Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is the latest in the famous fighting series created by Namco Bandai, and is the long-awaited follow-up to the original tag battle game. Most of the composers for the first game return to reprise their roles, with the exception of Yu Miyake, with Akira Tohyama serving a the sound director and lead composer. In addition, Taku Inoue and Go Shiina also offer contributions. Compared to the last major Tekken title, Tekken 6, the Tekken Tag Tournament 2 soundtrack definitely boasts a more contemporary sound combining a variety of styles, including styles that have recently become much more popular in the world of electronic dance music.
Lead composer Akitaka Tohyama offers a plethora of styles on this release. "Tekken Tag Tournament Piano Intro -Massive Mix-" is a remix of the intro from Tekken Tag Tournament soundtrack. It combines a wonderful piano and synth melody with a fantastic trance backing. It's energetic and really gets you ready to fight! The character select theme, "Aim to Win," is equally beat-heavy and there is some distorted vocoder thrown into the mix, which foreshadows some of the common bonds for many of the tracks on the soundtrack. There's also a long edit of this theme on the second disc that is heavier in sound and features more elaborations that would work wonders in a club. One of the most striking contributions by Tohyama is "Tekstep Fountain," used when fighting with the Fontana di Trevi as a backdrop. It's very intriguing fusion of the increasingly popular dubstep style and classically inspired orchestra. Surprisingly, the dubstep beats and distortion really work well with the romantic strings work that is introduced in the B section, giving the piece an edgy, yet delicate, atmosphere. One of the artist's weaker contributions is "The Strongest Iron Arena -Silver Mix-," an arrangement of the music featured in Tekken 4, though I still think it's an improvement over the original; it sounds much cleaner and fuses the original's rock focus with electronic elements to yield a thicker musical texture. It doesn't feature much melodic development, but definitely works for something to use in battle.
Another more contemporary style that Tohyama uses is psytrance, having used it in past Tekken games as well as in his solo album Samurai Damacy under his AJURIKA moniker. "Abyss of Time" follows in the footsteps of "Karma" from Tekken 6. It's an extremely energetic piece featuring the fast tempo of psytrance, some slick beats, and some great synthesizer lead notes. In addition, he incorporates some bell chimes and some exotic chanting, reminiscent of Indonesia, for which this stage is based. It's one of my favorite contributions from Tohyama and the long edit remixes the theme a bit and is also a treat. Lastly, "IT'S NOT A TUNA," rounds out the list with another very intriguing fusion. However, many may find this tune not to their liking, especially if they aren't fans of hard techno. Whether the track title is a play on "It's not a tumor!" from Kindergarten Cop or foreshadows the fact that "It's not a tune-a," is up for debate, but the end result is sure to split opinions. There is a huge focus on heavy beats and distortion with little focus on melody. The time where melody is truly present is in the intro, giving it a bit of a Spanish flair with its brass sounds, and with its reprisal later in the track. Fitting for a fighting game, yes, but for fans that long for more melody, this track will surely not be for them. Personally I enjoy it, given that hard techno is one of my favorite styles.
Before moving onto the more prominent contributors, the tracks by Rio Hamamoto, Go Shiina, and Taku Inoue are definitely worth mentioning. Although Rio Hamamoto only contributes one tune to the soundtrack, it's an extremely strong one. In my Ridge Racer 3D review, I mentioned that I felt that Hamamoto's contributions would be more fitting for a fighting game, although they did work in the racing medium, and here he gets a chance to shine once again in the fighting arena. That electronic and grungy rock fusion returns for "Sunny" and is definitely one of the strongest contributions on the entire album. There's a plethora of edgy bass work, lots of electronic distortion, and plenty of vocoder usage. I'd love to see Rio Hamamoto get a chance to shine some more. Another person who deserves to have a more prominent role in the Tekken series is definitely Go Shiina. His track, "Snow Castle -Mundus Arrange-," is a remix of the theme from Tekken 5. While the original was mainly rock and electronic focused with the exotic vocal work that Go Shiina loves to incorporate, the version on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 takes a decidedly different approach. The contemporary components are definitely overshadowed by the grand scale of the orchestra and choral components that Go Shiina opted for in this remix. There are both serene moments, primarily when the organ and boys' choir is incorporated and more epic moments when the full chorus and romantic strings is incorporated. In many ways, this is God Eater meets Tekken. While determining if it is better than the original is up for debate amongst those who listen, out of all the remixes on the album, this is easily my favorite.
Newcomer Taku Inoue, who managed to provide some really nice music in Ridge Racer 3D, is added to the roster for this soundtrack and manages to offer some very stylistically different pieces. His sole stage theme contribution, "Zirkus," incorporates some interesting rhythmic techniques and features a heavy focus on vocoder usage. I really like the overall choppiness of this tune because it really manages to keep the listener captivated. I'm always following different rhythms, whether it be from the more drum n' bass inspired accompaniment or the rhythm of the melody. The bridge section is also quite nicely done, offering a bit more intensity towards the end of the track. "F.F.Y.R.," which stands for "Fight for Your Right," incorporates some funky electronic work, meshing a variety of styles, some of which seems semi-inspired by dutch house, dubstep, and more softer electronic tones. In addition, there is a heavy focus on vocoder saying the words "Fight for Your Right." It's an intriguing track and I really love the blending of various electronic styles. Inoue is responsible for "Night Falls," the ending theme for the game. This theme is absolutely exquisite. It's an electro-acoustic fusion that really manages to give a sense of finality, but at the same time, still provide, in part, the edgy sound that is featured on most of the soundtrack. The B section, where the acoustic guitar really manages to shine, is absolutely dreamy and when the electronic component is added into the mix, the end result is phenomenal. He is also responsible for a variety of short tunes featured on the soundtrack, such as Name Entry, but they aren't as substantial as his other contributions.
