Vanquish Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don
Vanquish is a fast-paced third person shooter by famed creator Shinji Mikami. Given the setting of the game, which takes place on a space station in the not-so-distant future, the music has a very electronic and futuristic sound. Composed primarly by Erina Niwa, who was featured on Bayonetta, and Masafumi Takada, who is known for his work on killer7, it fits well, from what I've played of the game, but on a standalone basis, how does it perform?
"Opening," by Erina Niwa, sets the tone for the game. It's an interesting theme that mixes orchestral and electronic to create a foreboding, at times, and chaotic, at others, atmosphere. It definitely manages to capture the tension between Russia and the United States of America, during the fictional second Cold War. It's a beautiful theme and definitely one of the more substantial cinematic themes on the soundtrack. The majority of the other cinematic themes in the soundtrack are atmospheric and understated, though those at the climax of the score are worth waiting for.
When there isn't a major battle that requires its own music, there are action oriented themes to go along with the various environments and areas of the game. Erina Niwa's compositions, for the most part, are somewhat atmospheric in nature. "East Deck Passageway" is one such theme that manages to carry with it a very suspenseful tone. There is definitely some unique synth manipulation incorporated into this theme, such as synth that seems to simulate blowing wind. The industrial percussion and the slow, yet heavy beat serves as a very nice backbone to the piece. "Kreon's Interior" intensifies the suspense with its combination of distorted synth some so quirky that they remind me of vocal samples and heavy industrial percussion. Similarly, "Central Park" is truly haunting in nature, featuring grungy beats and gloomy soundscapes throughout. "Grand Coulee Dam" has some things going for it, but is comparably weaker due to its somewhat droning nature.
Although most of Niwa's contributions in terms of area themes are more on the atmospheric side, she does have a few more upbeat area themes. "Grandhill" is the first in a three part section on the soundtrack (and game) related to the hero's climb up Grandhill. It's an extremely ominous and industrial composition with heavy beats and industrial synths dominating the composition, with some synthesizer accompaniment thrown into the mix from time to time. It's one of my favorite area themes on the soundtrack due to its edgy nature. The second part, entitled "Grandhill Halfway Up," unlike "Grandhill," is a bit more suspenseful in execution, but at the cost of edginess. The ominous beats really stand out for this theme and the industrial influence, while present from time to time, doesn't come off as strong. On the whole, it's the weakest of the three Grandhill related compositions. The last part, "Grandhill's Highest Part," is one of Erina Niwa's compositions and also one of her more exhilarating electronic compositions in terms of area theme. It features some great beats and a fantastic melody line. Although the melody line is mainly used to add to the atmosphere, it manages to stay fresh throughout. There are also some edgy synth accompaniments, some ominous electronic tones, and some orchestral accompaniment used throughout.
Masafumi Takada's area theme contributions, on the other hand, are generally upbeat or edgier. "Belt Conveyer Area" is an extremely well-crafted composition. It manages to incorporate a fantastic beat, some ethereal synth, some fantastic sampling, such as some alarm tones, and some industrial synth as well. Although it's definitely more on the ambient side, it doesn't really get boring due to the energetic nature of the composition. "The Colony's Center, like "Belt Conveyer Area," manages to incorporate some fantastic beats, some ethereal synth, some industrial influence, and some more mysterious tones to create an intriguing theme. Although it manages to incorporate these things quite nicely, it isn't as developed as some of the other themes and may cause the listener to become a bit disinterested by the second loop.
Many of the battle themes on the soundtrack were also composed by Masafumi Takada. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the first occurrence of such a theme sends off the wrong signals for the rest of Takada's battle themes. In "Normal Battle," Takada takes quite an ambient approach using a range of distorted and industrial elements, but doesn't really manage to grab my attention too well. Fortunately, many of his other battle themes more than make up for this. "Battle on the East Deck" is quite exhilarating with its frenetic and upbeat electronic bass line and fantastic synth manipulation, while "Battle in Central Park" is a fitting complement to the area theme with its brooding percussion, tense orchestral passages, and heavy beats. Another of Takada's best battle themes, in my opinion, is "Battle in the Colony's Residential Area." It incorporates a few fascinating elements, such as the layering of a static, but ultimately, entertaining beat phrase, and a synth melody that keeps becoming more and more menacing. It really manages to send this chilling sensation down my spine. This is truly one of Takada's best battle themes on the soundtrack and would probably fit perfectly in the upcoming Tron movie, if you ask me!
Perhaps overall, the two most solid contributions in terms of battle themes from Takada are the battles related to Crystal Viper. "Crystal Viper Battle 1" is one of my favorite battle tracks from Takada. It manages to incorporate those elements from other tracks that really make them successful. A static, but fitting, techno beat serves as the underlying element to the track and on top of this, various other elements are added. At times, there is some militaristic percussion and orchestral tones. During others, there are warbled synth passages, as well as some more ethereal and airy synth passages. It's a stunning array of sounds and one that really gives off a dire tone. Similar to the first part of this battle, "Crystal Viper Battle 2" incorporates similar elements. However, the end result is much different, despite the similar styles. Of course, there are sections that borrow the motif heard in the first section of the battle, but overall, the final piece is much more menacing. It's much more industrial in tone and the energy is much more frenetic. Together both battle themes serve as an impressive addition to the soundtrack, but even on a standalone basis, both battle themes manage to serve as stunning listens.
