Most dungeon-crawlers end up being critically panned by many for their frustrating difficulty. Being based on Namco’s 1984 arcade title “Tower of Druaga,” which is renowned for its unforgiving difficulty, it is no surprise that Arika’s Nightmare of Druaga shares the same type of difficulty. Despite being criticized by virtually every video game review site, Nightmare of Druaga had one redeeming factor to it: its excellent soundtrack. Mainly composed by Masashi Yano (Drakengard II cinematic music, Tobi D+vine and the recent Bullet Witch) with a few tracks by Ayako Saso (Final Fantasy Tactics Advace, Ridge Racer Series) and Takayuki Aihara (Drakengard, Street Fighter EX Series), it provided a fitting score full of ambient dungeon themes and blood-pumping battle themes along with some outstanding character themes. Special note should be taken in consideration, the entire soundtrack is synthesized… but when listening to this, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless you were really familiar with each instrument being performed live. The quality is that good!
First off, let us discuss Saso’s share of tracks. There are three themes by her which consist of the main menu theme and tracks that play when you make it alive through a dungeon or die in it. “System Menu” is mostly harp backed up by strings, which gives off a beautiful aura as you start off the adventure. “Result Alive” is different, since it has a heroic tone to it which is done with drums, flutes and percussions. “Result Dead” is a depressing theme which has some violins and strings to convey the feel of loss and sadness.
Now for Aihara’s part, he had several tracks on both discs, including some dungeon and character themes. His first contribution is the theme for the evil sorcerer Skuld. At first, it has no air of malice to it, but it builds up slightly yet keeps a more “not-so-evil” tone to it. It’s mostly strings and brass that do the work, backed up by a bit of percussion. It is definitely refreshing to hear a villain theme that doesn’t rely on the overused organ for once. “Dungeon Theme Chapter 4” starts off with a bang with percussions and then becomes a treat for the veterans of the series, it’s a remix of the original arcade theme done in Aihara’s own synth-orchestral-jazz style and is easily the dungeon theme that stands out the most from the entire soundtrack! Trumpets blare out while strings and drums take parts in the unforgettable melody. Another of his character themes, “Theme of Succubus” is one of the more engaging to offer. It’s a pretty epic theme which uses some brass, strings and a little bit of violin to spice things up. It sounds quite evil, much more than Skuld. “Theme of Druaga” goes all out on the “evilness” scale as it does use a good bit of organ, drums, brass and strings. It definitely has a menacing tone to it and seems to prelude the final encounter between the hero and the titular villain. But who is that hero? We’ll get to that point in a bit. Now onto Masashi Yano’s portion of the soundtrack.
Being the main composer, Yano had the most opportunities to display his composing prowess. He starts off the soundtrack with an impressive opening theme. “Opening” starts off as foreboding since it plays during the opening FMV sequence where the hero finally reaches the monster known as Druaga. Druaga attempts to breathe flames on the hero, but he blocks them off with his shield. It once again appears threatening yet the hero charges the enemy, his sword held high. During the entire scene, the music shifts through various tones, from evil, uplifting and epic. The uplifting portion uses some lovely harp while the rest is mainly strings, brass and percussions. All in all, the music complements the action to perfection. Now on the main Hero theme, “Theme of Gilgamesh” which is as epic as the hero from Babylonian legends could ever be. Percussions, strings, brass all work together to create an outstanding character theme. It is filled with pride and bravery, all the right emotions to be conveyed when the hero makes his entrance to rescue his beloved, Ki. “Theme of Ki” is a depressing one, since the use of harp, strings and flutes help convey the feelings of loneliness and desperation. Surely anyone being victim of a kidnapping by a legendary demon would feel hopeless.
The dungeon themes are even more depressing, if a fair bit ambient. “Dungeon Theme Chapter 0” is one that is very effective with its use of brass, strings and harp and complements the feel of frustration when attempting to conquer these labyrinths laid out with vicious monsters and deadly traps. “vs Boss” is one of the more interesting battle themes, if a bit short. It builds up to an epic climax which gives off the feel that the enemy keeps getting a slight advantage over Gilgamesh. The combination of fast percussions, violins and strings provide the “energy” to keep the player alert while doing the very best to avoid the most brutal attacks by the creature. No RPG soundtrack review is complete without mention on the final boss themes and Nightmare of Druaga sports two impressive themes. “vs Druaga 1” is heavy on percussions and the brass blares out while the harp and strings play a backing role. It gives the impression that Druaga, also of Babylonian legend, is not be messed with. The theme may very well be as brutal as the demon itself. Druaga comes back for another round with “vs Druaga 2,” which is a faster, more frantic theme. The beast is likely gravely wounded and decides to lash out at Gilgamesh with his most powerful attacks. Trumpets, brass, strings, violins and drums all join in to provide a climactic battle theme. “Ending” is a beautiful melody which has harp, violins, percussions, brass and strings to accompany Gilgamesh’s victory over the mighty Druaga and claiming his beloved Ki once more. It almost sounds like it could come right out of a Hollywood film score!
All in all, the Nightmare of Druaga soundtrack is an interesting listen for those that are especially fond of epic medieval-style music. There is something for everybody here, be it enchanting character themes, engaging battle themes and depressing dungeon themes. As of this writing, the album is still available from VGM World. If $30 doesn’t sound too bad, go ahead and pick it up, by all means. You won’t regret it.