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Onimusha Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Onimusha Original Soundtrack Album Title: Onimusha Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Suleputer
Catalog No.: CPCA-1048/9
Release Date: January 11, 2001
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Onimusha: Warlords took gamers back into the Sengoku period for an action-adventure involving a samurai. Mamoru Samuragouchi, an orchestral composer that has worked on scores such as Cosmos and Resident Evil: Director's Cut, was hired to create the score. During the development, he was affected by a hearing disability and lost all hearing before the recording sessions. Nevertheless, he managed to persevere to create not just an effective in-game score, but one of the few truly artistic and pioneering game soundtracks of modern times. The Onimusha Original Soundtrack is the Japanese version of the soundtrack to the game, though a condensed domestic release was also made available.


Mamoru Samuragouchi establishes the Japanese influences of the soundtrack in a minimalistic, yet effective, way. He opens the first disc with the meditative chanting of a samurai, whereas he highlights wailing shakuhachi and other traditional Japanese woodwinds for the opening of the second disc. "Rising Sun", the main theme of the soundtrack, is certainly the magnum opus of the soundtrack. It blooms from the aforementioned woodwinds into a march featuring rousing brass melodies and cinematic string lulls. The orchestration is quite erratic during the development, moving from overt nationalism to avant-garde segments to romantic nuances, although the transitions between the segments are expertly achieved. Nevertheless, many will debate whether these hybridised influences are appropriate in such a soundtrack, with some listeners preferring a more authentic treatment based on traditional Japanese music. Either way, the theme is an absolute highlight for stand-alone listening.

On the soundtrack release, Samuragouchi uses the "Rising Sun" recording as the introduction to a three movement symphony. In the subsequent two movements, he builds upon the major themes featured elsewhere in the soundtrack to create ten minute movements. 203 musicians, including the New Japan Philharmonic, instrumental soloists, and vocalists, assembled to record the symphony — at that time, the biggest ensemble ever to work on a game soundtrack. They capture the overall might of the orchestrations, while also reflecting their subtleties and intricacies. The symphony is collectively an impressive feat and fully manifests Samuragouchi's inspirations. It is a tragedy that the artist became fully deaf while recording it.

The in-game soundtrack features several remarkable additions other than "Rising Sun". Another hybrid of Western and Eastern influences, "Samanosuke Theme" is well-suited as a war anthem towards the start of the soundtrack, again astounding with its harmonic richness and emotional scope during its development. "Kaede Theme I" maintains the dense orchestration to depict the lush scenery of ancient Japan, whereas its partner thrusts gamers into the heat of the action. "Carnage Society" is a prime example of Samuragouchi at his wildest — with uncontrolled woodwind runs and ear-piercing orchestral discords. Capcom has shown their willingness to include overwhelmingly dissonant music in their soundtracks before, for example in the Dino Crisis soundtrack, but this is the first time they achieved this artistically. The final battle theme "Onimusha" does not disappoint either and is orchestrated in a way that is simultaneously turbulent, intimidating, yet motivating.

As with Samuragouchi's Biohazard Symphony Op. 91 Crime and Punishment before it, the Onimusha Original Soundtrack is overwhelmed by shorter tracks. The majority of these are action tracks dominated by taiko drums and wild winds. Some are genuinely interesting, such as the ever-turbulent "Yuki Theme" or the climactic choral cue "Majesty", yet many others such as the various "Bloodthirst" themes have little superficial or deep appeal despite being intricately integrated into the game. Thankfully, the majority of the tracks are sufficiently similar stylistically to give a feeling of a continuous musical experience, not just a collection of short cues. It's just a pity that this experience can sometimes be a drawn-out one.


Overall, the Onimusha soundtrack is a primary example of an accomplished game soundtrack that aspires to art music. Unlike the lacklustre Biohazard Symphony Op. 91 Crime and Punishment, Mamoru Samuragouchi seems to have been given a reasonable time to compose the soundtrack, allowing him to compose valient central themes, short action cues, and, indeed, even a whole symphony with comparable intricacy. However, his music is still a select taste and even those who enjoy dense Eastern-Western fusions may find Samuragouchi's orchestration erratic or even grandiloquent. Those who conclude the Onimusha soundtrack is worth their time may prefer the domestic print Sounds of Onimusha, considering it contains little redundancy and fewer short cues, though it is technically less complete than the Onimusha Original Soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8/10