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A Feast of Delights: Squids Wild West OST (Review)

September 10, 2012 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook A Feast of Delights: Squids Wild West OST (Review)on Twitter

Released in the tail end of 2011, and reviewed by us in early 2012, Romain Gauthier’s soundtrack to the iOS title SQUIDS (now also available on PC) was a wonderful and surprising soundtrack. I was really taken aback by this soundtrack.

Development studio “The Game Bakers” sought to follow up on the success of their first game, and now a sequel is out: Squids Wild West. Right now, the soundtrack for said game is available exclusively through the iGMB. At a later point in time, the album will have a separate release on bandcamp.

The Squids Wild West soundtrack is twice as big as its predecessor, and twice as wonderful to boot. I’m really excited about this. Watch as my excitement spills over in the remaining paragraphs (after the jump!).

When I think of JRPGs with “old west” themes, two composers come to mind: Michiko Naruke (Wild Arms) and Kouhei Tanaka (Sakura Wars V Episode 0). Sure, there are plenty others, but this is my personal experience.

I think that, while living in the land of the rising sun, Mr. Gauthier channeled these composers. It was evident in the first SQUIDS and even in his older work (like the EDGE soundtrack) that Mr. Gauthier’s composing style was very much in the style of JRPG synth orchestra. But living in Japan this past year must have given him an extra boost of inspiration, or perhaps a boost of courage. Because he went all out for this release, and he hit all the right notes in all the right ways.

Take note: I’m not calling this an imitation of the previous composers. This is inspired by, but also quite new and quite beautiful. Squids Wild West starts grandiose with the opening tracks, then gets right into the heart of the matter with some emotionally evocative “Western” themes. The heavy use of string ensemble and higher-pitch brass really brings a warmth and smoothness to this soundtrack. It’s down ‘n’ dirty, but it’s never sparse or crunchy like, say, the Bastion soundtrack. There’s a “wetness” to the sound throughout. Makes sense, given the subject matter.

There’s this beautiful track right in the middle of the album entitled “What It’s About.” Holy crap, this song is perfect. It’s soft and beautiful, it’s like “Aquatic Ambiance” from Donkey Kong Country meets Kouhei Tanaka’s soundtrack for Alundra. Those orchestra bells … absolute bliss.

Then there’s the album’s big finale. The last 3 tracks are epic as can be. Track 16, “The Lost and the Damned,” serves as the final area / battle music, and it’s one of the longest tracks on the album (just shy of 5 minutes). For this one, Gauthier reintroduces and elaborates upon the themes introduced earlier in the soundtrack, and builds new and wonderful stuff atop that. The melody continues to duck and weave through all the decoration of the orchestra and the choir, making short appearances as if to say, “here I am, but I gotta go, something wicked this way comes!” There’s just so much action in this piece of music; The Game Bakers are lucky folks to have gotten this kind of talent on their game. I love this song more than words can express.

After the song ends, there’s this short but absolutely necessary transition track, aptly titled “Fade to Black.” It’s eerie at first, but then it cuts straight to the listener’s heart with those evocative strings. Simple, emotional, and with a nice resolution at the end, “Fade to Black” serves as a textbook example of how to do effective film score for an emotional scene.

Then we get the title track right at the end, “Squids Wild West.” This is a fun and wonderful romp through the underwater version of “old west,” with squids happily celebrating their freedom and their carefree lifestyle. Banjo, guitar, and harmonica play lead roles in this track, but they’re not alone. A beautiful woodwind-esque synth lead and, finally, the string ensemble from past tracks, join in for the fun. A perfect ending to a perfect soundtrack.

Perhaps most important about this soundtrack is that it has so much substance. The SQUIDS soundtrack was great, but it was short. It was like a musical appetizer, a foretaste of what’s to come. Well boys and girls, this is the entree. A carefully planned, masterfully cooked seafood dinner. And yes, I know some of you don’t like seafood. But, you find, you like this anyway. Let “seafood” stand in for “adventurous JRPG soundtracks” and the metaphor works. Trust me.

This one’s on my shortlist. When the year ends and I’m forced to reflect on the best of 2012, you sure as hell can expect this to win something. More VGM composers need to sit up and pay attention to this Romain Gauthier chap: he’s doing something brilliant, and more games need soundtracks like these to spark our imaginations and build emotional connections with the games we love. Keep fighting the good fight, Romain. This is your best work yet.

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