Love it or hate it, Muramasa: The Demon Blade demonstrated an authentic samurai feel. Few games make you feel like you’re running parallel to the ground in a giant bathrobe and wooden sandals in feudal Japan quite like this game did–and the music might be a big part of that! Okay, I’m overplaying the game’s influence, but the music gets points for trying. Sporting arrangements from seven different composers–some old, some new–most of Muramasa’s music sounds about as Asian as any game can.
Whether or not this is a good thing is another matter entirely. While most tracks have a major element of traditional Japanese instrumentation, some modern rock influences cling throughout. The first problem here is that a lot of gamers might not be too into the East Asian sound. If traditional flutes and string instruments don’t get you going, then this soundtrack isn’t for you. Myself, I love the stuff. However, much of the music sounds commercial and forced to me, although a few gems glisten throughout this three-disc soundtrack.
Ever listen to a CD, and forget you’re even listening to music until one really awesome track starts, and then you’re like, “Oh, wow, why am I listening to a Dashboard Confessional CD, and how’d this Rush track get on here?” Okay, okay, I’m kidding (kind of), calm down. Point being, I had this experience throughout Muramasa’s soundtrack. Sure, with three CDs worth of music, running into some clunkers is almost a promise, but nary have I heard so many unique tracks, yet found so few memorable. Fortunately, a few tracks, like Magnificent Palace B, can carry a great beat, while others, like Inscrutible Strategem, fall under the generic, unmemorable label.
Even still, carrying a beat isn’t going to win these individual tracks any awards. Incredible Power, for instance, reminds me of my moshing days in high school, combined with lazy winter weekends of RPG binging. Yeah, moshing while playing RPGs in winter. Don’t worry, that image isn’t supposed to work, that’s what I’m trying to communicate; sometimes taking the best of both worlds just doesn’t work, and makes for an awkward listen. So, although the bass may be hitting all the right notes–in good ol’ repetitious fashion–the Japanese-style strings just get in the way.
Impermanence, on the other hand, takes an otherwise bland tune, adds some Asian strings, and all of a sudden an uninteresting piece has some body. But–then it sounds like it cuts away into another track. Following this brief respite, the piece enters into a heavier compilation. What’s the deal? Well, in true ending theme fashion, the track suffers from multiple personality disorder. A shame that three potentially interesting sounds get mish-mashed together in one piece that spoils the track.
One interesting aspect to the soundtrack is the use of an A and B version of each piece. Oftentimes the root of the tracks are the same, but are approached quite differently. While interesting, if you don’t like the bulk of what A has to offer, you probably won’t like what B has to offer. Other times, like with Desires Connected to the Enlightenment, small changes can make all the difference. The strings in B work a lot better than the winds in A, although the difference may seem subtle.
How does the soundtrack work with seven different composers? Well, honestly, you could have told me this was done under one composer and I would have believed you–which is impressive! I’m mystified that they were able to mask individual style so well. Whoever served as lead composer–which I assume is Hitoshi Sakimoto, who received first credit–did a fantastic job arranging this soundtrack. Now, you may be wondering–did any one composer stand out above the rest, doing a much better job than the others? Not that I noticed. For example, Hitoshi Sakimoto composed Inscrutable Stratagem, the uninspired piece I mentioned earlier, and also created Impermanence, the interesting “three-piece” ending theme.
Before I get to wrapping up my review, I want to make a special note of one composer that stuck out to me: rising star Azusa Chiba. This wonderful lady has only started composing music recently, and although this is the first sampling of her music that I’ve had, I have to say that she impressed me. I’d recommend listening to Deep Mountain B and Urgency. Deep Mountain B starts off kinda generic with a good beat, and then kicks into a fuller sound with some fantastic string work; I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. To experience the full breadth of her ability, and maybe even get a few laughs at some absurdity, listen to Urgency. I’m not sure how I feel about this track! On one hand, the bells make it sound so tingy and silly at times, and on the other hand, it had my leg bouncing up and down with its fast sound, carrying me along. One thing’s for certain, though: she is not afraid to explore! I’d actually keep a sharp eye on Azusa Chiba, as I expect she will do great things in the industry.
Muramasa’s soundtrack has some interesting pieces, which I have highlighted to the left here. Some of these may encourage you to buy the soundtrack, but I recommend saving your cash on this one. While the genuine East Asian sound is interesting, you’re better off buying something that isn’t gaming related. Unfortunately, the exploration of rock and traditional Japanese instrumentation isn’t done well enough to warrant listening outside of the game. The music here might have worked in-game, but it definitely does not lend itself to an out-of-game experience.