Okamiden Original Soundtrack
Okamiden Original Soundtrack
November 10, 2010
Buy at CDJapan
2006’s Okami combined the action/adventure gameplay of Zelda with a uniquely Japanese twist; the story was based in traditional mythology, the graphics were inspired by sumi-e (ink and wash painting), and the music used Japanese instruments throughout, focusing especially on the shakuhachi and shinobue. Although the music is traditional in effect, it is primarily western in construction, partially because Japanese traditional methods are very rigid, and partially to add tonal harmony, which is largely absent from traditional music.
Both game and soundtrack were well received, and the decision was made to make a sequel for the DS in order to make use of its touch screen capabilities. The soundtrack was created entirely by Rei Kondoh, one of the four composers who worked on the original game, although it includes several arrangements of pieces and themes from its predecessor. Of course, since the soundtrack is for the DS, there were more constraints than before, but the most problematic aspects are avoided here on the soundtrack, which consists of the pre-conversion demo tracks instead of the versions from the DS sound chip. So the sho, the shakuhachi, the shinobue, and the hichiriki all sound like the actual instruments (well, samples, anyway), and not like poor imitations.
While the Okami soundtrack was an excellent accompaniment to the original game, it suffered from a few problems when divorced from that context. There were too many short pieces that felt underdeveloped, and long stretches of its five disc running time were underwhelming. Although it helped that everyone involved stuck to the same basic compositional palette of Japanese instruments, there was still a noticeable lack of cohesion between the composers’ contributions. That feeling is absent in the Okamiden soundtrack. Even though there are arrangements of other composers’ work, all of the arrangement was done by Kondoh, so the style remains more consistent. However, the discs of the soundtrack are segmented into the categories. The first two discs are comprised of area themes, the third of event themes, and the fourth of the title screen, the battle themes, and a few miscellaneous stings, capped off with a bonus track. This creates an uneven listening experience, with the first half dominated by slow, reflective music contrasting with the livelier second half.
Some of the original’s most memorable themes return. The second track on the first disc, “Kamiki Village Having Passed Two Crises,” is a solemn arrangement opening with strings and sho, carried by a duet between shinobue and koto. “Kamiki Village on the Verge of its First Crisis,” on the other hand, is sadder in mood, opening with harp and sho, the mournful sound of the hichiriki entering in its middle section. Sei-an City’s themes make return appearances as well, both the folk song-inspired “Commoners’ Quarter” and the more subdued “Nobles’ Quarter.” “Susano-o’s Theme” returns almost entirely unchanged, as brash as ever, while “Issun’s Theme” is extended slightly, with an expanded part for mokkin (xylophone). The mokkin also takes a more significant role than before in the new arrangement of “Shinshu Plains,” which doesn’t introduce the original’s main melody for over a minute, rearranging its various elements to form a very different piece overall. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Yamata-no-Orochi Extermination” is near identical to its PS2 counterpart.
The original compositions fit together very well with the returning themes. “Yakushi Village,” which opens the album, has a great melody, with some striking harmonic turns and a subtle, varied arrangement (although the wind chimes are a bit much). “Underground Ruin,” like a number of the tracks, uses the harp prominently throughout. The shamisen enters on a phrase of the main theme, but instead of dropping out or repeating its motif indefinitely, it expands outward, first as a counter-melody, then doubling the main melody. It’s all so subtle as to appear effortless, but so finely constructed that it must have taken quite some effort. Likewise for the subtle shifts of mood in “Komamaru,” which truly sounds like sailing, evoking the wind and waves (the name refers to a ship). In “Theatre,” however, the effort is more noticeable, as it contains a very complex polyrhythmic passage, which the composer likens to various gears turning in unison.
The third disc is a bit of a mixed bag, including a good number of forgettable short event themes. The character themes that open the disc are generally good, if short, opening with “Kuninushi’s Theme,” a suitably vivacious piece for the young son of Sunsano-o, with a bit of his father’s theme’s brashness added in for good measure. “Isshaku’s Theme” (shaku being a longer unit of measurement than sun) uses the instrumentation from “Issun’s Theme” to create a new piece that makes a good counterpart to Yamaguchi’s original. “Nanami’s Theme” is a charming pentatonic tune with splash effects used as percussion, while “Manpuku’s Theme” has a particularly rotund arrangement focusing on low winds. The short event themes are not unenjoyable, but on the whole they are uninspired, and not as well written as the character themes that precede them.
The majority of disc four being comprised of battle themes makes for a tiring listen, too, as these are generally the soundtrack’s weak point. They are differentiated by instrumentation and rhythm, but overall seem very similar to each other, and would be better separated than they are together. A number of the battle themes are in 5-beat meter, and while “Apparition King Suppression” isn’t able to escape the common Mission Impossible theme grouping for its main section, its introduction in 4 and middle section in 6 provide some relief. Bringing the experience towards its climax, “Evil King Suppression” begins in 5 but switches into 4, at the same point that the mood changes and it brings the main themes to the fore.
“Okamiden – End” is a highlight on the score. It begins with a melancholy melody on harp backed by koto and strings. Soon a taiko rhythm enters, and the mood changes to one of general rejoicing, which is then dispelled by a new arrangement of “Once Upon a Time…” A harp ostinato at the end of this section leads into another vigorous taiko-backed arrangement of the second part of the main theme, which slowly disintegrates into a fragment of “Once…”, concluding with a double stroke on the taiko. The soundtrack’s main themes are presented in “Okamiden ~Limited Edition Demo Version~,” which ends the set very well. It proceeds from the nostalgia of “Once Upon a Time…” to a theme depicting Chibiterasu and Kuni traversing the landscapes based on old Japan, finishing off with the double taiko stroke used prominently in the first game. So, the set begins well, and ends well. It’s unfortunate that the path between the two isn’t traveled quite so smoothly.
Rei Kondoh did an excellent job extending the Okami series’ music, and this four-disc set is full of highlights. Packaged in a folding case with plenty of artwork, the visual presentation alone is worthy of the series name. Unfortunately, the audio presentation has a few problems. The sound quality, while much higher than that of the DS, is slightly below that of the original game, despite using (what I think is) the same sample set. More damagingly, though, the separation of the tracks into their respective categories makes a straightforward listen an uneven experience, and devalues the various pieces by lack of contrast within the sections. Despite these problems, the Okamiden soundtrack is both a worthy successor to the original and a great soundtrack in its own right. I look forward to Kondoh’s work in the future.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ben Schweitzer. Last modified on August 1, 2012.