Guilty Gear Original Sound Collection :: Review by GoldfishX
Back in 1999, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had just gone to the store and purchased a new 2D fighter called Guilty Gear for my Playstation, to satiate my newly rekindled love of fighting games. The screenshots I had seen looked promising and the potential for a fun chain-combo laden game with some nice animation was too good not to take a chance on (PlayStation 2D fighters were generally very choppy, due to the lack of RAM). As it turns out, the star of the game was not the animation (only the standing animations were anything to speak of) or the combo system (it wouldn't really involve anything deep until Guilty Gear X and Guilty Gear X2 came along later), but rather, it was the awesome melodic rock music in the game's soundtrack. As I played through the game, I listened as each character's theme came on and I just said to myself, "Damn, that's some good stuff!". By the time I had busted up Justice for the first time, tunes such as "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)", "Writhe in Pain", "A Fixed Idea" and "Meet Again" had been firmly planted in my brain-More than enough to tell me that Guilty Gear music was the real deal. A quick trip to the internet later and my copy of the Guilty Gear Original Sound Collection was on its' way to my house.
Here in the year 2004, the Guilty Gear series is quite well known for its music, its gorgeously animated 2D sprites, and for its deep gameplay. Albums such as Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks, Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack, and Guilty Gear XX #Reload Korean Version Original Soundtrack form a musical cannon of must-listens for anyone interested in any kind of hard rock music. The XX fighting engine is significantly more robust than any 2D fighter around and new tactics and combos are always being discovered. However, it helps to have a look at where all of this originated. While the original Guilty Gear's gameplay was quite a bit rough around the edges in graphics and overall gameplay, the music was well ahead of the game. The music in the original Guilty Gear is easily comparable to any of the later Guilty Gear games, boasting Daisuke Ishiwatari's unique melodic rock style in all of its stylishly powerful glory. The notes that come from the electric guitars flow seamlessly together, creating memorable themes that perfectly represent their characters and fit the apocalyptic world that the game takes place in like a glove. Many of the classic Guilty Gear themes made their original debut here, while the seeds were sown for others that would come up later in the series. I listen to the music from the series quite a bit and it's still a good feeling to know that, back when the Guilty Gear Original Sound Collection was the only Guilty Gear CD available, the potential for the series to really blossom was always there.
The first track on the CD is the perfect way to kick the series off on the right foot. "Prologue" is not something that appears in the game at all, but rather, as a gift from Ishiwatari for people that bought the soundtrack (it's not in the game's sound test either). And what a gift! In about five minutes, this track sums up everything the music in the series is known for: raw energy, character, addictive melodies, beautifully intertwining sections, an epic overall scope, and electric guitar riffs that make you think you died and went to heaven (or hell, depending on your stance on heavy metal and satanism). The piece goes back and forth, acting as a duel between a low and heavy guitar that does mostly rhythm and a soaring lead guitar that takes off with the main melody when it comes in. At about the four minute mark, both guitars come to a head and explode in their respective parts, acting as sort of a countermelody for each other, with neither guitar wanting to give in. Finally, a few seconds later, both sections wind down, calmly leading the way towards the chaos in the character themes to follow... Their way of saying, "Heaven or Hell! Let's Rock!" without the need of an announcer.
Several of the more well-known Guilty Gear themes make their debut on this album. To be honest, these were the pieces that really drew me to the music to begin with and as such, I have no arguments with them reappearing in later albums because their foundation is so solid. "Writhe in Pain" and "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)" were truthfully the first two Guilty Gear themes to grab my attention in-game. "Writhe in Pain" has actually changed very little in later incarnations, with the role of the guitars and frantic organs remaining virtually the same in the original here. "Holy Orders" is very similar to previous versions as well, but the main difference here is that the organ interlude found in later versions is done here with an electric synth. Back when this was the only version, it still stood out, but nowadays, it's almost like a buzz compared to the Heavy Rock Tracks version. Still, the opening is still done on an organ and the trademark explosiveness of the guitars throughout the piece is still present, making it an interesting piece of history.
