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Guilty Gear X Original Soundtrack :: Review by GoldfishX

Guilty Gear X Original Soundtrack Album Title: Guilty Gear X Original Soundtrack
Record Label: First Smile Entertainment
Catalog No.: FSCA-10143
Release Date: September 20, 2000
Purchase: Buy at Game Music Online


Guilty Gear was one of those sleeper hits that came out a while back and seriously hooked anyone brave enough to spend the cash on a non-Capcom 2D fighting game. Besides the outrageous characters and surprisingly involving storyline, the main hook was the awesome guitar-driven hard rock soundtrack. Composed by the unknown, but ultra-talented Daisuke Ishiwatari (who also served as the game's general producer and voice actor for Sol Badguy) this is one of the few fighting game soundtracks that truly captures the heat of an intense match, yet is a musical wonder when listened to by itself. The powerful instrumentation combined with the memorable and inspiring melodies made for a knock-out combination that left fans waiting for more. Several years later, Ishiwatari answered the plea and delivered the follow-up blow in Guilty Gear X.


However, the follow-up came at a price. Yes, it was a sequel to Guilty Gear but it was not to be on the PlayStation. Instead, Guilty Gear X was set for release in the arcades. By itself, this might not sound so bad; Capcom certainly made plenty of awesome arcade soundtracks, as did Konami, SNK, and many others. However, the Naomi board that Guilty Gear X runs on has an exceptionally crappy sound chip that reminds me of a slightly better sounding Sega Genesis. If you listen to the home version of most Naomi releases, you can tell they were redone with live instruments or good synthisizers because the arcade versions are nothing short of a synthy mess that falls way short of a good listening experience (other examples include Marvel VS Capcom 2 and Capcom VS SNK). Needless to say, I REALLY wish I had known this before buying this soundtrack. After the seething anger inside me finally simmered down a bit, just short of me hurling this soundtrack out the window, I decided it would probably be in my best interest to just sit down and listen to it.

I think you can see where this review is going. After the live instruments and raw power of the original, hearing the sequel's new bastardized format was nothing short of shocking. In truth, it almost could've gotten away with what's here, because the electric guitar emulation is surprisingly effective, even if it does lack a bit of range. The problem lies when any kind of bass is involved in the tracks, which includes nearly all of them, unfortunately. I don't know if there's any way I can describe it except as possibly the most ear-grating, hideous sound I have ever encountered in game music. I have soundtracks to games on the original NES that have better bass support. It makes a good number of the tracks unlistenable on higher volume levels and it robs the truly great ones of the magic they might have with good bass support. This glaring weakness was further proven with the later release of Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks, which was (thankfully) this soundtrack redone with live instruments and is hailed as one of the best game soundtracks by many fans.

Tracks that stand out as being exceptionally painful to listen to are "No Mercy", "Make Oneself", "Feel a Fear", "Burly Heart", "The Original", and the last four tracks on Disc One (these are the new character themes). All of them suffer the same problems I described earlier; horrible bass and a complete lack of range on the main synth-guitar. Disc Two continues where the end of Disc One leaves off — "Bloodstained Lineage" (which is actually misspelled "Bloodsained Lineage") and "Awe of She" aren't exactly known for their melodic awe as much as they are for their bass-driven intensity. Translation: They sound nothing short of horrible here. In the past three years, I've listened to Disc Two twice, once when I first got the soundtrack and three years later for the purpose of this review. After three years, it sounds as bad as it ever did.

For those of you keeping score, you'll note that all of the tracks I picked out as being exceptionally bad were new additions to the score, replacing old ones from the original. Before Hard Rock Tracks was released, I was lead to believe these themes were sloppy messes that were put together to make a soundtrack. Thankfully, Heavy Rock Tracks brought out the inner beauty of these pieces and I am happy to say that the new versions are all among my favorite listening experiences. I can't stress enough the difference of Venom's rave-like "A Solitude That Asks Nothing in Return" or Johnny's bad-ass "Liquor Bar and Drunkard" when they're done with real instruments.

For the hardcore Guilty Gear fan, this set does contain a fair number of reasons to still pick it up. First and foremost, the tracks that return from the original Guilty Gear sound great. "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)", "Suck a Sage", "Writhe in Pain", and "Momentary Life" are all blood-pumping adrenaline-based themes that make the grinding bass a mere afterthought. Truthfully, I enjoy this version of "Momentary Life" more than even the Hard Rock Tracks version. Another cool surprise was May's theme, "Blue Water, Blue Sky". Every time this song is performed, something is added to it to make each version stand out. Somehow, the synth seems to work very well here, adding a playful harmony that wasn't found in later versions. While I miss her Guilty Gear theme, this track makes up for it just fine.

Another plus is the running time for each track. Most of them run about four minutes and play through three full rotations. If you can somehow get around the synth, the extended playtimes provide a nice touch. Finally, Disc Two contains the BGM that wasn't found on Hard Rock Tracks, along with some tracks that didn't make the cut on the first Guilty Gear soundtrack. If you want these tracks, you're going to have to spring for this set.

Ultimately, the only reason I didn't score this below a C was because Ishiwatari deserves a ton of credit for putting together such brilliant compositions on such pathetic-sounding hardware. It's very similar to what Yuzo Koshiro did with the early Ys and Sorcerian games or what Nobuo Uematsu did with the NES Final Fantasy games. It's just a sad thing that it took another release to truly bring out the overall beauty of these pieces. The melodies themselves are among the best you will ever hear (this is one of the few soundtracks that makes me actually want a symphonic version) and, even in this pre-Alpha form, some of that magic shines through.


For the new Guilty Gear fan, I recommend staying far away from this soundtrack. None of the reasons I gave earlier are compelling enough to make a good case for this and with Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks and the more recent Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack out and ranking as some of the best (and unfortunately, some of the only) hard rock in game music today, you're better off getting your hard rock fix from either one of these. The original Guilty Gear soundtrack should also have priority over this one, if you can find it. It's amazing how well it holds up. Once you have these three and a certain degree of curiosity for what it sounds like, only then would I recommend giving this soundtrack a try.

Overall Score: 5/10