Sounds from The Dark Spire :: Review by Don
The Nintendo DS has brought a recent revival of classic first person dungeon crawlers, such as the Etrian Odyssey series, Shiren the Wanderer series, and the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. However, Success has recently put out a game that also follows in these footsteps, entitled The Dark Spire (or Genmu no Tou to Tsurugi no Okite). Taking things one more step into the realm of retro games, this game features a classic and updated mode with music to match! Atlus' overseas release of the game featured a bonus one disc soundtrack, Sounds from The Dark Spire, featuring a range of chiptune, arranged, and bonus versions of the music from the game. Is it enough to own or is the two disc import release more recommended?
The album opens with a remastered version of the game's main theme. Presented similar to an aria, the introduction features atmospheric piano work and orchestral elements gradual enter, culminating in a short but striking passage written for operatic male voice. The vocal and orchestra sound distinctly synthetic, but are very well done nonetheless. The town related themes, such as "Shops" and "Guild," all feature a dark, brooding atmosphere, with some decent bass rhythms and a pretty strong melody. Strangely the actual "Town" and "Inn" themes are missing despite being prominent in the main soundtrack release.
Although no longer presented in succession, the more interesting floor themes were included on the soundtrack release. "1st Floor Underground" is a rock-based theme that exhibits a sinister yet dramatic atmosphere through its awesome piano and violin lines. "1st & 2nd Floors" is probably my favorite of the bunch; it's got a catchy rhythm, some awesome rock riffs, and some eerie synth in the spirit of old-school game music. Though the 3rd and 5th floor themes are absent, the "4th Floor" theme was included even though it was among the weakest; at least it throws in some references to "1st & 2nd Floors" to tie in some thematic material. Both "6th Floor" and "7th Floor" are pretty interesting too given they present some awesome melodies on bizarre operatic vocals. The vocals really help make the atmosphere of the tracks much richer, despite their sound quality.
The three battle themes, however, are my favorites on the soundtrack. "Battle" features some pretty interesting vocal samples, a solid rock bass, and a pretty standard melody, but one that is pretty intense. "Mid Boss," though, is probably my favorite of the bunch. It's got an extremely upbeat bass line with clear techno and rock influences and the piano intro is to die for! As with the other battle themes, it also features vocal samplings, but the piano is the true star of this show. It melds so well with the guitar riffs. The final boss theme comes a close second in terms of favoritism. The vocal samples in this one are very reminiscent of those found in the later floor themes, but the overall atmosphere is dark and brooding. Touches of rock, some keen organ usage, and a very beautifully mixed sound make this an amazing theme. One of the highlights for sure!
While the majority of the domestic release focuses on the arranged version, there are some chiptune tracks included. The tracks chosen are a diverse bunch, namely "Training Grounds", "Battle", "6th Floor", "7th Floor", and "Event A", and can be compared with their arranged versions readily on the domestic release. They demonstrate the strength of Kenichi Arakawa's melodies and how his compositions intrinsically create so much mood. Though the chiptune version will be well-suited for old-school gamers, I personally found the DS version to be more captivating due to the more diverse sample use. There are also simple but soothing piano interpretations of the main themes that were previously featured in the promotional release. A final highlight is the five minute special arranged medley taken from the domestic soundtrack. It's well done, right from its ritualistic percussive opening to its old-school rocking centre and operatic sections right the way to its romantic piano-based conclusion.
In the end, the Sounds from the Dark Spire is a pretty interesting soundtrack. It features some dark, brooding music, but there are also some catchy themes, such as various floor themes and the battle themes. It's not the strongest of soundtracks and I like the Etrian Odyssey soundtracks much more, but it's still worth listening to if you plan on buying the ridiculously challenging game. However, there are numerous notable absences on the release, such as a complete set of floor themes, a full chiptune version, and even the town theme. The promotional release still does a decent job, but those looking for a well-rounded soundtrack should import the two disc Genmu no Tou to Tsurugi no Okite Original Soundtracks instead.
Overall Score: 6/10