Game Music, Reviews

Candy for the Skull: Skullgirls OST (Review)

April 27, 2012 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Candy for the Skull: Skullgirls OST (Review)on Twitter

Around the time of PAX East 2011, I was introduced to an interesting 2D fighting game being shown on the Expo Hall floors known as Skullgirls. Being an avid lover of 2D, hand-drawn animation and of fighting games in general, I took an interest, learning it would be released as a Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade game sometime within the next year.

It wasn’t until I learned that Michiru Yamane, famed for her works in the Castlevania franchise where I first drew my love of her, was I truly hooked on making this game both a playing priority, and more importantly keeping in on the top rungs of my need-to-listen checklist. Thusly, I set out to indulge myself in a old friend’s musical exploits with Skullgirls.

Find out if the music filled my hollow skull after the jump!

Yamane, whose career was largely defined by her hand in several modern Castlevania games starting with Bloodlines all the way through the Nintendo DS titles, left Konami in 2008 . After parting ways with Konami for undisclosed reasons, she moved on to contribute to Cave’s iPhone game Mushihimesama Bug Panic. Then, on April 17th of 2011, Reverge Labs announced that Yamane would be doing the soundtrack for Skullgirls, making them the exceeding rare case of a western developer hiring a Japanese composer. Yamane worked with Reverge through the process of completing the game, rather than waiting for it to be completed and adding the music at the end, and choose music that fit each theme of the stage, whilst also adhering to the stipulations the developer put down for an overall mood for the game. The result was a soundtrack with jazzy beats and dark, moody undertones that’s ripe with subtle hints of Yamane’s previous Castlevania works, whilst also providing something new and refreshing.

Yamane was not the only one providing tracks to the entire soundtrack, however. Skullgirls audio director Vincent Diamante (who’s works include composing for several Konami mobile games including Castlevania: Order of Shadows and Flower for the PS3) also worked several tracks to the game’s OST.  Muscians and arrangers Brenton Kossak and Blaine McGurty also provide backups for select tracks as well.

The soundtrack opens with a combination between Diamante and Yamane, with “Echoes” starting things off with a toned down, subtle iteration of the following title opening theme “Legend of the Skull Heart”, which proves to be a fitting main theme for the game overall with very dramatic and gothic melody that’s made somber to begin with it’s chilling vocal accompaniment. This is the beginning of the first half of the overall reaching tone of the game – both eerie and thrilling whilst also being jazzy and upbeat. Kossak and McGurty provide that jazzy beat with “Pedestrians Crossing” (Main Menu) and “Pick of the Litter” (Character Select), the former of which demonstrates the very bassy sounds that will be prevalent throughout much of the soundtrack and the latter mixing in a good portion of electronic and piano work that helps diversify everything.

The meat of the game’s music starts with “Moonlit Melee,” (the theme of the New Meridia stage) with snappy piano and trumpet beats that at first seem out of place in a fighting game as bizarre as Skullgirls. However, once you start imagining busty cartoon femme fatales jumping around and kicking each other in the face, the strangeness washes away and the tune begins to work. “The Seat of Power” (New Medici Tower Stage) also exemplifies the use of this lively tone to counteract the fact you’re beating the crap out of other characters.  However, if jazzy isn’t what you might be looking for exclusively in this soundtrack, Yamane also brings some of her flare from her time working on Castlevania to the table, starting with “The Fish Man’s Dance” (Little Innsmouth Stage) – a tune that seems like a blend of her work on Lament of Innocence and Portrait of Ruin respectively with it’s chime, off-key string work  and choir that make you feel like walking through a dark back alley of the Canopy Kingdom.

Diamante shows off his powers with horn work and snazzy beats with his work on the short interlude “Shenanigans and Goings” (Interesting News Theme) and the longer “Forgotten Memories” (Oh Hot Damn), the latter really getting you into a mellow mood and being a nice intermission to the constant fighting that you’ve come to expect from the game, making it unique. Take a breather. It’s ok.

Probably one of my favorite themes of the entire soundtrack has to be “Paved with Good Intentions” (Anti-Skullgirl Labs Theme), and this really shows my love of Yamane’s past works with Castlevania, because tune sounds straight out of Order of Ecclesia with some some tones of her work with Curse of Darkness and Dawn of Sorrow. ( Yes, my Castlevania geek is showing prominently here) The electronic synths and bell work deployed with this tune really ramp up that other half of the game’s theme I mentioned before – the chilling darker half that pumps you up to go kick some undead, err, evil butt. “Dirge of the Divine Trinity” (Grand Cathedral Theme) is also very reminiscent of Yamane’s past works, especially with the organ music that she employs., with a generous helping of guitar and choir work meshed in to create a delightfully haunting melody.

The soundtrack comes to a head with “Skull Heart Arrhythmia” (Final Boss Theme), which uses the main theme of the game to it’s intended full extend, with faster paced rhythm and tempo which really drives home the fact that you’re destination has finally been reached and you better be prepared. Diamante leads up to this with “Her Power Revealed,” while Yamane provides the fuel for this final battle tune, complete with a mix of beautiful strings and haunting vocals that were present before. My only complaint would be that the vocals could have used to be slightly more powerful in their use, though this very well could have overpowered the rest of the piece so it’s a minor gripe at best. The piece still adds up to being effective in it’s execution.

Diamante helps tie up the finality of the soundtrack with “Daybreak” (After Battle Theme), whose simple flutes and guitar provide a breath of relief after a hard battle, as well as “Return to Normalcy” (Story End) with catchy piano and drum beats that bring your spirits back from the edge of melancholy. “In a Moment’s Time” is seems like Yamane’s much better attempt at “I Am the Wind” from Symphony of the Night (editor’s note: that particular vocal track from SotN was not penned by Yamane), with the seemingly out-of-place rhythm and tone being more at home with this game considering the sometimes contradicting melodies the game is rife with. The soundtrack even sports a Japanese version with “Hitomi no Kioku.”

Overall, Skullgirls sports a very solid soundtrack that is worth the under $10 it’s priced at. Considering how unsurprising this is given the incredible talent it boosts in terms of composers contributing to it, there really is no reason not to go out and grab a copy for yourself and support these small games with big heart. SKULLheart, that is. (Yes, I went there.)

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