Game Music, Reviews

Basiscape Rocks Japanese Style With Oboromuramasa Soundtrack (Review)

February 5, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Basiscape Rocks Japanese Style With Oboromuramasa Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

I’ve been personally looking forward to this one for a long time. Muramasa was released last year, and it was starting to look as though it would suffer the same fate as Opoona without an official soundtrack release. However, December 2009 marked the formation of Basiscape Records, an in-house record label that made Basiscape soundtrack releases all but assured. We already looked at their first release, Kumatanchi, but I know a lot of people want to know more about the 3-disc soundtrack for Muramasa.

It’s definitely an interesting score, relying mainly on traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen and the shakuhachi, but the team at Basiscape has done a lot more than just rehash traditional Japanese music, and have injected their own unique styles and embellishments into the mix. Interestingly, to go along with the split stories in the game (there are two playable characters with different stories), many of the songs feature both an “A” and “B” version, providing a variation on each key theme, with the “A” version usually being more abstract and the “B” version being more rockin’.

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Read our review of Basiscape’s latest team effort after the jump!

There’s a lot of great music here, and I wasn’t quite sure how to organize it, so let’s do it by composer since Basiscape was kind enough to give an artist breakdown for this release. The majority of the game’s soundtrack is handled by Mitsuhiro Kaneda, Yoshimi Kudo, Kimihiro Abe, Noriyuki Kamikura, and Azusa Chiba, but others at Basiscape also chip in. So let’s jump right in!

Let’s start with Hitoshi Sakimoto. While his music contributions to Muramasa are minimal, he does handle some of the game’s most important themes. He opens with the aptly titled “Introduction,” a dark and chaotic Japanese-flavored track that could be trailer music with its intense action vibe. It’s unfortunately not very memorable, but his follow-up track, “Untouchable Beauty,” features a lovely string melody using Sakimoto’s signature orchestral style. It’s only a minute long, but the melody appears later in tracks like “Fierce Battle,” a sort of mellow battle track that doesn’t really sound all that fierce.

Mitsuhiro Kaneda starts us off with the first “A/B” variation, titled “Losing Consciousness,” which features epic string progressions that remind me of something out of the Soul Calibur series. A powerful Asian flair is provided by shakuhachi, shamisen, and traditional Japanese percussion. Next, “Womanizing A” shuffles along with conflicting elements of both beauty and danger while “Womanizing B,” on the other hand, is much more frantic with an increased tempo that drives the tension. “Quiet A” is a great track that acts as the calm before the storm with its mellow but sometimes dissonant sections that hint at something ominous ahead. It kind of reminds me of an artist from the demoscene, PsySal. Unfortunately the “B” version completely trashes this amazing atmosphere. Towards the end, “Phenomena” comes in as hectic and out-of-time with an explosion of percussion and brass sounds. The energy level on this one is high from start to finish.

Yoshimi Kudo’s work is immediately interesting with “Paranoia,” a disturbing track with gurgling demonic voices, chimes, and ambiance that blends together in a cacophony of sounds that brings Cursed Mountain to mind. “Turbulence,” on the other hand, is an amazing rock track working in chugging electric guitars and rock percussion to accompany traditional Japanese woodwinds, creating that unique “Muramasa” sound. “Colorful Flowers A” is surprisingly dark with dissonant pads that call out into the distance and a shamisen arpeggio that fades in and out of the mix. It’s a great moody piece of music. The jazzy bassline and percussion in “Beauties of Nature” is quite nice, and the “B” version adds in some excellent guitar work and replaces the jazzy upright bass with a synthesized one, creating a fun sound that would be right at home in Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Contrary to its title, there’s nothing speedy about “Lightning Speed A” with its bizarre choir “ahs,” but the “B” version works in harpsichord of all things, going for a gothic rock sound.

Kimihiro Abe starts with “Natural Life A” which has a nice jazzy thing going for it with an upright bass, although the rest of the elements are rather spacey with lots of reverb. The melody is also somewhat abstract, although more defined than the “B” version, creating a nice avant-garde sound. Next, “Vicissitude” is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album with its contemplative stop-and-go melody. Think of “Norfair” from the original Metroid, and you’ll understand where they’re going with this piece. The “A” version sounds like an evil Opoona theme with its combined instruments creating an unidentifiable “super instrument” of sorts that’s quite awesome.

