Terror of the Stratus Original Soundtrack
Terror of the Stratus Original Soundtrack
Konami Digital Entertainment
October 27, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
In 2011, Konami dazzled Japan’s PSP players with a sci-fi action title, Terror of the Stratus (aka Senritsu no Stratus). Filmscore’s Nobuko Toda was hired to create a striking score to complement the spacey scenario and fast-paced gameplay. Blending electronic, acoustic, and vocal elements, the artist succeeded in creating Konami’s richest hybrids since The 2nd Runner. The soundtrack was released as both a physical album and digital downloads, with the contents of each release differing somewhat. The superior physical release is reviewed here.
“To Grow Numb with Cold” exemplifies the score’s fresh hybridised sound. Toda layers the track from the ground up with overdriven guitar riffs, pulsating electronic beats, and warm piano licks. While these elements collectively create a convincing sci-fi sound, the passionate and exotic female vocals steal the show. Though not tuneful in a conventional sense, there are plenty of hooks to draw listeners in and the evocative section from the 0:59 mark is especially satisfying. All the samples are excellently sampled and mixed — far exceeding the average of the PSP and rivalling most Western game soundtracks. In fact, the track would be a perfect fit for a modern day Zone of the Enders.
The score features plenty of other satisfying hybrids along similar lines. Guest contributor Shuichi Kobori inspires even stronger memories of Zone of the Enders with “Close to the Edge”, an uplifting hybrid of electronic and organic forces peppered with some celestial female vocals. Toda’s “To Smear With Blood” throws gamers into more intense action with its jagged techno beats, aggressive vocal chants, and dabs of epic orchestration. All the elements are so well integrated that the track offers plenty of variety without ever sounding chaotic or overwhelming. “Crawling Like a Worm” is another spectacular experiment, featuring a mixture of metal riffs and haka chants, whereas “Overrunning the Imperial Capital” and “Mooring a Boat” demonstrates just how evocative orchestration can be within a heavily electronic score.
One of the most impressive features of the score is the level of intricacy for each purpose. Toda could have gone for a purely functional approach on the short introductory cue “Lose to the Edge”, but instead opted to offer all sorts of experimental rhythms and textures. Melancholy chamber pieces such as “Woe” and “Anima” demonstrate that Toda’s evolution since her compositional debut Metal Gear Acid; more than stereotypical mood pieces, these tracks are bound to affect listeners and were clearly composed — and performed — from the heart. The choral performances of “Awakening” and “Overrunning the Imperial Capital” provide further examples of how Toda didn’t spare creativity when writing short cues, whereas the more minimalistic “Doubt” and abstract “Wish -Desire for Love-” are still effective for different reasons.
Though most of the score glides beautifully, there are plenty of heavier pieces. Ludvig Forssell’s “Existence Reversed” is a particularly prominent example — shifting the stylistic focus of the soundtrack a little too much with its aggressive DMC-style heavy metal vocals. A string of high-powered tracks nevertheless bring the score to a satisfying conclusion. “Limitless” accelerates the score with its relentless distorted beats, whereas “Abomination” and “Ego Ideal” are the culmination of the epic choral influence of the score and likely sound spectacular during the final encounters. The release closes with the main theme “He Thinks, Therefore I Am”, which channels the sound of a Hollywood blockbuster with its cinematic orchestration and bold progressions. It also interestingly score’s choral components — exotic ululations, tribal chants, and gothic performances — into one.
The physical soundtrack release also features two theme songs. Yuki Kajiura’s FictionJunction contributed the opener “Eternal Blue”, a hybridised pop song that complements Toda’s main compositions wonderfully. The radiant violin lead and exotic vocal performances here showcase Kajiura at her best. Meanwhile the ending theme “Embrace the Night” is a ballad contributed by breaking artist Rie Yamaguchi. While the instrumentation is emotional, the vocalist is too immature and the structure too stereotypical for the track to be a major highlight. As has become the trend for Japanese soundtrack releases, neither theme is featured in full in the soundtrack release — each trimmed to about a minute long — and listeners will have to seek out the artists’ albums to find the full mixes.
Overall, Terror of the Stratus should offer the best of both worlds for game score listeners. The elaborate compositions and lavish implementation here rivals that of Hollywood. Yet the unexpected hybrids, outward emotionality, and memorable melodies here are clearly inspired by the creative tradition of game music in Japan. Though the soundtrack is most enjoyable with the game, there are plenty of tracks that warrant stand-alone listening. The physical release is the best way to enjoy this score, since it is bonded by two theme songs and omits the superfluous ambience on the digital release.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.