Game Music, Reviews

A Quarter-of-an-Hour of Destiny – Soul Calibur Suite: The Resonance of Souls and Swords (Review)

November 21, 2009 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook A Quarter-of-an-Hour of Destiny – Soul Calibur Suite: The Resonance of Souls and Swords (Review)on Twitter

After contributing to the official Soul Calibur IV soundtrack, Eminence Symphony Orchestra tapped the expertise of composer/arranger Shiro Hamaguchi to create three tracks paying homage to the Soul Calibur series. Weighing in at just under fifteen minutes, the iTunes release Soul Calibur Suite: The Resonance of Souls and Swords provides a curious listening experience that simultaneously recollects some of the best moments of Soul Calibur and yet seems to only hint at the potential of the project.

For the price of this mini-album, you really can’t lose, but to find out whether or not Eminence resonates with the full caliber of Namco’s epic historical fighting series, read on.

It’s incredibly easy to be sucked straight into this inspired synergy of Namco-Bandai, (ex)Square and Eminence. Here we have Keiki Kobayashi and Junichi Nakatsuru’s grandeur filtered through Hamaguchi’s orchestral fineries played by my favourite orchestra. But all is not rosy in the land of collaborative chemistry: what we get is fifteen minutes of greatness, but what we didn’t get is sometimes a little too obvious.

1. Bearer of Fate – 4:45
2. Voices of the Wind – 4:49
3. Decisive Souls – 4:48

The first track, “Bearer of Fate,” opens with Soul Calibur’s recurring introduction “Light and Darkness.” The familiar crescendo at around 00:30 leads into “No Regrets” from Soul Calibur III. I really like this softer treatment of Cervantes’ theme, rendering it less a bawdy shanty and more of a noble tribute to the immortal pirate. Just over a minute in, “Light and Darkness” is back, but now with more original deviations from Hamaguchi. I was eager to hear where they’d go next, but something was bugging me. This wasn’t “Light and Darkness” – it was “Hour of Destiny,” the introduction theme from Soul Calibur III. And once I’d realised that, some of the seemingly out-of-place shifts made sense. When “No Regrets” came backagain and stayed until the end, I felt a regret of my own. From what I could tell, we had a piece at almost five minutes that covered only a few Soul Calibur tunes. This is my main gripe with Resonance: repetition. I appreciate ‘variations on a theme,’ but for a mini-album, I think that the first piece of only three tracks should do more in 5 minutes than exemplify two or three themes twice. The original “Hour of Destiny” was more diverse than this arrangement, and shorter.

The opening to “Voices of the Wind” is an acoustic version of “The Oath,” also from Soul Calibur III. As part of the suite, it’s a nice interlude, a calm between storms. I do think it goes a little long, and it’s not until about half-way through the piece that things start moving again…into the choir of “Hour of Destiny.” If you’ve watched the SCIII introduction a few too many times, the exact moment is clear: Siegfried tortured by memories of Nightmare wreaking havoc, Zasalamel watching and waiting. And at this point I was really torn – one of my favourite Soul Calibur tracks getting so much attention… but so many others left untouched. Eventually I decided to enjoy it for what it was (not that this took much effort).

The last piece, “Decisive Souls,” is the the only track to overtly tap non-SCIII sources and is easily the best. The ominous “Fatal Chain” of Soul Calibur III is beautifully orchestrated by Hamaguchi and is far superior to the synth original. The strangely familiar and yet new “Phantasmagoria” from Soul Calibur IV is a perfect step after the build-up of “Fatal Chain.” I particularly like Hamaguchi’s rounding of the harder edges of the second minute, even if it’s a pattern reminiscent of the first track. The real treat of “Decisive Souls,” however, is when “Duelists” insinuates its way into the aural narrative. Mitsurugi’s theme from Soul Calibur I embodies the elegance and brutality of Soul Calibur: it is both the breeze sweeping over a battlefield and the fury of the battlefield itself. It’s also ‘close’ enough to the original Soul Edge, chronologically, to resemble “The Wind and Clouds,” Mitsurugi’s original theme in Soul Edge/Blade. “Decisive Souls” shines with splendour and subtlety both when Hamaguchi applies all of his talent to “Duelists.” The conclusion of the piece, be it “Light and Darkness” or “Hour of Destiny,” fits here more than in the first track, but as I’ve said elsewhere, I dislike the brass embellishments where a single note ends the original perfectly.

I’m left with a strange hesitation to call Resonance ‘awesome’. Since so many of Calibur’s themes are already orchestral, a full arrangement album of the Soul series seems an even more logical move than Echoes of War. But that isn’t what is offered here, and it’s completely unfair to expect more than what it says ‘on the box.’ Soul Calibur Suite: The Resonance of Souls and Swords as a title is nonetheless a little misleading: only about five souls get represented (Mitsurugi, Siegfried, Nightmare, Voldo, Cervantes) in just as few of the original tracks. Of those, “Hour of Destiny” is one that really doesn’t need exploration or expansion – a perfect rendition of it by an orchestra would be incredible, as opposed to interspersing bits of it throughout the suite. This reduces it to something not unlike filler, although a kinder word for it would be ‘skeleton’ or ‘spine.’ Either way, I love that it got the love, but not so much that I forget how many SC tracks didn’t.

For the price-tag of $2.99, there’s no arguing the value of this iTunes-only release. It’s an excellent example of Eminence’s style, Namco’s top composers and the empathy of a truly underappreciated force behind the Final Fantasy franchise, Shiro Hamaguchi. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if the selection for the arrangements had been a bit broader. Still, shy of a full arrangement album, this is as good as Soul Calibur music gets.

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