Videogame soundtracks fall into many categories, and it’s probably fair to say that this one doesn’t fall into any of them. The game itself was odd enough, becoming a cult favourite for its unrelenting quirky and occasionally downright bizarre take on traditional formats and plotlines, and being on a tiny independent label but backed by a powerhouse of the Japanese Pachinko industry allowed the creators to take a couple more risks than normal, including the accompanying music from a composer with little regard for any established rules, aided by a veteran of unconventional BGM work. And all of this comes complete with the most barking mad list of track titles I’ve ever seen in one place.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell that this is a videogame soundtrack at all. A small hardback book with the two CDs housed within the front and back pages, with only the name on the cover to indicate its origin. Between the discs are captionless photographs of apparently unrelated images of mundane life and religious imagery from China, Thailand, India and Eastern Europe, and at the centre are a couple of photos of the composer, brief credits and the infamous track listing – which are listed fairly normally in Japanese with titles that rather boringly reflect the geography/character/action that the piece was written for and then, if I remember rightly, “translated” by an Italian friend and which nobody at the Japanese label checked to see if they bore any relation to the original, or indeed made any sense. And, with titles such as Highnoon Fish, Someone’s Table, Coffin Fetish, Babysitter Is Old Nurse and personal favourite Sicking Fucking (none of which have anything to do with the mood of the pieces they relate to), it’s probably safe to say that they don’t, but in an oddly charming fashion.
Where these exotic titles work however is to convey the eclectic and eccentric musical doings on offer here. The two discs are split into the two geographical areas that the game covers: Japanese-occupied China and Europe, and Hirota draws deeply from these cultures and comes up with a wide range of ideas and implementations, bending genres and ignoring stiffly-defined tradition as he does so. Along for the ride also is old friend and veteran of several folky-prog game soundtracks to his name (and who is also not averse to being a bit loopy – the bagpipes that feature in his Tobal No.1 soundtrack alone are testament to this), Yasunori Mitsuda – adding or contributing to half a dozen or so compositions that show off his own impressive range of style and instrumentation.
The main staple of your average Role-Playing Game is the battle music, and this is normally approached in a set way, high-tempo bombast being the order of the day. Not so here, where what I think might be bouzouki and jazz flute are at the forefront, and the tone is pensive rather than aggressive. The almost-literal flipside of this is are the “insane” versions of these same songs where everything is pushed to well beyond breaking point with bits sped up, slowed down, played backwards and just generally buggered about with. All good fun then.
It’s not all lunacy though. There’s some great traditional Chinese instrumentation and composition (albeit with some welcome odd touches), in particular a rather stunning piece performed on a solo Erhu entitled Syu-ka (Qiuhua’s Theme), and the second disc has plenty of gentle Fender Rhodes & Hammond organ grooves that almost makes you forget that the gentle, slightly Mike Oldfield-ey strains coming from the speakers seems to be entitled Callback From Jesus. Overall, it is a favourite CD set of mine for the sheer range of ideas that are flying around and so well executed that it’s genuinely easy to get lost in the more-than-occasional weirdness of it all and enjoy it for whatever it is.
Normal service may or may not be resumed soon.