Noriyuki Kamikura enters with “Magnificent Plaza A,” a downright wacky piece that works in synthesizers that take the piece into Gradius territory. It sounds like some sort of futuristic mutant nightmare has invaded feudal Japan. “Magnificent Plaza B” is similar, but adds waling electric guitars and thunderous rock bass drums. This version picks up speed about midway through, turning into what sounds to be a boss battle of epic proportions. “Briskly Windy Moonlight” also incorporates electronic elements, using heavy percussion and bassy synthesizers to create a foreboding sound that hints at something unnatural. “Four Seasons” is another track that offers a lot of contrast between the “A” and “B” variations. “A” is more contemplative, sounding hopeful and full of purpose, while “B” rocks out and is one of the coolest rock tracks on the album. Crazy string stabs, shamisen, and an energetic bassline hold up the same contemplative melody from before, but take it more in a more energetic Sakuraba-esque direction.

I imagine you’re probably wondering about Basiscape’s number two man, Masaharu Iwata. He has a minor role here, starting with “Dusky A” and “B” on disc 2. This one goes off in another direction, taking a “retro” approach with an octave-jumping synth bass and almost techno-style percussion that sounds “gamey” and stereotypical “Japanese” all at once. Nothing else on this album is as blatant with this stereotypical sound, so it was both surprising and a lot of fun to find it here. His other major contribution, “Spine-Chilling,” is also quite different, featuring spooky pads with lots of vibrato, but still remaining lighthearted with its dancey electronic percussion. The “B” version is even quirkier with manipulated synthesized “ohs” and “ahs” to create weird exaggerated voices. Iwata’s contributions might not fit in with the others, but they are some of my favorite tracks on the album.

Azusa Chiba is another key player, and is responsible for a large number of my favorite tracks from the album. “Poor Meal” features a sweet woodwind melody and playful shamisen, pizzicato strings, and wood and triangle percussion. It’s a nice rest from the chaos found elsewhere on the album. “Powerful Looking” is an amazing track that combines marching orchestral percussion and epic string progressions with beautiful woodwind melodies, again creating a unique and highly enjoyable sound. “Fragility,” on the other hand, might sound rather unassuming on first listen, but the belltone and string melody is truly reminiscent of some of the quieter themes from Secret of Mana, and I love it. The accompaniment to the final dungeon, “Deep Mountain A” is a smoother track, working in a light electronic bass line and ambient electronic patches. The thick reverb on all the instruments creates the sensation of floating on air. The “B” version is a bit more in your face with thumping techno percussion and less reverb.

Getting towards the end, Kudo returns with “Gods of Heaven and Earth,” a powerful theme with heavy-hitting bass drums and dissonance violins, woodwinds, and distorted electronic sounds that are simply maddening. He continues with “Desires Connected to The Enlightenment,” featuring familiar gurgling chants, but also makes use of a xylophone and violin to weave a seductive melody around what would otherwise be a distributing track with just the voices. The “B” version throws in slap bass and flanged synthesizers, getting its funk on while still retaining the strange vocals and melancholy melody that made the “A” version great.

Sakimoto returns with “Inscrutable Stratagem,” which is not only an amazing track title, but the clapping percussion, heavy piston-like thuds, and wailing siren-like synth in the background really gets the blood pumping. Masaharu Iwata’s “Tacit Understanding” provides a sweet goodbye with an upbeat woodwind melody and a powerful string backing. It gallops along with rock percussion and a sense of triumph. The final track comes courtesy of Hitoshi Sakimoto, titled “Impermanence.” It of course works in the main theme, but is actually rather foreboding, hinting that perhaps there are still things left unresolved. There is a reflective moment in the middle of the piece with some ambient harp and chimes, but things pick up again, ending on a rather unsettling note, which is right in line with the dark themes in the game. You’re not going to get much closure here.

This one was impossible to keep brief, so I apologize. There is simply too much great music here, and so many great composers to give credit to for their strong work. It’s not often that we’re treated to these kinds of traditional Japanese sounds, but Basiscape’s blending of genres has created an all new sound that I found highly enjoyable. Even the packaging is awesome, coming with a lengthy booklet, a textured art card, and a cardboard slipcase that are all adorned with amazing artwork from the game, courtesy of Vanillaware. This is a strong start for Basiscape Records, and I’m already looking forward to the Valkyria Chronicles 2 soundtrack that’s due out next.

So, Basiscape Records, about that Opoona soundtrack…

Did you get the chance to play Muramasa and have any thoughts about how the soundtrack works in the game? Are you excited to see this album available via Basiscape Records?

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