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Way of the Samurai Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Way of the Samurai Original Soundtrack Album Title: Way of the Samurai Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Sten och Flod
Catalog No.: STF-0003
Release Date: May 21, 2002
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Way of the Samurai is the first in a line of critically acclaimed samurai action titles by Acquire. Having previously scored the Tenchu series for them, Noriyuki Asakura returned to create a brief but dense score for the game. He placed great focus on complementing the rich visuals with unconventional pan-Asian fusions. The final results are superficially underwhelming, but potentially breathtaking.


Asakura evokes the beautiful scenery of feudal Japan with the opening theme "The Shore". In the improvisational opening bars, the composer evokes a sense of the eerie shadows, before Tomoko Shibata overwhelms listeners with her gorgeous, otherworldly soprano voice. The theme develops thereafter in a seemingly random manner with several abrupt transitions between scenic and action passages. However, when experienced in conjunction with the opening visuals, every musical element is used to portray a specific visual component. It is perhaps an overall artistic failure that the cinematic sequence is so disjointed, but Asakura's composition and, especially, that soprano voice are still undeniably sublime. It is one of several examples of the 'beautiful chaos' that dominates this soundtrack.

In terms of pan-Asian soundscaping, Way of the Samurai features some of Noriyuki Asakura's finest works to date. The composer once again impresses by combining seemingly opposing forces to create fulfilling overall pieces. The statute, wisdom, and power of Tesshin Kurou, for instance, is captured with the ululations of bamboo flutes, the metered punctuations of the guitar accompaniment, and the wild solos of an electric sitar. The forces collectively provide a subtle yet encompassing character exploration. "The Everlasting Wind" meanwhile is one of the calmest tracks on the soundtrack, but still manages to represent the rustic nature of the landscapes with its earthy percussion and dark interludes.

"Conspiring" is approached in a different way to most pieces of dark ambient underscoring. Rather than continuously build on some focal elements to create a developing soundscape, like most game composers would, Asakura offers sudden interruptions throughout — in this case, Indian-inspired sitar improvisations with Hollywood-influenced string suspensions. This doesn't ensure the most cohesive home listening experience, but it has an especially tense effect in context, letting gamers know that the outcome is in their hands. The composer takes things even further on "Pressing Matters", shocking listeners throughout with prepared piano use, experimental percussion selections, murky electronic beats, and even some sleazy trumpet passages. Does the composer's audacity know no bounds?

Probably the most outrageous compositions on the entire soundtrack are the battle themes. The stylistic influences and instrumental palette of "Normal Fighting Theme" are so wide that it can't be described in simple terms alone. But the resultant composition does offer two features most action themes should have — turbulence to represent the ever-changing circumstances and an overriding rhythmical edge. Though refreshingly understated, the core of "Final Fight Against Tamagawa" provides a vivid portrayal of the dark and warped antagonist, while the unrestrained woodwind wails are genuinely painful. It's only on "Righteous Soul" that order is finally introduced to the soundtrack with a relatively conventional Eastern orchestration and the astonishing solo violin performance ensures it is genuinely liberating and deeply evocative.


This soundtrack is potentially an eye-opener. The way in which Noriyuki Asakura complemented the visuals of the game is often highly unconventional and unexpected. Yet there is undeniable artistry in what he manages to achieve and how he brings so many contrasts to represent the divergent elements of Kenji's world. Featuring just 30 minutes of music, numerous interruptions, and an understated tone, the soundtrack will alienate many. But those willing to open their ears and spend some time with Way of the Samurai's soundtrack might just have their minds blown.

Overall Score: 8/10