Masakazu Sugimori's sole contribution to the soundtrack is "Freight Train Battle 1," but he manages to really impress with it. It's a beautiful fusion of orchestral, exotic percussion, rock elements, and frenetic electronic components. It has a certain menace about it, but at the same time, the energy really pumps the listener up, especially if they are playing the game and hearing the music. He may not have had a large role on the soundtrack, but his sole contribution is a fine addition to the soundtrack. "Freight Train Battle 2," composed by Masafumi Takada, serves as the finale to the Freight Train Battle section of the game. Unlike Sugimori's battle theme, Takada's approach is much mellower in comparison. Industrial beats, some beautiful orchestral passages that give off a slight sense of tension and heroism, and some beautiful synth manipulation is what really makes this theme out. I particularly enjoy the quirkier synth sounds heard throughout the theme. It's a beautiful contrast to Sugimori's composition, that together, really makes a cohesive whole.
In another example of duality, "Argus Battle" serves as the first boss battle theme. It is an extremely frenetic piece that really manages to capture the utter chaos that goes on during the battle. Imagine, if you will, missiles everywhere, laser beams that can kill you instantly, and whatnot, and there you have it. There isn't too much development in this theme, but it manages to capture my attention through the interesting synth manipulation in the melody line and the extremely catchy beat that pulses throughout the composition. The second time you encounter the Argus unit, you have to fight two of them. For this, the music is much definitely and is also composed by Erina Niwa. "North Airport ~ Argus 2 Battle" is a more subdued battle theme, compared to some of the other tracks, but there are a variety of elements that really make this theme stand out. The grungy guitar riffs and electric guitar distortion really complement the synth melodies and harmonies and it also serves as a nice reinforcement to the industrial electronic beat. It's an extremely menacing battle theme and definitely one of my favorites.
Erina Niwa's battle themes, as a whole, are much more ambient and layered than Masafumi Takada's. "First Battle" places a strong focus on an energetic electronic beat, which serves nicely as the backbone of the piece. However, the ambient orchestral flourishes, brass sections, heavy percussion, and intermittent electric guitar riffs manage to add a bit more texture to the overall piece. It serves as a nice effort overall, but she definitely has much better battle themes to share. "Monorail Battle" is quite ambient in nature, since the monorail section of the game is similar to a stealth mission, while "Kreon's Deck Battle" focuses on a droning yet menacing electronic beat amidst some beautiful synth sections. Somewhat reminiscent of Junya Nakano's work, "Lift Battle" has a heroic atmosphere to it, yet also a strong tension is felt as well. I think this is done through the beautiful interlacing of the orchestral harmonies with the electronic components of the composition. Niwa has truly shown that she is an apt battle theme composer when it comes to those that require a certain mood.
Although this serves as an early boss battle theme in the game, I'm mentioning it near the end, due to the incorporation of it into the final battle theme. "Bogey Battle" is much more energetic than some of the other battle themes featured by Erina Niwa. It's got some fantastic guitar riffs and a fantastic techno beat to really create a tense atmosphere, but I really like the synth manipulation in the melody line. It has a very menacing sound about it and really captures that dire sense of battle. However, of all Erina Niwa's battle themes, I honestly feel that "Final Battle" theme is the best thing she has to offer. She manages to incorporate "Bogey Battle" into the composition for a nice thematic tie in with the first time you encounter this boss early in the game and at the same time, add to it quite stunningly. When it comes to the newer sections, the haunting choral, both female and male, work, occasional guitar riffs, and orchestral flourishes, serves as a striking contrast to the more intense electronic sections of the "Bogey Battle" theme. In the end, this battle theme left me wanting more, much more, in a good way, of course.
Moving to the climax of the soundtrack, "Conclusion" is Erina Niwa's other substantial cinematic theme that I'd like to mention. While I haven't gotten here in the game myself, the music itself seems to suggest an initial sense of action, with pulsating electronic tones, followed by a calmer, serene section comprised entirely of orchestral brass and strings, before ending on a somewhat gloomy note. It's another successful theme and serves nicely to close the main portion of the game's soundtrack. Although Masafumi Takada's primary role on the soundtrack was definitely oriented towards battle themes, he did compose the staff roll music as well as the ending credits music. "Staff Roll Shooting" is an orchestral theme that definitely carries with it ominous and heroic tones with some synthesizer additions. It is definitely a very well-crafted theme, although, at the same time, being one of the longest themes on the soundtrack, it might make the listener lose interest after the initial loop. "End Credits," on the other hand, is very atmospheric in approach. There are some more frenetic strings passages, but they only serve to reinforce the atmosphere heard throughout the piece. The droning electronic bass combines nicely with the orchestral sections, when present, and manages to capture the feeling first heard in "Opening" by Erina Niwa.
To listen to the Vanquish Original Soundtrack from start to finish can be taxing on the mind. Given the primarily electronic approach of many of the themes, after some time as passed, if you aren't paying attention, you may start to feel as if the music starts to blend together from time to time. However, given a more thorough and individual listen, most of the tracks are extremely well-crafted examples of how cutting edge electronic music can be, with few fillers. Both Erina Niwa and Masafumi Takada are able to create both ambient and more upbeat themes to complement the various situations in the game. Although I haven't finished the game, the music itself really lends itself well to the action on-screen. It is, as I mentioned before, a taxing listen from start to finish, but interspersed throughout a playlist with different music, or just listened to a bit at a time, the music is more easily able to be appreciated. If you are a fan of electronic music, you might want to pick this one up. I'd say it's worth it.
Overall Score: 9/10