Terra Diver Original Soundtrack
Terra Diver Original Soundtrack
February 28, 2011
Buy at Amazon Japan
While Hitoshi Sakimoto is principally known for producing tactical RPG scores, he has produced a handful of excellent shooter scores during his career too. One of the most important of these was 1996’s Terra Diver (aka Soukyugurentai), a military space shooter released by Eighting for Arcades and the Saturn. Sakimoto created an intense and dynamic soundtrack for the title using a range of electronic and orchestral fusions. The resultant score was considered ahead of its time with its elaborate composition and rich synthesis. Now 15 years on, Sakimoto decided to reprint the soundtrack through his newly formed label Basiscape Records, complete with remastered sound quality and several bonus arrangements. Has the soundtrack stood the test?
Right from the introductory tracks, Hitoshi Sakimoto reflects that Terra Diver will be quite a ride. “S.O.Q. Scroll” features the intense fusions of orchestral, electronic, and percussive elements listeners should expect from the soundtrack. “Ignition, Liftoff, Injection” is a brief yet awe-inspiring track that captures the vertical-scrolling action with its succession of ascending synth glissandi. The fleshed-out first stage theme “Ota City Sky” is featured immediately thereafter. Opening with an fantastical array of synth arpeggios, it soon transitions into a punchy anthem featuring jazzy piano lines and rich electronic undertones. While one of the more tame and anthemic tracks on the album, it formed a prototype for the dense and exuberant fusions featured in Basiscape’s current shooter soundtracks. Continuing to impress all these years later, it’s easy to see why Sakimoto decided to reprint this soundtrack.
As with many of his soundtracks, Sakimoto integrates a familiar melodic fragment throughout Terra Diver‘s score in an interest way. Technically speaking, this pentatonic fragment is rather simplistic, yet it enhances the aggressive and suspenseful feel of the game with its unusual rhythmic features and suspended phrasing. Building on the approach of the opening themes, the track is presented with synthetic timpani on “Gale of Don-Ryu”, reversing the traditionally supportive role of the instrument in a highly effective way; it’s an excellent depiction of a ferocious beast in a suspenseful boss encounter, and are also potentially very enjoyable out of context too. That said, Sakimoto does incorporate the theme into some more conventional tracks too. For example, the motif serves as an unconventional yet catchy hook at the climax of “On a Satellite’s Orbit”, a particularly dazzling electro-orchestral fusion.
The most impressive tracks on the soundtrack are the most intense entries. The third stage theme “Asteroid Belt Region” provides one of the most jaw-dropping reflections of Sakimoto’s supreme musicality on the album. Here, Sakimoto segues from an emotional cinematic introduction into a fast-paced techno-orchestral hybrid featuring unrelenting beats and heavy percussion. It makes the visuals of the third stage all the more epic and exciting, while serving as a great listen in its own right. “Entering Mars” is one of the few truly orchestral tracks on the soundtrack and achieves a giant sound despite its dated samples. In fact, with its dense orchestration, momentous thematic reprises, and discord-based climax, it seems to have inspired some of Final Fantasy XII‘s most enormous tracks. Also impressive are two interlinked boss themes, “Appearance of Kokubetsu” and “Reappearance of Kokubetsu”, both of which blend ascending discords with static bass lines to scenic effect.
Despite such pioneering stylings, Sakimoto still ensures this soundtrack is quite accessible for a mainstream audience. For instance, “Arctic Oil Field Base” is one of the most groovy tracks on the entire soundtrack and also one of the most goofy. The novelty synth sounds, bouncy harmonic lines, and over the top timpani runs provide a welcome break from the more serious tracks. “Assault of Akitaka-kun” also has that refreshing ‘it’s only a game’ feel, though its exterior is still impressive with its discordant orchestral hits and intense synth glissandi. Among all these highlights, couple of tracks do fall short towards the end of the soundtrack. Most notably, “Gunpowder Warehouse Bakuzan” focuses too much on a slightly irritating pizzicato string motif, while “Shield of Earth’s Surface” is too similar to earlier boss themes and labours the main theme. Such tracks are obvious blotches on an otherwise refined soundtrack, but don’t detract too much from the overall experience.
The main theme is redeemed in the final stage theme “Descent Into the Sea of Clouds”. in this encompassing track, low strings present the fragment while timpani pound away and synth arpeggios run wild. The augmentation of the fragment at the centre of the track is also very impressive and resolves some of the suspensions featured in its initial entries. The theme is also recapitulated within the symphonic ending theme, “Beginning of Great Retirement”. Here, Sakimoto actually interweaves the fragment with a more deep and extensive melody, finally resolving some of the suspensions featured in earlier appearances. “High Score Team” thereafter is a moody military orchestration that, while not as impressive in composition and production as those of the Valkyria Chronicles soundtracks, is still enjoyable. “Inside Jin-Sei Office” is an exclusive track on this reprint that was unused in the game. It’s another groovy yet moody fusion of symphonic and electronic elements that is worth a listen.
The reprint soundtrack concludes with Basiscape’s bonus arrangements. Kimihiro Abe’s interpretation of the soundtrack’s main theme offers a new perspective on the original with its more lavish orchestration. While the curious rhythmic qualities of the original melody suit Abe’s distinctive musicality, a few choices seem contrived here and the mixing could be better. Mitsuhiro Kaneda’s take on the theme suits the original better with its increased focus on industrial techno. The artist recaptures the intensity of the final stage theme with its gradually blooming layers and moody secondary sections, while offering various subtle additions that might be missed on an initial listen. Probably the best of the remixes, however, is Yoshimi Kudo’s take on “Ota City Sky”. Blending the hard-edged sound of his Dai-Fukkatsu contribution with the ever-building funk influences of his DeathSmiles arrangement, the final sound suits the original perfect. The piano and bass jam session from the 2:30 mark is especially delightful.
The soundtrack ends with the remix of “On a Satellite’s Orbit” that Sakimoto performed live at Extra: Hyper Game Music Event in 2007. Here, Sakimoto considerably expands on the source material with richer orchestral samples, more elaborate beats, and some industrial noise, bringing the track closer to the sound of Gradius V. The most impressive aspect of the remix is how Sakimoto constantly maintains a feel of ascension and intensity that relives the feeling of the game, while keeping things fresh with various interludes and breakbeat parts. The section from the two minute mark is especially interesting, although the bizarre descending noises are a little distracting, while the energetic conclusion brings the release to a satisfying close. Note that this arrangement isn’t an exclusive and was previously featured on Extra – Official Compilation. However, it will still be a curious and worthwhile bonus for most consumers.
Despite being a lesser-known title, the music for Terra Diver is worthy of a place in the shmup hall of fame. Sakimoto offers various innovations on the soundtrack, ranging from his electro-orchestral hybrids to his integration of the percussive main theme, while still presenting a sound that will often be familiar and accessible to followers of the composers wider work. Though the soundtrack was most impressive at the time of its release, it still proves to be an engaging and impressive experience on the reprint. The excellent remixes are the icing on the cake and ensure the package is great value. Now that this soundtrack has been reprinted, perhaps Basiscape Records should consider releasing the equally remarkable Magical Chase and Armed Police Batrider soundtracks next.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.