” I imagine it must be some kind of shop theme. Yeah, I’m a genius. It’s quite a delight listening to it, and even though it doesn’t have an awful lot of development, it’s still great. Staccato strings set the almost-goofy mood of the piece. Kudos to Ryo Yamazaki for the synth programming on this one, because the echoing of the instruments is pretty cool.
Actually, it’s works like the Disc Two opener “Battle Stations” that makes people dislike his style. It’s a very percussion-oriented militaristic theme that features a basic rising scale accompaniment in the brass and staccato strings to emphasize it. It’s very atmospheric, but fails to impress and also doesn’t manage to be listenable outside the context of the game. The same applies to “Vault Breaker,” because it requires a whole minute of repetition before the track begins to develop. This isn’t mentioning the fact that the same annoying percussive motif keeps being repeated throughout the whole theme; it’s very infuriating. However, no composition comes as close as being as awful as “Random Recital.” At least Nakano names his tracks very well. It is indeed quite random, featuring some weird distorted guitars. I don’t even know to say, except that it feels very out of place in this album. Well, enough of the bad works already. I’m pretty sure that if you’re a fan of Nakano’s, you will not be disappointed by his participation on this album. It feels like it’s an amalgam of all of his personas that have ever composed for Square Enix. For example, you have the rhythm from Another Mind and DewPrism, with “Temple of the Ancients” and Another Mind‘s “Ripples on Mind” sounding somewhat similar, for example. There’s also the techno-ish orientation of Front Mission: Gun Hazard and Tobal No. 1; Front Mission: Gun Hazard‘s “Enemy Raid” features repetitions akin to “Last Battle”, although the latter is a whole of a lot better, and Tobal’s “Gravitation Palace” shares some similarities to “Valiant Dreamer.” Finally, there is his droning repetitiveness from Final Fantasy X. Indeed, pretty much anything from Final Fantasy X comes to mind with “Tension.”
Despite being featured in only five tracks, the Iwai couple puts on quite a show, working masterfully with mostly synth. Both of Takayuki’s tracks, “Boss Battle II” and “Rockstar,” feature great electric guitar work; this is especially so with the latter, as the former focuses more on melodies played on synth, so the electric guitar is more of a background instrument. Yuki’s three compositions are completely different from each other. “Secrets of the Deep” is the closest thing to Nakano ambience it can get, because melodic variety is barely existent there, and rhythm is everything. “Scarlet Rage” surprised me. It begins kind of dull, with a similar motif in the bell-like synth and the same percussive lines over and over again. But at 0:43, an organ comes in and melts your face off because it’s so awesome. Lastly, “Mysterious Market” employs winds and some tribal drums to give out a very “natural” feeling. The woodwind used to play the melody sounds quite relaxing here.
“But, Totz,” you will say, “there is still one track left!” Indeed, there is: The Surf Coasters’ “Samurai Struck.” While I can’t say I am a fan of surf rock music, considering this is my first time listening to it, I think it might work well in the context of the game, with Musashi’s “cool” attitude and everything. Composed by Shigeo Nata, it is performed by himself on the guitar, Naotaka Seki on the drum kit, and Nobuhiro Kurita on bass guitar, and they collectively do a great job playing it. Definitely a track I can recommend, for being so easy to listen to, albeit a little short.
This soundtrack is a worthy addition to one’s library, so it would be good to get it now. After all, who doesn’t want MORE Hamauzu, as well as Nakano at his finest and some great rockin’ here and there? If you said you didn’t want any of this, you’re a liar and you know it. The Musashi -Samurai Legend- Original Soundtrack has very few weak spots, and they really depend on what kind of person you are. For example, you might not like Hamauzu’s orchestral pieces for not being all they could be, if you know your music theory, instrumentation, harmony, etc. Nakano’s ambience is not for everyone either, and the sheer amount of tracks in that style could possibly be a turn off. But, you know, keep an open mind, and you’ll have fun with it. I guarantee it.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.