Game Music, Reviews

Coolest Game Subtitle Ever: Xak ~ The Art of Visual Stage (Review)

September 11, 2008 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Coolest Game Subtitle Ever: Xak ~ The Art of Visual Stage (Review)on Twitter

Before last week, I had no idea what Xak was, and with good reason. It was apparently an oldschool dungeon crawler released on a variety of platforms back in the late 1980s, and it was only available in Japan. I guess it makes sense that the music, presented in FM, PSG, X68000, and PC-8801 formats reminds me of some of the old Falcom stuff from those days.

The main reason the series came to my attention was because of Ryuji Sasai’s involvement. He’s one of my favorite composers, and he worked on this title along with Tadahiro Nitta. The All Sounds of Xak album was released all the way back in 1989, but recently, thanks to EGG MUSIC, classics like the Xak series have been given another chance, albeit it in a digital format only.

Read about this early foray into VG synth rock and Ryuji Sasai’s debut in game music after the jump.

EGG MUSIC actually offers three different versions of the original Xak soundtrack. The first is the Xak MSX Original Soundtrack, which features both the FM and PSG versions, coming in at about two and a half hours. The standalone Xak X68000 Soundtrack and Xak PC-8801 Remastered Soundtrack (which features some extra tracks) are each sold separately, but you’re going to get more bang for your buck with the MSX version (although the X68000 version is my personal favorite).

So what’s here? There are upbeat tracks that you’d expect to hear in town, some epic, contemplative synth pieces for the road, and of course some powerful rock when it’s time for battle, presented in the only way the 1980s knew how.

“Opening 1” is actually somewhat of an oddity, featuring only this distorted, guttural bass drum sound with no discernable rhythm. It will definitely get your attention. From there, a slow-paced waltz titled “Church” comes in and is is both beautiful and whimsical, while “Blue Sea” sounds like something out of Gradius with an upbeat bass and cute, spacey melody. Taking on a regal tone, “Serenity” is a deliberate piece with brass-like synths. “Messenger” must be Sasai’s work, coming complete with bell-like arpeggios and a progressive synth melody.

“Battle Field” is one of my favorite tracks, with an octave-jumping bassline and a powerful melody like something out of Mega Man. “Evil Tree” follows suit with fast-paced rock, sporting mean synth lines and a deep bass that chugs along unchallenged. With a roaring bass pad and a high-pitched melody with lots of bends, “Water Dragon” sounds like a fitting track for such a beast.

“Rock Biter” is another awesome piece with a repetitive bassline, a minimalistic synth, and an emphasis on percussion. Another epic track, “Tower Under the Earth,” features a lot of reverb on the drums, which is a neat effect for the time, along with an awesome melody and arpeggios in the background.  “Flame of Earth and Sky” is a jumpy track with a groovy bassline, while “To The Holy Country” takes on techno style percussion with a buzzy synthesizer that creates an unwelcoming atmosphere (doesn’t sound very holy). What I imagine is the final battle, “Threat of Badu” makes use of sound and response with different synths, regularly shifting tempo to create a feeling of uncertainty. Finally, the ending piece, “Victory” features a sweet chord progression and melody voiced by strings and belltones. It’s really a “happy” song, characteristic of this era in gaming.

Overall, this is some great stuff for fans of that distinct sound from the late 80s. Anyone who’s a fan of early Falcom music will feel right at home with this, and as a huge fan of Ryuji Sasai, I was delighted to hear this music. The 1,890 yen price tag may sound a little steep, but this music has been out of print for ages (and some of the versions have never been released at all), so it’s nice to see it available once again.

I mentioned that the X68000 and PC-8801 versions are also available.  The X68000 is short a few tracks compared to the MSX version, whereas the PC-8801 has extras, and they’re each priced at 1,890 yen. While EGG MUSIC doesn’t currently have an English store, I imagine your credit card company will gladly convert your dollars into yen at an outrageous exchange rate. Feel free to check out the rest of the EGG MUSIC catalogue while you’re at it; they have some pretty awesome stuff.

[Special thanks to Brandon Robison for translating the track titles]

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