Aging is a difficult process for game franchises, especially for fighting. As SoulCalibur approaches the 13th anniversary of its release date, Namco Bandai caused a bit of controversy by eliminating many fan favorite characters from its greatly anticipated title SoulCalibur V. Ye fans will be pleased to know that the soundtrack delivers everything that they have come to expect from the truly excellent musical past of the series along with several new stylistic innovations. Namco Bandai actually outsourced the soundtrack's composition and performance to Hiroaki Yura's new production company Creative Intelligence Arts, but Junichi Nakatsuru still returned as sound directors. With seven separate composers contributing to the project, fans can be sure that the music of SoulCalibur V is every bit as epic as the game itself
God of War veteran Chris Velasco composed some of the most widely publicized and anticipated tracks from SoulCalibur V. "Blood Thirst Concerto" (Raphael's Theme) is a prime example as to why this was the case. In an homage to Liszt, relentless strings and ominous brass hits support Jem Harding's spirited piano performance throughout the evocative and up-tempo piece creating an auditory atmosphere that is equally brooding and energetic. Velasco also contributed "Till Fate Writes My Epitaph" (Siegfried's Theme), an appropriately swelling arrangement heavy on the brass that delivers a Hollywood-flavored cinematic sound, particularly at the 0:50 mark when the main theme is established, and features the string section of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra at their finest.
Velasco and featured soloist Jillian Aversa co-wrote the epilogue track, "The Breeze at Dawn" which features the excellent and powerful soprano vocals of Jillian Aversa. Slow, mournful, and beautiful from start to finish, Aversa's performance is something of an unexpected highlight of the album. Her voice is mixed perfectly above the orchestra and never overpowers the tribal feel of the percussion or delicate string accompaniment, both of which provide a slightly new age feel to the track (which is not unexpected, nor unwelcome given Aversa's background). The brief making of DVD included with the Limited Edition set reveals that Aversa created the language used for this song, borrowing heavy influence from Italian, so listeners can relax and enjoy her singing for its pure musical quality and not worry themselves about translations.
Another widely anticipated track from SoulCalibur V was Jesper Kyd's sole contribution to the album, "Venice Rooftops - SCV Mix" which plays as the theme for the guest character Ezio Auditore. Mixing rock elements with classical orchestration and supporting vocals in a way that rarely works, "Venice Rooftops" will delight fans of Assassin's Creed, SoulCalibur, or game music in general. Hiroaki Yura inspired solo violin track adds a great level of polish to the track, and the two percussion and guitar breaks in the piece are effortless and bright enough to lend an almost jam session feel to the track, which is a rare accomplishment in a highly mixed studio track.
OverClocked ReMix's Zircon, known here professionally as Andrew Aversa, shows an impressive amount of polish for his first work on a major international title. "Faster Than A Howling Wind" (Natsu's Theme) is a punishingly fast track infused with enough Asian elements to make jaded players forget that Taki has been replaced in SoulCalibur V. Aversa stays true to his style and preference by sliding in a bit of a koto melody in between the pounding percussion line and ethereal woodwind themes to make Natsu's Theme a surefire fan-favorite.
"Sacred Dawn" (Elysium's Theme) has Aversa working with the Eminence Symphonic Choir (who also appear on his tracks "Nightmare's Desire", and "Decisive Clash"). Suitably epic and majestic from start to finish. "Sacred Dawn" proves that Aversa is capable, and comfortable, in delivering a more traditionally cinematic action track. "Sleepless: An Untamed Beast" (Z.W.E.I.'s Theme) is more modern in style and composition, but is classic Aversa from its energetic opening to its deconstructionist breaks that allow great solos by guitarist Zane Banks and violinist Hiroaki Yura. If Aversa's contributions to SoulCalibur V are any indication of what this young composer can do, the world of video game music may well be watching its next young star rise with this soundtrack.
Having finally returned to the mainstream, Hiroki Kikuta had a particularly impressive and versatile showing here. "Let My Soul Burn" (Maxi's Theme) is raucously cinematic throughout despite the featured glockenspiel doubling the main melody. The energetic percussion cadence delivers a flawless, driving energy to the piece that breaks wonderfully for effect, allowing the woodwind and brass lines to soar above it. "Wings of Sorrow" (Pyrrha's Theme), delivers the first of the two protagonist themes and is a bit forgettable until it breaks into a baroque fugue section at 0:40. Appropriately evocative of Sophita's earlier themes, this track highlights what Kikuta can do with a featured keyboard percussion section. "Wandering Seer" (Viola's Theme) adds a middle eastern feel to the album with its staccato melody and tribal percussion line and stands out as one of the most memorable themes from the album, which is high praise considering the contributions of himself and others.
