No More Heroes Original Soundtrack
No More Heroes Original Soundtrack
January 23, 2008
Buy at CDJapan
No More Heroes, as a whole, is the picture perfect definition of “style”. Every aspect of the game, from the menus to the presentation to the way you save your progress, was clearly and cleverly thought out to be as stylish and unique as can be; even the protagonist’s sideburns are chic. Brought to us by the visionary director SUDA51, No More Heroes follows the story of otaku assassin wannabe Travis Touchdown as he travels through the urban sprawl of the Los Angeles-inspired American city of Santa Destroy, defeating highly characterized fellow assassins and increasing his rank after each battle with the ultimate goal of becoming the #1 killer in the United Assassins Association. It sounds violent, and it is; with cartoony eruptions of digital blood and fully realized waggle control the game is definitely not for the young, the conservative or the weak of heart. It’s also one of the best games currently available on the Wii, and I’ll extend that accolade to the game’s soundtrack, written by the versatile and inventive composer Masafumi Takada. Not only is the No More Heroes one of the best soundtracks from this generation, but it’s also one of best soundtracks in Takada’s catalog as well.
Before I waggle my way into the review proper, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If there’s one major downside to the soundtrack, if you choose to call it that, it’s that the main theme introduced in the album-opening “Beam Katana Chronicles” is repeated and reprised throughout the soundtrack’s three discs many times. I personally enjoy the theme because it musically personifies Travis Touchdown perfectly; the semi-bluesy riff simultaneously embodies collected and cool, confident and cocky. While there are some tracks like “N.M.H.” (also reprised as the bonus track at the end of the third disc, “N.M.H. (Action Mix)”), “Heat in your Heart” and “Cashmere Cannonball” that enthusiastically and unabashedly feature the theme for almost their entire duration, there are other, more varied songs such as “Ten Tons of Titanium” which imbues the theme with a hard rock flair and “LET’S FIGHT A BOSS”, a nostalgic chiptune version of Travis’s theme that sounds ripped straight off of a gaming console from the mid 80’s. With similar effectivity as Masashi Hamauzu’s SaGa Frontier II soundtrack, the main theme for No More Heroes is large and in charge, and while there are plenty of tracks that don’t utilize or arrange the theme, you’ll have a hard time getting away from it. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing!
Since the game’s main plot revolves around Travis’s killing exploits, Takada must have given his keyboard some extra special attention while composing the boss themes, because they’re all quite awesome. “Season of the Samurai” is the real tour de force of the battle themes, spanning almost ten minutes in length and featuring lots of buildup and percussive layering in its early stages before erupting into a heavy techno inspired guitar-led masterpiece. (Nerd trivia: one of the reasons why the track is so long on the soundtrack is because Takada listens to the music he creates while he drives and it takes him about nine minutes to drive down the highway from his office to the exit he takes to get home. True story.) Another standout is “Stop Hanging DJs”, which is what it will sound like when cash registers around the world revolt and overtake the human species with pure force and then celebrate afterward with an electronic dance party. “Pleather for Breakfast” is the most unique theme of the lot, thanks to the driving, dirty pop backbeat and manipulated female vocals over the track; like most of Takada’s battle themes, this tune fits the fight in which its played wonderfully. Even the discordant “Rocket Surgeon” works well in the games semi-final battle, as well as on disc, providing a spacial buildup that reflects the intense confrontation that’s unfolding on the TV screen.
The area themes are top notch. The especially notble “DND (Do Not Destroy)” plays when Travis is recouping in his pimped out hotel room; the jazzy feel of the tune calms the nerves and lets both Travis and the player chill out during the temporary respite from the gratuitous carnage the game has to offer. The following “Gorgeous Blues” kicks the jazzy feel up a notch or ten and is played when Travis is zipping around Santa Destroy on his bike that, incidentally, controls like a shopping cart with three busted wheels. The downtempo house of “Violectrolysis” provides great contrast to most of the album, while other tracks like “Speed with Teeth” purposefully foreshadow boss themes that are right around the corner; “Speed with Teeth” is the area theme for the level directly before the fight that is scored by “Pleather for Breakfast” and both share similar electronic colors. The enigmatic “Walking on Leaves” hints at traditional Eastern music but Takada spikes the punch as soon as the party starts and layers a heavy beat and ethereal dissonance over the piece, making it progress quite differently than you’d expect after hearing the first few calming seconds of the track. The creepy ambiance of “Shy Supernova” sends a flirty wink toward Takada’s Michigan soundtrack with its suspended synth pads and a lack of melodic focus, and the forty second long Silent Hill outtake “Strawberry shortcake” follows suit with its highly discordant ambient screeching noises, providing the creepiest half of a minute on the album.
While the album has an electronic and beat-oriented focus overall, there are plenty of tracks like the choral “Too Much Gorgeous” and the saucy sax solo of “Hot Dreams” that break away from the norm, if only to remind the listener that Takada has what it takes to compose just about any style of music. This also works to his detriment with “Staff Wars EPISODE I”, obviously a tongue-in-cheek nod to John Williams and his work on Star Wars. While I’m sure the joke resonated down the halls of Grasshopper Manufacture with belly laughs and high five, the track stands out on the soundtrack due to its bombastic orchestral pomp and shallow melodies. Immediately following is “The virgin child makes her wish without feeling anything”, a karaoke-inspired lounge song that has some relatively light meaning in the game but is a fairly useless entry on the soundtrack. This is as good a time as any to mention that the vocal song “Heavenly Star”, notably played in Naomi’s shop in the game, is not on this album due to licensing issues, but can be found on Genki Rocket’s debut album appropriately titled Genki Rockets I -Heavenly Star-“. How clever. There are also some short tracks sprinkled throughout the discs that contain sound effects, and while some are unbearably cool (if I had three wishes two of them would be to hear “Crash” and “Splash” every time I open or close a door), most are just added for completion’s sake, such as the last twelve tracks on disc three. And, while I’m at it, some of the tracks have longer playtimes than necessary — some pushing the five minute mark despite not having much development — but when the music’s this good it’s really a moot point.
Aside from those few minor shortcomings, the No More Heroes soundtrack is a great album that is consistent yet diverse. The main theme does more to unify the album than it does to detract from it, and there are plenty of different styles to keep you engaged while the discs spin on, even if some of the tracks do overstay their welcome a bit. killer7 is Takada’s Sistine Chapel, but No More Heroes is right on its coattails both in style and worth. I leave you with a quote from Takada’s personal website: “As new as tomorrow technology; as old as human heart”. I am fully aware that it makes no sense. Now stop trying to figure out what that means and go pick up, and enjoy, the No More Heroes Original Soundtrack instead.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Tommy Ciulla. Last modified on August 1, 2012.