Game Music, Reviews

Demon’s Souls: As Relentless as it is Innovative (Review)

November 18, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Demon’s Souls: As Relentless as it is Innovative (Review)on Twitter

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of this year in the world of video games was Atlus’ action RPG, Demon’s Souls. Released in early October in the US, this game had little to no advertising and is dubbed the spiritual successor to the King’s Field. Quite possibly the most difficult game of this console generation, Demon’s Souls is a punishing yet amazingly innovative experience.

I have logged about ten hours of play and am yet to beat the second level (out of five). Many reviewers were unable to give Demon’s Souls a score as they could not finish the game! Thankfully, the soundtrack doesn’t quite boast the same difficulty. Shunsuke Kida, a relatively unknown composer, took the reins and pumped out a full soundtrack with orchestra and chorus. But, is it as innovative as the game itself? How can one score a game effectively when the player is replaying the same level for hours on end? Click the jump to find out!

Recently at OSV, we have been hearing many voice their concerns over the “lack of character” in so many game scores. Many blame the gaming industry’s shift to be modeled more after the film industry in its presentation and, thusly, its scores. Even if this is indeed the case and the reasons for this phenomenon are the very ones we speculate them to be, Demon’s Souls tears through all of this banter with the same relentlessness with which it punishes its players. In short, Demon’s Souls is not only the biggest surprise video game of the year, it’s one of the biggest surprise video game soundtracks as well.

Using a slightly reduced orchestra, probably no more than eight voices, and no effects, Kida weaves together a series of musical ideas so full of fury and character that we can be sure his name will come up again very soon. From the opening track, Demon’s Souls, we hear his bizarre blend of baroque and classical with an almost European horror film feel. It is a soundtrack that is as understated and effective as the game itself.

“The Beginning” sounds as though it could be the opening to a Handel aria both in its orchestration and its harmonic inclinations. But before we can start doing out impression of Giulio Cesare, newer and more dissonant harmonies take over; a very interesting piece. The best of the bunch is “Tower Knight” which features some of the small number of voices I wrote about earlier. A crazy blending of percussion, strings, and brass combining to an intense, incredibly stylized action track that simply kicks so much ass.

Demon’s Souls OST walks a very tight rope. Out of context, the score can appear almost comical. Whereas a regular orchestra might have several violins and brass, this orchestra clearly does not. It has only a couple of each instrument playing as loudly as they possibly can. One can imagine that this creates a very different effect. Similarly, there is no huge choir to instantly give the tracks an epic feel – it is a few voices wailing. As opposed to the wall of sound a full choir gives, hearing a few voices might appear to some to sound a bit silly. Because I came to the music within the context of the game, I feel it gives the soundtrack an immediate intensity and sense of desperation – not unlike one feels whilst playing Demon’s Souls. But, even as a campy or ironic work, the soundtrack here works just the same and is still full of interesting, different, and wholly unique harmonic and thematic sensibilities. Depending on the context, the soundtrack to Demon’s Souls will either be viewed as too over the top for its own good or damned perfect for the game it scores.

To the nay-sayers of gaming music, to those who say game scores have grown too derivative of film and indistinguishable from one to the next, I proudly present Demon’s Souls. Shunsuke Kida has jumped out from the darkness and slayed us with his unusual aesthetic combined with a fundamental, classical punch. Like the game’s levels, I will be happily be playing these tracks again and again.

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