Devil May Cry 3 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
Devil May Cry 3 restored the series to its former glory with a prequel focusing on the tragedy of the demon brothers Dante and Vergil. Its score aimed to build on the foundations set by its predecessors and introduce new stylistic elements to the series such as heavy metal and noise music. Responsible for the sheer majority of the huge score, Devil May Cry 2 returnee Tetsuya Shibata decided to create most themes with absolute efficiency, making his priority complementing the game rather than offering necessarily enjoyable or profound stand-alone listening material. This resulted in riff-based battle themes, ambient stage themes, and no frills event themes, though there were several themes intended to provide major musical highlights. Capcom intern Kento Hasegawa also created 21 themes, which are stylistically continuous with Shibata's themes but usually more elaborate. A larger score than its predecessors, 104 tracks are spread across three discs in this complete soundtrack release, though over half of them are event themes of some sort. Is it a good listening experience outside the game?
"Prologue" introduces the tragedy of the two brothers in conjunction with a retrospective narrative. The beautiful main theme for the game is interpreted by pipe organ and chorus in the style of a lament, culminating in a string-based climax that is particularly powerful within the game. It makes numerous emotional appearances throughout the soundtrack, ranging from piano-based retrospectives to orchestral event themes to climactic battle tracks. It is without doubt the most established and effectual main theme of the series and the main source of melodic appeal in this score. One of the most important for setting the tone of the game is the "Divinity Statue" featuring a melancholic chorus accompanied by atmospheric suspended strings and ethnic percussion. The tone of the game is reinforced by the ritualistic forces of the recurring mission clear and game over themes. Especially malevolent are the mission start themes, the first featuring angry utters from a male voice against unnerving strings, the second uncompassionate with its pressing suspended strings and percussion. These themes all series' foundations while expanding its emotional capacity. While their stylistic origins are familiar, the series has never felt so morose musically.
In contrast to past soundtracks, the setting themes in Devil May Cry 3 are extremely ambient, intended to blend with the environments and subtly build atmosphere within the game. During the walk through the city at the start of the game, silence is occasionally broken with a faint, occasionally eccentric theme that experimentally assembles various sound effects and dabs of percussion. The ancient demonic feel of Temen-Ni-Gru tower is enhanced by two pieces incorporating ambient noise, penetrating sound effects, and cries of a baby. The occasional low piano note, harp arpeggio, or string discord provide little salvation or comfort here. The sparse, barely fathomable soundscapes of "Subterranean Lake" are appropriate for a transient area, while the metronomic percussion of "Gears Room ~ Underground Arena" is very effective at building tension preceding a major encounter. For the return to Temen-Ni-Gru, Shibata's offers a decisive percussively driven theme in "...After the Ritual" and Hasegawa concocts a deathly blend of sound and voice effects in "...United with the Demon World". A particularly enjoyable stand-alone theme is Hasegawa's "Within Leviathan", which combines distorted organic sound effects and electronic beats to give a sense of being inside a living creature.
A heavy metal element was introduced to the third instalment of the series. While only a handful of tracks integrate Shawn McPherson's abrasive vocals, they're all prominent enough to make a significant impact in the game. The two normal battle themes will split opinions, some loving their rebellious tones, others finding them downright ugly. However, the decision to integrate them was a good one since they fit the attitude and tone of the revised franchise well and sustain repetition during gameplay better than predecessors due to plenty of development. The most enjoyable heavy metal efforts are probably Cerberus' "Roar of Anger" and its harder, faster variation for Beowulf; while the overly-Americanised pronunciation of 'suffer' makes me cringe every time, these themes create a great amount of aggression with their edgy vocals and compelling rhythms. "Nevan Defeated" features a short but sweet variation of the first battle theme as Dante obtains an electric guitar, while a liberating theme also accompanies the most action-packed cutscene in the game, "Temen-Ni-Gru Dive". An arrangement of the latter is also cleverly blended with the main theme for the highly enjoyable staff roll theme "Devils Never Cry" and further explored with a series of arrangements in the bonus tracks.
