Game Music, Reviews

Tales of Knighthood: Sonic and the Black Knight Original Soundtrax (Review)

May 6, 2009 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Tales of Knighthood: Sonic and the Black Knight Original Soundtrax (Review)on Twitter

When I first heard about Sonic and the Black Knight, I thought it sounded like a questionable idea at best. It seems that many critics agreed with these first impression after the game was released, but I still had high hopes for the soundtrack. Composed by a large team of composers including series giants and newcomers alike, it definitely looked promising.

So, how about Jun Senoue, Tommy Tallarico, Richard Jacques, Howard Drossin, Yutaka Minobe, Hikaru Tanimoto, and a slew of performers on bass, guitar, drums, strings, violin, hurdy gurdy, and other instruments? Not quite as many composers as featured on the Sonic World Adventure soundtrack from earlier this year, but this one definitely gets some bonus points for the variety of talent alone. I hope you like rock music, because that’s what you’re going to get alongside some great orchestral music.

Find out if the Sonic and the Black Knight soundtrack is worth your time after the jump.

First of all, wow, such a large team of composers from the East and West. This is impressive in itself, and the music here is worthy of each of their reputations. One thing you’ll notice, however, is that while the stage tracks are awesome and come in at decent lengths, many of the “in-between” and cinematic cues are just way too short! You’ll wish they were longer.

The opening track is a vocal theme by Crush 40 titled “Knight of the Wind.” It appears in many forms throughout the album. It sounds like it’s going for a Megadeth-like sound with some gruff vocals that are usually over the top in content, but that’s expected for a Sonic title. It’s a cool track, but I don’t know if I’d bump it in my car with the windows down is all I’m saying.

Moving on, Richard Jacques’s “Black Sword in the Sky” and “Into the Story of King Arthur” are pure fantasy music, and sound pretty convincing despite the lack of a live string section. They really set the scene for an epic fantasy adventure. Jacques appears as an arranger throughout the rest of the album, and his expertise with the Western orchestral sound definitely gives a boost to many of the pieces he contributes to. He also appears later with his own stage theme, “Shrouded Forest” which combines some killer string progressions with electronic percussion. It’s an interesting piece to find among the large number of rock tracks on the album, but it definitely fits.

The main menu track, “The Ash Grove – Main Menu” features Hikaru Tanimoto on acoustic guitar and some live hurdy gurdy from Yoshihiro Tsukahara. It sounds almost lullaby-esque, and also goes a long way into setting the mood for the game. Tanimoto’s guitar appears throughout most of the menu and system screen tracks, and is a great addition. I particularly enjoyed his upbeat and minimalistic approach to “Option” and his mesmerizing collaboration with violinist Yusaku Tsuchiya on “Ranking.”

The stage music is the main attract here.  “Misty Lake” is an amazingly catchy rock track by Jun Senoue that does the trick without the use of cheesy vocals. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Yutaka Minobe is next with “Deep Woods,” a laid back action track with energetic percussion that moves the piece forward while lazy acoustic guitar chords and a xylophone backing create a magical soundscape fitting of Sonic’s quest. Jun Senoue returns with “Titanic Plain,” featuring a powerful electric guitar melody that is accented by brass stabs, slap bass, and a light orchestral backing. “Knights Passage” on the other hand prominently features the orchestra with strings and brass sections carrying the fast-paced melody while slap bass and drums provide a solid rock foundation.

“Camelot Castle” is a rockin’ track with live guitars, bass, drums, and violin alongside programmed elements from Jun Senoue. The combination of live and programmed elements may sound out of place for the castle of King Arthur, but it actually works to give the piece a sense of urgency. There’s even a sort of country western twang thrown into the middle of the piece with acoustic guitar before it gets back to the grind.

On to Howard Drossin’s contributions. “Crystal Cave” is your typical rock tune, but there’s an amazing buildup with string stabs and the choir that really hits the spot. The piece has a great sense of atmosphere, and lends a feeling of “doom” to the mix. His next piece, “Dragon’s Lair,” is as heavy as it gets with chugging guitars, thunderous percussion, and an awesome chorus section with trailing guitar melodies.

Tommy Tallarico’s opening track is “Molten Mine.” It features wailing guitars and everything you’d expect from a rock tune, but the chorus section injects a Spanish flair with rapid acoutisc guitar notes that were rather unexpected. “Great Megalith” has sort of pirate-y theme with its deliberate swagger and harty percussive backing. “The Cauldron” is probably my favorite Tallarico piece on the album, with steady string stabs that guide the electric guitar melody, funky slap bass segments, and even foreboding bell tolls that create one of the most epic moments on the entire soundtrack.

Regarding those short in-between cues, Naofumi Hataya makes an appearance by arranging a track from the original Sonic Adventure with “I’m the Blacksmith.” Arranger Heigo Tani tackles a track from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle in “Sir Lancelot Appears,” coming in as one of the most electronic tracks on the album with its gutteral synth progressions. I was cracking up when “Sir Gawain Appears” started playing, as it’s an arrangement of this Sonic Adventure track that I just can’t quite remember. I do know that the vocal album featured Knuckles singing, “My name is Knuckles, unlike Sonic I don’t chuckle. I’d rather flex my muscles.” I always found that vocal arrangement to be funny, so it’s cool to see it here. Senoue’s “Faraway Avalon” mixes American rock elements with a distnctly Asian-sounding string melody, while Kazuto Baba on guitar and Yusaku Tsuchiya on violin team up on “Blacksmith,” a beautiful acoustic rendition of a theme from Sonic Adventure.

The last track on the album is “Knight of the Wind -Acoustic Ver.-,” with guitar by Hikaru Tanimoto, violin by Yusaku Tsuchiya and flute by Lisa Lisa. The small ensemble vibe is reminiscent of the Etrian Odyssey piano and strings album, and is the definitive version of the track in my mind.

As far the packaging is concerned, it matches the quality of the music. The first printing comes with a cardboard sleeve housing the soundtrack and a spacer for your Face to Faith: Sonic and the Black Knight Vocal Trax album if you choose to pick it up. There’s also a full-length obi that covers the cover, back, and spine, and the booklet itself has extensive composer/arranger/performer credits and provides comments by each composer in English as well as Japanese. Pretty sweet!

I’m thoroghly impressed with this album. It’s great to see such an expansive collaboration between Japan and the West, and it’s all thanks to sound director Jun Senoue. I hope we see more projects like this in the future. I also dig the fact that they separated out the vocal themes into a separate album as some of the older Sonic albums were just too much for me with their over-the-top vocal productions. I recommend checking this album out if you’re into rock music or are curious about how this collaboration turned out, as it’s definitely worth your consideration. It’s currently available at CD Japan and Play Asia.

Did you happen to play Sonic the the Black Knight and have any thoughts about how the music worked in-game? Are you one of those fans that will pick up a Sonic soundtrack regardless of how bad the game was?

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