Soukaigi Original Soundtrack
Soukaigi Original Soundtrack
June 11, 1998
Buy Used Copy
Hiroki Kikuta’s legendary renown among fans of game music rests on a scant three titles: Seiken Densetsu 2, Seiken Densetsu 3 and Soukaigi). Even back when the now tiresome clichés of fantasy music hadn’t yet grown so thickly encrusted, when the inbred homogeneity of RPG soundtracks wasn’t quite as noticeable and depressing, the voice Kikuta introduced in Seiken Densetsu 2 stood well apart, proclaiming musical neologisms that moved and twisted with an acrobat’s poise and sounded like nothing else in console game music at the time. But with Soukaigi, one of the first console game scores performed entirely with live instruments, the lack of technical limits let him show how much more there was to deliver on his initial promise.
Without sparing a glance to the pseudo-medieval RPG sound machine, Kikuta constructed his own orchestral climate and complemented it with a vitamin-powered punch of progressive rock and ethnic influences. Avoiding the laboredly epic and straightforward melodic pulp that all-too-frequently results when game music composers with no ambition are suddenly given an orchestra to play with, Kikuta’s orchestral tracks exhibit a thoughtful, ambient, dreamily capricious character; they’re similar to what we’ve heard in the Seiken series, but realized in a more sophisticated fashion. The opening theme “Ancient Power” and ending vocal theme “Lovely Strains” exemplify this conception, progressing through soft dissonance and unlikely chordal leaps built to carry Kikuta’s lithe, soulful melodies with a bearing of grace. But “Labyrinth” captures the archetypal essence of Kikuta’s art: a compound string ostinato provides scattershot rhythmic motion high above a low-flying cello legato, before a sylvan flute melody issues from the depths of slow-wave sleep in beautiful counterpoint. For a first effort, Kikuta’s orchestration is surprisingly sharp and timbrally rich, with thick textures and showers of instrumental color.
What’s even more surprising are the small ensemble tracks. Kikuta plays matchmaker with genres that would sneer at each other on the street, mixing ethnically inclusive timbres and rock and dance rhythms with the melodic signatures of fantasy to create bastard progeny that’s magic to listen to. But fantasy as filtered through Kikuta’s brain has nothing to do with the fantasy currently flourishing as a mold colony on most game store shelves. There’s nothing in the Brand X fantasy canon that occupies the same air-space as the jazzy trip-hop incantation “Strange Promise,” or parallels the retro-rocking, Hammond fueled “Absolute Lady.” There’s nothing like “New Day,” which refracts the melodic and rhythmic sense of South American street music through Kikuta’s stained glass imagination, or “Quake,” which sounds like an old folk song from a fairy-tale land where prog rock was discovered just after fire. And simple as it is, there’s nothing quite like the final track “Silence,” a downtempo arrangement of the Quake theme run through a music box, with airy synth ambience laying down a paper-thin bed of harmony.
In each track, Kikuta’s melodies drift through liquid arrangements, always facing the listener with the aspect of Janus. It isn’t just the integrity and raw spirit Kikuta puts into his music that sets him apart; it’s the ambiguity that pervades his musical voice. He does not depict victories or defeat; there is only a congenital melancholy, shading whatever celebratory expressions find momentary spotlight. It’s Kikuta’s unique gift to move from one end of the mood spectrum to the other in the span of a phrase as if he were sliding balls across an abacus.
With the shackles of chip synthesis and memory restrictions removed, Kikuta produced a score that sounds like not one idea or means of expression was sacrificed to the limits of technology, and created some of the most electrifying and rare sounds ever featured in a game. There are precious few original minds devoted to game music, but as long as one of them is Kikuta’s, we’ll be all right.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by James McCawley. Last modified on August 1, 2012.