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Soundtrack of the Month 12/2009: Shenmue chapter 1 -yokosuka- Original Sound Track

December 2, 2009 | | 5 Comments Share thison Facebook Soundtrack of the Month 12/2009: Shenmue chapter 1 -yokosuka- Original Sound Trackon Twitter

December is here, Christmas is approaching, and when I look outside the window of my little office space, I see snow falling signaling that winter has indeed arrived. I live in a small harbor town south of Oslo, with a small local community, ships docking into port daily just down the street, and friendly narrow neighborhoods where everyone knows everyone. You might be wondering what the significance of this is, but maybe some of you already know where I’m going with this: my town has some strong similarities to Yokosuka, the town in which Shenmue takes place.

Seeing that the snow has fallen and winter is showing its cold rear end, I found myself drawn to play and write about this game. And in doing so, I was once again reminded of the masterpiece that is Shenmue. Few games have offered such a sense of realism.  Every character has a purpose, a reason of being who they are. Yokosuka feels like a place that is alive, not only because of polygons or special effects, but because of real emotions. All your feelings and senses are triggered in this game, and one of the main reasons behind this is the amazing score by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Yuzo Koshiro, Osamu Murata and Ryuji Iuchi.

So join us in getting chills to the sounds of Shenmue chapter 1 -yokosuka-

Many names contributed to Shenmue chapter 1 -yokosuka-, but the most important among them is Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. He was the sound director on this massive game, and it drove him nearly insane in the process. He has stated numerous times that the process of scoring Shenmue was probably the worst period of his professional career, but he today looks back with pride. The reason for this was the overwhelming nature to the entire project. It was, at the time, the most expensive videogame ever produced, and absolute perfection was required on all ends. The head of the project, Yu Suzuki, was very much involved in the direction of the music, and was not an easy man to please, but you can argue that in the end, it must have paid off, because what we got is arguably one of the finest videogame soundtracks ever produced.

The soundtrack spans 2 CDs, and includes most of the music heard in the first game. Numerous other collections were released to include most of the music that does not appear on this set, such as the cassette tapes and jukebox remixes you can play in-game. Before Shenmue, Mitsuyoshi was widely known at this point for his upbeat, vocal-based style heard in Daytona USA, Burning Rangers and Victory Goal. This style was obviously not fit for a cinematic, emotional drama of such epic proportions, and it was interesting to see how this would pan out. I discovered Mitsuyoshi in 1995 while in an arcade in Paris playing Daytona USA for the first time, and tried my best to keep up with what he worked on even at that age, and I honestly did not know what to expect.

Well, if there was any doubt, the first track alone quickly gives you an answer as “Shenmue ~Sedge Tree~“ is, in my opinion, one of the strongest themes in any videogame to my knowledge. It showcases Mitsuyoshi’s talents using an orchestra, generating emotion without relying on vocals which many seem to think is a necessity.  It’s undeniably powerful, with a melody that can be felt as sad and gives a sense of loneliness, but has a heroic undertone to it. That’s not to say Mitsuyoshi didn’t get to use his voice however, he can be heard humming and choiring away in “Departure on a New Trip.” An interesting and somewhat unknown story is that Mitsuyoshi actually recorded a version of “Wish…,” the vocal song heard during the motorcycle scene. It was only played for Suzuki for approval to be put in the game, and was performed by Yumiko Yamamoto when recorded for the game. Mitsuyoshi’s version has not to this day been released, but we can only hope he’ll do so one day.

Many people refer to the Shenmue Orchestra Album when they talk about this soundtrack. While this CD is among my favorites and absolutely beautiful in it’s own right, I feel as an introduction to Shenmue it can be a bit one dimensional. Shenmue chapter 1 -yokosuka- offers a more wide view of what the music in this title represents, be it Ryuji Iuchi’s “Snowy Scenery” giving us an image of snow with piano and small touches of bells perfectly setting it up, or Koshiro’s “The Sadness I Carry on My“ which is probably the most emotional track with a soft piano and string section. It can be a bit reminiscent of the “Safe Songs” in Resident Evil actually, though the impact it has on you is much stronger. The CD also has some more uplifting tracks, like “Flower Girl,” which is a swing jazz arrangement of “Shenhua ~Sedge Flower~,” and almost a direct opposite of it’s source, which is a cold, Asian instrument-based cinematic theme, and stunning in its own right.

“Wish…” is the only song that kind of feels out of place on this CD, however. On such a powerful album mostly based around strings and percussion, “Wish…” is a more straightforward pop song in the way of J-pop. It’s not uncommon for movies to include vocal pop songs in adventure movies and such, but in a game like this, especially by the time you get to this track, you might feel it is too different. I can see that complaint being valid, but I always fondly remember Ryo and Nozomi riding on the motorcycle in the game and liking the character development and relationship between them during those scenes, so it doesn’t spoil the CD too much for me.  It pulls up some good memories.

I obviously belong in the crowd that regards Shenmue as a masterpiece no matter how you shake it, and while there are people who respectfully disagree, one thing is never denied: the music is breathtaking. The game takes place in winter, shrouded in sadness and despair, but eventually gives you hope and purpose, and this CD beautifully reflects that with its incredibly inspired and direct themes, triggering all your emotions as you go. It’s a great mold of classic Asian percussion and instruments and Western-style cinematic orchestra, and during these white days when you look out the window, it helps you drift into your thoughts and appreciate the season a bit more. For my money, it is one of the greatest videogame soundtracks ever produced.

And I just proved you can write an entire article on Shenmue without mentioning any damn sailors.

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