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VGM Review #6: ‘Suikoden II’ OST, Part 1

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The other week I had posted a link to a great interview with VGM composer Miki Higashino, the mastermind behind the soundtracks to such titles as Gradius and Suikoden I and II.  When I stumbled across the interview I put it on the backburner; I hadn’t heard of Higashino before and just saw it as an opportunity to introduce myself to a composer after I had finished whatever else I was doing.  After reading it months later, I started to expedite that listening in my to-do list, and then fellow VGM blogger Steve Lakawicz of Classical Gaming’s comment about Suikoden II pushed it to the top.  Turns out that I started with Steve’s link to the opening video of said game and have since listened to the OST cover-to-cover twice (with some tunes getting quite a few extra replays).  Take a listen to the track that threw me into the fray:

*Note: I refer to both the visuals and the music in this review, but if you want to listen to a better quality version of the audio, go here

There is so much to love about this opening (and I’m a sucker for awesome opening FMVs).

For the first minute of the piece we get a powerful choral number that sets up the visuals of a burning village, armies, and a mad knight standing atop a mound of dead bodies.  What I like about Higashino’s work here is that she doesn’t give the listener a run-of-the-mill “ominous choral piece,” which is so common in pretty much every form of visual media in need of a soundtrack today.  If you’re like me, you roll your eyes at the overabundance and flatness of this what-now-is-a stereotypical device.  The last one I can remember being affected by is John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” from the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace soundtrack, which – aside from being awesome because of the scene and because of Darth Maul – is great because of the integration of both strong choral and instrumental writing.

Returning to Higashino, though, one of my favorite parts of the whole opening exists right at the beginning.  Above the chorus shrieks this very, might I say, exotic ethnic voice whose timbre is so stark in contrast with the voices behind it that it’s almost alarming.  It reminds me of when I saw the Republic of Korea Traditional Army Band at the Virginia International Tattoo in 2010, before I worked solely for the show.  I remember thinking how terrified I’d be if I were in an army who went up against a Korean one that played the instruments that they did (namely the taepyeongso) due to how, to my uncultured American ears, unnatural and almost demonic they sounded in that context (read: awesome).  The contrast between Korean traditional instruments and European ones is comparable to the sound of that voice as compared to the smoother European-style chorus.  Its timbre combined with its melody and foreign rhythmic “hiccups” makes it razor sharp, especially when the part sounds like it splits via multiphonics at 0:21 (note that there are two voices, but their combined timbre makes me hears them in a way that’s comparable to saxophone multiphonics).  Simply the idea to include that kind of voice was great, but its place rhythmically and harmonically amongst the more traditional Western chorus furthers its effect on the listener.

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VGM Review #3: “Halo” OST, Part 1

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To be honest, the Halo obsession has always been one that is lost on me. I’ve played it multiplayer before and I’ve done a very tiny bit of the single player campaign in the both the first and second games (I was at a friend’s house), but I’ve never fallen victim to the hype. In fact, as far as FPS’s are concerned, I’m a fan of Unreal Tournament. Therefore, I’ve always seen Halo as just that: hype.

Saying that may enrage you—I understand. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything of the sort. In fact, I feel like I’m a little under-qualified to judge since FPS’s aren’t my thing. Lots of people kill for them and play Halo and Call of Duty as many hours as I spend at work each week. Those people have a great potential to be better judges than I. Though I may have a personal preference, I haven’t spent enough time ingesting these games to know what I really like about them and really don’t. All I know is that my time playing Halo did not seem special and did not leave me wanting to play more.

Regardless of my opinions on the game itself, I knew that I would have to visit its soundtrack. Fans of the game, whether large or small, covet what composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have done. I had never paid much attention to the soundtrack, though, and knew from the beginning that I should listen to and review it because of the high praise it’s received. At the very least I knew that I would have to review the main theme because people barely mention Halo without referring to that iconic track.

Before I get to the main theme, I’m going to start with the “Opening Suite.” I first listened to the OST in order, and that’s the first track I ran into.

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