The long-running Sakura Taisen (or “Sakura Wars”) series, which has to this day not seen the light of day in the US, started to decrease in terms of quality (and hence sales) as the series progressed. By the time Sakura Taisen 4 was out, people were starting to become disillusioned with the series’ repetitive scenarios and subpar execution. Nonetheless, composer Kouhei Tanaka stuck it out with Red Company (the series’ developer) through the long haul. Word got out about Sakura Taisen V (the first game to be listed by Roman numeral instead of standard Arabic numeral), and the hype came back.
To hype Sakura Taisen V all the more, and to venture out into a different sort of genre, Sakura Taisen V got its own prequel/prelude, Episode 0 ~Samurai Girl of the Wild West~. This game, which was released the year before Sakura Taisen V, was more “action” than “RPG”, barely making it into our site’s realm of coverage.
STV Ep. 0, as the cover image and tracklist demonstrate, is a game that takes place in America; particularly in the “wild west.” The soundtrack reflects this scenario nicely, and it is in this soundtrack that we see a new side to Kouhei Tanaka’s composition style, though he does manage to renew some of his older talents (as there are songs on here that remind me of my all-time favorite Tanaka soundtrack: Alundra).
Let’s talk first about the game’s one vocal song: Samurai Spirit. Usually, when an album lists “short” and “long” versions, the difference is that the “long” version will have another verse and a bridge, and they are otherwise the same song. This is not the case for Episode 0. The short version is simultaneously Western and epic, with a large strings section, blaring trumpets, military-style snare drums, and a female vocalist that sounds pristine and genuine by her tone of voice. It is a shame that this version is only a minute long, because I’d love to hear this version of the song go on for six minutes. The “long” version is a lighthearted bluegrass-style country piece with steel guitar, upright bass, an upbeat tempo, and a different female vocalist that keeps the song bouncy and fun. The result is pleasant, but it doesn’t leave the lasting impression that the opening “short” version leaves. Between the two, I prefer the short version.
Note that the album also includes 3 or 4 different instrumental arrangements of this tune, including karaoke versions of the short and long versions. These all have their own unique style, so the song’s melody is clearly a favorite for Tanaka and should be kept in mind when considering the feel of the album (and the game for that matter).
The rest of the soundtrack reminds me of a cartoon Western: honestly, it makes me think of American Tale 2 – y’know, the Western one? That’s the image I get in my head when I listen to this soundtrack. Take a listen to track 5…the “Western epic” feel stays with the suspended chords, well-placed hits from the percussion, and sweeping string sections.
But there’s also a lot of jazz on this soundtrack as well, giving us that 1920s New Orleans feel. Track 6 epitomizes the style, and track 13 is a ragtime-style piece with emphasis on the piano part. Tanaka’s ability to delve into different musical styles is genius: it’s like he was able to take the best of Aaron Copeland and Scott Joplin and roll it up into this soundtrack. In all my years of listening to videogame music, I have not run across such a talented composer attempting to create these styles of music and succeed.
There are a number of soft songs that make use of synth choirs, wind chimes, and other “ambient” sounds. Tracks 16 and 24 through 26 are all soft, and they remind me of Tanaka’s slower songs in Alundra. The flute/whistle/recorder (whatever it is) on “Eden” is beautiful, and as it disappears behind the synthesized choir, we are drawn out into a whole different world. “Eden” is 3 minutes long on the album, and it does not loop: it is a genuine 3 minute composition that really “wowed” me.
There are also some tense battle/fight scene songs, such as “Deer Hunter”, “Genocider”, and “Golden Wings.” These songs make me wish the game would come to America, because I would love to play out the scenarios during which these songs are employed. Honestly, Tanka has really gone and outdone himself with this soundtrack.
And what Sakura Taisen album would be complete without “Imperial Floral Assault Group” theme song? This version has a slight variation in background instrumentation that gives it that more “Western” feel, though the instrument carrying the melody sounds like an outdated synth. I would have preferred having a vocalist instead of the synth, but it looks like the song is designed to be looped in-game, so I can see how that would’ve been a problem.
This soundtrack single-handedly got me 1) interested in Sakura Taisen V, 2) re-interested in the work of Kouhei Tanaka, and 3) wanting to spread the joy of this soundtrack to others. Honestly, This is a really decent soundtrack, and if you’re looking for something that manages to merge quirky Western clichés with some epic brass and string work, look no further than this soundtrack. It is available at online stores such as Play Asia. Go now, fellow Samurai of the Wild West!