Game Music, Reviews

Feel The Power of the Force… Again! The Force Unleashed II (Review)

January 3, 2011 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Feel The Power of the Force… Again! The Force Unleashed II (Review)on Twitter

The Star Wars franchise has its own soundscape. Everyone knows it. Everyone recognizes it. And whether it’s John Williams doing the score or someone else, the style remains remarkably consistent. It’s like a branding initiative in musical form.

For games in the franchise, one of the key names to watch for is Mark Griskey. This guy got his professional start with LucasArts doing primarily Star Wars titles, including Knights of the Old Republic II. In 2005, he went freelance and began to do work for many game-based adaptations of films (including the Narnia games and Pirates of the Caribbean). His freelance status did not strain his relationship with LucasArts, however. He went on to do the score for the 2008 hit title Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a new game featuring a Sith apprentice to Darth Vader. The game received mix reviews, though generally positive. Its music was praised by the likes of… well, us. Sadly, a retail soundtrack was never made, but we were well-impressed with Griskey’s score.

Now, the sequel is out, and we have nine tracks’ worth of audio on our hands to discuss the merits of The Forced Unleashed II‘s soundtrack. This digital-only soundtrack was released as a sort of promotional bonus with the game, just as it was with the previous title. But we want you to know about the quality of the soundtrack. With any luck, Griskey’s soundtrack for the upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic (developed by BioWare) will get a full-scale retail release, perhaps as a printed CD.

But enough about publishing, or the lack thereof. After the jump, you’ll get my impressions of Griskey’s latest Star Wars videogame score.

Listening to this soundtrack is like taking an aural tour of the Star Wars universe. In the music, we hear the ever-menacing imperial march. We hear the frightful and intriguing sounds one would expect to hear in such exotic locales as Kamino or The Hanging City. In one track, the minoric “Binary Sunset” theme makes a subtle appearance. In fact, if there’s one thing I’ll credit Griskey with, it’s his ability to combine new themes with short allusions to Williams’ original motifs.

Though only nine tracks, each track is sufficiently lengthy. This is no mere EP (by technical definition, that is; the set of music runs well over the 40 minute mark). A cursory look at the track times may make you think “this music may well bore me.” On the contrary, these lengthy tracks turn out to be sufficiently developed. Though a few sections may suffer from overly long “droning” sections, for the most part the music is long so that it can go somewhere. You are going on an adventure when listening to this.

Earlier I spoke of the Star Wars musical style. You know what I’m talking about: punctuated, rhythmic melodies with the high brass; wild, fluttering winds and auxiliary percussion (such as wind chimes); wind and strings sharing the lead for slower, more emotional songs. But yes, for the most part, brass takes center stage in Star Wars. And I’m fine with that. Trumpets, trombones, baritones and tubas are instruments that some modern composers just don’t seem to know how to use to great effect. Griskey follows in Williams’ stead by letting the brass belt out some powerful musical ideas.

One of my favorite tracks on the album, however, is of the slow-and-emotional variety. The final track, “The Reunion of Juno and Starkiller,” is beautiful. Sadly, even at 4 minutes, I am saddened that its motif is not sufficiently developed. I want more, but I don’t get it. Hopefully this is a theme that Griskey can develop more in the future.

In general, I must say that I’m satisfied with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II from a musical perspective. Though I flounder on whether it is superior to the first score (grossly under-appreciated by Western VGM followers, in my opinion), it is my contention and declaration that this is a worthy addition to the Star Wars musical library. The soundtrack also serves as a steadfast reminder that Griskey is more than adequate as a composer: the new generation of Star Wars media is in good hands as long as he’s around.

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