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Wizardry Gaiden ~Prisoners of the Battles & Five Ordeals~ :: Review by Chris

Wizardry Gaiden ~Prisoners of the Battles & Five Ordeals~ Audio Collections Album Title: Wizardry Gaiden ~Prisoners of the Battles & Five Ordeals~ Audio Collections
Record Label: Five Records
Catalog No.: FPBD-0005
Release Date: April 24, 2007
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


The Wizardry series is best known for its five classically-oriented symphonic suites from Kentaro Haneda that were released from 1987 onwards. In 2007, its music came to the attention of plenty of game music fans again with the release of Basiscape's joint soundtrack to the PlayStation 2's Wizardry Gaiden: Prisoner of the Battles (tracks 1-20) and the PC's Wizardry Gaiden: Five Ordeals (tracks 21-25). Masaharu Iwata leads the Prisoner of the Battles tracks, scoring mostly orchestral themes that are often reminiscent of the series' early styles. However, the highlights on the disc tend to be the array of experiments from him and his collaborator Mitsuhiro Kaneda, as well as the Five Ordeals tracks from Kenichi Koyano and Hitoshi Sakimoto.


Masaharu Iwata is chiefly responsible for the album's orchestral tracks. The opener "Prisoners of the Battles" reminds me a lot of Kentaro Haneda's main themes used in the title screen of each Wizardry game. It boasts rich brass melodies and thick orchestration that sounds impressive thanks to Basiscape's ever effective sound programming. However, I find its charm largely superficial, as Iwata's orchestration is weak. It's bombastic, rhythmically static, and full of parallelisms. Iwata fails to capture the romanticism of Haneda's earlier themes and, while the quieter reflective sections are better, it doesn't make the body of the track any better. Also unfortunate is how the compelling but unpleasant orchestral discords of "Annihilation" introduce an otherwise dreary work featuring more semi-epic trumpet work, suspended strings, and a derivative mystical section. The more oriental-influenced "Fortress" is also weakened by the lumpiness of its harpsichord work and ear-piercing brashness of its trumpet fanfares while the heartfelt melodies of "Rest" are opposed by a saccharin-coated suspended string backing. Though all are listenable, their lack of originality and intricacy is disappointing. They ultimately provide a mediocre and fortunately misleading headline to the album.

When Iwata creates music outside his quasi-orchestral rut, he usually succeeds. While "Inn" starts off in a clichéd way with a falling string melody against harp, it ends up becoming the most multifaceted piece on the soundtrack due to a vocal- and chime-based spiritual section and a childish interlude. Iwata's two labyrinth themes bring back memories of his Baroque soundtrack with their eerie ambience. "Labyrinth 1" growls with a slow-developing 'celli line and some deep bassoon fragments creating a gloomy timbre for eerie synth vocals, spiritual gongs, and some piano fragments to colour. "Labyrinth 2" is instantly more intense due to the intrusive sound of drums throughout and often enters the boundaries of noise music with its ingenious use of instruments, particularly strings. "Battle 2" also makes a big entrance with its dissonant brass opening and develops into a very good boss theme; many will draw parallels with Iwata's Final Fantasy Tactics battle themes here, though there is appropriately little militaristic feel. Iwata's other offerings are a shop theme that buzzes with Germanic instruments and "Outskirts", another dark theme that uses the same melody in a different context.

Mitsuhiro Kaneda's nine tracks provide the creative core of the soundtrack. "Bar" is a laidback flamenco track led by the crisp catchy phrases from a Spanish guitar; it develops to incorporate violin and woodwinds in an unusual way, creating a fusion a little reminiscent of Hyper Street Fighter II's "Cammy Stage" remix. "Temple" is a Messiaen-inspired organ-led track in which a celestial chorale is twisted by lots of dissonant chords, jagged phrasing, and some intricate but largely monophonic passagework. "Museum" flaunts the composer's acoustic sound with its calming acoustic guitar arpeggios and some and a mixture of elegant and whimsical woodwind work. What else? "Training Place" is a gorgeous two-tiered oriental piece that interchanges between light and dark sections, "Chest from After the Battle" is a charming minimalistic ditty, while "Event" is gorgeously layered to create a lot of mood. Kaneda's normal and final boss battle themes are complex modernist works that soar with jagged wind melodies, drive with percussion polyrhythms, and boom with a barrage of dissonant chords. Though "Battle 1" is a little more fun, they're both coherent, accessible, and inspired efforts. If all that weren't enough, Kaneda's "Labyrinth 3" trumps Iwata's dungeon themes, mostly thanks to the emergence of the impressionistic wails of a saxophone from a dark ambient background.

Sakimoto produces two contributions to the soundtrack. He concludes the Prisoners of the Battles score by providing a symphonic ending theme. While attempts are made to make it comparable to his excellent ending themes for his Square Enix works, this theme emulates them too much while having little melodic substance of its own. Aside the brief and unconvincing introductory reference to Iwata's main theme, it focuses on a lulling string melody reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII's "White Room" but without the development or many quirks in the orchestration. More interesting is Sakimoto's "Town" contribution for Five Ordeals. He composed it in an industrial rock style like he did for Hyper Street Fighter II's "Vega Stage" remix. He focuses on a grungy bass guitar figures but supports them with exotic percussion and a degree of orchestration. I can't imagine how it could fit in a town, but it's still a rhythmically enticing and atmospheric piece that will be enjoyed by those with experimental leanings. Overall the soundtrack certainly isn't a must-have for a Sakimoto fan, though his contributions are something of a bonus here, as intended.

Iwata's friend and mentor Kenichi Koyano concludes the soundtrack with four tracks featured in Five Ordeals. They're all led by the electric guitar and hard rock in nature. His arrangement of Iwata's "Prisoners of the Battles" in "Scorching Wheel" sounds like a new track altogether given the complete shift of style from its orchestral roots; it's a well done little addition, though two guitars playing the melody does sound strange making me wonder why such an arrangement was inspired in the first place. "Labyrinth" uses just a rhythm guitar and lead guitar for much of the piece, but is just as atmospheric as Iwata and Kaneda's dungeon themes, grungy yet ethereal; as well as its rhythmical impetus, it stands out for its improvised sections that are synonymous with aspects of Sakimoto's "Town". And finally there's the two battle themes, which both get the rhythm going before moving into some great electric guitar solos. These are among the best video game rock tracks I've heard in recent years.


This soundtrack is recommended for a significant few. It's probably unworthy of a purchase for most people as it is rather short and doesn't really have any sort of dramatic arch to make it an entirely satisfying listen start to finish. Also, the target audience certainly isn't fans of Basiscape's orchestral works or those expecting a Haneda-style Wizardry soundtrack; the few orchestral tracks on here disappoint. The highlights are the many experiments from the eclectic Kaneda and, to a lesser extent, Iwata that make the soundtrack diverse and worthwhile. Koyano's rock tracks are a wonderful bonus.

Overall Score: 7/10