"Suck a Sage" has always been one of the stand-bys of the series, with its frantic melody. I personally prefer this earlier version with its simplicity and raw energy, as later incarnations attempted to add extra unneeded sections, which actually cluttered the rest of the piece. "Momentary Life" is quite different from later incarnations, as the shamisan acts as more of a lead instrument, with the electric guitars mostly doing backup work. This version can't compete with either the Heavy Rock Tracks version or the XX version in terms of raw power, but it gives a better sense of Baiken's character (a one-eyed, one-armed samurai who looks like a Kenshin), with a more realistic Japanese feel to it and it carries a somewhat funky, but serious tone with it. Both "Meet Again" and "Pride and Glory" were re-done later on the XX, but both are essentially carbon copies of the versions found here. "Pride and Glory" is a pretty jazzy piece, mostly lead by a swinging lead piano and a bouncy rhythm guitar. "Meet Again" is a pure adrenaline rush, as it accompanies the final bastard... er, boss of the game, Justice. It opens with a chorus chanting and then it explodes into one of the most epic melodies I've ever heard, hitting its climax with an emotionally charged intensity and keeping the energy flowing throughout the piece. Even later boss battle themes in the series "Awe of She", "The Midnight Carnival", "Kill DOG As a Sacrifice to DOG" have yet to match this one, I think.
Since one can make the argument that much of the re-used material here can easily be found in later releases, I will simply say that the original material on this disc makes it worth the purchase as an awesome CD and not simply as a piece of history. Many of these laid the groundwork for later pieces that would replace them. For example, "Unidentified Child", carries a very lighthearted tone to it, as does its eventual replacement, "Blue Water, Blue Sky". The electric piano that runs through this piece captures both the feelings of innocence and adventure, which works perfectly, because the stage is set on an airship and May is a young girl that fights with a giant anchor. "Black Soul" (the theme for Zato) concentrates mainly on dark and heavy guitar passages, accompanied by the sound of a few piano sections. This is exactly the same pattern as Zato's later theme, "Feel a Fear", but not quite as refined or menacing. Still, it's certainly appropriate for a man who voluntarily let a demon take over his body, so he could seek revenge. Axl-Low was a character that underwent a somewhat major change from GG to later editions, where he went from being a pretty mean-looking thug to a rather friendly-looking normal guy. "The March of the Wicked King" perfectly reflects this "thug" persona, with an appropriate bass-heavy march and sections where it's muted for an electric synth to play over it. "Make Oneself" (his later theme) just wouldn't have worked as well, as this one just has a very mean feel to it.
"A Fixed Idea" is VERY similar to Testament's later theme, "Bloodstained Lineage", with lots organ and chanting, to give this one that certain gothic feeling of Castlevania music. I do wonder why Ishiwatari replaced this particular piece, as it's my favorite on the album, but I feel better telling myself that there was just no way to improve it. It's not quite as intimidating as "Bloodstained Lineage", but each section flows so seamlessly together, that maybe he didn't want to mess with the chemistry. Both "Keep Yourself Alive" and "Suspicious Cook" were updated appropriately for later games in the series, as "Keep Yourself Alive 2" and "The Original" (which adds in a saxophone to much of the composition for much of "Suspicious Cook"), but both of these were fine to begin with. Finally, the ending themes cap off the disc masterfully. The best of these are "Way" (an enchanting rock ballad, with separate piano and guitar sections) and "Love Letter From..." (a soaring emotional guitar-driven ending piece with some great organ sections).
The lone drawback of this disc has nothing to do with the composition, but rather the mastering of the CD. Some of the sounds (namely the guitars on rhythm) are rather soft-sounding and can be hard to hear at times. If you listen to Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks, you'll notice the sound quality is just a lot sharper compared to what's on here. I believe the reason for this is that the music on here is EXACTLY as it appeared on the Playstation, meaning that some of the samples had to be resized to fit the sound memory constraints. Too bad, as it makes parts in some of the more complex pieces harder to hear on lower-grade speakers and headphones. Still, this can be easily remedied by playing with an equalizer or "Realizer" switch on certain audio programs.
Not much else to say about this disc except be sure to get it, whether you're familiar with Guilty Gear or not. It may be the first in the series, but that doesn't make it any less excellent than the rest of the music that Ishiwatari and his crew have pumped out over the years. In fact, several Guilty Gear fans I know actually hold this one as their favorite in the series. For me, there are still pieces on here that I'm dying to see upgraded for later sequels, but I prefer to think of it as a strong start for the series, laying the groundwork for later and offering enough substance to still stand on its' own. It's a history lesson you won't get tired of. Believe me in saying that after six years on constantly listening to it, I have yet to tire of virtually any of the tracks on here (they actually sound better over time, I think). It's out of print now, but it's really not that rare, holding onto its normal market value of about $25-$30. I believe Otaku.com still stocks it.
Overall Score: 10/10