Game Music, Reviews

Easily the Best of East and West With Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Review)

December 4, 2008 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Easily the Best of East and West With Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Review)on Twitter

Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s here. Performed by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra (and other musicians) from Australia, the fully arranged album for Blizzard’s top-selling franchises finally comes to eager fans. And I am one of those eager fans.

Whether you choose to go with the bare-bones standard edition or the “all the bells and whistles attached” legendary edition, you are in for quite a treat. We’ve told you about Echoes of War before, and brought you director Hiroaki Yura’s comments, but now it’s time for a full, comprehensive review.

After the jump, you can read about the guest arrangers, the song selections, the frills that come with the legendary edition, and the excellence of the performances found on this two disc set.

Three franchises are covered in this arranged album: Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo. For the first, Warcraft III and World of Warcraft (including its expansions) are represented. For StarCraft, the original game is represented alongside two bonus tracks; first is a track from the never-released “StarCraft: Ghost” and the other is a medley from the upcoming StarCraft II. Finally, the most interesting section in terms of arrangement, the “Diablo” series includes tracks from Diablo II, the as-yet-unreleased Diablo III, and some “image” themes written exclusively for this set.

Let’s talk about those Diablo tracks first. The last two tracks of the two-disc album are arranged by Kow Otani. Does the name sound familiar? It should. Otani composed the music for the amazing Shadow of the Colossus. For this project, Otani volunteered to compose an “image” theme for the Diablo series and arrange the vocal track “Last Angel.” Both of these songs are strange, ethereal, powerful, and they work well to convey the mood of the Diablo‘s fantasy world.

The other tracks from the Diablo portion are compositions by Matt Uelmen for Diablo II (disc 2 track 6) and Russel Brower for Diablo III (disc 2 track 7). Guest arranger Hironori Osone worked on the latter, and the former was arranged by Natsumi Kameoka (who arranged the majority of the tracks in this collection). Both arrangements are fantastic. I was never a big fan of the original compositions, but I can stand behind these arrangements and declare that they are of the highest quality.

The first half of disc two is the StarCraft portion. And there is some special stuff on here, to be sure. The first three tracks are specific themes for the three races of StarCraft: Terran, Zerg, and Protos. The last of these three themes is arranged by special guest Go Shiina (whom VGM fans might recognize from Tales of Legendia’s OST). Again, I was never sold on the music for StarCraft, but these arrangements are “stellar” (pun intended). Shiina’s arrangement is the least classical of any track across the two disc set. The violin’s melody sounds, at times, like an angsty pop-rock song. At other times, it imitates a variety of 20th-century styles and techniques. I’d love to hear more music like this arranged by Go Shiina. And Russell Brower’s overture piece for StarCraft II? The very fact that it’s music for a game that’s not out yet ought to pique your interest, as it did mine. This piece was the most film-score-esque of all the pieces on disc two. It will suit the game well, I’m sure. I hope they use the Eminence version in-game.

As for disc one? It’s Warcraft. What more do you need to know? I’ve always enjoyed this music, even in its original synth orchestra format. But Eminence makes the music sound even better. The composition team for these games (Jason Hayes, Tracy Bush, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford) should all take this album as a hefty compliment. Indeed, all of Blizzard is likely tickled pink by the existence of this disc. Involvement from an Australian orchestra and Japanese arrangers proves that Blizzard’s biggest franchise is a worldwide phenomenon. The only thing this disc lacks is music from the first two Warcraft titles. Though, technically, some themes from Warcraft II appear in Warcraft III, I still would have liked more music from the early Warcraft titles on this disc.

But if you spring for the “Legendary Edition,” the music is only one half of the fun. You’re in for a visual treat with all the frills provided.

First, there’s a DVD with over an hour of footage. Most of this DVD is a “making of” disc, where you see the Eminence Group in action. There’s also a special segment on Kow Otani’s original work for Diablo “image” tracks, and a photo gallery set to music. If you’re just as interested in what Eminence is, and who they are, as you are in the music of Blizzard, then you’ll want this DVD.

Then, there’s a massive full-color booklet complete with a ton of information. It opens top-to-bottom instead of left-to-right, and it’s ultra-wide (to fit inside the strangely-shaped box). The first thing you’ll find in the book are artist biographies. These biographies were written by OSV’s own Jayson Napolitano. You’ll learn about the composers, the arrangers, the performers, and more.

Also inside the booklet is the “Perspective From An Uncultured Swine” featurette. Written by Nick Kolan, this massive piece of writing is a diary-style series of entries regarding the arranging and recording of this fantastic music. It’s a great, humorous read that will almost certainly endear itself to Blizzard fans.

Finally, the Legendary Edition also includes 9 full-color glossy, stock-card art pieces that are the same dimensions as the box. Though I still feel uneasy about the awkwardness of the size, these images would be great to hang up, side-by-side, on your bedroom wall. They could also be framed individually.

In my mind, the question isn’t “should I pick up this album?” The question should be “do I have the money to spring for Legendary Edition, or should I stick with Standard?” Because if you like game music at all, this is a necessary addition to your collection; even if it’s your very first album, it’s worth it. I’ve heard other songs from Eminence (they’ve performed a few themes for Sakimoto’s work in the last year or two), and this is easily the best thing they’ve ever recorded. The guest arrangers also make this album a unique merging of East and West, something we rarely see in the realm of game music. It’s my firm belief that Eminence deserves our support, if only because they could probably repeat this success with any game developer/publisher that cares to cooperate… and I’d love to see more of this stuff for other franchises.

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