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Dizzying Heights: Gravity Rush OST (Review)

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If you own a PS Vita, lucky you! The game that looks to be this summer’s “killer app” is out, and you should be playing it. It’s called Gravity Rush, though its original Japanese title is Gravity Daze. I don’t own a Vita (yet), so I’m unable to play it.

However, I do have basic audio peripherals and ears, so I was able to fully experience the game’s soundtrack, by veteran composer Kouhei Tanaka (also spelled Kohei, the debate is never-ending). If you don’t know that name, then I recommend you spend the $6 to download a lovely little game called Alundra, or grab Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (wii, PS2), or even Resonance of Fate for PS3/360 (though on that, note that Tanaka writes the scene music, Sakuraba is on for battles!).

I’m a huge Kouhei Tanaka fan; I’ve loved him since the first day I played Alundra and took in some of his brilliant music. After the jump, my thoughts on the soundtrack for Gravity Rush! And yes, the usual suspects (CDJapan, Play-Asia) all stock it.

Let’s start at the place that Maria von Trapp said was “a very good place to start.” The intro track, “Discovery of Gravitation,” is this brilliant, soaring orchestra-pop track that highlights two key motifs in the game. One of theme I would simply call the “main theme” of the game, and you hear it in the string ensemble and the accordion in the first minute. In the second minute, the music transitions to an instrumental version of the game’s closing theme “Douse Shinundakara” (which is apparently in the form of pseudo-French nonsense lyrics). This opening sets the tone perfectly, and it really highlights one of Tanaka-san’s key strengths: a good, strong melody, and knowing how to appropriately layer “everything else” under that melody.

After that, we are thrown into the immediate tension and conflict of the game’s opening minutes. “Omen” and “Gravity Storm” are not at all subtle in their conveying looming, and then actual, disaster! The quality and tone of this music reminds me of some of the battle music from Sakura Wars 3 (which, appropriately enough, took place in Paris, marrying up to the pseudo-French of this game somewhat nicely!).

Rounding out the grand slam of emotionally evocative music is “Sorrow,” and — well, if you’ve been playing games as long as I have, you can probably guess how this one sounds. The instruments here are cello, oboe, piano and harp. I desperately wish I could coordinate those four instruments in a way that something beautiful is produced. Tanaka does it with relative ease, and creates something that reminds me of the prologue music from Wild Arms.

In fact, some of those live instruments are wait make this soundtrack shine. Precious little in this soundtrack is synthesized or sequenced in any way. After the main theme appears in the title track GRAVITY DAZE, we hear the piano some beautiful pizzicato strings in the tracks “Old Town” and “Passing Moment.” So far, so good. Everything is beautiful and alive. And after one tense battle track, “Resistance and Extermination,” we get back to the beauty and whimsy of life with the cleverly-titled track GRAVITY DAYS.

And after the first 10 tracks or so, things begin to move away from non-stop awesome to “well, we needed some scene-specific stuff that might not work so well outside the context of the game.” While still impressive achievements, tracks like “Yumemi Salon” (extremely Asian-ethnic, lots of quarter-pitch bends) and “Gravity Crow” (colorful orchestral rock) don’t quite do it for me like the opening set of tracks. To be sure, there are other tracks on the first disc that move me in the way those opening tracks did: “Ruined Paths” and “Ease” are among the best on the album. Oh, and “Fascinating Paths,” the closing track for the first disc? So much Alundra dungeon stuff going on there, it’s almost like Tanaka is referencing himself. That little circus-ish breakdown sounds almost identical to the crazy build/breakdown from the song “Nightmare.”

Moving right along to disc two … well, things really start to fizzle out. There are a few stand-out tracks, like the opener “Downtown” (more European/provincial stuff, especially with the lovely oboe and accordion parts). But for all the goodness we find in that track, there’s a whole bunch of ambient filler-noise further to come. And then, even with a good track like “Assault Cnida,” we find it’s little more than a restating of the original battle theme with some touch-ups here and there.

Alright, now let’s talk more about this ending song, “Douse Shinundakara.” Performed by Masako Toda, this is a fantastic big-band jazz track that will really get stuck in your head. It’s using a somewhat common chord progression (more a descent than anything) for the A section, and then there’s great build-up B section that I can’t quite figure out how to play on my own, but suffice it to say, it’s a pretty sweet chord progression. The jazz trap set keeps the band moving, and Toda-san does a great job making the song sound French without singing any actual French words. Love it.

In the end? I’m both inspired and let down by this album. It isn’t as consistently impressive as Alundra or Sakura Wars, but it has a few tracks that rise above the quality of those previous games, and certainly far above other projects like Granstream Saga and Resonance of Fate. The main themes, the town music, and any intentionally “emotional” track on this album are worthy of praise. The rest, I can do without. Condense the full two discs into about 30 minutes of nothing but the best, and move on my friend.

But then, I haven’t heard any of this music in-context. So, if you’re playing Gravity Rush, do let us know what you think of the game and how the music fits with it! If you want to import this soundtrack, it was published by Team Entertainment (catalog # KDSD-00541~2) in March of this year.

Purchase: CDJapan | Play-Asia

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