When I reviewed Mugen Souls a few months ago, I called the game’s sound “its best and most consistent element.” I’m not a hardcore collector of video game soundtracks, like some of my RPGFan colleagues, but I generally love music and I felt like this soundtrack was one that I really wanted to add to my library. Of course, music that works within the confines of a video game may not necessarily work as well outside of the game, but I had confidence that with Mugen Souls, I’d still be happy with an mp3 player in my hand rather than a controller.
The Mugen Souls soundtrack is larger than I expected, with two discs chock full of 51 tracks of music from cutscenes, battles, menus, and the in-game town/hub. As I noted in my game review, there’s a lot of variety in those tracks, which helps keep things fresh whether you’re playing the game or just listening to the music. There are songs that I’d call pop, rock, and techno, along with at least one track that I’d call Japanese classical. My impression after listening to it a dozen times or so is that much of the instrumentation is performed on a synthesizer emulating different instruments, but don’t let that turn you off unless you really hate stuff not performed by a symphony orchestra. The instruments used always fit the style of the music, and the emulation is good enough that I’m still not sure if I’m right.
The first disc starts strong with the poppy opening cutscene music, one of only two tracks with vocals (the other is the last track of disc two). It’s catchy without worming its way into your head permanently, and although the vocalist gets a little overly earnest in a place or two, she stops short of becoming some sort of Adam West self-parody. (Although now that I think about it, that could have been awesome in its own way.) From there, it moves on to several light-hearted tracks that keep things upbeat, including track 5, Happy Chappy Street, which has an almost circus feel to it. It’s one of the “walking around town” tunes, and there’s just something about it that grabs me and cheers me up.
After that point in the disc, the tracks move into world/battle themes. The music takes on a harder edge, which isn’t a bad thing, and probably what one should expect to hear from tracks with names like Violence Emotion. Music from several of the game’s worlds are featured here, including track 12, Dance of the Cherry Blossoms, which I’d label Japanese classical based on its flute, taiko drums, and the style of the various stringed instruments that come into play. I’m clearly an outsider to that genre, but whether I’m right or wrong about it, I still like this song.
One constant for me in the Mugen Souls soundtrack was the realization that the music had a lot more nuance than I realized when playing on my TV. I’ve got a good sound system attached to my TV, so I don’t know if it comes down to the fact that I listened to the soundtrack on headphones, or if it’s just that I wasn’t so focused on not dying when my mp3 player was the only thing in my hands. Many tracks turned out to have background themes or instruments that I never consciously noticed while playing the game, which speaks well of this as a soundtrack.
I enjoy most of the music on both discs, but lest I come off as unjustifiably positive about the whole thing, I will admit that there are a small number of tracks that just don’t work for me. Track 19, Attack of Delusion, is the prime example; it consists primarily of a style of electric guitar that really grates on my nerves. I’m a singer, so it’s a little tough to describe just what I don’t like, but if I had to put a descriptor on it, I’d call the guitar “nasal.” The couple of tracks I don’t like are just a blip in an otherwise good listening experience, but I felt like I should acknowledge that the blips are there.
Disc one goes on to finish nicely with several more gentle tracks, including the disc’s final song, Memories of Mugen, which seems to incorporate themes from several musical elements in the game and does so nicely. It’s a song that you could put in a “going to sleep” tracklist and trust to lead you happily into dreamland.
Moving on to disc two, we continue to find plenty of good tracks, including track 4, Seven-Colored Universe, which really stands out as different and interesting to me. It reminds me strongly of Erasure (maybe their version of When Will I See You Again, from the album Other Peoples’ Songs) with its quick, staccato synth beats. I like it.
The thing I don’t care for on disc two is the way it seems to jump quickly between disparate styles. Track 7, Brave Hunter, is a great, guitar-fueled driving rock anthem, track 8 is a fairly intense xylophone-led battle track, and then track 9 pops up. It’s called Sadness, and it lives up to that name with slow synthesizer and plenty of echo. It’s not a bad track, but its placement is somewhat jarring. The same thing happens later with tracks 14 and 15; a quick techno song followed by a slow piano theme. Both are good on their own, but hearing them back to back will make you wonder if you hit the random button between tracks.
Of course, mixing styles (rather than jumping between them) can be a good thing when you get it right, and I think track 18 is one of those success stories. It’s called Cherry Blossom Falling, and it takes the classical Japanese style I mentioned earlier and pairs it up with a very electronic rhythm track, and I like it a lot.
By that point in disc two, the soundtrack tightens up again into a more consistent style and throws things into high gear for the chase down the home stretch. That push continues until track 25, Game Over, which moves us back into the land of sad pianos for just under one minute as a lead-in to the final track, Rainbow, which I believe comes from the game’s closing credits. It’s a pop song, and it does a nice job of incorporating little musical elements from elsewhere in the game without sounding like a simple reprise. There are times when it reminds me of the outstanding Katamari Damacy soundtrack, and that’s a good thing, even though it means I have to apologize to you for getting the Katamari music stuck in your head. (Sorry…)
Overall, I think it’s clear that I really enjoyed this soundtrack. It stands strong both within the game and on its own, and while it may not be quite strong enough to go in a “greatest soundtracks ever” hall of fame list, it has a well-earned spot in my library of game music.