Equally enjoyable among Kikuta's compositions were "A High-Spirited Tiger" (Xiba's Theme), "Samsara: The Wheel of Eternity" (Kilik's Theme), and "Tread Ye The Path of Bravery" (Yoshimitsu's Theme), which deliver a wonderfully Japanese sound to the album that ranges from traditional (Yoshimitsu's) to more modern (Xiba's). In addition to these tracks, Kikuta also was responsible for the discordant "Regalia" (Algol's Theme), a guitar-driven metal track unlike any other on the album. It wasn't one of my favorites for its generic rock sound, and lacks the ominous subtletly of "Adorned With Evil" (Pyrrha O Theme), but it stands out as memorable for being such a unique offering.
Veteran game music composer Inon Zur was responsible for three of my favorite tracks from the assembled album. "Virtuous Heart" (a Patrokolos Theme) is appropriately dramatic throughout and delivers an over-the-top brass and percussion theme that, while not particularly subtle, will make you want to grab a cardboard wrapping paper tube and strike a few fighting poses in front of the closest reflective surface. "The Storm Bringer" (Cervantes's Theme) recalls Hans Zimmer at times, but is wildly enjoyable for its splatting low brass melodies, chanting vocals, flute trills, and heavy off-beat percussion hits. Listeners know what they want from Pirate-themed action tracks, and Zur's offering does not disappoint. "Daybreaker" (Hilde's Theme) features the same floor tom percussion hits of the previously two mentioned tracks but also incorporates synthesized female vocals for great effect to play against the more brass-heavy themes of the pieces.
"Sword of Resolution" (Patroklos' Theme) is the other new protagonist's theme and is a bit easy to mistake for "Virtuous Heart", "Daybreaker", or "Master of Edges" also by Zur due to the similar musical elements throughout. I found it a bit of a misstep given the more grandiose feel of "Virtuous Heart". On the topic of missteps, "Mischievous Whispers" (Tira's Theme) is a touch disappointing as well but finally answers the age old question of what a Danny Elfman score for a Star Wars space battle would sound like. These missteps are forgiven by "Dance of the Oracle" (Viola's Theme, Quick Battle Version) with its Middle Eastern-themed vocal opening and upbeat percussion and vocal work throughout. Evocative of Zur's heritage and work in the Prince of Persia series, I wasn't expecting a track like this on SoulCalibur V's soundtrack but I am quite happy it was included.
Sound director Junichi Nakatsuru contributed three tracks to SoulCalibur V with the intention of unifying the music of this new title with that from previous entries in the series. For that reason, "Frontier of History" is used for the character select screen and serves as an excellent musical ambassador for the new game. Recalling a sense of epic grandeur of earlier titles I was reminded of SoulCalibur II throughout with sweeping themes alternating over a militaristic drum cadence, this piece of music is one that listeners should take the time to savor. "The Field of Honor" is a more subtle track, recalling elements of previous SoulCalibur cutscenes with its soft French Horn melody and muted snare percussion line. Inspirational and slow to build, it's a perfect counterpoint to "Frontier of History".
Teenage prodigy Tomoki Miyoshi contributed the majority of the cutscene and cinematic tracks to the SoulCalibur V which was, incidentally, his debut project as a game composer. Faced with a difficult challenge in capturing emotional musical themes in tracks that rarely exceed a minute in length, he made extensive use of the Eminence Symphonic and accomplishes his goal with a peerless skill whether the emotions are soft and tender ("The Last Wish", excellent building string track), ominous and brooding ("The Lord of Terror", a treat for any horn player to perform live), or inspirational ("Code Duello", one of the best militaristic tracks on the album). Each of Miyoshi's tracks adds a vital component to both the compiled soundtrack and gaming experience as a whole. "Holy Requisition" is an especially noteworthy piece for its vocal paean introduction that stands fragilely on its own until it is supported beautifully by a sustained string countermelody. For a debut effort, his work was nothing short of impressive.
With an impressive 57 songs spanning a run time of close to 160 minutes, SoulCalibur V does not disappoint with its scope and variety. The set is impeccably presented, with beautiful packaging and artwork, detailed bilingual liner notes, and a brief but interesting bonus DVD. While longtime fans of the franchise may be saddened at the missing presence and themes of their favorite characters, the musical contributions of composers new and familiar to the SoulCalibur franchise are some of the best assembled in a single game soundtrack. Delivered with excellent performances and an impressive amount of mixing and polish by John Kurlander (who also lent his mixing talents to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy), SoulCalibur V is a shining example of what an international team of composers and musicians can accomplish in the modern age. It is also a reminder that some aspects of a franchise can't help but get better with age.