About a year ago, Squaresoft and Enix had the bright idea of teaming up to become one huge company. The benefits were obvious; the strengths of both companies together would make only quality products. Mixing the incredible story and gameplay elements of Enix and the graphical abilities of Squaresoft could only do good things like Chrono Trigger. But Square-Enix would not only be developers but would also be publishing some titles by other companies.
One of the first companies to approach Square-Enix was Cavia, a company made up of former Namco employees. This title was called Drag-On Dragoon. It was described as a cross between Panzer Dragoon and Dynasty Warriors with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. That sounds good and all…but what about the music? Neither Square’s nor Enix’s composers were asked to score this title. Instead Cavia chose one of the top music production studios in Japan: Super Sweep Inc.
The call has gone to Shinji Hosoe, a key figure in the Japanese video game music scene, as he is the head of Super Sweep. Hosoe has sent off two of his best composers: Takayuki Aihara and Nobuyoshi Sano. Sano and Aihara’s best works include the Tekken series and Ridge Racer series among others. I can see you all going: “Huh? Composers for sports games doing an Action-RPG?! How did this happen?”
They’ve had the luxury of working with the Tokyo New City Orchestra for the score. Recording the orchestral performance was only half of what they had in mind. After they’ve done the recording, the real fun started: they mixed everything to their own style. Being techno music composers, they’ve place more loops than you can count, and it has brought a very unique sound to the score.
The first track to catch my attention was Aihara’s “Weapon Select.” Being one of the few fully orchestrated tracks to be left untouched by their skill, blaring horns and well placed violin samples give this track a very epic feel, just what you need before you start the adventure; about halfway it takes a slightly mellow pace before getting back to the beginning pattern. The rest of the score is mostly peppered with several orchestral samples mixed with loops.
“Third Chapter In the Sky” starts off with a choir, followed by several instruments and loops, it appears bland at first listen, but it gets better as it progresses. “Third Chapter On the Ground” comprises of fast-paced violins with the occasional choir burst, it’s quite an experience to hear such an odd, but original piece.
Aihara does the “melodic” tracks while Sano distorts and twists his pieces which results in some pieces that are difficult to get into. The best examples for this are the Chapter 8 themes. “Eighth Chapter In the Sky” sticks out like a sore thumb as Sano hammers the piano keys in a completely unexpected fashion: he just holds and presses and releases very rapidly. All of that is backed up by violins and a constant drum beat and trumpets wail away at the melody. By the end, Sano pulls a piano hold/press/release for nearly 10 seconds, that’s just crazy!! “Eighth Chapter On the Ground” shows off Sano is his own style, truly distorted, repetitive to boot, but still addicting enough to not make the listener skip the track. But soon enough, Sano continues his technique described in the piece above. It’s a matter of getting used to his unusual approach and appreciating it for its originality.
All in all, the first volume to Drag-On Dragoon is extremely experimental game music. It won’t appeal to everyone and being severely open-minded is a requirement for being able to enjoy this soundtrack to its worth. In my opinion, this aggressive, pulse-pounding score has the “Umph” that Xenosaga completely lacked. If you feel adventurous, by all means, pick this up as it’s readily available everywhere.