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Metal Gear Solid Original Game Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Metal Gear Solid Original Game Soundtrack Album Title: Metal Gear Solid Original Game Soundtrack
Record Label: King Records
Catalog No.: KICA-7895
Release Date: September 23, 1998
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


In 1998, the PlayStation's Metal Gear Solid revived the previously MSX-based Metal Gear series into one of the most successful franchises of all time. The title almost universally satisfied audiences with its epic story, detailed graphics, and invigorating gameplay. Did the sound meet the same high standards? Led by Hideo Kojima's long-term sound director Kazuki Muraoka, a small team at Konami Computer Entertainment Japan were responsible for the composition, sound effects, recording, and voice editing. The soundtrack assembled influences from Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake, cinematic composers, and jazz musicians to establish a distinct and atmospheric sound built upon in later entries to the series. However, several factors meant it was one of the weaker soundtracks in the series.


The "Metal Gear Solid Main Theme" became the iconic piece on the soundtrack despite being used only for promotional purposes in its 'original' incarnation. Composed by Suikoden's Tappi Iwase, it delighted listeners with its brass melody — magnificent shaped in its exposition, beautifully explored in its development, and always memorable after listening. The harmonisation, assembled with a thin layer of electronic beats and repeating string motifs, nevertheless left an overriding bare sound; occasional richness in the development sections came as a consequence of overbearing percussion use, cheesy electric guitar solos, and dated synth hooks. For all its superficiality, the theme nevertheless became legendary thanks to its melody and became the source of powerful arrangements by Harry Gregson-Williams in later additions to the series. Unfortunately, its main strength was because it was the product of blatant plagiarism — near-identical to classical Russian composer Georgy Sviridov's "The Winter Road" — and the disgraced theme is thus no longer used by Konami. In retrospect, it seems difficult to reconcile how a composer incapable of mature harmonisation and development could legitimately craft one of the greatest melodies featured in a video game.

Moving on to the more emotional tracks used in the game, "Introduction" provides a considerable amount of timbral colour in its one minute playtime. The longest gameplay piece, "Discovery", is also one of the most striking; it initially layers a number of forces on an ethereal soundscape marked by sporadic electronic sounds and heavy reverb string notes before introducing a beautifully developed militaristic trumpet melody at the 1:20 mark. Similarly atmospheric, "Cavern" and "Warhead Storage" are marked by deep descending progressions and gripping percussion use, though the latter features more prominent use of electronic beats. The boss theme "Mantis' Hymn" is extremely eerie in the game — a slow chorale with subtle uncompassionate developments over its playtime — whereas "Colosseo" combines transient sound effects and chilling orchestration to create a horrifying atmosphere. Finally, "Enclosure" is the closest to an interlude on the soundtrack marked by gentle piano melodies and sappy string and woodwind support. Overall, Kazuki Muraoka, Hiroyuki Togo, Takanari Ishiyama, and Lee Jeon Myung are clearly able to produce genuinely evocative pieces despite their sometimes generic approaches to development. The main problem is that subpar synth often gives an artificial sound.

Moving on to faster paced themes, the three "Intruder" themes provide tense music accompany to Solid Snake's exploration of major areas in the game. They are quite superficial in their constructs, the first marked by fleeting jazz-influenced motifs, the second assembling various percussion instruments on continual electronic beats, and the third featuring fleeting electronic noises well-suited for a nuke facility. The alert mode theme "Encounter" combines intense utterings of fragments of the main theme with strong emotional progressions; even though it loops too early into its development, it still sustains repeated use in the game well. The boss theme "Duel" uses chord progressions and occasional melodic fragments from the main theme with suspended notes and heavy percussion. A special boss theme "Hind D" again relies on fragments of the main theme in combination with a superficial three note descant. "Blast Furnace" also provides a highlight with its combination of catchy beats and ambient soundscaping. Towards the end of the game, "Rex's Lair" is a percussive fest marked by 'zumming' vocals and segues nicely into "Escape" for the last period of gameplay. Overall, the four composers demonstrate a great capacity for soundscaping and creating rhythms here, though clichéd approaches usually supersede musical ingenuity.

The other intended highlight of the soundtrack is Rika Muranaka's tragic ending theme "The Best is Yet to Come". The warm understated performance by Gaelic singer Blathnaid Ni Chufaigh is complemented by increasingly elaborate Celtic instrumentals. The dramatic intent of the composition is undermined by its underlying derivative features and the fact it completely differs from the style of the rest of the soundtrack. Furthermore, awful lyrics like "Tell me... We are not alone in this world... Fighting against the wind" add to the superficial gloss. The only VR theme included, "VR Training" is based on dramatic "Theme of Tara" from Metal Gear; the orthodox arrangement benefits from higher fidelity string and percussion parts. The main theme returns for an extended 1997 E3 Edit; overall, it is superfluous and unimpressive, adding an abrupt ethnic-inspired section using common shakahuchi and vocal chant libraries and concluding abruptly after the introduction of the third repeat of the piece. Finally, the theme is arranged again in Quadra's Control Mix, a fairly elaborate semi-orchestral arrangement regularly interrupted by Japanese voice acting during its lengthy 6:53 playtime (hence not included in the European version). The soundtrack could have replaced these mixes with more VR themes and other missing tracks.


The Metal Gear Solid soundtrack lacks the exuberance or refinement to complement the game's other features and be on par with other scores in the series. It is able to convincingly convey moods and portray action in the game, hence why Norihiko Hibino preserved aspects of the approach in subsequent games in the series. However, its effect is somewhat limited by its incapacity to cinematically underscore and its general lack of material and well-developed pieces. On a stand-alone level, its main strengths are its thematic coherency, ability to inspire nostalgia, and the superficially enjoyable main theme and vocal theme. However, when stripped down, it is full of clichéd composition techniques and even the two iconic themes are very problematic. Further, relative to early streamed efforts like Suikoden, the sound quality definitely lacks and the synthetic feel sometimes reinforces the shallowness of the compositions. A brutely functional score with a surprising capacity to be enjoyable, those looking for a Metal Gear soundtrack with musical integrity should consider other options — in later scores these problems were fixed and Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake is also surprisingly good — though the Metal Gear Solid Original Game Soundtrack may still be a worthwhile purchase.

Overall Score: 6/10