Keiichi Okabe's contributions focus more on remixes from older games in the series, but he also contributes some original tunes to the soundtrack. "Sadistic Xmas," one of the tracks featuring Keigo Hoashi in an arrangement role, is the holiday stage theme and has a very edgy Christmas soundscape. In a way, it's very disco inspired, particularly in the strings, but the combination of bubbly strings and synth work nicely with the electronic beat and vocoder usage. The most surprising section of this theme is the beautiful choral bridge that really manages to impart a very spritely, slightly romantic sound that contrasts nicely with the more upbeat aspects of the composition. His other original theme, "Utmost Limits," used as the stage theme when battling Ogre, is probably my favorite of Okabe's contributions. I love the sinister atmosphere of the track from the distorted synthesizer work, those edgy electronic beats, guitar riffs, and industrial tones. Particularly enjoyable is the B section, when the tempo is increased, there's more of a rock focus, and all the elements mentioned above come together to form an extremely brutal combination.
Okabe's three remixes are all very different in style. "Fiji -Paraiso Mix-," a remix from Tekken, is an extremely fun, tropical theme featuring a steady electronic beat, percussion, with a heavy focus on steel drums, particularly in the melody line. The B section of the theme is absolutely dazzling, offering some latin-inspired jazzy piano work. It's the shortest remix on the album, but it definitely gets your body moving! Okabe's "Jin Kazama -Far East Mix-," from Tekken 3, keeps the funk rock soundscape of the original, but definitely makes the track much more Japanese in style. The heavy focus on taiko drums and chanting really bring a whole new dynamic that wasn't present in the original. It's probably my favorite of Okabe's remixes. Lastly, "Moonlit Wilderness -D.T.O Mix-, which features Keigo Hoashi as well, changes the soundscape of the Tekken 5 original a bit. Rather than focus on choir, the main melody is provided by some beautiful strings work. The electronic component doesn't vary much from the original, nor does the crystalline piano, but it some ways, the track sounds a bit cleaner overall. The brass accents during the bridge are also quite nice and give a really heroic sound to the mix. Some may prefer it over the original (I do), but that's ultimately up for the listener to decide, especially since the original is regarded as one of series' best compositions.
Lastly, but assuredly not least, is Nobuyoshi Sano. His contributions are, for the most part, absolutely stunning, providing a variety of styles popular in the electronic music scene, but with his own unique twist to most of them. His only remix contribution is "School -After School Mix-" from Tekken Tag Tournament, and it is also one of the best remixes on the album. While the original was a slower tempo theme, the remix is a much faster paced theme combining vocoders with ethereal trance stylings. Among his original contributions, "Yun" is a side not often seen from Sano. It's a really mellow track, compared to a lot of the soundtrack, but at the same it's extremely edgy. "Tool Pusher" has a very industrial soundscape. Many of the elements present in "Yun" are also featured here, such as a dark synthesizer base and some subtle wobble effects in the electronic accompaniment, and I really like some of the electronic manipulation in the synthesizer accompaniment because it really emulates what a drill sounds like. "Electro Parade" is an electro-house piece that has a very jovial, bright synthesizer sound that goes well with the more intricate, semi-heavy electronic components that serve as the accompaniment. Out of all the tracks, I think this is Sano's weakest, but it's definitely an enjoyable one. "Un Deux Trois" is a very heavy, industrial track with quite a sinister soundscape. I really like the distorted wobble effects in the electronic accompaniment and the haunting synthesizer used in the melody line. The melody itself isn't the core focus of the track, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it and the ominous synth hits in the B section really accentuate the evil atmosphere.
The crowning achievement on the entire soundtrack, in my opinion, is the final stage theme, "What you will see." This theme progresses very differently than the other tracks on the album in the fact that it does not loop. The reason for this is that the stage transforms in the last round. Sano was able to capture both the atmosphere of the Heavenly Garden section of the stage, as well as the Fallen Garden section of the stage wonderfully and their implementation on the soundtrack is second to none. The first half of the track features intoxicating, ethereal and distorted synthesizer that gives off a very tranquil environment. The crystalline synthesizer that is incorporated to serve as the melodic driving force during the first half of the track gives off a sense of floating, at least to this listener, as it's quite airy and it really works well with the vocoder stating the name of the track over and over again, in many ways foreshadowing the things to come. The second half of the track is completely different, featuring dubstep influence and some glitch techno. It's extremely edgy, dark, and visceral in sound and really manages to capture that last battle mentality quite well. The industrial percussion and the manipulated synthesizers only help reinforce this atmosphere. The most intriguing part of this second section is the exquisite combination of the first half of the track in the accompaniment. It helps tie the two sections of the stage together quite nicely and hypnotizes the listener in a way.
In the end, the Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Original Soundtrack is well worth a listen. It features a mix of styles, some more contemporary than others, and manages to provide an extremely edgy and fitting soundtrack to the fighting game. All the composers manage to create some knock-out tracks, but Nobuyoshi Sano truly shines on this soundtrack. For fans of the Tekken series' darker, more electronically focused themes, this is definitely one to check out. I have high hopes for the Namco-developed Tekken x Street Fighter game and soundtrack after this. It definitely has some competition though!
Overall Score: 9/10