Wizardry Gaiden II ~ Curse of the Ancient Emperor


Review by · December 9, 2006

Note: the tracklist is written in English and Japanese. The parts added in parantheses are parts of the track title in Japanese that didn’t get put in the English version of the song title.

Though the series overall has gained some strong fanbases over the world, the soundtrack for “Wizardry Gaiden II” (and all of the Wizardry Gaiden albums) is one that most people would consider as something rising up from the depths of obscurity. If you look at the album’s back cover, you’ll recognize the screen shots from the game: this is the soundtrack for a Game Boy incarnation of the series. Surprised? I know I was.

That’s right, the “Wizardry Gaiden” series were three games released for the original color-less Game Boy in the early 1990s. And somehow, all three got pretty decent arranged soundtracks made for them. This is the second of the three, the “Second Episode” (according to the album’s cover), “Curse of the Ancient Emperor.”

The largest portions of the album come in the form of the two drama tracks. I am immediately reminded of the album “Surround Theater Sorcerian.” Creating a drama album out of a game where characters were originally given minimal development is a bit of a challenge, but like the Sorcerian album, this Wizardry album has some excellent drama on it. It doesn’t take a Japanese speaker to follow the action since the characters’ tones are very telling, and the sound effects and music easily allow the listener a chance to consider the imagery around the characters. This is top-of-the-line drama, not the cheesy stuff where nothing happens other than silly Japanese puns and some romantic comedy. This comes as no surprise, as the drama director is the famed “Aki Tomato,” who did some great work in the late 80s and early 90s.

So, discounting tracks 3 and 6 (combined they take up 22 minutes, half of the album), the rest is all music. There is a fair amount of live music happening, thanks to “W.H.O.” — the “Wizardry Heroic Orchestra.” The group features piano, bass, guitar, drums, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and even vocal performance (from the composer Ikuro Fujiwara himself!). Behind the live band, however, there is plenty of synth to help create string parts.

The four minute Opening Theme is as bold and as classic as the Overture to the Dragon Quest series, but the style is remarkably different thanks to the guitar soloists. The interlude of the “Castle Town” theme also breaks up the action in an interesting way, as the back-up guitar uses an almost reggae rhythm to support the melody, but the melody itself sounds like scary carnival music.

Though short (only one minute), the simple “Gilgamesh’s Tavern” themes uses low quality harpsichord synth, such that it almost sounds like the Nintendo sound chip. The song is classic, but it’s a shame it wasn’t lengthened at all for the album.

Tracks 4, 5, and 8 all have the same sound scheme and setup: basically, the full band. What differs from track to track are the melodies and the tempos. These songs represent the bulk of the musical interludes on the album, which is why we’ve sampled all three. Check them out.

“Camp” is a very weird vocal interlude. The simple melody is lovely and catchy, but the English lyrics are silly, and Fujiwara’s performance sadly reminds me of the stereotypical karaoke bar performance associated with modern Japanese culture. Fujiwara strains too hard on certain notes, and while he never suffers of using poor “Engrish,” he does struggle to make the words sound smooth. The last line, “now turn off my mind for awhile” is also incongruous with the rest of the song, which attempts to sound like a Renaissance/folk lullaby. The ending line betrays all of this by sounding way too abstract and modern; perhaps it’s a Japanese euphemism for sleeping, but it doesn’t work very well in English.

The Finale is much like the Opening in terms of grandeur and scope, but I personally liked the melody to the Finale more than the the Opening. The band does some fun stuff on this track as well.

For anyone that wishes to seek out the album, there does lay a final bonus, a hidden treasure of sorts. The liner notes come with a complete musical score. Every song on this album is placed, in writing, within the booklet. Music students would strongly appreciate this bonus.

Of course, being printed in 1993 by Columbia, the album isn’t exactly an easy find. Should you find it in some obscure Japanese used book/CD store, try not to pay more than its retail price (about $25) for it. It’s definitely classic, but it is also short, especially for those only interested in the music. I would have appreciated an inclusion of some original Game Boy synth music on the album, but we can’t have everything we want. The “W.H.O.” did a decent job with arrangements, and that alone makes the album worthwhile.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.