The majority of the numerous boss battle themes develop the grunge approach featured in Devil May Cry 2. The iconic opening battle theme is neatly integrated into the game, starting up when Dante kicks his jukebox and soon filling the room with distorted rock riffs and an appropriately cocky character. Although most take a riff-based approach, a lot of character is expressed in the thickheaded guitar and string layering for Agni & Rudra or the goofy cross-rhythms of "Damned Chess Battle". There are also occasional references to the electronica approach of earlier series soundtracks; "Gigapede Battle" is a homage to Nelo Angelo with its catchy phrases and organ use while Nevan's "Hot as a Bullet" accompanies the game's most erotic encounter with a bubbly trance fusion. Of all the battle themes, Geryon's seems to have the least going for it little more than a repetitive assembly of riffs but even this works quite well in the game. Lady's "Vengeance" does not feel anywhere near as novel or important as it should do either even though it develops well. Probably the most intricate of the bunch is Hasegawa's "In the Shadow", which blends rock, orchestral, and techno elements for an emotionally charged encounter with Der Doppelganger.
The event themes that dominate the soundtrack are a double-edged sword. They provide mature cinematic underscoring to numerous scenes, usually taking a subsidiary role in enhancing atmosphere and mood, though occasionally stepping up to provide significant drama. There is impressive attention to detail paid to the elements of each individual theme and collective continuity is maintained with recurring elements. One particularly effective feature is the subtle leitmotif usage to portray certain characters a mischieviously repeating xylophone note for Jester, an unsettling dissonant string cue for Arkham, or melancholic piano use for Lady. "Betrayal", "Lady's Past", "Confiding Lady", and "Conclusion" are also among the emotional highlights of the soundtrack, demonstrating Shibata's acumen for integrating the main theme and composing for piano or strings However, the presence of event themes to open and close every single one of the 20 missions and introduce most bosses means that the soundtrack soon becomes cluttered. Most of the themes are simply tedious on a stand-alone level and only a few will inspire specific memories of the game since most are so low-key in context. These themes also give an interruptive feel to the soundtrack given most are short and many feature abrupt transitions or conclusions.
The strongest compositions on the score accompany the battles with Dante's brother Vergil. Hasegawa's "The Encounter" provides such an adrenaline rush when it pops up on the soundtrack after so many filler themes. It gets straight to the action blending rock and techno forces in a catchy way before taking an introspective turn to capture the emotions of the feuding brothers. Hasegawa further demonstrates his flair with emotional cinematic themes to open and close the battle. Shibata's "One More Game" ups the ante with aggressive racing bass riffs and epic use of orchestra and chorus. The ingenious incorporation of the main theme at 1:41 provides a melodic pull and takes the soundtrack to emotional heights no previous track has surpassed. After a spectacular build-up, the tragedy culminates in "Blood on Blood". Introduced with a jaw-dropping fanfare, a dissonant avant-garde passage provides the malevolent edge to the encounter and an initially straightforward orchestral rendition of the main theme offers the motivation. Shibata demonstrates his flair as an orchestrator by progressively elaborating on the theme, incorporating a commanding imperial march, a retrospective chorale interpretation of the theme, and finally an orchestra and chorus climax before the loop at the 3:21 mark. A true masterpiece, this theme has it all.
Devil May Cry 3's soundtrack is probably the best in the series in terms of supporting the game. The action is enhanced by numerous well-developed battle themes, the locations are enhanced by subtle ambient themes, each cinematic event is convincingly underscored, and the overall approach supports the intention to produce a dark and tragic game nevertheless filled with attitude. However, the Devil May Cry 3 Original Soundtrack is not always enjoyable on its own, mainly due to the sheer number of uninteresting event themes and the lack of colourful stage themes. Unlikely its predecessors, it's not the type of soundtrack most would spend several hours listening to start to finish because the amount of filler becomes mind-numbing. It's more enjoyable to listen to one disc at a time or to simply compile a best of collection featuring the 30 to 40 really good themes as most of the 104 tracks aren't worthwhile. Overall, a fantastic achievement for game scoring, but only a mildly recommended stand-alone purchase.
Overall Score: 7/10