Game Music, Reviews

Old Is New Again: Cardinal Quest OST (Review)

June 2, 2012 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Old Is New Again: Cardinal Quest OST (Review)on Twitter

Editor’s Note: OSV is pleased to welcome Kevin Leung as a contributing editor. Kevin is a game industry veteran with a passion for good game music. We’re happy to have him on the team!

Picture this: the year is 1988, Ninja Turtle fever is at an all time high, and you’re nearly finished loading the arcade smash Gauntlet onto your home computer. Before you actually get to play, the game challenges you with, shall we call it, the DRM of gaming yesteryear: enter the seventh word of the third sentence of the first paragraph on the fifth page of the instruction manual. Please.

As you flip through pages, the computer tugs at your ear with a looping MIDI track, casting you in the role of some powerful magician who combs his dusty tome.

If this sounds like the kind of music you grew up to and something you typically pipe through your MP3 player on your way to work, you might appreciate this blast from the future past in the form of the Cardinal Quest Original Soundtrack, part of this month’s look at Indie Game Music Bundle 3.

More after the jump.

I always have the utmost respect for artists who write synthesized music for a living. Mostly because I can’t do it myself but also because a skilled artist knows when to make his or her compositions ‘sing’ with strong melody and bass lines. It’s a medium of expression that can sound both futuristic and retro at the same time, and that’s exactly what we get in last year’s indie rogue-like dungeon-crawler, Cardinal Quest.

Composer Whitaker Blackall has thrown together a digital Halloween bag of musical treats. Not only do you get songs from the game but an assortment of remixes and cover arrangements as well, one of which was handled by chiptune hero Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland of FEZ fame.

With the Cardinal Quest score, Blackall siphoned some of the darkest, spookiest adventure sounds from your childhood, blended them with a splash of beats, and ran the whole thing through the sound chips of that NES or Genesis still lying in your basement. Sound textures are kept light but always demonstrating a certain air of Dungeons & Dragons gravitas.

‘The Quest Begins’ conjures up memories of seminal action masterpiece Golden Axe while ‘An Arduous Undertaking’ would feel right at home in a glorious 16-bit rendition of Castlevania. Later in the album we find ‘Kill the Minotaur,’ a mad dash of a boss theme that never lets up; this is definitely a lot of fun to listen to.

The music sometimes changes gears, keeping the listener on his or her toes. The eerie radio static of ‘Woods’ sounds like something pulled straight out of Akira Yamaoka’s playbook, while ‘Cave’ is an ominous piano recital trapped in a haunted mansion. Fans of Falcom’s Ys series will fist-pump readily for the electronic arpeggio whirlwind of ‘Forbade.’

Not all tracks are complete winners, though, as some pieces probably work better in the context of the game — such as ‘Hallemot Suffers’ or ‘What is this Place?’ (note: I have yet to play Cardinal Quest). Thankfully, these pieces rarely hold the album back.

Finally, the aforementioned arranged and remix tracks that comprise the latter half of the tracklist are generally well-done but will mean little if you haven’t paid much attention to the first half. They’re an interesting take on the original work, although some remixes go askew, completely altering the source material past recognition. Case in point: ‘The World After Asterion’ stretches the original’s relatively simple 13 second epilogue into a near 6 minute opus!

Still, it’s an undeniable plus for listeners and something I hope becomes a trend with every digital music download.

Suffice to say, Whitaker Blackall shows promise and is a new up and coming video game musician to watch out for. Give the Cardinal Quest Original Soundtrack a spin – you might find its new old-school offering of tunes ushering you back to your youth and those marvelous summers of forgotten adventure.

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