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Game Music

Mind Games, Love Games, Card Games: Culdcept DS OST (Review)

Mind Games, Love Games, Card Games: Culdcept DS OST (Review)

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Are you familiar with the Culdcept franchise? It’s a turn-based strategy title that takes place on a pre-pathed grid (aka a “game board” layout) and involves decks of cards and other standard board-game accoutrements; except it’s packaged in a videogame format.

Are you familiar with the *music* to the Culdcept franchise? Because it’s kind of awesome. Kenji Ito’s score for Culdcept II remains, in my opinion, one of his best works (Jayson’s opinion found here). But the very first Culdcept, released for Saturn and PlayStation many moons ago, had a soundtrack co-composed by the venerable Yuzo Koshiro and the lesser-known Takeshi Yanagawa (a colleague of Koshiro’s who worked with him on Shenmue and other projects).

That original game was remade for the Nintendo DS in 2008. 5pb.Records published a three disc soundtrack (VGCD-0148) for the DS remake; two discs of music designed specifically for the DS (with help from JOE DOWN Studio), and a third disc of music as it was originally designed for the PS/Saturn version. In other words, it’s two soundtracks in one! Hence the album’s full title: Culdcept DS Original Soundtrack Deluxe.

We’ll help you wade through the version differences, and make a final judgment call on whether or not you should go “Deluxe,” after the jump.

Working in reverse order, let’s start with that 32-bit era soundtrack on disc three. Personally, this is my favorite of the three discs on the soundtrack. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and while that is a lot of music packed into one disc, I think many people who like Koshiro’s other works will enjoy this disc. It isn’t as groundbreaking as, say, Actraiser, and it’s not as diverse as, say, the Etrian Odyssey, but it’s a strong body of work. All the things we’ve come to appreciate in the old/golden days of VGM can be found, in a strong synthesized form, in that one disc.

The two disc DS soundtrack, which is the main dish of the three disc package, does indeed suffer from that tinny, grainy DS synth sound. And that’s about guaranteed to frustrate many listeners, including this one. And that’s where the “love games” come in. I want to love this soundtrack, because I love Koshiro’s work, and in many cases I love the melody. But that DS sound compression kills it for me on so many of the individual pieces that, collectively, I’m tempted to condemn it.

But then there are moments on discs one and two where the sound compression isn’t at all discernible and you’re listening to something that is on par with, perhaps even better than, the music on disc three. There are also some newly-written (or newly-appearing) tracks on the DS side, so that’s a bonus too. And here are the “mind games.” I’m listening to the DS stuff, thinking “I’m not going to be able to get through it,” and then something jumps out and blows my mind. The opening track of disc two, for example. Yes, the compression artifacts are definitely there, but the compositional style (very impressionist, i.e. very Hamauzu-like) washes away the pain of the DS sound source. And immediately, everything is okay. “Perhaps I’m writing this one off too quickly, or too thoroughly,” I say to myself. “There is something to love here.”

A few tracks later, I’ve switched my opinion again and am frustrated with what I’m hearing. Mind games, check. Love games, check. Card games, double check.

I’m sorry that I cannot lay down a simple “avoid” or “buy” for this one. I will say this: if you can find the old print of the original Culdcept soundtrack from the ’90s, and for a cheaper price than the three disc set, *that* is what you want to have. The “DELUXE” soundtrack suffers, not from the bonus material, but because the DS soundtrack itself is a mixed bag: mostly mediocre, a couple absolutely irritating, and a couple big “wow!” moments. It’s safe to say, I think, that this is the worst of the Culdcept soundtracks because of the sound source and synth compression methods alone.

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